Stephen King’s 22 Favorite Movies, Packed with Horror & Suspense

In 1999, Stephen King found him­self con­fined to a hos­pi­tal room “after a care­less dri­ver in a mini­van smashed the shit out of me on a coun­try road.” There, “roar­ing with pain from top to bot­tom, high on painkillers,” and sure­ly more than a lit­tle bored, he popped a movie into the room’s VCR. But it did­n’t take long before its cin­e­mat­ic pow­er got the bet­ter of him: “I asked my son, who was watch­ing with me, to turn the damn thing off. It may be the only time in my life when I quit a hor­ror movie in the mid­dle because I was too scared to go on.”

The movie on King’s boot­leg tape (“How did I get the boot­leg? Nev­er mind how I got it”) was The Blair Witch Project, Daniel Myrick and Eduar­do Sánchez’s ultra-low-bud­get hor­ror pic­ture that sent shock­waves through the inde­pen­dent film world at the end of the mil­len­ni­um.

Though nobody seems to talk much about it any­more, let alone watch it, King’s appre­ci­a­tion has endured: he wrote the essay about it quot­ed here in 2010, and you can read it in full at Bloody Dis­gust­ing. That same site has also pub­lished a list of fif­teen hor­ror movies King has per­son­al­ly rec­om­mend­edBlair Witch and beyond.

The list below com­bines King’s picks at Bloody Dis­gust­ing, which lean toward recent films, with a dif­fer­ent selec­tion of favorites, with a stronger focus on clas­sics, pub­lished at the British Film Insti­tute. “I am espe­cial­ly par­tial – this will not sur­prise you – to sus­pense films,” the author of Car­rieCujo, and It writes by way of intro­duc­tion,” but “my favorite film of all time – this may sur­prise you — is Sor­cer­er, William Friedkin’s remake of the great Hen­ri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. Some may argue that the Clouzot film is bet­ter; I beg to dis­agree.”

  • The Autop­sy of Jane Doe (André Øvredal, 2016)  “Vis­cer­al hor­ror to rival Alien and ear­ly Cro­nen­berg”
  • The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick and Eduar­do Sánchez, 1999)
  • The Changeling (Peter Medak, 1980)
  • Crim­son Peak (Guiller­mo del Toro, 2015)
  • Dawn of the Dead (Zack Sny­der, 2004) “Snyder’s zom­bies are, it seems to me: fast-mov­ing ter­ror­ists who nev­er quit.”
  • Deep Blue Sea (Ren­ny Har­lin, 1999)
  • The Descent (Neil Mar­shall, 2005)
  • Duel (Steven Spiel­berg, 1971) “His most inven­tive film, and stripped to the very core.”
  • Les Dia­boliques (Hen­ri-Georges Clouzot, 1955) “He out-Hitch­cocked Hitch­cock.”
  • Final Des­ti­na­tion (James Wong, 2000)
  • Event Hori­zon (Paul W.S. Ander­son, 1997) “Basi­cal­ly a Love­craft­ian ter­ror tale in out­er space with a The Quater­mass Exper­i­ment vibe, done by the Brits.”
  • The Hitch­er (Robert Har­mon, 1986 and Dave Mey­ers, 2007) “Rut­ger Hauer in the orig­i­nal will nev­er be topped, but this is that rar­i­ty, a reimag­in­ing that actu­al­ly works.”
  • The Last House on the Left (Den­nis Iliadis, 2009)
  • The Mist (Frank Darabont, 2007)
  • Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957) “The hor­ror here is pret­ty under­stat­ed, until the very end.”
  • The Ruins (Carter Smith, 2008)
  • Sor­cer­er (William Fried­kin, 1977)
  • Step­fa­ther (Joseph Ruben, 1986)
  • Stir of Echoes (David Koepp 1999) “An unset­tling explo­ration of what hap­pens when an ordi­nary blue-col­lar guy (Kevin Bacon) starts to see ghosts.”
  • The Strangers (Bryan Berti­no, 2008)
  • Vil­lage of the Damned (Wolf Ril­la, 1960) As far as “British hor­ror (wrapped in an SF bow), you can’t do much bet­ter.”
  • The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015)

Though clear­ly a movie fan, King also shows a will­ing­ness to advo­cate where many a cineaste fears to tread, for instance in his selec­tion of not just Sor­cer­er but sev­er­al oth­er remakes besides (and in the case of The Hitch­er, both the remake and the orig­i­nal). He even choos­es the 2004 Dawn of the Dead — direct­ed by no less an object of crit­i­cal scorn than Zack Sny­der — over the 1978 George A. Romero orig­i­nal.

But then, King has always seemed to pride him­self in his under­stand­ing of and root­ed­ness in unpre­ten­tious, work­ing-class Amer­i­ca, which you can see in his nov­els, the var­i­ous film adap­ta­tions of his nov­els that have come out over the years, and the sole movie he wrote and direct­ed him­self: 1986’s Max­i­mum Over­drive, about machines turn­ing against their human mas­ters at a North Car­oli­na truck stop. King now describes that project as a “moron movie,” but as he clear­ly under­stands, even a moron movie can make a pow­er­ful impact.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2017.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stephen King Rec­om­mends 96 Books for Aspir­ing Writ­ers to Read

Stephen King’s 20 Rules for Writ­ers

Mar­tin Scors­ese Names the 11 Scari­est Hor­ror Films

Time Out Lon­don Presents The 100 Best Hor­ror Films: Start by Watch­ing Four Hor­ror Clas­sics Free Online

How The Cab­i­net of Dr. Cali­gari Invent­ed Psy­cho­log­i­cal Hor­ror Film & Brought Expres­sion­ism to the Screen (1920)

Watch the Cult Clas­sic Hor­ror Film Car­ni­val of Souls (1962)

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.