With over 60 novels, 200 short stories and counting, 6 non-fiction books, and no signs of slowing down at age 70, it’s not as though Stephen King needed a career boost. Yet, that didn’t stop 2017 from being the year that adaptations of the prolific author’s work exploded everywhere, from the big screen to the small, and streaming services in between.
With such a large body of work to pull from, and the massive successes of certain King adaptations, it’s no surprise that this year is only the beginning. While there’s a long list of projects in development, like new series Castle Rock for Hulu or a new adaptation of Firestarter in development, we look back at the best and worst Stephen King adaptions that 2017 had to offer.
Worst: The Dark Tower
One of King’s most beloved works is The Dark Towers series, eight or so novels that blend dark fantasy, horror, and western genres and follows Gunslinger Roland Deschain. Critics and audiences alike were extremely disappointed to discover the film adaptation proved to be nothing at all like the book series upon its August theatrical release. Perhaps that’s not so surprising, considering the project has been in development since 2007, going through multiple studios and filmmakers before finally landing at Sony with Nikolaj Arcel at the helm. During its sluggish box office run, The Dark Tower didn’t exactly tank, but it underwhelmed expectations by a vast amount. The only one to seemingly come out unscathed was Idris Elba as Roland. Despite a lackluster showing, Sony is moving ahead with The Dark Tower series, with Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead) serving as showrunner and Elba expected to reprise his role.
When Cary Fukunaga vacated the director’s seat in 2015 due to disagreements with New Line over the direction of the story, expectations on the pending new adaptation cooled. Enter Andy Muschietti, an upcoming director with only one feature-length directing credit to his name, Mama. Fans still weren’t convinced. Yet, that slowly began to change. First, in February, news broke that this iteration of one of King’s most popular works would be R-rated. The following month, footage of the film shown at SXSW impressed its audience. But it was the record-breaking views upon the trailer’s release at the end of March that would indicate not only Muschietti’s masterful vision, but the record-breaking box office numbers that were still to come. IT earned high praise from critics, and held strong at the box office for weeks, earning over $600 million worldwide. Bill Skarsgard successfully made Pennywise his own, terrifying theatergoers everywhere, but it was the young cast that made up the Losers Club that stole our hearts.
Worst: “The Mist”
Spike’s first original scripted series, based on Stephen King’s story, seemed like a great idea. While Frank Darabont’s adaptation in 2007 was mostly confined to a grocery store, expanding the concept to a whole town, offering multiple perspectives while the eerie mist wreaked havoc, sounded great on paper. Except the reality was that the 10-episode run wound up feeling like a drag when it consisted of character inconsistencies, plot holes, and terrible VFX. The writing was clumsy and almost seemed to actively work against making any characters likable, throwing in things like date rape and incest without much purpose. Averaging a 0.14 rating in adults 18-49 at about 462,000 viewers per episode, it failed to catch on with viewers, so it’s no surprise that after a lackluster inaugural season, The Mist will not be getting a second season.
Best: “Mr. Mercedes”
Developed by David E. Kelley and executive produced by King himself, this mystery thriller TV series follows along with King’s Bill Hodges trilogy. Running for 10-episodes, and created for AT&T’s Audience network, a second season renewal was announced just ahead of the inaugural season finale in early October and will follow the second novel in the series, Finders Keepers. Harry Treadaway, fresh off of Penny Dreadful, has been great as the psychopathic Brady Hartsfield, but the best reason to tune in is Brendan Gleeson’s take on retired detective Bill Hodges. The cat-and-mouse game between killer and detective is pure King entertainment; King even got in a trademark cameo, only to be served a violent death in episode six.
2017 brought not one, but two Stephen King adaptations for the popular streaming service, the second of which smartly adapted a lesser known King novella. Starring Thomas Jane and Molly Parker, with a great score by Mike Patton, this slow burn horror follows a farmer as he convinces his teenage son to assist in murdering his wife, and the subsequent consequences of guilt. Though mostly critically loved, 1922 is either a winner or loser depending on the viewer. Well shot and well-acted, this one comes down to taste preferences. There are those that will adore Jane’s Wilfred James’ slow descent into madness as guilt and consequences consume him. For others, like me, the horror elements will be too toned down to really enjoy the deliberate, crawling pace of the story. Parker’s vengeful ghost is brilliant, and sorely underutilized. That said, adapting King’s lesser-known works is worth celebrating alone.
Best: Gerald’s Game
Leave it to Mike Flanagan to finally set the record straight that there is no such thing as an unfilmable novel or story as long as the right director is at the helm, which is what Gerald’s Game was always considered due to most of the narrative taking place within protagonist Jesse’s head. Handcuffed to a bed and left for dead when her husband unexpectedly dies during a poor attempt to spice up their marriage, Jesse talks to versions of her husband and her own self in her head, working through her situation and her painful past. Wanting to adapt this novel since he was in college, Flanagan manages to make the material make sense for screen while still honoring the source novel. The Moonlight Man is as creepy as he is on the page, thanks to Carel Struycken’s presence, but boy does Carla Gugino give the performance of her life as the physically, emotionally, and mentally tortured Jesse. Though audiences were left divided by the epilogue, which remained faithful to the novel, everyone was enraptured by the events leading up to it, including that scene with the wrist. You know the one.
Which Stephen King adaptation did you love the most?