We can look forward to three more adaptations of Stephen King’s works before the year ends as the long-awaited sequel to the Doctor Sleep, the Netflix adaptation of In the Tall Grass, and the TV series of his newest novel The Institute are all set to be released before end of year.
2019 makes it one of the most prolific years for the veteran novelist as three movies already came out based on his works. Top of mind is the sequel to the 2017 movie, and the closer to his clown-on-a-rampage series, It Chapter 2.
Yet not all adaptations are made equal, and here we’ve ranked the latest of those from 3 years back, from worst to best, just to make sense of which ones you should watch and which ones you should pass on.
DARK TOWER (2017)
An amazing bunch of novels with the graphic novel adaptations even, I dare say, a bit better than some of the sequels in the sprawling septalogy. A top notch cast in Idris Elba (as The Gunslinger) and Matthew McConaughey (as, The Man in Black), is wasted as King’s massive vision of how Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came (ahem, Browning), the recurring patterns of good and evil, and the mystic traditions that keep both in a state of balance are drowned in cookie cutter clichés that pass for cinematic world-building, seemingly the worst of the dialogue from the novels, and the head-scratching plot culled from, not one but several novels compressed in a confusing mess. Don’t even get me started on the B-grade CGI and SFX.
What might happen if cellphones suddenly turned people into zombies? Cool, premise huh? Sadly not even John Cusack and the great Samuel L Jackson could rescue this insanity of a badly executed, faux-horror, mindlessness-of-tech commentary, from its doldrums and low-octane action. Though you can say the opening scene has its gross out merits, this ranks right up there with the atrocious Lawnmower Man and Thinner in the annals of worst King adaptation, ever.
They can’t even claim to be so bad they’re already B-grade, self-aware good. This is only slightly better than Dark Tower because the material wasn’t that strong to begin with, but they just did Idris so wrong.
Note that even The Cell, the year 2000 movie starring J. Lo, was way better.
THE MIST SERIES (2017)
I actually watched 3 episodes of this arguably entertaining series with passable SFX and a middling plot pace. The real downer is how cardboard the ensemble performances are, coupled with generally goofy and ill-timed plot turns, and you get a molasses narrative that should have been carried out with more sizzle, considering the solid nature of the original material.
While there is certainly something (some-thing) in the mist that suddenly attacks the town of Bridgeville, Maine, what the mist does is the real source of horror: people caught in it see apparitions and visions of their greatest fears and sins. Depending on how they interact with said wraiths, they are killed or given succor.
Admittedly I got reeled in by Alyssa Sutherland as embattled single mom Eve Copeland in the plum role, since she played Asluag in History Channel’s Vikings (and I have very fond memories of that series). But not even her sharp thespian performance could breathe foggy life into this waste of 10 episodes. I can only conclude it’s a good thing this one got cancelled after 1 season.
IT CHAPTER 2 (2019)
Listen, I love how Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy gave bravura performances as Bill and Beverly, respectively, but this 169 minutes monster didn’t need to be that long or bombastically sprawling. The gems here aren’t just how director Andy Muschietti stays true and loyal to King’s core concepts of youth coming to hammer the nail on evil’s coffin, set 27 years after the first movie (even if said youth are already actually old and the supernatural evil really is an alien), but also the small but significant details like Richie (Bill Hader) being a comedian and his enduringly sarcastic friendship with Eddie (James Ransone), Beverly’s haunting run-in with the daughter of Pennywise at her old apartment, even the cameo by Stephen King himself as a wordless stamp of approval. There’s a lot to love in the newest iteration of the Evil Clown and his inevitable death, but there’s also plenty of fluff that’s like listening to someone who irritatingly can’t seem to get to the point fast enough, suspecting they just really like listening to their own voice.
Farmer (Thomas Jane) murders his wife and is torn up with grief and guilt about it. That’s about as minimal and as profound as it gets for this dark horse of a bleak hell ride. But this is easily one of Jane’s best dramatic performances and all too easily one of the spookiest, well executed of King’s adaptations.
PET SEMATARY (2019)
I thank the animal gods of resurrection that we got this reboot of the Stephen King’s 1983 horror novel, not only is it really, technically good in almost all of its aspects, it shows very astute visual and emotive intelligence in dealing with the intimate and tender domestic issues that propel this horror story forward. Many of King’s disciples will argue with the changeroos done to service modern sensibilities and for dramatic streamlining, but the point is that every generation must confront the horror that the Creeds did in their own way, with their own means of telling. That mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods is calling still, calling to everyone who lost someone they loved and can’t bear to live without.
GERALD’S GAME (2017)
Carla Gugino as the trapped and embattled Jessie Burlingame (Gerald’s wife) just makes this movie all that it could be, and then some. Essentially a locked room thriller that leaves—as absurd and as horrifying as it is—Jessie chained to a bed after a sex game goes dreadfully wrong, Gugino’s top-shelf acting and director Mike Flanagan’s subtle hand guides us through the hope and hopelessness, the awkwardness and agony of this 103 minutes of pure, raw story using both visceral and cerebral tropes.
The first movie featuring the adventures of the Losers Club was always going to be aces in my book. Here’s the unstoppable horror of Pennywise, a marauding force that feeds on human fear, against the seemingly outgunned gang of misfits whose only weapons are teamwork, insight, and some pieces of a rusted gate as spears—say what you want, but these kids were the only ones to wise up to the clown and then have the balls to stand against it. Director Andy Muschietti’s penchant for putting everything and the kitchen sink of the novel into his movie is still being tempered by the editorial sensibilities of screenwriter Cary Fukunaga, packing childhood emotiveness and monster hunting thrills in equal measure for a gestalt of gravitas. It’s here that we discovered how Bill Skarsgard was a top shelf choice as the terrifying new Pennywise, and here that we get to endearingly know Bill, Ben, Bev, and the rest of the warriors who would eventually abjure the evil clown. It may be 135 minutes, but all of that is pure Stephen King bliss on celluloid.
What is your favorite movie adaptation of Stephen King’s novels? Tell us below!