Two months after The Dark Tower stunk up the multiplex, IT came along and reminded all of us that it's possible to adapt a Stephen King story in a way that can be embraced by audiences and critics, to the tune of new box-office records, even. There are quite a few good films as you can see in our best Stephen King movies list. But while that may be true, there are probably more that just haven't hit the mark.
It's almost hard to blame Hollywood for getting it wrong so often, simply because there have been so many attempts at adaptations from wildly diverse source material, tackled by filmmakers with wide ranging levels of talent. Stanley Kubrick, Frank Darabont, Brian De Palma. There have been some real heavy hitters who have smartly adapted the work of our favorite Maine based ultra prolific author. But for every Stand By Me, it seems like there are a dozen Maximum Overdrives. And so now, we're forgetting the best, and looking at the rest. Whether your heart has a soft spot for them, or you really believe they're good on some artistic level we can't quite comprehend at the moment, we're being open and honest in presenting the 10 worst Stephen King movies ever made.
The Dark Tower
Rotten Tomatoes is littered with green splattered Stephen King movies, but The Dark Tower seems like a particularly egregious entry, if for no other reason than the sheer audacity of its ambitions. After all, The Dark Tower is a beloved series and to try to delve into that mythology in a single movie, whether they intended to build a franchise around it or not, simply fell flat in this era of prestige television shows and shared cinematic universes. The New York Times said Idris Elba was the only thing anchoring this mess of a movie, but unfortunately, even he couldn't redeem it.
The Running Man
Now don't get us wrong: The Running Man is certainly fun in a kitschy sorta way. We are fond of Arnold Schwarzenegger's tracksuit and the performances from late game show host Richard Dawson and Arnold's fellow ex-governor and Predator teammate Jesse Ventura are pretty sweet. Screenwriter Steven E. de Souza commands our eternal respect and gratitude as one of the names involved with Die Hard and 48 Hours, even if he was also involved with Beverly Hills Cop III. But his meddling with King's source material just doesn't work. The Running Man feels hastily slapped together, rushing toward one corny villain to another, even as it attempts to deal with some pretty big themes about Big Brother and television, all of it very loosely based on one of the novels King wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.
We can't always blame the screenwriter. Sleepwalkers was actually made from an original script by Stephen King himself. Mick Garris directed the 1992 film fresh off such esteemed films as Critters 2: The Main Course and Psycho IV: The Beginning. Sleepwalkers is terrible yet Garris kept getting called back to work on King stuff, like the TV miniseries adaptations of The Stand, The Shining, and Bag of Bones, and the snoozefest that was Riding the Bullet, a movie that thinks it's profound but is not.
This story about a bunch of overnight mill workers picked off one by one by a giant rat is exactly the kind of thing that works as a Stephen King short story but immediately falls apart when stretched out to a feature length low-budget movie. Switching the giant rat to a giant bat didn't do Graveyard Shift any favors, either.
It must've been difficult to mess up a Stephen King werewolf story, but by golly, they found a way! King wrote both the novella, Cycle of the Werewolf, and the much better named screenplay, but it's all completely ruined by awful special effects and either ham-fisted or lackluster performances by the likes of Gary Busey and the late Corey Haim, the kind of actors who were great in the right roles. Lest you think we're being unfair to the special effects simply because Silver Bullet was made in 1985, consider that American Werewolf in London was released in 1981.
Dreamcatcher is one of several films on this list to have been the subject of our favorite movie podcast, How Did This Get Made? Like us, they sorta loved watching The Running Man even 'though they knew it was bad and like us, they found Dreamcatcher incomprehensible. Director and cowriter Lawrence Kasdan gave us The Empire Strikes Back! Dreamcatcher stars Morgan Freeman! Thomas Jane! Timothy Olyphant! Jason Lee! But alas, as critic Richard Roeper pointed out: "...not since Death to Smoochy have so many talented people made such a mess of things."
If you've watched our video about the 10 Best Stephen King movies, then you'll know that John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson's 1408 made it. Well, here they are again, but this time, on the 10 Worst list. 1408 is a wonderfully King-ish story about a writer staying in a supernaturally charged hotel and his descent into madness. Cell is a thriller about... Cell phones. Evil cell phones? How cell phones will turn us evil? At least King can say he wrote the book in 2006. But this movie came out in 2016.
30 years before Cell, a Stephen King movie warned us about evil devices and appliances of all sorts, from an ATM to a big semi truck emblazoned with the grinning visage of the Green Goblin, which is the only cool thing about this movie. King has nobody to blame but himself for Maximum Overdrive, because he not only wrote it, but he directed it. And he's in the trailer! Telling audiences all about it!
Wait so is The Lawnmower Man about another machine given sentience by a passing comet and the radiation storm left in its wake? Nope. In fact, The Lawnmower Man has nothing to do with Stephen King at all! This garbage fire shares a title and a single scene with King's novella. This one is so bad, Stephen King successfully sued the film's producers to have his name removed from it after they tried marketing it as Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man. Jeff Fahey didn't bother to come back from this film's presumably even worse sequel, Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace.