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10 Stephen King Movies & TV Shows That Are Wildly Different From His Books


10 Stephen King Movies & TV Shows That Are Wildly Different From His Books


Summary

  • Adapting Stephen King’s work can be a challenging task due to the intricate and unique nature of his stories.
  • Some adaptations of King’s works deviate significantly from the source material, resulting in disappointment for fans.
  • Even popular adaptations like “The Shining” can differ greatly from the original book, sparking debate among fans and the author himself.



The works of Stephen King are vast and varied enough to be the inspiration behind an alarming number of movies and TV shows, with many of them differing significantly from the source material. The 66 books and counting of Stephen King, not to mention numerous short stories, have accounted for some of the most iconic horror tales of all time. As these literary works have been adapted into TV shows and movies, not all of them have survived the translation from page to screen gracefully.

There are a variety of reasons why adapting King’s work isn’t always such a straightforward process. While horror visionary Mike Flanagan has adapted many King books with astonishing accuracy, many creatives struggle with implementing the more disturbing, out-of-left-field, or slow-burning elements of King’s various stories. The final products of many such adaptations remain Stephen King stories in name only, with significant deviations from the books that inspired them.



10 Under The Dome (2013)

Runs in a different direction with the creative premise

Lily Walters (Gia Mantegna) strung up by her arms in Under the Dome.

A unique premise even for a Stephen King book, Under The Dome centers around the residents of a quaint Maine town that suddenly find themselves trapped under a massive transparent dome encompassing the entire city. The town becomes a pressure cooker of paranoia and violence as the community’s isolated state leads to a grab for power, with a corrupt used car salesman and an Army officer leading the charge. A massive tome of over 1,000 pages, its no wonder that Under The Dome‘s adaptation is a TV series rather than a movie.


The Under The Dome TV show tells a very different story than the book. While the dome continues to be alien in nature, its purpose and creators are both vastly different, and the series focuses more on different characters, some of which being combined into one. The narrative weight of the series is also shifted more towards the mystery of the dome and the Chester’s Mill citizens’ fate in the plans of its creators, rather than the more human-oriented conflict of the original story.

9 The Dark Tower (2017)

A pale imitation of King’s fantasy epic

Idris Elba as Roland Deschain in Dark Tower
The Dark Tower (2017)Idris Elba June 18, 2016 – Cape Town, South AfricaPhotograph by Marco Grob

One of the few notable departures from horror in Stephen King’s bibliography is the famed Dark Tower series, a dark fantasy epic spanning nine books. The tale begins with Roland, a cowboy-like gunslinger in an alternate dimension on a quest to find the elusive “Dark Tower”, a citadel at the center of all reality. The settings, characters, and themes of the series vary as dramatically as the entire rest of Stephen King’s work, resulting in a saga that some consider to be the author’s Magnum Opus.


Sadly, the only film adaptation of the series to date is 2017’s ill-fated The Dark Tower, starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. While the film clearly isn’t attempting to faithfully re-create the first book of the series, it’s strange picking-and-choosing of random elements spanning the length of the series crammed into one messy story results in a grave disappointment for fans of King’s narrative. Luckily, Mike Flanagan’s upcoming Dark Tower TV show promises to accurately bring the series to life.

8 Cell (2016)

Begins accurately before veering into new territory

Cell (2016) movie trailer - John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson


Not to be confused with the 2000 film of the same name with no relation to the works of Stephen King, 2016’s Cell is an oft-forgotten adaptation. The original book centers around the outbreak of a mysterious signal that travels through personal cell phones, infecting those that hear it into mindless zombies with only one directive — To kill the uninfected. The resulting tale is a harrowing trip through a freshly post-apocalyptic New England, as the starving artist protagonist searches for his son.

The 2016 film starts off seeming to be a fairly straightforward translation of the original novel, with only a few locations and events given slight makeovers. As the film enters the latter half of its second act, however, things have taken a dramatic departure from the events of the book, with entirely different action scenes that don’t delve as far into the book’s intricate caste system following the wake of the mysterious Pulse. The film’s culmination in a far more bleak fakeout ending is the final nail in the coffin that totally removes it from the legacy of King’s work.


7 The Lawnmower Man (1992)

Shared only a title with a Stephen King story

Two figures about to fight in cyber space in The Lawnmower Man

While his comprehensive novels might be more famous, Stephen King could almost be more considered for his hordes of short stories, including a title called The Lawnmower Man. Published in the 1978 Night Shift collection, The Lawnmower Man is a bizarre tale following a landscaper that uses a lawnmower to sacrifice victims to the nature god Pan, including the story’s hapless protagonist. Somehow, the 1992 film of the same name is even stranger despite having absolutely nothing in common with it.


Director Brett Leonard’s The Lawnmower Man instead tells the story of an intellectually disabled gardener who is preyed upon by a mad scientist, hoping to “upgrade” his subject into a perfect being. The resulting experimentation with digital consciousness and the then-novel concepts of virtual reality is conveyed through the lens of some truly dated special effects, with the presence of a lawnmower being the only meaningful connection to King’s story. Stephen King successfully sued The Lawnmower Man to remove his name from the film’s title, a testament to its deviation from its supposed source material.

6 Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Proved to King how hard adapting his stories can be

Green Goblin truck and Emilio Estevez in Maximum Overdrive


Sick of seeing other directors adapt his stories and fail, Stephen King himself took to the director’s chair for 1986’s Maximum Overdrive, loosely basing the script on his own short story, Trucks. This makes it all the more fascinating that the only Stephen King film directed by the author himself turns out to be one of the least faithful to his own writing. Trucks is a simple short story about a small group of survivors trapped in a gas station, forced to perform fuel service for a convoy of evil sentient trucks.

It’s not so much that Maximum Overdrive doesn’t faithfully adapt this premise. Rather, the King-led project adds more and more elements to the basic structure of Trucks until it’s essentially unrecognizable, widening the threat from trucks only to every machine in the world. The tone of Maximum Overdrive is also starkly different from the bleak tone of Trucks, becoming less of a horror story and more of a fun action-comedy romp. The far more upbeat ending and ridiculous explanation for the machines’ sentience puts a huge gulf between Maximum Overdrive and Trucks.


5 Carrie (2002)

Awkwardly tried to set up a franchise

Carrie 2002 Blood Prom

Carrie is one of the few Stephen King stories famous enough to spawn multiple film adaptations. While every Carrie movie attempts to put something of its own spin on the classic horror book, something was truly lost in translation in the 2002 version. The original Carrie tells the story of a repressed young woman developing psychic powers, who endures torment from her own mother and school bullies alike before finally going berserk.


The made-for-TV Carrie film took some eyebrow-raising liberties with King’s straightforward guide for horror success. At first, Carrie seems to be about as faithful as the classic 1976 adaptation, only making major changes to a single character. Unfortunately, the producers’ desire for the film to blossom into a TV series stains the drastically-altered ending, in which Carrier runs away from home to Florida to start a new life. This laughably obvious attempt at an expanded Carrie universe ultimately didn’t pan out, and does no favors for the story.

Differentiated itself from the first film and novel

Church the Cat sitting on road from Pet Semetary 2019 remake.

Like Carrie, Pet Semetary is a famous enough Stephen King story to apparently be worth adapting multiple times. The book tells the story of a doctor and his family’s encounter with the titular graveyard, an ancient burial ground capable of resurrecting people and animals, but at a horrible price. While the 1989 film stays fairly close to the beats laid out by King, the 2019 remake decided to play a little looser with its adaptation.


2019’s Pet Semetary maintains the same basic structure of both of the previous two iterations, but makes some drastic changes to the roles of characters. The newest version makes some interesting choices in swapping around which character actually gets resurrected, and adds in new plot elements revolving around the ghosts of the Creed family’s past and the mysterious masked cult surrounding the graveyard. Finally, Pet Semetary presents a brand-new ending, creating an almost entirely-new story altogether.

3 Mercy (2014)

Tried to stretch a bare-bones short story into a feature film

Chandler Riggs in Mercy 2014


Another film based off the precious limited resources of a Stephen King short story, 2014’s Mercy pushes the boundaries of what can be considered an adaptation. The short the film is based on, titled Gramma, is included in King’s 1985 collection, Skeleton Crew. The disturbing vignette focuses on a young boy with a terrifying grandmother who turns out to be a witch, and his efforts to escape her demonic influence.

Mercy takes the modest premise of Gramma, with its bare-bones cast and tightly-limited narrative, and runs quite far with it. The direct-to-DVD film peppers in a new imaginary friend for the young George to contend with, as well as an elaborate action setpiece not present in the text. Mercy is more so known for being one of the earliest appearances of The Walking Dead‘s Chandler Riggs rather than a beloved Stephen King adaptation, failing to inject meaningful changes into the bare-bones story.


2 The Running Man (1987)

Varied wildly in tone and character from its source material

Arnold Schwarzenneger as Ben Richards looking off the screen in The Running Man 1987

The last novel to be published under the “Bachman Books” banner, which King wrote under the psuedonym, Richard Bachman. The Running Man is a fairly radical departure from King’s normal horror fare, set in a dystopian world where contestants on a live television show are hunted for sport. Walking so later books like The Hunger Games could run, The Running Man was a thoughtful dissection of violence in media, rising civil unrest, and censorship.

Meanwhile, the Arnold Schwarzenegger star vehicle of the same name takes a very different approach to the same core premise. Arnold’s version of protagonist Ben Richards is about as drastic a departure from the book as possible, in both his physical description and personality, manifesting the same pun-spewing action hero as movies like Commando and Total Recall. Most importantly, the strangely lighter tone of the film and over-the-top antics of the dystopia compared to its novel presentation dilutes the themes of the book.


1 The Shining (1980)

Is a great movie, but not a great adaptation

Wendy looking scared and holding a knife in The Shining

Of all the movies to eclipse the Stephen King novels they’re based off of in popularity and critical reception, The Shining is surprisingly different from the actual book. Both stories follow writer Jack Torrence’s descent into violence while serving as a caretaker at the infamous Overlook Hotel during the off-season. However, the differences in themes and the source of the horror in Kubrick’s vision for the story differ starkly from King’s own.


Famously, Stephen King hates Kubrick’s The Shining, publicly denouncing his support for the film due to its many changes. Among his criticisms include the lack of slow corruption in Jack’s arc, seemingly ready to chop up his family from the first minute of the story, to the diminished power of the Overlooks Hotel’s spirits, which served as a metaphor for alcoholism in the original story. With a drastically different ending that doesn’t redeem Jack in the slightest, Kubrick’s The Shining stands in stark contrast to the Stephen King novel.

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