From the recent Dark Tower theatrical release–and the TV series in development–to the upcoming movie adaptation of Ii; from Spike TV’s take on The Mist, to Hulu’s upcoming J.J. Abrams project, Castle Rock; it seems that Stephen King’s work is still relevant.
Ahead of AT&T Audience Network’s premiere tonight of Mr. Mercedes (based on Stephen King’s 62nd novel of the same name), it felt like the perfect time to revisit some of the Master of Horror’s best small-screen outings. From a group of children terrorized by a murderous clown to a time-traveling thriller that poses the question “What if JFK survived?” here are 10 of Stephen King’s best TV show and mini-series adaptations.
10.Under the Dome
Under the Dome originally came to CBS as a limited series–just one season of some wonderfully mysterious horror entertainment. Stephen King’s 2009 novel follows the citizens of Chester’s Mill, Maine, who fall victim to a giant dome isolating them all from the rest of the world. Needless to say, this premise was ripe for the genre TV picking.
Developed by TV and comic book writer Brian K. Vaughan, the series came out the gate strong in its freshman season but as the program continued through a second and third run, the story and characters became a bit ridiculous.
9. The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of The Shining is iconic, to say the least. That being said, Stephen King has famously gone on record multiple times regarding his disdain of the film. Cue 1997’s Mick Garris-directed mini-series. It may have been a truer telling of the book, but the series never quite stepped out of the shadow of its predecessor. That’s not to say it’s not worth a watch. It’s just different.
The ABC mini-series does come with some perks, though: Rebecca DeMornay’s performance as Winifred is worth the price of admission. Steven Weber’s take on Jack Torrance may be hugely different from Nicholson’s iconic performance, but he succeeds at bringing a different type of terror to the Overlook. Plus, horror fans may get a kick out of the cameos: Frank Darabont, Sam Raimi and Stephen King all make appearances.
8. The Stand
Stephen King’s The Stand is 823 pages long, which resulted in a massive TV project. The 1994 adaptation of the apocalyptic novel was quite expansive, featuring a huge ensemble cast as they struggle to survive an extinction level event alongside a supernatural fight between good and evil. The four-part mini-series was the biggest project for King and ABC and did well for its time.
Let’s not forget the huge ensemble cast: Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump), Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles, Riverdale), Ruby Dee (Peyton Place, Do the Right Thing), Ossie Davis (School Daze, Do the Right Thing), Matt Frewer (Max Headroom, Orphan Black), Rob Lowe (The Grinder), Ray Walston (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and many more contributed to the epic scope of the project. Tying it all together is the script, which King penned himself, thankfully omitting much of the book’s colorful, and questionable, dialogue while keeping the tale frightening and fresh.
7. Kingdom Hospital
In 2004, Stephen King adapted Lars von Trier’s Kingdom into a 13-episode TV series. Andrew McCarthy (Weekend at Bernie’s) and Diane Ladd (Chinatown) helped carry the show, which melded the expected genre tale with the ever-popular medical procedural format.
Originally, the program was pitched as a mini-series, and, honestly, it may have worked better in a shorter format. It’s hard not to wonder how this story–about a hospital built on a Civil War cemetery–would perform in today’s gritty and eclectic TV landscape.
6. The Dead Zone
David Cronenberg’s 1983 horror film, starring Christopher Walken as a reluctant psychic, in and of itself is a great example as a Stephen King adaptation done right. In 2002, USA decided to bring the tale to the small screen and put Anthony Michael Hall (The Breakfast Club) in the lead role.
After suffering a car accident which put him in a six year coma, Johnny awakens to find he has psychic powers. A discovery like that comes with some life-changing surprises, to be sure. The series ran for a total of six seasons and is a great example of a TV adaptation taking the inspiration of an established film and expanding the story into an engaging project all its own.
5. Nightmares and Dreamscapes
In 2006, Stephen King and TNT teamed up to bring the classic horror anthology format–think The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Darkside–to television. One difference set Nightmares & Dreamscapes apart from the two anthology series mentioned above: The majority of the limited series’ episodes were based on King’s own short stories.
The series features a bold cast–William Hurt (Broadcast News, Humans) and William H. Macy (Shameless) come to mind–and transpires over one eight-episode season. The stories featured here deliver the genre goods. One episode in particular, titled Battleground, puts Hurt in the role of an assassin dealing with a supernatural threat and is a definite highlight.
In 1990, Stephen King’s It came to the small-screen in a two-part mini-series and left an indelible mark on horror entertainment. Tim Curry’s chilling performance as Pennywise the Clown is the main strength audiences still cling to all these years later. But ABC’s choice to switch up the expected TV narrative, splitting up the two episodes into a past and present day story, really helped to bookend the classic horror tale.
Some of the story and character decisions featured in ABC’s original haven’t lasted the test of time. And let’s not forget that oddball eight-legged ending. Still, It was a huge success for ABC and set the stage for the network’s partnership with King during the ‘90s.
The 2015 eight-episode adaptation of Stephen King’s time-travel tale 11.22.63 cemented the partnership between the author, Hulu and J.J. Abrams. The limited series put James Franco in the driver’s seat as English teacher Jake Epping, who happens to head back to the ‘60s with the lofty goal of stopping the assassination of JFK. What could possibly go wrong?
For the most part, the program was well-received–even if the show ignored some dramatic plotlines featured heavily in the book. It goes without saying that 11.22.63 was an important component in bringing Abrams and King to Hulu. Without it, the upcoming anthology series Castle Rock may not have ever gone into development.
Syfy’s TV adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Colorado Kid falls more in the sci-fi procedural realm than straight horror. That’s not a complaint. Inspired more by the setting of the novel and less on its characters, Haven told the tale of FBI agent Audrey Parker (Emily Rose) who is sent to the small town of Haven, Maine to investigate a slew of supernatural events known as “The Troubles.”
What started as a procedural that felt like it was borrowing a bit from The X-Files and Fringe eventually grew into a wonderfully fun program full of mystery and intrigue. After five seasons, the program came to an end in December of 2015 and is currently available to stream, in full on Netflix.
1. Storm of the Century
Much like Kingdom Hospital, Storm of the Century was not based on a previously existing Stephen King story. In fact, the author penned the script from an original idea. Another in a long line of ABC mini-series, the story hit the network in February of 1999 and focused on a town–and its citizens–brutalized by a horrible storm. In this maelstrom, a frightening story takes form as the town folk are faced with a murderous (and supernatural) stranger.
The stranger in question turns out to be the emissary of Satan who wants one of the town’s children. And while that plot twist is intriguing on its own, the program succeeds at presenting a story that maintains a claustrophobic winter tone and sinister aesthetic all the way through its three episodes. Add in Colm Feore’s (The Chronicles of Riddick) terrifying turn as the stranger in question–along with the quality writing and performance of its ensemble cast–and you’ve got one frighteningly good Stephen King production.