Best Stephen King Movies of the 80s

The Best Stephen King Movies from the 1980s

By 1980, author Stephen King was already a bestselling novelist known for horror novels like Carrie, 'Salem's Lot, The Shining, and The Stand. He also proved that his work could translate to movies after the blockbuster success of the 1976 film adaptation of Carrie. Filmmakers have been inspired by King’s work ever since – not just because of their popularity, but because King’s writing already has a cinematic quality. King also adapted a number of his novels into screenplays himself. However, the movies adapted from King’s work vary in quality from great to awful, and it’s sometimes difficult to tell which ones are worth watching. While some are goofier than they are scary, they’re still extremely entertaining.

In chronological order, here are the eight best 1980s films adapted from Stephen King’s work.

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The Shining (1980)

The Shining
Warner Bros. Pictures

Famously, King himself does not care for masterful director Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining because of its many departures from King’s very personal novel. He’s in the minority though, with a host of critics calling The Shining one of the greatest horror films of all time. In The Shining, a writer named Jack (Jack Nicholson) moves his wife and young son with him to a large hotel to serve as caretaker during the off-season. However, the hotel has a dark history that influences Jack to do harm his family. Filled with creepy, unforgettable imagery, The Shining still scares audiences today.

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Creepshow (1982)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Creepshow is an anthology film written by King – his first produced screenplay. Two of the segments are based on King's short stories while the other three are original stories based on the horror comics King grew up reading. Creepshow was directed by horror movie icon George A. Romero, and while some segments are stronger than others (King proves that he's not a very good actor in "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill"), it's still a lot of fun. A less successful sequel followed in 1987.

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Cujo (1983)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Critics weren't kind to Cujo upon its release, but King and his fans have praised the movie for being such an effective horror film. In the movie, a rabid dog traps a mother (Dee Wallace) and her son in a broken-down car and they are unable to escape his vicious attacks. While it's a horrific situation on a small scale, it's frightening enough to make you jump next time you hear a dog bark.

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The Dead Zone (1983)

The Dead Zone
Paramount Pictures

Would being able to see the future be a blessing or a curse? The Dead Zone explores that when a teacher named Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) recovers from a coma to discover he has psychic abilities. He first uses his abilities as a force for good as something of a psychic detective for local authorities, but he is overwhelmed with his abilities when he discovers a politician running for the Senate (Martin Sheen) could be responsible for the nuclear destruction of the world in the future. The film, directed by David Cronenberg, effectively distills King's 400+ page novel into a taut, chilling psychological thriller.

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Christine (1983)

Columbia Pictures

Sure, a movie about a murderous car might seem goofy, but horror icon John Carpenter turned King's pulpy novel into a nightmare movie for every car owner. The title car—a beautiful red-and-white 1958 Plymouth Fury—is bought by a teenager (played by Keith Gordon), and his personality begins to change as he restores it. He soon discovers the car has supernatural powers as it leads its owner down a murderous path. Carpenter devoted a lot of attention to making the concept of an evil car believable.

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Silver Bullet (1985)

Silver Bullet
Paramount Pictures

Based on King's graphic short novel Cycle of the Werewolf, Silver Bullet (which King adapted into a screenplay himself) is about a small town terrorized by mysterious deaths. A young paraplegic boy (played by Corey Haim) discovers that they are caused by a werewolf. Naturally, few believe him except for his alcoholic, loudmouth uncle Red (Gary Busey). While it's almost as funny as it is scary (the werewolf looks more like a bear than a wolf), Silver Bullet is great viewing for Halloween.

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Stand By Me (1986)

Columbia Pictures

Based on King’s short novel “The Body” (collected in the anthology Different Seasons), the coming-of-age film Stand By Me has been a crowd-pleasing favorite since it was released in theaters. King has called the movie the best movie adaptation of any of his works, and with good reason – director Rob Reiner gleefully shows the close relationship of four young boys the summer before they began to drift their separate ways. Many were surprised that the film was based on a King story since he was so associated with horror, and because of the success of Stand By Me, a number of movies based on King’s non-horror work were released in the 1990s.

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The Running Man (1987)

The Running Man
TriStar Pictures

King originally published several novels, including The Running Man, under the pseudonym "Richard Bachman" for a number of reasons (including so his publisher would allow him to release more than one book a year). Though the secret was out by the 1987 release of the movie adaptation of The Running Man, the film still credits the novel to Richard Bachman. In the movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a wrongfully convicted prisoner who is forced to participate in a television show in which he will be hunted by professional killers. Though the movie differs significantly from the novel, it still is a cult classic and a fun watch.