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 10 great Stephen King stories that are ripe for film adaptationWe’re currently in a Stephen King renaissance that shows no sign of stopping. Thanks to the record-breaking success of last year’s remake of It, Hollywood is lining up to dig into the horror master’s massive literary output — starting with a long overdue remake of Pet Sematary, the uneven yet hypnotic 1989 treatment of one of King’s scariest novels.

In the wake of It’s massive success, it’s easy to see why directors (like Guillermo del Toro) are interested in improving upon older King adaptations that may not have lived up to their source material. But there are also plenty of King gems that have yet to be unearthed for movie audiences — some of which have long been stuck in development hell, to hopefully be rescued by this new cultural craving for King adaptations.

Although King stories have traditionally found recurring success as television miniseries, the tremendous payoff to Hollywood’s gamble of releasing It as two separate feature film installments has paved the way for more big-screen adaptations that take similar chances. With that newfound cinematic appetite in mind, here are 10 King novels and short stories, ranging through horror, suspense-thriller, science fiction, and fantasy, that are just waiting to be transformed (or remade) into films for the next generation of moviegoers.

Strawberry Spring (1968)

strawberry_spring 10 great Stephen King stories that are ripe for film adaptationDarek Kocurek

King wrote this story while he was still in college and later compiled it in the 1978 story collection Night Shift. One of his earliest published works, it has all the earmarks of King at his finest: an engrossing plot featuring psychological suspense, a deep sense of nostalgia for a specific time and place, and a complex villain — in this case, a serial killer nicknamed Springheel Jack.

Why it would work: King’s writing throughout this popular story is lush and evocative, just begging for graceful, ever-moodier cinematography that mirrors the story’s encroaching sinister subtext.

The biggest pitfall in adapting “Strawberry Spring” is that the ending, undoubtedly a serious shocker in 1968, would probably be instantly guessed by savvy modern audiences. Still, given audiences’ love for King and his ability to ground his stories in a deep sense of place, this isn’t an insurmountable obstacle, and in the hands of a solid screenwriter, this story could be well-told.

“The Boogeyman” (1973)

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Another Night Shift short story, “The Boogeyman” tells the classic demon/poltergeist tale of a family pursued by a horrifying supernatural entity that may or may not be murdering children. The tense psychological ambiguity of King’s writing and the grim, terrifying certainty that no child is safe sets this tale apart from innumerable “scary thing in the closet” stories, as the protagonist fights to keep his kids away from the clutches of the Boogeyman. What makes this story stand out from other similar tales is that King’s Boogeyman is corporeal and dangerous, with the kill count to prove it.

Why it could work: Despite being part of King’s most popular short story collection, this story has only ever been adapted into short films. (In fact, a 1982 adaptation was the first of King’s famous “dollar baby” short films.) But there’s a lot of potential for this story to be absolutely terrifying as a feature film in the right writer’s hands. Like Pet Sematary, there are themes of grieving and parenthood, and like many other King stories, the protagonist’s psychological breakdown muddies the waters. Above all, there’s lots of potential to expand the world of King’s short story into something truly complicated and memorable.

Salem’s Lot (1975)

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King’s beloved novel of Lovecraftian horror infesting a small modern-day New England town succeeds on multiple levels, serving up memorable characters, loads of action, and a central haunted house setting as creepy as they come. It’s also an analogue for dying rural ways and steadily encroaching sociopolitical shifts that go unnoticed for years until suddenly all hell breaks loose. And you thought it was just about vampires.

Why it could work: Though it’s been made into two television miniseries — a 1979 miniseries directed by Tobe Hooper that hasn’t aged well, and a forgotten 2004 remake — Salem’s Lot has never been given a big-screen adaptation. This is undoubtedly because, like many of King’s best works, it’s sprawling and epic. (A Dracula-esque short story prequel, “Jerusalem’s Lot,” and a sequel, “One for the Road,” add even more background context.)

But as Muschietti’s adaptation of It showed, a somewhat scaled-down version of the story could work elegantly on the big screen. And with its emphasis on nostalgia and the terrors of childhood, it shares many themes with It that could make it a hit with new audiences. Plus, the vampires, easily the most popular part of Hooper’s adaptation, could be made even scarier through modern effects — and we all know, the vampires are the main draw.

The Long Walk (1979)

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King’s most popular novel under the Richard Bachman pseudonym is set in an alternate history in which Germany won World War II. The modern US under fascist rule is a deeply disturbing dystopia where boys compete in a grueling pedestrian marathon — think Speed meets The Hunger Games — that ends in death for all but one winner.

Why it could work: The power of this novel rests in its explication of the deep emotional and physical toll taken on the walk’s participants, all of whom come into the race shouldering the broader social effects of a deeply oppressive government. The book features memorable characters and even more memorable moments along the route of the walk, in which no one is allowed to slow to a speed below 4 miles an hour. It’s tricky, but in the hands of a thoughtful screenwriter and director, an adaptation of this novel could be a brutal, suspenseful, thrilling anti-fascist takedown.

Cujo (1981)

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Cujo is a jaunt into two subjects King loves: non-human killers and terrible forces of nature. A story about a St. Bernard that goes rabid and becomes nigh unstoppable in his urge to kill, Cujo brought us one of horror’s most memorable titular villains and is constantly being brought up by King fans as one of his scariest books.

Why it could work: As terrifying as Cujo the book remains, the lackluster 1983 film adaptation suffered from a fatal flaw, which is that it’s hard to make a real dog into a convincing actor, let alone a convincing arbiter of terror. This is one area where modern special effects could be a significant assist — think of Life of Pi’s entirely computer-generated yet terrifying tiger. It helps that dogs are currently enjoying something of a moment in an internet culture long dominated by cats; in an environment where all dogs are good doggos, a new spin on Cujo — who, as noted in a famous line from the novel, had always tried to be a good dog — could easily take the populace by scary surprise.

Rose Madder (1995)

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Full of mythical symbolism and beautiful imagery, Rose Madder is one of King’s many attempts to tackle the subject of domestic violence. It tells the story of a woman who leaves her intensely violent husband and attempts to start over in a new place, with a policeman hell-bent on tracking her down.

Yes, that is the exact plot of Nicholas Sparks’s Safe Haven, but here’s where things get distinctly King-ian: In her new town, Rose impulsively buys a portrait of a woman in a rose madder gown that leads her into an incredible other world, where she meets and befriends a woman named Dorcas. Dorcas sends Rose on a quest in that other world, and through it, Rose becomes a warrior and a fighter and a slayer of minotaurs. Whether any of that will help her free herself from her real-life stalker husband, though, is a more complicated question.

Why it could work: Rose Madder is teeming with solid roles for women, particularly the leads of Rose and Dorcas, whose friendship is the book’s greatest asset. In addition to delivering more of the complex fantasy world building that fans of King’s Dark Tower crave, its interweaving of fantasy and reality is bait for sumptuous cinematography and artistic direction.

Plus, its unusual combination of fantasy and suspense thriller tropes makes it rife for a high-art treatment — a feature that could actually make it an improvement over the book, which, as Grady Hendrix at Tor notes, fails to truly capture the compelling essence of the gorgeous painting at its center. There’s room for a treatment of this story that’s both nuanced and evocative. Please can we have this one yesterday?

“The Road Virus Heads North” (1999)

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Like both Rose Madder and Duma Key, this short story involves a painting with supernatural or magical properties. And like a multitude of King’s works, it features a writer who could be a stand-in for King himself, this time a famous but weary horror writer who stumbles across a demented painting at a yard sale. Intrigued by the weirdly titled painting and the tragic death of its creator, he buys it, only to discover the details in the painting are subtly changing. The painting, it seems, has a life of its own and is impossible to leave behind or destroy. Things escalate quickly, and while this is all standard horror fare, the combination of weird details, the King traits, and a gripping climax make it one of his more memorable short stories.

Why it could work: This story was already adapted for the small screen, in a 2005 episode of Nightmares and Dreamscapes starring Tom Berenger as Richard Kinnell. With the proper treatment, however, this could be an excellent fun horror flick. While the “object in the picture is moving” plot is clichéd, it could be easily juiced up with a lot of world building, an infusion of jump scares, and opportunities for hammy acting. In short, this could be a perfectly enjoyable bit of mainstream horror with the King brand attached.

“The Gingerbread Girl” (2007)

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This short story received critical acclaim when it was published due to its harrowing and exhausting depiction of a woman’s struggle to escape a violent serial killer. The story plays out as a slow-build tale of a woman empowering herself after a traumatic event (think every ’90s Ashley Judd movie). Emily is a grieving mother who finds solace in a grueling physical regimen — which proves to be her only defense when she runs, literally, into the clutches of a serial killer one day on the beach. What follows is a classic cat-and-mouse horror story with plenty of twists and turns.

Why it could work: Emily, the titular Gingerbread Girl, is a juicy role for any actress. No waiflike Final Girl, she’s an adult woman who spends the first part of King’s story reinventing herself mentally and physically — rare stuff for any horror film. Like many of the best horror narratives, this one sets itself up to be about one thing and then abruptly proves to be about something completely different. A good director could easily lull an audience with the seductive beach setting and our empathy with Emily’s quest to rebuild her life — all to make the abrupt about-face and the sudden switch to a grueling slasher/stalker narrative that much more terrifying.

Duma Key (2008)

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One of King’s most successful “post-sobriety” novels, Duma Key is a rich tapestry of myth, artwork, and terror splayed across a sunny Floridian landscape. After a near-fatal injury, a still-recuperating man moves to a remote Florida Key island, where he and his daughter are soon engulfed in a local mystery involving old secrets, psychics, and strange paintings that seem to have the power to predict and change the future. This is a story that’s bursting with plot, with a powerful and enigmatic villain at its center.

Why it could work: Duma Key is easily one of King’s most unusual and interesting stories. Who doesn’t love a movie set in a sumptuous coastal paradise — especially with an element of horror lurking amid all the local color? Add in the parade of intricate paintings that play key roles in an equally intricate plot, and Duma Key could easily make for a highly successful film adaptation.

(Yes, several of these suggestions involve paintings that exert power over the viewer — but that theme could be a refreshing break from Hollywood’s typical interest in King stories that focus on writing as a creative metaphor, rather than visual arts.)

Blockade Billy (2010)

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This underread King novella is a tribute to his love of baseball — but it’s also got an ominous undertone not typically paired with this kind of Americana. Set in 1950s New Jersey, the story focuses on an initially unimposing Rube Waddell-type figure, a quixotic, mysterious new player up from the minor league whose powerful playing style quickly endears him to fans and fellow teammates. But “Blockade Billy” has a secret, and things get dark fast. For a short work of fiction, this story manages to pack in a lot, from rumination on identity to fan mania and the maintenance of cultural rituals at all costs. Oh, and death.

Why it could work: A movie adaptation of Blockade Billy could easily sell itself as a baseball story for fans of baseball — with a twist. It takes a while for the cracks to show through in this entertaining novella, and there’s plenty of room for a good screenwriter to play on the conventions of the baseball movie genre to surprise and upend the audience’s expectations just as King does. Plus, like all of King’s best works, there are plenty of characters here to love and hate, which makes this perfect movie fodder.

Author: Aja Romano


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