Advertisements

Worst to First: Ranking the Stephen King Movies of the 80’s

Stephen King Posters

The 1970’s introduced horror fans to a prolific writer named Stephen King.  You may have heard of him.  In 1976, Brian DePalma adapted King’s first novel, Carrie, into a hit movie.    The success of Carrie opened the floodgates.  Ever since, audiences have been inundated with Stephen King movies.  In the following decade, there were 14 feature films adapted from King’s works!  Some were better than others and some weren’t very good at all.  So as we get into the Halloween spirit, let’s rank the Stephen King movies of the 80’s from worst to first.

Emilio Estevez - Maximum Overdrive - 1986

Emilio Estevez – Maximum Overdrive – 1986

14. Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Summary: Sick and tired of seeing Hollywood mess up his stories, King decided to do it himself.  King wrote and directed Maximum Overdrive based on his short story, Trucks.  Brat Packer Emilio Estevez leads a bunch of survivors who are trapped at a roadside truck stop when inanimate objects begin attacking human beings.  A group of killer trucks are led by a semi with a Green Goblin mask on its grille.

What’s Good: That truck was pretty rad.  The cast included future Commissioner Gordon Pat Hingle and future Lisa Simpson, Yeardley Smith.  If you like AC/DC, you will love the soundtrack.  To date it is King’s only directorial effort.  So it’s got that going for it.  Which is nice.

What’s Bad: There’s a reason King never attempted to direct a movie again.  The author admits he was “coked out of his mind” when he made Maximum Overdrive.  King will be the first one to tell you he had no idea how to direct a movie and it shows.

King Cameo: Man At Cashpoint

Verdict: King refers to Maximum Overdrive as a “moron movie”.  That’s pretty spot-on.

Next

Advertisements

Posted on October 2, 2015, in Movies, Worst to First and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 45 Comments.

  1. jeffthewildman

    Creepshow should be a couple notches higher and Pet Sematary should be way lower, otherwise I’m in agreement.

    Like

    • Not a fan of Pet Sematary? While I don’t hold it up as a classic, it’s easily one of my favorite King movies from the era. Why no love?

      Like

      • Mainly because I came to it after the book, which was very effectively scary. The movie seemed to me almost anti-climactic in that regard. As a friend pointed out, the overblown tone it took in parts made it less scary. In some ways, it’s similar to why the adaptation of Needful Things didn’t work for me either. Needful Things was the first King book I read and I loved it. Then I saw the movie and was surprised at how much was missing. Of course, corners always have to be cut when translating 400-500 page books into 2-hour movies. But with some novels, there aren’t any spare parts, everything’s necessary to the total experience. I loved both the book The Shining and Kubrick’s film. I can understand why King was upset with the changes Kubrick made. But I’d say that those changes helped give the movie a separate identity from the book.

        When I first saw Christine I wasn’t too big a fan of it. But that one’s grown somewhat in my eyes since namely when I realized that the novel isn’t one of King’s better efforts.

        The Running Man is one that I like better than I really should. It’s not one of the best Schwarzenegger films. But it’s one I can’t help but watch whenever I come across it. At the same time, it’s so different from the book that it’s almost unrecognizable.In the book, the Ben Richards character was an impoverished working stiff who went on the game show to get money for medicine for his sick daughter. He had to use ingenuity instead of brawn to survive. The premise of it foreshadows Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. The movie version might’ve been better with a Cronenberg or Verhoeven at the helm. Paul Michael Glaser is a pretty mediocre director.

        Below here’s a list I made a few months back ranking all the King adaptations I’ve seen. Around the same time I made another one in which I ranked Elmore Leonard adaptations; the Leonard list I’m thinking of converting into an article for this site.

        http://letterboxd.com/jeff_wilder/list/stephen-king-adaptations-ranked/

        Like

        • Pet Sematary may have been my first King book. I definitely read it before I saw the movie. It remains one of my favorites. I was a senior in high school when the movie came out, so maybe I was the right age to see it. It is admittedly schlocky compared to the novel. But I really doubt anyone could have done the book justice in two hours. That’s enough time to either have everyone bawling their eyes out over a dead baby or scare them with a zombie baby. The movie opted for the latter. I actually rewatched Pet Sematary just before writing this and it was goofier than I remembered. But I didn’t mind. On it’s own, it was a cinematic funhouse. It completely lacks the emotional punch of the book, but that would have just weighed it down as a scary movie.

          As someone who has never been a big action movie fan, I have never felt any attachment to The Running Man. It’s lower tier Schwarzenegger and may as well have no connection to King. I considered leaving it out of the rankings. Christine has grown on me as I appreciate some of Carpenter’s touches. But it’s no one’s best effort.

          Like

    • I thought Creepshow was just plain awful- especially the one King starred in about the alien plants. In my opinion, the films weren’t even up to the quality of a “tales from the crypt” episode. Pet Sematary was not very good, but the demon baby was pretty effective. And it had it’s own Ramones song, I guess that’s brag worthy.

      Like

      • So far, readers have shown Creepshow a lot of love. It’s one of three movies that has been battling for the top spot. Pet Sematary has gotten a lot less love than I expected.

        Like

        • I suppose I can see how, if you like camp- REALLY high camp- you could love ‘Creepshow’ in the way that some people love ‘The Reanimator’. But I take my camp in John Waters form.

          Like

        • I do like Reanimator. Not a John Waters fan I must confess.

          Like

        • The head giving head genuinely freaked me the fuck out, but the rest of the film is just too silly to ‘scare’ anyone and the effects were laughably bad. The dead cat was less convincing than that talking cat on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I did get a laugh out of the intestines busting out of the corpse’s gut and strangling the guy though. But most of it didn’t feel like it was funny on purpose.

          Like

        • I know they were intentionally trying to go for comedy. But I’m not sure which parts your laughing at and whether or not those moments were meant to be funny. So I can’t say. For me, I don’t care. It’s just an insane roller coaster ride no matter what they intended.

          Creepshow is similar. It’s obviously supposed to be silly which can cover up for some of the cheapo effects if you are in the right frame of mind.

          I’ll also say, I just enjoy watching old school practical effects even if they sometimes look fake. These days, it’s just a treat to see the old craft.

          Like

        • Just the intestines. That’s the only part I found funny. In the way of horror-comedy camp, I find Evil Dead 2 a lot funnier than The Reanimator. I wouldn’t hate if they remade that film so that it resembled an actual horror film- low brow cheesiness certainly wasn’t what Lovecraft was shooting for. That and They Live!- only 2 horror movies ever that could actually benefit from a makeover.

          Like

        • I’m willing to wager that was supposed to be funny. Your comparison to ED 2 is a good one. Both movies tend to push the gore into comedic territory. I would say ED 2 is more overtly trying to be funny. It’s outright broad slapstick at points. I can’t quite tell if you are calling for an ED 2 or Reanimator remake. ED 2 was practically a remake of ED which was straight horror. Not to mention it received the remake treatment recently so my guess is that you are calling for a remake of Reanimator. I would like to check out a good Lovecraft movie if anyone can pull it off. Having said that, I don’t necessarily feel that Reanimator can be improved upon for what it is. A remake would almost certainly be worse, but I’m up for a Lovecraft adaptation that isn’t connected to the original movie.

          I definitely don’t want to see a remake of They Live. Not one bit.

          Like

        • Mostly I think this is a matter of the competing films not being very good, either. The Shining is great. The Dead Zone is good…after that the camp of Creepshow is about as good as it gets here. I definitely WANT to like Creepshow more than I actually do.

          Like

        • Last time I looked, The Shining was getting a lot of love but quite a bit of hate as well which has knocked it out of the top 3 repeatedly. Christine is getting more positive rankings than I expected and apparently readers really like Children of the Corn. I’m shocked by how few people like Silver Bullet. In my book it’s pretty middle of the road but it’s getting a lot of last place picks.

          This is the first one where the readers just completely do not agree with me at all.

          Like

  2. I was pretty surprised you left Stand By Me off the list. Were you worried some people would rank it #1 instead of The Shining? I understand you can only list 10, but that seemed like one to keep. I would have also liked to rank Running Man as I quite like the movie despite its cheesiness, though I could see that as an easier judgement call to leave out.

    When I saw the Hunger Games for the first time I immediately thought the author was partially inspired by Running Man. Hunger Games is a much better movie, but the premise of the games is too similar to have just been a coincidence.

    I think a big problem with many Steven King adaptations is that the stories end up looking silly onscreen no matter what you do. They work in book form because he can provide more detail and nuance, and because you can use your own imagination to envision it in a unique way that is more believable to you.

    Like

    • When trimming the list down to 10, I started by removing the non-horror movies since we’re getting into the Halloween spirit. As a drama, we all know Stand By Me is far and away the best movie. Arguably, it’s the best of the bunch, but it’s an outlier. It’s an orange to a bushel of apples. I almost left it out of my rankings because it’s just not like the other movies. I looked ahead to the 90’s to consider doing a similar ranking for that decade. The problem there is you have a few good dramas, one great one a solid thriller and a lot of mediocre to wretched horror movies. The differences in quality and genre are so great I’m not sure there’s much point comparing them.

      I’m not campaigning for The Shining. It’s my top pick, but that’s what my list is for. The reader rankings are for the readers. You guys can pick whatever you like and it won’t phase me one bit. Currently, The Shining is not the #1 pick, but its early and anything can happen. I really do wish Polldaddy would drop the limitation or at least raise the limit to 12.

      Although the author denies it, there is no way The Hunger Games wasn’t inspired by Battle Royale (2000). It’s a Japanese movie in which a bunch of kids are sent to an island to compete in a battle to the death. There are a ton of similarities.

      Totally agree with you about the persistent problem with King adaptations. I hadn’t seen Silver Bullet in I don’t know how long, so I rewatched it for this article. The idea of a kid’s uncle building him a souped up wheelchair probably reads as cool, but seeing Corey Haim zip around in a motorcycle/wheelchair hybrid built by Garey Busey of all people looks like attempted homicide.

      Like

  3. The top few choices here are definitely on a different level. I just watched Cujo and Children of the Corn for the first time and I wasn’t a fan. I definitely wasn’t scared by the Children of the Corn.

    Like

    • The only person I know who found Children of the Corn scary is my wife. And she gets scared when I walk down the hall without warning.

      Like

      • I remember being scared of the movie before I saw it. Kids in my neighborhood had recently seen the movie and started imitating scenes. I’d never heard of it and thought everyone was losing their minds. Thankfully everyone survived. We don’t even live near corn fields so I don’t know what was going on.

        Like

        • It was kind of a big deal back in the 80’s. But King adaptations were new and exciting. I actually read the story long before seeing the movie. The story was all right. More creepy than scary. The movie was just a cheap cash grab. I can’t believe how many sequels they have churned out. Who’s watching them? Kids in cornfields?

          Like

  4. Always nice to see a steady flow of new content here. I’m going to sit this particular one out as I’ve seen almost none of these films and am not a King fan, but I’m sure some readers will get into this discussion and vote. I do want to give a big thumbs-up to Jeff’s idea of an article on Elmore Leonard adaptations.

    Like

  5. It’s so strange…Stephen King is such a good horror writer, yet most of the films based on his books are huge disappointments. “The Shining” is the only true standout of the lot. “The Stand” will be coming soon; I think that could go well.

    Like

    • Oh hell, I forgot about “Carrie” and “Stand By Me”. I liked both of those as well, so I should amend my original comment. “Stand By Me” isn’t really horror, so it’s easy to forget it was a Stephen King film.

      Like

  6. My list wouldn’t be for everybody, since I have “Maximum Overdrive” 4th and “Pet Sematary” dead last ( I do like the title song by The Ramones though, it’s just that I don’t like the concept). My top three are “The Dead Zone”, “Christine”, and “The Shining”. I also don’t care much for “Cujo” or really dig “Firestarter” (I should dig Cujo though, since he has fleas) all that much. I’m cool with “Creepshow” (have it on DVD) and “Silver Bullet”.
    I’m so fond of “Maximum overdrive” because it’s something I viewed as a kid, and I bought the VHS cassette at Hills with my own money (I found a 50$ bill). Oh yeah, that AC/DC soundtrack rocks (I LOVE “Who Made Who”!).
    If it wasn’t for “Pet Sematary”, “Children of the Corn” would be at the very bottom, since I think it’s the worst film in the poll. I think its dull, empty, and boring; the only things I like about it are Linda Hamilton and the poster art.

    Like

  7. Great list! I’m such a huge King fan. Hell, I don’t care – I even love Maximum Overdrive (yes, the soundtrack rules). Glad Pet Sematary is so high! I love that one. But, yeah – nothing beats the top two. 🙂

    Like

  8. Top 10 Ways The Stephen King Novel-verse is Way Cooler Than You Think:
    http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-ways-the-stephen-king-novel-verse-is-way-cooler-than-you-think.php

    The bestselling horror author of all time, Stephen King, is known for his prolific output of work. As of summer 2015, he has published 54 novels and over 200 short stories. While King himself says that many of his books are like “a Big Mac”, he actually has a rich and complex universe that connects many, if not all of his stories. These are some of the most interesting and intriguing ties between Stephen King’s stories.

    Like

  9. Stephen King books have been notoriously difficult to successfully transfer to screen. King books work much better in page than on screen. For instance, The Shining is the scariest of all King novels, etc when you turn page to page.

    With regard to 1980’s movies, I agree that the Shining rises above all the others that were truly in the horror genre, but even then it is better on page.
    Stand By Me is – as you point out – very well done, but not in the horror context.

    A personal comment,
    Since this article was limited to the 1980’s I’m going outside the boundaries, but In my opinion the worst ever adaptation of a Stephen King novel to the big screen would have to be “Salem’s Lot”.
    In my view, this ranked No#2 of all of his written work (the Stand being NO#!), but it was totally butchered in the movie.
    Spoiler alert*********

    The Vampire (Barlow) being portrayed as a Nosferatu type monster rather than the cultured person / vampire that had acquired refined tastes over centuries.
    This only missed the 1980’s by one year, but I wonder where Mr. Lebeau would have placed in had it been released just one year later. .

    Like

    • Well, Salem’s Lot was a TV mini-series. So, different standards. By those standards, I thought they did a pretty good job.

      The book obviously is much, much better. I remember reading that book as a kid and it scared the living crap out of me. Even more than The Shining.

      I would love to see a better adaptation of Salem’s Lot. But I didn’t hate the one that got made taking into consideration it was a late 70s TV movie.

      Like

    • I agree with Lebeau; since “Salem’s Lot” was a mini-series (which I didn’t realize when I was a kid seeing it a rental stores), so it’s a totally different animal.

      Like

  10. While I 100% agree with the top 2 rankings of The Shining and Stand By Me, personally I would rank The Running Man higher on the list. The Running Man in particular is very far from cinematic art, but it is one of Arnie’s better films from his 80’s selections.

    “Reality Programming” wasn’t even conceived of yet in 1986, and yet through King’s vision we get an extra-gory vision of what keeps people tuned in and tuned out in this not-too-distant-future. This is what serves as the top-rated tv program now, and it’s essentially the Roman collusseum lions-eating-combatants entertainment all over again. I at least guess that was the inspiration for this futuristic vision, and Arnie is a perfect fit in this action/sci-fi allegory.

    There, that’ my bid for moving Running Man up the list a bit.

    Like

    • I am going to thumbs-up your comment for a well-constructed argument in favor of Running Man. The only problem is, the movie you described is better than the one that got made. What I liked best about the movie was Dawson and the social satire. But all that stuff took a backseat to a so-so Schwarzenegger movie.

      Having said that, I could see giving it a couple of notches. I was feeling charitable towards Silver Bullet and Cat’s Eye when I made the initial list.

      Like

      • Richard Dawson was so awesome in his supporting role performance in The Running Man, he alone might warrant a minor upgrade on the list.

        Schwarzenegger has used his iconic “I’ll Be Back” line in many films over his career. While nothing will ever beat his delivery in the original Terminator, this is my 2nd favorite usage of the iconic line, because Dawson gives the absolute perfect zinger-comeback line: “Only in reruns” before launching Arnie on his way.

        Like

  11. Yeah, I thought Richard Dawson was awesome in “The Running Man”; such an evil take off of his “Family Feud” hosting. From what I was told, Richard Dawson also appeared on the original “Match Game” too (I’d like to mention that I liked Markie Post on the 1980’s “25,000 Pyramid”. Oh, and I like Markie Post in general:-).

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: