Literary horror master Stephen King is no stranger to the screen. With the massive success of It, the critical acclaim for shows like the King-inspired Castle Rock and Mr. Mercedes, and this week’s release of the remake of Pet Sematary, King has arguably never been hotter as a source for film and television. And usually, it’s worth it. Sure, we get a dud like The Dark Tower every now and then, but we also end up getting good ones like Gerald’s Game.
With Mike Flanagan prepping an adaptation of Doctor Sleep (a sequel to The Shining), an It sequel due this fall, and a miniseries based on King’s excellent The Outsider on its way, this weekend’s Pet Sematary is only a small part of this current wave of new King products. However, there are still plenty of books and short stories that would be perfect for the screen, works that have either never been adapted or were adapted so poorly that Hollywood needs to try again. To that end, here are 13 King works that are shouting to become films or TV series. (Note: While some of these titles may be in a vague state of preproduction, King fans know that for every movie that actually gets made, a dozen fall apart before getting anywhere, so we’ll believe it when we see it.)
In 1996, King published two novels — one under his own name and one under his pseudonym Richard Bachman. They were considered “mirror” novels. The better of the two is King’s Desperation, which has already been made into a TV movie (but could arguably use a better remake), but the “Bachman” one was pretty darn good too, and is practically screaming for an adaptation. The inciting incident of The Regulators has probably scared some producers away due to its gun violence: A small town in Ohio is upended when a quartet of vans with shotgun-wielding “regulators” shoot anyone who goes outside. However, The Regulators gets highly removed from reality after that, with echoes of The Twilight Zone’s “It’s a Good Life.” Sensitive material from King books has been handled well (think the opening of Mr. Mercedes); this one just needs the right hand, preferably as a miniseries (which King implied was being discussed on Twitter back in 2014).
There are rumors that James Vanderbilt is trying to get this off the ground at New Line, but there were rumors that George A. Romero was going to do it in the ‘80s and Frank Darabont in the ‘00s, so until we see set photos, it qualifies for this list. Published under the Bachman pseudonym in 1979 and seeming like ripe material for a film or miniseries even then, it’s been stuck in development for four decades (and King actually wrote it a decade earlier than that during his freshman year at the University of Maine). The time is right for a movie about a cruel, totalitarian government that holds an awful contest every year in which teenage boys simply have to keep walking. If they stop, they get shot. Think of the rich thematic exploration that could be done here if the right filmmaker got his hands on it. Yes, we want to live in that alternate universe in which Romero got to make it, but we’ll take anyone at this point. Don’t let this one stop walking again, Vanderbilt.
One of King’s most effective novellas actually was made into a miniseries in 1995, but it’s so uniformly awful that it’s best if we all forget it ever existed. The opening installment of the Four Past Midnight novella collection, The Langoliers has thematic commonalities with NBC’s Manifest, but that shouldn’t stop someone from moving forward here as it so quickly deviates from that show’s “weirdest flight ever” setup. In this case, a cross-country flight from Los Angeles to Boston gets very Twilight Zone when ten of its passengers wake up to find they are the only ones left on the plane. That includes the pilot. Luckily, one of the passengers was an off-duty pilot and can land the plane, but it doesn’t get better at the airport in Bangor. (Never land a plane in Bangor. It’s cursed.) This is a wonderfully effective short story that actually suffered in miniseries form by being dragged out too long. Perhaps it’s ripe fodder for en episode of Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone?
While this novella reads like a deeply cinematic piece of work — and is another one that once attracted George A. Romero — it’s easy to understand why it hasn’t happened yet. It would be a tonal tightrope in that the thrust of the narrative consists almost entirely of the perspective of a lost girl in the woods. That’s tough to pull off — but not impossible. The right director and the right young actress could find the core of this riveting survival tale, which, yes, has supernatural echoes but more than anything works on a primal fear of being lost. It’s such a beautifully simple but effective story that it probably works better as a one-off in an anthology series, or maybe even a short film.
As tales of survival and toxic masculinity continue to dominate the headlines, someone smart should rush this 2007 novella into production. The key here is finding the right actress to play Amy, a woman who becomes obsessed with running after the death of her baby daughter. As her marriage falls apart, she retreats to a family home in Florida, where one of her neighbors happens to be a serial killer. When she falls into his trap, her recent training serves her well. This is one of those King works that doesn’t deal with the supernatural, falling more into his survival subgenre. With echoes of Gerald’s Game and even Misery, this could be a great two-hander with the right performers as Amy and Pickering, her attacker. It feels like a perfect fit for a Netflix Original.
With the return of Rod Serling’s vision to CBS All Access, why not use a story that King published in The Twilight Zone Magazine as source material for a new episode? Said story first saw the light of day in 1981, reprinted four years later in Skeleton Crew. It’s perfect for episodic television, a stand-alone story that’s obviously inspired by some of Serling’s visions of a future that includes things like deep-space travel and teleportation. King asks: What if the two were related? In the 24th century, people use teleportation to travel massive distances, including across solar systems. The process is called “jaunting,” and King has a blast with the concept, explaining how jaunting while awake either kills or drives people insane. As a family prepares to jaunt from New York to Mars, the father relays all the possible dangers and crazy theories about what exactly happens during the process. The right filmmaker could really explore these ideas in a fascinating way, or someone could get really ambitious and use the concept of jaunting as the bare-bones of a totally expanded series that explores how teleportation would impact society.
One of King’s most beloved early short stories, originally published in 1970 in Cavalier and then included in his seminal collection Night Shift, this one actually was made into a film in 1990, but it was horrible. Let’s try again. The story: A drifter is recruited to help clean up an old mill that has been massively infested by rats. It’s no spoiler to say these are no ordinary rats. How could a story of men vs. superintelligent rats work as a film? To comment on the working class and power structures in blue-collar employment, of course. Also, imagine a really smart, detailed practical effects team working with the various rats King describes, particularly the Queen. It’d be tough to pull off, but potentially amazing, and at any rate, we at least need to correct the error of that 1990 effort.
Imagine the fun that the right filmmaker could have with a King crime story set in what the cover calls a “Funhouse of Fear.” Moving from his usual setting of Maine, this one takes place in North Carolina at an amusement park in 1973. A student named Devin Jones gets a summer job at Joyland, and there’s some wonderfully detailed material about the setting and the kids who work there. This one feels like it could actually make for a robust setting for a streaming series: There’s an actual haunted house, potentially a murderer in the park, and a vibrant period backdrop. Maybe you’ve heard of a little show called Stranger Things? Think along those lines.
The opening short story of King’s Bazaar of Broken Dreams was originally published as an e-novel in 2011. It’s a wonderfully gory and grotesque piece of storytelling that would work perfectly on the screen. Although, it is hard to describe without making it sound goofy: The plot centers on a carnivorous station wagon. A kid goes to an abandoned rest stop in Maine where he finds some vodka and passes out. As he sleeps, a station wagon pulls up to the stop, and opens its door, but no one gets out. Then things get really weird. It’s perhaps too simple a story for a feature film, but there’s the potential for some striking imagery in this single-setting piece, particularly in the way the car digests those who come in contact with it. There were reports earlier this year that it was being worked on, but you could say that about pretty much everything King has ever written. Again, we’ll believe it when someone actually reports to a set.
Speaking of creepy cars, here’s another one that feels like it could be taken out for a spin. One of his least popular novels, 2002’s From a Buick 8 is technically about an automobile … but not really. The 1953 Buick Roadmaster in a storage shed in Pennsylvania is not really drivable. It’s not really a car. It’s more of a centerpiece to a variety of stories told by the book’s narrator, Sandy Dearborn. The car gives off something called “lightquakes” and some people have disappeared in its vicinity. One of the protagonists of the book starts to wonder if the Buck 8 didn’t have something to do with the death of his father. The Buick 8 really represents the darkness behind the picket fences of America — hidden secrets and urban legends. And it’s just creepy. There’s a reason that Romero (yes, him again) and Tobe Hooper were both attached to adaptations of this at different points before their deaths. There’s a lot of rich material here worth exploring.
The size of this one has probably scared people away, as well as the somewhat lackluster response to its publication in 2008. But there’s some rich world-building and deep ideas here that the right TV creator could really explore by turning it into a miniseries. The breakdown: A building contractor relocates to a beach house in Florida, and something seems to be inspiring him to paint. Turns out, his art has a supernatural ability of its own. Rich with character and location, this is the kind of piece that feels unwieldy on the page but could work well spread out over several episodes of television.
There’s a reason this short story, originally published in The New Yorker, won the O. Henry Award for Best Short Fiction. Originally published in 1994 and included in the 2002 collection Everything’s Eventual, it’s one of King’s best pieces of work of any length. An homage to Nathaniel Hawthorne, it’s a wonderfully simple story, which is probably why it hasn’t been adapted yet. How could you improve on it? It’s basically the story of a grieving boy who literally encounters the devil in a three-piece suit. That may not be enough for a feature (and it was adapted into a short in 2004), but it could definitely work as a starting point to explore how grief takes its toll on people. And the imagery of a man in a black suit with claw-like fingers and shark-like teeth needs to be on a big screen.
With the success of Game of Thrones, why hasn’t everything with a dragon been adapted by now? This one has been on studio whiteboards for years, but it’s never gotten off the ground despite being relatively popular for the 35 years since it was published. It’s a break from the norm for King, moving away from horror and into fantasy to tell an elaborate story set in a Tolkien-inspired world. And it has ties to The Dark Tower universe. This one has been at least rumored for a film in the ‘00s and a miniseries in the ‘10s, but since “elevated fantasy” is a definitely a thing now, let’s get this one back into production somewhere. It’s a reminder that not all King needs to be about killer clowns and supernatural occurrences; he can do an excellent job with world building.