The 10 Worst Stephen King Movies
When it comes to the worst adaptations of Stephen King’s work, a lot of them tend to be from his lesser-known properties, which makes sense. King’s huge bestsellers are bestsellers for a reason — they’re better stories. King has written over 40 novels (not including some written under a pen name) and nearly 200 short stories. There are bound to be more than a few stinkers in the bunch and some of them have inexplicably been adapted for movies or TV — and they aren’t any better on screen than on the page.
The plot of this 2003 feature film sounds like a great horror premise on the surface — four male friends go on their annual hunting trip and encounter an invasion by parasitic aliens. It also boasts an all-star cast: Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis and Timothy Olyphant.
But the execution of this Alien-comes-to-Maine story leaves a lot to be desired. The film leans heavily into the gore factor, much to its detriment, and the monsters are laughably bad. Interestingly, King probably does not care how bad the movie was. He famously wrote Dreamcatcher after his serious 1999 car accident and has gone on record as saying he doesn’t like the book very much and that it was written under the influence of prescription drugs.
9) The Mangler
What do you get when director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist) joins forces with Ted Levine (Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill) and Freddy Krueger himself Robert Englund? One would think you’d get an entry into the all-time horror pantheon.
The Mangler is about a demon-possessed laundry press (yes, really) that gets some blood splashed on it and starts mangling people (yes… really). It’s one for the true horror movie fanatic who loves the bad ones as much as the good ones. There are also two sequels, should you be so inclined.
8) Riding the Bullet
In this 2004 feature film starring Jonathan Jackson and David Arquette, a young artist (Jackson) is hitchhiking to visit his dying mother and along the way, he encounters a man (Arquette) who died from being decapitated by an amusement park ride. This man makes the artist to choose if he or his mother will be forced to go on the death ride with the dead man. The young man chooses his mother. Years later, she dies. That’s seriously it.
The novella is not one of King’s best works, but it’s not terrible. However, the movie takes the mildly interesting source material and turns it into a complete mishmash trying to make pointed commentary about death and mortality.
7) Needful Things
“Buy Now. Pay Later” was the tagline for this 1993 stinker about a nefarious shopkeeper (who may be Satan himself, played by Max von Sydow) in Maine who forces customers to play pranks on fellow townspeople in order to make their purchases — it co-stars Ed Harris and Bonnie Bedelia as two of the townspeople. The film is not really that scary, but actually pretty boring, which is maybe the worst thing that could be said about a horror movie.
It wasn’t really their fault, though; the novel it is based on is not one of King’s strongest. It was apparently meant to be a satire about the greediness and materialism of the ’80s, but that was inexplicably left out of any kind of promotional material — it’s also just not a very good book.
6) Maximum Overdrive
This movie is like a stoner’s go-to ’80s jam — it stars Emilio Estevez as the leader of a group of survivors fighting the machines that have come to life all around them after Earth passes through the tail of a comet. It is campy, it is directed by King himself and the soundtrack is made up entirely of AC/DC songs. So… yeah.
It won a couple Razzies in 1986 for Estevez and King, and even King has admitted it’s one of the worst adaptations of his work.
5) The Dark Half
One would think that a movie about novelist being terrorized by the physical manifestation of his pen name — directed by George A. Romero and starring Timothy Hutton and Michael Rooker, no less — would be ripe for a stellar big screen adaptation. Turns out, not so much.
It’s not that there’s nothing redeeming about this 1993 film — Hutton is especially good. But the film is a bit meandering and never really develops its core themes or supernatural problems. Plus, the direction is kind of boring, which is made even more offensive because it came from the man behind Night of the Living Dead and Tales From the Darkside.
This 1996 film is about an overweight lawyer, Billy (Robert John Burke), who kills a gypsy woman in a hit-and-run and is then cursed by her people. The curse is one word: “thinner,” which causes Billy to rapidly lose weight. As he nears death, he goes to the gypsies to have the curse lifted and they help him transfer the curse to his wife, whom he suspects is having an affair. The curse is transferred via a strawberry pie (yes, really), which Billy’s daughter ends up eating by mistake, so she dies as well.
The movie is based on the 1984 book that was actually published under King’s pen name, Richard Bachman. It could have been a pointed commentary about society’s obsession with weight and dieting, but instead just kind of shambles around, trying to be funny and scary and failing at both.
Try this on for size — Charles (Brian Krause) and Mary Brady (Alice Krige) are mother and son, the last two surviving energy vampires who can shapeshift into werecats. But that’s not all — they feed off the life force of virgin women, their only weaknesses are cats (like, house cats) and they are also sleeping with each other. Having sex with her son is what keeps Mary alive.
Now, this 1992 film is kind of a cheat on the list of “adaptations” because it’s not actually an adaptation of a King novel or short story. It’s a movie written by King. But it’s so monumentally bad that it felt like a bigger cheat to omit it from the list entirely.
This 2016 film has an intriguing premise in the digital age — an electronic signal turns cell phone users into killers. However, the execution was so hokey as to be funny (in a bad way), despite reuniting 1408 co-stars John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson as the leaders of a group of survivors who must thwart this cell phone zombie apocalypse.
What is it like to watch Cell? Imagine the most boring Walking Dead episode ever, with a side of silly, campiness thrown in.. That’s kind of what it’s like.
1) Graveyard Shift
In this 1990 film, graveyard shift workers at a textile mill start mysteriously dying, and it turns out to be from a huge rat infestation that has taken hold and started to mutate in the mill’s basement. There’s even a queen rat whose job it is to keep breeding more rats, kind of like the world’s most terrifying beehive.
There really isn’t much else to say on this one, gang. It’s just… really, really bad.