Stephen King's Revival: What's Going On With An Adaptation, And Why It'll Be Tricky To Make

Stephen King in Pet Sematary
(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Going back to 1976, 34 of Stephen King’s novels have been adapted in live-action – and that doesn’t even include the large number of short stories and novellas that have been turned into movies and serials. Some, like The Stand and IT, had to spend a few years in development as filmmakers figured out how to approach the material (and that goes for both Hollywood incarnations of each title), but eventually they were brought to life. As prolific as King is, more of his books have been adapted than those that haven’t.

Sadly, the terrific novel Revival is one of the works that currently exists in the latter group instead of the former – albeit not for lack of trying. Since 2014 when it was first published, there have been multiple attempts made to turn the story into a movie, but as of yet nobody has cracked the code.

So what is it about the material that makes it so hard to adapt? Who has been trying to adapt it? And what does the future hold? We’ve built this feature to talk out all of those questions and more – but first let’s dig a bit into what Revival is about and why it would make excellent source material for a film.

Stephen King in Kingdom Hospital

(Image credit: ABC)

What Stephen King’s Revival Is About

Revival introduces readers to Jamie Morton just shortly after his sixth birthday in the year 1962. While outside playing, the boy meets a stranger named Charles Jacobs – a young man who has recently moved to the small town in Maine with his wife and son to become the local church’s new minister. Jamie quickly becomes charmed by the preacher, particularly enthralled by Jacobs’ personal fascination with electricity, and his relationship with Jamie and his family is only enhanced further when he is able to pull off a medical wonder by helping Jamie’s brother regain the ability to speak after a skiing accident.

As a child, Jamie’s time with the man is short-lived, as Jacobs denounces God and Christianity after his wife and son are macabrely killed in a terrible auto accident (leading to him being ostensibly run out of town) – but the protagonist eventually comes to think of the ex-minister as his “fifth business” – a character in the movie of life who repeatedly enters and exits the story.

Growing up to become a musician and heroin addict, Jamie meets Jacobs again as an adult at a state fair, and with the use of the man’s “special electricity” he is ridded of his dope habit… but in the aftermath he begins to experience peculiar side effects. While doing some research, he discovers that other recipients of Jacobs’ “magic” have had strange issues as well, and he begins to wonder about both the source of the remarkable power, and his Fifth Businesses’ motivations. He eventually learns the truth in what is one of the most disturbing, grim, horrifying, and devastating endings that Stephen King has ever committed to paper.

Stephen King in Mr. Mercedes

(Image credit: Audience)

The Attempts At Adapting Stephen King’s Revival Thus Far

It took about a year-and-a-half after the publication of Revival for a movie to get in the works. In February 2016 it was announced that The Fault In Our Stars director Josh Boone was developing a spec script adapting the book – with Stephen King himself giving the potential project his stamp of approval, according to Deadline.

The project gained speed quickly, with Josh Boone hoping to start production within the year, and it even attracted big name talent. Samuel L. Jackson, who plays supporting parts in Stephen King adaptations 1408 and Cell, was lined up to play Charles Jacobs shortly after the movie was announced as being in development. Sadly, the film ended up in development hell, and never found an exit.

About three years later, the idea of a Revival movie was, for lack of a better word, revived. Prior to the release of Doctor Sleep, writer/director Mike Flanagan teased that he was “talking actively” with Stephen King about making a third adaptation of the author’s work (having previously made 2017’s Gerald’s Game), and in May of 2020 it was revealed that said work was Revival.

Depressingly, the project didn’t make it to New Year’s Day 2021 before falling off the vine. On December 23, 2020, Mike Flanagan announced during a podcast appearance (which also had Josh Boone on) that he was no longer developing the movie – instead moving on to make the Netflix miniseries Midnight Mass and the upcoming shows The Midnight Club and The Fall Of The House Of Usher.

Stephen King in Creepshow

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

What Makes Stephen King’s Revival So Hard To Adapt

At 403 pages, Revival isn’t one of the longest novels that Stephen King has written (The Stand, for example, is nearly three times its length), but it has significant scope, and that’s evidently been the principal issue that cropped up when Josh Boone and Mike Flanagan were trying to trying to properly and faithfully adapt it.

Making a movie with a narrative that is set over the course of multiple decades and in locations all around the United States is both not a simple and (more importantly) not a cheap thing, and that’s a major roadblock that the iterations of Revival ran into as they were being developed. On top of that, the utterly disturbing conclusion requires a visual effects budget of some magnitude, and anything less than complete adherence to the source material would do the book a disservice.

During the aforementioned podcast appearance with both Josh Boone and Mike Flanagan, the two filmmakers commiserated about their shared difficulty bringing Revival to the big screen and how they stepped on the same landmines while working on their respective visions. Boone put it most succinctly when he said,

I had amazing talent interested in doing it, but I found it to be far too expensive than I was able to generate and do justice to King's book without really, really having to change everything, which I didn't want to do.

The two writer/directors are clearly of the mind that if Revival is going to become a movie, it should be the best possible version of itself and not be compromised. As much as Stephen King fans may want to see an adaptation get made, it’s impossible not to appreciate that sentiment.

Stephen King in The Stand (1994)

(Image credit: ABC)

What The Future May Hold For A Revival Movie

As things stand, an adaptation of Revival is not presently in the works, and it’s easy to be pessimistic given the way things have gone for the idea in the last six years. That being said, there is always reason to have hope – and that’s primarily generated from the fact that Stephen King will likely forever have cachet in Hollywood.

There are currently over a dozen projects in the works based on King’s books – some of them remakes, some of them based on untouched material – and while Revival isn’t among them, that could very well change tomorrow. If any of the upcoming adaptations end up being an IT-sized megahit, we could start seeing every studio try and throw as much money as they can at King-related projects. In that scenario, Revival could be a prized tome and get made with the budget it deserves.

We’ll have to wait and see if it ever ends up being turned into one of the greatest Stephen King movies ever made. For now, Constant Readers can be satisfied that it’s one of the greatest books that the author has written.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.