Movies

10 Stephen King Adaptations That King Himself Criticized

Summary

  • Stephen King is vocal about his dissatisfaction with adaptations that fail to capture the essence of his stories and vision.
  • Some of King’s own adaptations, such as Maximum Overdrive, have been critically panned, leading him to openly criticize his own work.
  • King’s criticisms of adaptations range from changes to the story and characters to overall poor execution, regardless of the filmmakers involved.


Stephen King is responsible for a growing number of movies inspired by his stories, but when the adaptation fails to capture his vision, he is often among the first to speak out against it. King has been writing novels and short stories since 1967, when he sold his first short story. Following that, his debut novel, Carrie, was released in 1974, and in 1976, it received a film adaptation that kicked off King’s legacy as the Master of Horror.

Since then, King’s work has been adapted for both film and TV in more than 100 different projects. Some films have received multiple adaptations, such as Carrie, and Pet Sematary, thanks to their extraordinary success and popularity, but not every King story is a guaranteed hit. And when a project doesn’t live up to expectations or integrally changes the vision King had for his story, he is very vocal in sharing his distaste and disdain for those projects, regardless of who made them, whether it’s renowned filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, or his own directorial debut.


10 Graveyard Shift

1990

The characters highlighted in red

Graveyard Shift is a short story by King which deals with monstrous rats that managed to evolve at an incredible rate. When the story was adapted in 1990, much of the creativity of the original was missing, and King addressed this in an interview with Deadline. When asked about his least favorite adaptations, King directly mentioned Graveyard Shift and remarked that it was “just kind of a quick exploitation picture.” Clearly, the movie didn’t meet his expectations and came off as being less about adapting a good story, and more about banking on King’s name.

9 A Return To Salem’s Lot

1987

a return to salems lot vampire

Salem’s Lot was Stephen King’s second published novel, and it received a widely praised adaptation as a TV miniseries. However, a few years later, those with the film rights decided to try and further capitalize on the project with a TV movie which had an all-new cast, and tied in to the events of the original series. King was not a fan of the cheap sequel, and lumped it together with the extensive franchise building of the Children of the Corn movies in an interview for Time.

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8 Maximum Overdrive

1986

In 1986, King decided to try his hand at directing for the adaptation of another short story, Trucks, into a film titled Maximum Overdrive. The movie was critically panned and earned King an award for Worst Director, and to be fair to him, he has also been very open in critiquing his own work and acknowledging that he did not know what he was doing. In the years since the movie came out, King has never attempted to direct a film again, and has also ceaselessly been apologizing to the film’s lead, Emilio Estevez (via Screen Rant).

7 The Tommyknockers

1987

The Tommyknockers

The failure of at least one of King’s adaptations can be attributed to the book it was based on. The Tommyknockers took steps into the realms of sci-fi while still being a characteristic horror story by King. When a town begins to experience odd occurrences because of the appearance of a mysterious object in the woods, some people decide to investigate. King revealed in an interview with the Rolling Stone that he was in the depths of his addiction while writing, and while The Tommyknockers may have some potential, it was lost beneath a haze of confusion. The three-hour production inspired by the series likewise lost its way and was critically panned.

6 The Dark Tower

2017

The Dark Tower series consists of eight books which can be described as a sci-fi, space western with elements of horror. For other book series like Harry Potter, or The Hunger Games, the books were adapted into multiple films, but for whatever reason, when a movie was made adapting The Dark Tower in 2017, starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, it started in the middle of the series and tried to cram the entire saga into an hour and a half. King suggested that the film performed poorly due to the PG-13 rating, but the film had more flaws than just that (via Indie Wire).

5 The Shining

1980

The Shining is perhaps the movie that King’s criticisms have been most widely and publicly shared. While King presented a possible screenplay for the story, Kubrick decided to disregard it completely and deliver his interpretation of the story, with several significant alterations. As a result, the movie is possibly the most famous King adaptation, and the one which outshines its source material. King told Deadline in the same interview referenced earlier that he believed The Shining was “like a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it,” praising the visuals and digging at a lack of depth.

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4 Firestarter

1984

Drew Barrymore in a burning barn in Firestarter

In the past, Stephen King has referenced his lack of love for the 1984 film Firestarter starring Drew Barrymore, but in more recent years, he has been kinder in his critiques. When the new Firestarter was being released in 2022, King did an interview with Vanity Fair to discuss the upcoming adaptation and look back on the book and earlier film. King made reference to earlier critiques, but largely, he shifted the conversation back to the 2022 film so that he could focus on the positives, with some comparison to issues he had from the earlier film, like Andy McGee’s portrayal.

3 Dreamcatcher

2003

Damian Lewis's Jonesy stares at an alien in Dreamcatcher

When King got into a serious accident in 1999, he spent a period of rest and recovery where he was consistently on pain relief medication. Due to the incident, he struggled to write as normally on a computer, and during this period of frustration, King wrote Dreamcatcher. King deems the story one of his worst, and when a film was made shortly after the novel was published featuring a star-studded cast including Morgan Freeman, Damien Lewis, Thomas Jane, and Timothy Olyphant to name a few, the film received overwhelmingly negative reviews. In the same Vanity Fair interview where he discussed The Tommyknockers, he noted that Dreamcatcher was among his least favorite.

2 The Lawnmower Man

1992

Pierce Brosnan and Jeff Fahey in The Lawnmower Man

The Lawnmower Man was a loose adaptation derived from another of King’s short stories, but the project departed from the source to such a degree that King wanted his name removed. When the production refused to do so, King successfully sued them for using his name in the marketing of “Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man,” and officially was disassociated with the project. While the original story deals with magic and mystery, the adaptation took a more sci-fi horror route and was critically panned.

1 The Running Man

1987

Arnold Schwarzenegger in a gold jumpsuit in The Running Man

Finally, King’s most popular title released under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman, The Running Man had a disappointing adaptation in the view of the author. Stephen King strongly disliked The Running Man to the point of once again asking for his name to be excluded from the marketing of the project. While many adaptations change parts of the story, The Running Man was a significant departure from the source material and King felt strongly that the story was unrelated to the book he’d written, considering the casting of the main actor, Schwarzenegger, and the way the games developed in the film.

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