Stephen King is the most adapted author in the modern era with 48 theatrical, 26 television, and 17 derivative projects. That’s not counting comic books or remakes. With the release of his latest adapted work Doctor Sleep in theaters, here are five titles we could revisit.
The Running Man (Stephen King as Richard Bachman)
In 1987, Paul Michael Glaser directed the dystopian science fiction action thriller adapted from as Richard Bachman novel. Bachman was King’s pseudonym to test his own success of talent vs. luck. He also wanted to prevent oversaturation of his own name in the market.
Arnold Schwarzenegger played the main character Ben Richards, who found himself framed by the government he worked for as a police officer and later incarcerated. Upon his escape, police recapture Richards and force him to compete for a survival reality show called The Running Man. Hosted by Damon Killian (Richard Dawson), the show takes the condemned to a deadly wasteland with various enclosed arenas where they’re stalked by assassins. A cross between pro-wrestler and comic book villain, the stalkers proceed to carry out the sentences.
The show’s premise is if the runners elude the stalkers somehow, they get paroled along with prizes. The problem was despite its success at the box office, the film was loosely based from the novel with several dramatic differences.
The novel was far more grueling as an endurance test than just the “game show from hell.” Richards in the novel was nowhere as physically fit as Schwarzenegger and the book at a far darker ending. The themes of the book of economic disparity and continued corporate dominance still resonates today as it did in the ‘80s. While the Glaser film is a classic in its own right, The Running Man needs a remake to reflect King’s vision.
The Langoliers is one of four novellas from King’s “Four Past Midnight”. Adapted to a two-part ABC miniseries in 1995, it starred Patricia Wettig, Dean Stockwell, David Morse, Mark Lindsay Chapman, and Bronson Pinchot.
The story is about a group of passengers on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Boston. They all awake to find the surrounding passengers disappeared. An off-duty airline pilot takes control and lands the plane in Bangor, Maine. The survivors try to make sense of what happened eventually concluding they entered some time rift. While the ABC miniseries and director Tom Holland captured the depth of characters, the supernatural mystery, and Hitchcockian feel to the story, an updated film or limited series can introduce a new generation of fans to the story. It can certainly improve on the horrific CGI the miniseries had at the series’ conclusion.
The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower is King’s own personal universe. Most of the stories he created has some tie to the lore of the series. Consisting of seven novels and a prequel, “The Little Sisters of Eluria,” the ill-fated 2017 film acted as a sequel to the novels and incorporated elements from each story much to its detriment. Unfortunately, critics and audiences alike panned the film scoring 16 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Also didn’t help Sony opted to take away some grit away from the series with its PG-13 rating.
The 2017 film starred Idris Elba as Roland, the Gunslinger, and Matthew McConaughey as Walter, The Man in Black, respectively. While Amazon The Dark Tower develops the TV series adaptation and serves as a reboot, it feels like a disservice for fans of the long-running series to not get a true adaptation of the books on film. The TV series recast Roland with Sam Strike and The Man in Black will be played by Jasper Pääkkönen.
Elba and McMcConaughey did a great job as did Tom Taylor in the role of Jake, but the least they can do make real adaptations of the books. Make the next film the first two books: “The Gunslinger” and “The Drawing of the Three.” The series needs proper build-up and not start where the works leave off.
Christine and Maximum Overdrive share the theme of vehicles/inanimate objects coming to life due to supernatural forces. Christine, based on the 1983 King novel of the same name, was directed by John Carpenter. The story follows a 1958 Plymouth Fury named Christine possessed by a spirit that kills passengers and bystanders becoming sentient. King wrote the novel in part from America’s obsession with the automobile. Christine starred Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, and Harry Dean Stanton. The film was a box office success earning more than double its budget in 1983.
Maximum Overdrive is based on King’s short story “Trucks” for Cavalier magazine and later appears in his 1978 collection, “Night Shift.” Written and directed by the author, himself, the story follows a group of survivors who try to survive the onslaught brought by a fallen comet. It awakens inanimate objects to start attacking people. The film starred Emilio Estavez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, and Christopher Murney.
Aside from being a footnote for Stephen King’s lone directorial effort and the film’s music performed by AC/DC, the film failed in the box office. Re-examining both films offers a prime opportunity to speak about society’s obsession with smart devices. While King touched on cellular technology in “Cell,” written in 2006 and later adapted to a 2016 film, the stories differ significantly. Cell turned phone owners into rapid monsters instead of machines turning on their owners.
The Final Destination franchise laid the blueprint for how the remakes of Christine and Maximum Overdrive to work. Whether the remake happens is contingent if William Brent Bell gets King’s From a Buick 8 (about another homicidal car) into production with its last update in July 2018.
The Dark Half
King’s fascination with duality fueled his works “The Dark Half” and his novella “Secret Window, Secret Garden.” It reflected his time as Bachman releasing novels under the pseudonym and his own name. The difference between the stories is “The Dark Half” the killer was an undiscovered twin whereas the killer in “Secret Window, Secret Garden” was the main character’s alternate personality.
George A. Romero wrote and directed the 1993 film adaptation of The Dark Half with Timothy Hutton as Thad Beaumont and his maniacal counterpart, George Stark. While the film flopped at the box office, David Koepp’s 2004 film adaptation of Secret Window was not. It starred Johnny Depp as Morton “Mort” Rainey as the troubled author who is accused of plagiarism by John Shooter (John Tuturro). Not surprisingly, Hutton is also in the film.
While Secret Window offered the bigger twist and ending different from the King story, The Dark Half was the original inspiration. The story itself makes an interesting psychological thriller and worth revisiting with a woman in the lead.