This feature originally ran in October 2015 and is being republished ahead of The Dark Tower.
When Stephen King published his first novel, Carrie, on April 5, 1974, the New England author unknowingly caused a rift in genre storytelling and filmmaking that has yet to zip back up. Since then, he’s published nearly 100 works and sold over 350 million copies, all of which have spawned countless films, mini-series, and television shows over the past four decades.
Some have been great, some have been awful, some shouldn’t even be allowed to use the original title. When you have an oeuvre with that much depth and licensing that ridiculously expansive, it’s understandable why quantity would triumph over quality. Still, when filmmakers do manage to connect with King’s work, it often conjures up something iconic and masterful.
“I love the movies, and when I go to see a movie that’s been made from one of my books, I know that it isn’t going to be exactly like my novel because a lot of other people have interpreted it,” King previously digressed on the subject. “But I also know it has an idea that I’ll like because that idea occurred to me, and I spent a year, or a year and a half of my life working on it.”
That’s the allure of his many adaptations. Even at their worst, they all work off ideas and concepts that were at one time unique and exciting enough to compel him to write 400 or 1,500 pages about them. Though, because we don’t want to subject you to garbage like The Lawnmower Man or The Mangler, we decided instead to offer up his 10 strongest — all features, mind you.
10. Cujo (1983)
There’s a lot that gets lost in translation from page to screen with Cujo. The somewhat rambling domestic dramas of the book’s various characters don’t condense into a 91-minute film particularly well, which makes all of the familial drama at play feel rushed and overwrought. Cujo himself fares even worse. In print, the good dog ravaged by rabies is probably one of King’s more realistic villains, but the limits of early ‘80s effects make him look as much like a vicious killer as Mr. Ed chewing peanut butter looks like an actual talking horse.
What saves the film, though, are the performances, particularly Dee Wallace’s turn as the terrified but protective mom Donna. Cujo’s potential victims are so realistically terrified and shocked by what’s happening to them that they encourage a similar level of psychological horror from its viewers. Or at least enough suspension of disbelief to imagine that the characters aren’t being menaced by a muddy and drooling ball of fluff.
King’s Consensus: “Cujo is a terrific picture. You know, that one often gets overlooked. If I have a resentment, it’s that Dee Wallace [Stone] never got nominated for an Academy Award. She did a terrific job as the woman who gets stuck out there with the rabid dog who’s menacing them.” —ABC’s Nightline, November 2007