How Stephen King Is Finally Finding His Voice in Hollywood Horror – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

How Stephen King Is Finally Finding His Voice in Hollywood Horror

As we approach 2024 and the 50th anniversary of Stephen King’s first book, “Carrie,” it’s surprising to see that his books are only now receiving attention from the film industry. While there have been some successful adaptations, it seems that Hollywood has been slow to bring his work to the big screen. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the hits, misses, and upcoming projects based on King’s vast library of work.

Warner Bros. has produced some of the most well-known King adaptations, including “Carrie,” “Stand By Me,” “It,” “The Shining,” “Misery,” and “The Green Mile.” While horror fans appreciate these movies, they represent only a small fraction of King’s vast body of work. With over 75 books and hundreds of short stories, it’s surprising that there haven’t been more successful adaptations.

One of the challenges with adapting King’s work is that many of his early works were written during a time when horror movies were focused on gore and B-movie sensibilities. King’s books are often lengthy and complex, which can make them difficult to translate to the big screen. Additionally, some directors have taken liberties with the source material, which can result in movies that stray far from the original text.

While King is not everyone’s cup of tea, there’s no denying that he’s a detail-oriented writer. Directors who stay true to his vision and use his dialogue have found success. For example, “Stand By Me” was adapted from a King novella, and director Rob Reiner stayed true to King’s dialogue and vision. The result was a critically acclaimed movie that stayed true to the source material.

Interestingly, some of the most successful King adaptations have been based on his shorter works, such as “Shawshank Redemption,” “Stand By Me,” and “The Mist.” Short stories often make for better movie ideas because they are fully formed but allow directors to expand on them.

Unfortunately, not all adaptations have been successful. The 2017 movie adaptation of “The Dark Tower” was widely panned by critics and fans alike. The movie took over 4,000 pages of material and turned it into an hour-and-a-half mess that bore little resemblance to King’s original work. However, there are rumors that “The Dark Tower” may yet live on as a TV show or series of films.

Despite the ups and downs of King’s relationship with Hollywood, there are plenty of upcoming projects based on his work. “The Boogeyman” is currently in theaters and is based on a King short story. Other projects in the works include “The Long Walk,” “‘Salem’s Lot,” and “From a Buick 8.” With a new wave of young directors eager to adapt King’s ideas, we can expect to see many more adaptations in the years to come.

As we approach 2024 and the 50th anniversary of his first book, Carrieit is strange to see that Stephen King’s books are only now getting real look-ins from the film industry.

There have been a few big stand-outs, but it seems that his work has only slowly trickled into film. Let’s look at the successes, failures, and latest projects based on King’s enormous library of work.


Let’s Play The Hits

Duncan in the Green Mile
Warner Bros.

Most people see this article and think about the big-time King movies: Carrie, Stand By Me, It, The Shining, Miseryand The Green Mile. Most horror fans will even point to the fact that King himself has said the ending of The Mist was better than anything he’d ever considered for the short story.

However, for an author with over seventy-five books and hundreds more short stories under his belt, this seems like an extremely low number of successful adaptations.

One of the problems is that King’s first big leaps into public view were in the 1980s. It was a time of bloody horror, B-movie genius, and a lot of hack directors with too many blood packs. A great time for gore lovers but not necessarily a group ready for the long-form version of King’s works. His books are notoriously long (although his short stories are surprisingly tight), and directors have taken liberties where they slice and dice the content.

Related: The Best Stephen King Movies, Ranked

King has famously come out against the way Stanley Kubrick handled The Shining. It took the barest of takes on a lengthy, psychological mindstorm and turned it into an art house slasher. Although King is not everyone’s cup of tea, you cannot deny that he is a detail-oriented writer.

Directors that have used the better part of his books instead of doing a CTRL X over most of the text have found a very Tarantino rhythm (or did Tarantino find a King rhythm?) of quick, sharp, and ultimately fun dialogue. The characters are written so realistically that characters can be cast directly from his descriptions.

One of the best examples is Stand By Me. Director Rob Reiner cast young actors and gave them King’s dialogue. He used King’s brain to guide his own eye and hands. It won high acclaim because he didn’t mess with success.

This brings up another point. Some of the best King-based movies are not based on his full-length novels. Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Meand The Mist are all examples of King’s shorter works. It’s been said that short stories make for better movie ideas because they are fully formed but allow directors to expand on them. However, as we’ve already stated, King doesn’t need to leave too much to their imagination.

When It Doesn’t Work, It Gums Up the Whole System

The Dark Tower movie from Stephen King book with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey
Sony Pictures

Hollywood is a finicky place. A director makes a few successful movies, and suddenly they are given the keys to the kingdom. But when they hand in a clunker, they may never get another chance to try. It’s the same with writers. Sometimes an adaptation works, and they are touted as the best thing since Mario Puzo wrote The Godfather. But when a movie fails, their novels are mentally burned to ash as non-starters.

King has an interesting history when it comes to his relationship with Hollywood. They loved him, left him, refound him, shrugged, became frustrated, and then returned with their hats in their hands. It’s a messy relationship, but like real relationships, people always whisper that they are somehow “working it out.”

The issue seems to be that Hollywood has trouble consistently matching his work to the right directors or deciding on the right formats for his projects. An excellent example is the first adaptation of It. The first aired in two parts in 1990 on ABC. That might come as a surprise to some people. The same channel that aired America’s Funniest Home Videos decided they were the ones to create a two-part adaptation of Stephen King’s most nightmarish story about a clown that eats children.

However, Let’s look at the most glaring spit-in-your-eye take on a Stephen King story; The Dark Tower. The 2017 movie, starring the inestimable Idris Elba and Mattew McConaughey, decided to take over 4,000 pages of material, strip it of most of its characters, ideas, and storyline, and turn it into an hour-and-a-half mess that sits at 15% on Rotten Tomatoes. King’s “Constant Readers” bawled into their Dark Tower popcorn tubs. His life’s work, a series of books encompassing literally everything he’s ever written, was taken out to the woodshed.

Related: Stephen King Supports Mike Flannagan Rebooting The Dark Tower

Fans were outraged, King was a bit disappointed himself, and the world went numb for a bit. But now there is word that The Dark Tower series may yet live as a series of films or a TV show. Fans want the HBO treatment. They want the deep cut, the true King, and they want it to happen in a way that doesn’t slight their love or knowledge of this cultural phenomenon. If people don’t read anymore (so they say), then give the people an adaptation they will love as much as King’s constant readers love the original books.

Where We Are Now

Best Movies of June 2023
20th Century Studios

Right now, The Boogeyman is in theaters. The film, once again based on a King short story, has received mixed reviews. One of the main reasons seems to be that the writers and directors have decided to take the story in their own direction. However, whether this film works, there are plenty of other future projects already in the pipeline, including The Long Walk, ‘Salem’s Lot, and From a Buick 8.

We will see plenty of adaptations of King’s work now that a new wave of young directors is champing at the bit for his ideas. There will always be visionary directors, but there will only ever be one Stephen King for them to draw from.

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