I already know what you’re thinking. If you’re a Constant Reader of Stephen King like me, then you took one look at the main image for this article and thought, The Shawshank Redemption is based off of a novella, not a short story. And while yes, I do agree with you, I’ll also argue you this: A great majority of Stephen King’s novels number around 300 pages, with some of them, like The Stand or It, weighing in at over 1000 pages. So, with page counts like that, I consider a Stephen King story that goes just a little over 200 pages to be a short story. For him anyway. And if you look at the definition for a novella anyway, it reads: “A short novel or a long short story.” So there, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is technically a long short story.
Besides, what did you want me to put on this list? The Mangler? Maximum Overdrive? The Lawnmower Man? Truth be told, most of the movies based off Stephen King’s real short stories are arguably not very good (though, a few of them do make this list). Instead, I thought I would focus on the real heavy hitters that aren’t based off of novels like The Shining or Misery. But enough explaining. Let’s get spooky!
10. Secret Window ("Secret Window, Secret Garden" from Four Past Midnight)
Secret Window features Johnny Depp without his swagger or weird mannerisms. Instead, he plays a depressed writer named Mort going through a divorce with a pretty severe case of writer’s block. Well, one day, a stranger named John Shooter (played by John Turturro) comes to Mort’s doorstep and says that Mort stole one of his stories. Spooky coincidences and occurrences ensue.
Secret Window is a pretty taut film throughout. It’s PG-13, so it has to rely more on tension than gore, and John Turturro plays a really great creep. Johnny Depp is also pretty good here as Mort, as you slowly question his sanity. But I just wish Depp went a little more overboard with his trademark weirdness because it actually would have worked here. Also, as somebody who has read the short story that this movie is based off of, I actually prefer this movie’s ending to the book’s, as it connects better to the rest of the story. Overall, a pretty good movie, if not a great one.
9. 1408 ("1408" from Everything's Eventual)
If you’re looking for a good haunted house (er, I mean, hotel) story, then look no further than 1408, starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson. Cusack plays a skeptical author named Mike Enslin who writes books about debunking ghosts. But one day, he gets an invitation to go to a supposed haunted room in a New York hotel. The hotel manager warns him not to go to room 1408. But Enslin, who has been writing through his grief ever since his daughter died, takes it as a challenge and rents out the room anyway. I’m sure you can guess where the movie goes from there.
Like Secret Window, 1408 is another PG-13 adaptation, so it relies more on psychological thrills than gore. It’s a fun little movie with a few jump scares here and a few genuinely creepy moments there. Plus, it has Samuel L. Jackson, so what more could you possibly want?
8. Children of the Corn ("Children of the Corn" from Graveyard Shift)
Based on an actual short story and not a novella, Children of the Corn was apparently such an effective story that there are 11 (yes, 11) Children of the Corn stories if you count both theatrical and TV movies. Not too shabby for a story that’s less than 50 pages long. And while I’ve seen four of the Corn movies, the only genuinely good one I’ve seen was the original. In it, a dark entity living within a Nebraska cornfield called “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” possesses children to murder all the adults in the area. But when two adult out-of-towners arrive, it upends everything and starts a sort of mini rebellion in the super religious community.
The short story is much better since it focuses more on the adults than the children, but this version is interesting as well with all the added elements in here about the ultra-religious community, which we learn a lot more about here. John Franklin as Isaac is especially creepy. I definitely advise you to watch the original. Just not the rest of them.
7. The Langoliers ("The Langoliers" from Four Past Midnight)
Okay, maybe I’m cheating a little here since The Langoliers was technically a TV miniseries, but people are always talking about the original It “movie” with Tim Curry even though that was a miniseries, too, so there. Plus, I just love The Langoliers. The story concerns a bunch of people on a plane who manage to slip through time. And they have to become unstuck in time or The Langoliers, which look like flying versions of the Isz from the comic book, The Maxx, will get them. It’s pretty badass.
Yes, the special effects for The Langoliers are terrible today, but the tension building up to meeting them, and the overall creepiness of the story itself, is super effective. Also, can we please get a remake of The Langoliers? We got one for Pet Sematery that we didn’t need (but was pretty good anyway). So, how about The Langoliers? This one could definitely use one.
6. Cat's Eye ("The Ledge" And "Quitters Inc." From Graveyard Shift)
Cat’s Eye is interesting since it’s actually an anthology horror movie that takes two short stories from Graveyard Shift, and adds in one new story for good measure. The narrative actually follows a cat as it makes its way to a young Drew Barrymore’s house to battle a troll toward the end of the film. That’s the new story, and it’s called “General.”
The other two stories are “Quitter’s Inc.”, which stars James Woods as a man who goes through hell to try to quit smoking, and “The Ledge” starring That ‘70s Show's Robert Hays as a man who has to walk a ledge to save his own hide. Both “Quitter’s Inc.” and “The Ledge” are two of the best short stories in Graveyard Shift, and they’re actually really close adaptations in the movie, so yeah. Cat’s Eye rocks.
5. Apt Pupil ("Apt Pupil" from Different Seasons)
Apt Pupil, which stars Brad Renfro as a teen and Ian McKellen as a Nazi, is one of the darker Stephen King adaptations since it’s about real monsters, and how they truly can be living right under your nose. Oh, and that they can also be the “good kid” with the perfect grades. Evil lurks within them, too.
Apt Pupil has great pacing and is tense throughout. Also, just like with Secret Window, I much prefer the ending to the movie than the novella, as the novella has a really abrupt and almost unfinished feeling to it. This one is more in line with A Clockwork Orange in that you know evil will persist long after the credits roll, which is terrifying.
4. Creepshow ("Weeds" and "The Crate")
Another horror anthology film, Creepshow is the better of the two since it has five stories, rather than just three. And all of them are bangers. That said, only two of the stories, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” which stars Stephen King as a yokel who gets covered in an alien plant, and “The Crate” are actually from short stories of King. The other three are purely original for this movie.
But, man, are they all good. My personal favorite is “Something to Tide You Over,” which actually features a serious performance from Leslie Nielsen. As someone who grew up loving Tales From the Crypt, Creepshow was right up my alley. And the sequel is really good, too.
3. The Mist (“The Mist” from Skeleton Crew)
The Mist’s story is simple but effective. A bunch of people (one of them being our protagonist, played by Thomas Jane) get trapped in a supermarket while a mist overtakes it. Within the mist are these horrific monsters, and the characters have to fight to escape them. But…
Well, The Mist is the only short story on this list that I haven’t read, but I already know how the ending of the movie differs from the story. And the ending of the film is what makes this movie. I won’t spoil it for you here if you haven’t seen it, but out of all the films on this list, The Mist’s ending is still the one that sticks with me the most. It’s gut-wrenching!
2. Stand By Me ("The Body" from Different Seasons)
All the feels. Stand By Me is about a bunch of friends who go on an adventure together to see a dead body, only to learn more about themselves and each other throughout the journey. It stars a lot of the big names at the time, such as Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell, as well as Kiefer Sutherland as a bully, and John Cusack as Wil Wheaton’s character’s older brother.
Stand By Me is actually one of, if not the, closest translations of a Stephen King book ever. It’s actually my personal favorite adaptation of his, but I’m well aware of everybody else’s favorite adaptation of Stephen King’s. And that’s…
1. The Shawshank Redemption ("Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption" from Different Seasons)
You’ve seen it. In fact, a lot of people don’t even realize it’s based off of a Stephen King story. It’s about two prisoners (played by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman) who become friends after a number of years, and Tim Robbins manages to escape. I don’t even feel like I spoiled anything for you. Again, you’ve seen it. Everybody’s seen it.
Look, I understand the appeal of this movie. Its pacing is phenomenal, its character development is spot on, and the climax is oh, so satisfying. It’s not my personal favorite of King’s, but it’s hard to argue with so many people who consider this their favorite movie of all time. It’s definitely a great one, and besides the recent It: Chapter 1, it’s probably King’s most popular movie. Get busy living, or get busy dying.
Even though these movies are based on either short stories or novellas, a lot of them are the most beloved movies based off of Stephen King stories of all time. Out of the ones mentioned here, which one is your favorite? Answer the poll or sound off in the comments section below.
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Lover of Avatar (The Last Airbender, not the blue people), video games, and anything 90s, he will talk your ear off about Godzilla, so don't get him started.
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