After the enormous critical and box-office success of It, director Andy Muschietti is at work on the sequel and has also made his interest known about helming a new adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel Pet Sematary.
While it might seem strange for so many King properties to be trusted to a single filmmaker, the truth is that King’s work has traditionally been revisited numerous times by a small but loyal group of filmmakers over the years since 1976’s Carrie. From the one-two punch of Tom Holland’s “The Langoliers” and Thinner to the back-to-back Lewis Teague adaptations of Cujo and Cat’s Eye, filmmakers who found success with one of King’s works were often called upon to try and replicate that success.
This is a list of the top ten collaborations between Stephen King and writers, directors, and actors who have brought his frightening material to life:
10) Ed Harris, actor
A surprising name to pop up on the list, the mention of Ed Harris usually brings forth memories of an intense, physical performer and four-time Oscar nominee. His body of work ranges from the frightening (A History of Violence) to the tragic (Pollock) to the mysterious (Westworld), and he is remembered from his breakout performance in The Right Stuff.
However, King fans will remember him from a year earlier in Creepshow, reteaming with his Knightriders director George A. Romero. He played the ill-fated Hank, dancing, drinking, and being crushed by a tombstone in the “Father’s Day” segment.
It was eleven years later that he returned for another King adventure, playing the Sheriff of Castle Rock, Maine, in 1993’s Needful Things. Playing Alan Pangborn, the same character played by Michael Rooker in the same year’s The Dark Half, Harris plays the widowed protagonist trying to save his town from a villainous new store owner.
And, in a short but effective cameo, Harris pops up as General Starkey in the TV mini-series adaptation of “The Stand”. He recites William Butler Yeats’ famous poem “The Second Coming,” followed by a truly depressing character exit.
9) William Goldman, screenwriter
Generally recognized as one of the great screenwriters in the history of Hollywood, his most well-known scripts are nearly too numerous to list: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives, All the President’s Men, The Princess Bride, and the list goes on.
He’d already been writing for Hollywood for 25 years when he did his first King adaptation, providing the script for Rob Reiner’s Misery. Taut, merciless, and classy, the film was a huge hit and an Oscar winner. It provided a template for his next King adaptation, Hearts in Atlantis: a hit novel from King with few central characters, very little supernatural material, and a cast and crew of well-respected actors and filmmakers.
His third and, to date, final King adaptation broke his successful streak. Dreamcatcher was a challenging book to adapt, weaving a Stand By Me-style flashback narrative and a guys’ nature adventure in with a government thriller and an alien gorefest. The film didn’t fare well at the box office, and has only had one credited script to his name since its release.
8) Kathy Bates, actress
With a performance as chilling and memorable as Kathy Bates’ role of Annie Wilkes in Misery, it’s easy to forget any of her other performances, let alone the other ones she had in Stephen King movies. From Titanic to American Horror Story to About Schmidt, Bates’ performances are as different from each other as they are adventurous to begin with.
Though movie stars do appear on television now fairly frequently, it was not the case back in 1994 when a post-Misery Bates appeared as radio show host Rae Flowers in the TV mini-series “The Stand” (joining previous mention Ed Harris). Her role was a few short scenes with a shocking close, and her impact on the overall feel of the first chapter of the mini-series is strong.
However, the great unsung King performance from Bates is the brilliant Dolores Claiborne. Though not a horror film in content, the raw emotion and devastating personal revelations of the film make it as riveting and uncomfortable to experience as the toughest of King’s work, and though she won an Oscar for Misery, this might be the more impressive performance.
7) Mikael Salomon, director
Though Salomon is not a household name, his work certainly is. Having directed episodes of “Rome”, “Band of Brothers”, “Camelot”, and “Powers”, he brings quality and scale to many of the best cable TV series in recent years.
It makes sense that he would be chosen to helm the newest adaptation of “Salem’s Lot” in 2004. Though not an enormous hit, it was an effective version of the story, and it led to him directing two separate episodes of “Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King.” With each episode based on a separate King short story, it was like Salomon directed two mini-movies of King’s: “The End of the Whole Mess” and “Autopsy Room Four.”
Then, in 2014, Salomon took on an unconventional book from King for an unconventional venue for King: a feature film adaptation of “Big Driver” for the Lifetime network. Starring Maria Bello (also excellent in King’s Secret Window), the story revolves around a mystery writer who decides to investigate the unidentified man who raped her and left her for dead.
6) Craig R. Baxley, director
Craig Baxley had an unconventional trajectory to directing Stephen King films. His early career was in stunt performance and coordination, working on shows like “M*A*S*H” and “Police Story.” He worked his way up to second unit director on stunt-heavy shows like “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “The A-Team,” and started directing episodes of “The A-Team” from there.
He moved into feature action films with movies like Action Jackson and Stone Cold, eventually moving to a series of made-for-TV thrillers in the late 1990s. From there, he jumped to the first of his King works, the mini-series “Storm of the Century,” still arguably one of King’s best television works.
Three years later, in 2002, he directed all three episodes in the haunted house mega-mini-series “Rose Red,” melding his action and thriller past with a huge cast and elaborate effects. The mini-series was a big ratings success, and one year later, he also directed “The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer,” a prequel movie that told the dark history of the haunted house.
Baxley’s last collaboration with King was the fascinating but ill-fated series “Kingdom Hospital,” the creepy series based on the Lars von Trier mini-series. The series lasted only a single season, but had some indelible images and was a harbinger of the coming peak TV and horror booms currently filling televisions.
5) Frank Darabont, writer/director
Though he is known now as the man who brought “The Walking Dead” to television, Frank Darabont has had a long a fruitful relationship with other horror material, along with several King adaptations. Though his first feature film credit was co-writing A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, he actually started before that by making a short film version of a King story, The Woman in the Room.
It was not a horror film, but King considers it to be one of the best adaptations of his work. Darabont moved on to write scripts for The Blob remake, The Fly II, and many TV series scripts for “Tales from the Crypt” and “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.”
However, his feature directorial debut was King’s The Shawshank Redemption, a massive critical and commercial hit which also garnered seven Oscar nominations. He followed that film up with 1999’s The Green Mile, another non-horror prison film from King.
Darabont could only stay from horror for so long, though, and he returned in spectacular fashion with 2007’s The Mist, a beautifully shot, big-scale horror film with one of the most memorably devastating endings in recent film history.
4) Lawrence D. Cohen, writer
Not to be confused with maverick writer/director Larry Cohen (they’re often confused be Larry Cohen also made a King property, the theatrical sequel A Return to Salem’s Lot), Lawrence D. Cohen has the honor of having introduced film fans to Stephen King.
He wrote the screenplay for 1976’s Carrie, the first film to be made from a Stephen King story. The movie was a huge success, opening the floodgates to King adaptations for the next two decades. It would be another 14 years before he returned to another King property, this time creating the template for the King TV mini-series with the adaptation of “It” in 1990.
The ratings success of “It” led to him also adapting King’s “The Tommyknockers” as a mini-series. The series didn’t fare as well critically or in the ratings, but Cohen wasn’t done with King yet. He scripted “The End of the Whole Mess,” a standalone episode of “Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King” and, in an unprecedented situation, he also did a script polish on the 2013 remake of his 1976 original Carrie.
3) Jeffrey DeMunn, actor
Jeffrey DeMunn is one of the most recognizable character actors working in film and television. Though he may be known best now as Dale from “The Walking Dead,” he has appeared in everything from The X-Files movie to “Law & Order” to the Showtime series “Billions.”
He has had a long and fruitful relationship with director Frank Darabont, who cast him in “The Walking Dead.” Before that, DeMunn also appeared in all three of Darabont’s King adaptations, playing a district attorney in The Shawshank Redemption, a prison guard in The Green Mile, and a terrified resident in The Mist.
His most complex role in a King work was as town manager Robbie Beals in “Storm of the Century.” Aided by brilliant performances from Cole Feore and a script from King himself, DeMunn captured the small-town thinking and spot-on accent of Maine, something largely lacking from adaptations of King’s geographically specific work.
2) Michael Gornick, producer/director
Michael Gornick is only a known commodity to truly devoted horror film fans, but his work is something many people know. A longtime George A. Romero collaborator, he was the cinematographer on Dawn of the Dead and its sequel, as well as Knightriders and his first King work, Creepshow.
He moved from cinematographer to director with the TV series “Tales from the Darkside,” bringing King’s excellent short story “The Word Processor of the Gods” to screen In an episode. He returned to the anthology fold again with Creepshow 2, this time as the director of the film, creating memorable segments like the carnivorous blob in the lake and the murderous wooden Native American statue.
His final collaboration with King was the interesting TV oddity of “Stephen King’s Golden Years.” A continuing series born from the popularity of the mini-series It the year before, it was an original story not based on a previous concept. The cast was good and the premise was interesting, but it was cancelled after only seven episodes.
There is no doubt who tops the list of most frequent and fruitful collaborators. With a whopping seven adaptations, Mick Garris is officially the King adaptation king.
Always a genre writer from his early days on Amazing Stories to his script for Hocus Pocus to his many incarnations of Post Mortem, his interview series, Garris has had a love and devotion to all things creepy. It was 1992’s Sleepwalkers that brought King and Garris together, with Garris directing the film and King writing the screenplay.
Though the feature film wasn’t a huge success, it led to a longtime friendship and collaboration. Two years after Sleepwalkers, Garris brought the impossibly-complicated “The Stand” to TV screens in four parts, an enormous undertaking. The film was a success, leading to other TV movies like “Quicksilver Highway,” “Riding the Bullet,” and “Desperation.”
He was even brave enough to direct the TV mini-series version of “The Shining,” thought to be untouchable due to Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1980 film. The TV version was met with mixed reviews. To date, the last film they worked on together was 2011’s “Bag of Bones,” a two-part TV adaptation of King’s novel starring Pierce Brosnan and Annabeth Gish. However, with the renewed interest in all things King, it’s only a matter of time before we see something else from this prolific duo.
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