A brief history of Stephen King screen adaptations

Brad Keefe

In my years as a movie critic, I've lamented the downsides of book-to-screen adaptations again and again.

Please don't misunderstand. Yes, many of my all-time favorite movies are based on books. Yes, beloved books often make great shared experiences at the movies. But the nature of the formats requires that the best adaptations truly adapt.

Stephen King's “It” hits the big screen this weekend— screening after our deadline, but look for a review next week — so let's look back at the history of the author's work on screen.

The first two King adaptations remain two of the best, thanks in no small part to having visionary directors at the helm. Brian De Palma's“Carrie” remains a horror classic not cheapened by an inferior sequel and subsequent remake.

Then there's Stanley Kubrick's“The Shining.” Widely considered one of the great horror movies ever made, it's significant who wasn't a fan: Stephen King. King was vocal in his disdain for some of the liberties Kubrick took with the material.

To be sure, Kubrick altered significant aspects of the intent of the book. But these changes also arguably made for a better movie, as evidenced by the King-approved 1997 TV miniseries that's been all but forgotten.

The mid-to-late '80s were dotted with King horror flicks that now live more in nostalgia —“Christine,” “Children of the Corn,” “Firestarter,” “Pet Sematary,” etc. — but this also marked the beginnings of the non-horror works that would be among the best films adapted from King's words.

Both 1986's“Stand By Me” and 1994's“The Shawshank Redemption” are significant not just for diverging from the horror that made King famous. They are based on novellas, which makes for a much better page-to-screen ratio. That's the rub of trying to get everything in for fans of a book. Your movie is going to be six hours long.

Look no further back than this summer's earlier King adaptation,“The Dark Tower.” What should have been a franchise starter left fans of the book angry and newcomers to the material confused. It was a lose-lose proposition.

This is what“It”could be getting right in the decision to split the book's 1,100-plus pages into two movies. I applaud it in principle. We'll find out this weekend.