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20 Movies That Feel Like Stephen King (Even Though They’re Not)


20 Movies That Feel Like Stephen King (Even Though They're Not)


If there’s someone who has influenced modern cinema, and specifically modern horror, that someone is Stephen King. The most successful author of all time has been writing books since the 1970s, and he’s not showing signs of stopping any time soon. Throughout the decades, we’ve seen the best and worst of him, of his relationship with Hollywood, and of the world of book-to-film adaptations. Regardless of what you may remember about this complicated relationship, there’s no doubt his work has shaped the world of horror and genre cinema and television in ways that will never be topped.

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But, of course, not all horror films come from the mind of Stephen King. Sure, his influence is vast, and some of the renowned horror classics come from his work, but in other cases, it’s just a matter of inspiration. Filmmakers may have taken some elements from King’s style of writing and inserted them into their movies, while others may be following the dynamics of popular culture, one that has Stephen King embedded in it. If it’s horror, there’s a very high chance that it was inspired by the writers of novels like It, The Shining, Carrie, and Pet Sematary.

The following list consists of just that. Works of genre film that feel like Stephen King, but they’re actually not part of his universe. In most cases, we’re appealing to obvious inspiration, but in a couple of cases, we saw how they may have inspired the famous novelist. But that’s another conversation worth having.

The following list may contain minor spoilers.

19 The Hitcher (1986)

The Hitcher

The Hitcher

Release Date
February 21, 1986

Director
Robert Harmon

Runtime
90 Minutes

In The Hitcher, poor Jim Halsey is trying to deliver a car across the country. The young man is gullible enough to pull over and pick up a hitchhiker by the name of John Ryder, who, early on, reveals he’s a wicked dude. After a violent first encounter makes Jim throw John out of the car, the movie turns into a cat-and-mouse chase where Jim will have to outsmart the murderous killer alongside a waitress who decides to help him defeat the strange man whose agenda is unknown.

It’s About the Simplicity of a Villain

This extremely underrated ’80s horror film works because of Rutger Hauer’s personification of evil. Ryder doesn’t need motives, which makes him a bit more eerie. Though Stephen King’s characters are usually well-built, the film adaptations of his works don’t have the literary expansion that allows readers to understand villains with motives and backstories.

In cases like The Hitcher, screenwriter Eric Red was smart enough to allow director Robert Harmon to execute character development through situations, and not a revelatory scene. This method for building characters matches King’s ability to do so. Stream on Max.

18 The Beach House (2019)

The Beach House

The Beach House

Release Date
October 22, 2020

Director
Jeffrey A. Brown

Cast
Liana Liberato , Noah Le Gros , Jake Weber , Maryann Nagel , Michael Brumfield , Matt Maisto

Runtime
88

The underrated 2019 film The Beach House runs on a very simple premise: it tells the story of Emily and Randall, a young couple who decide to spend a few days at Randall’s parents’ beach house. When they arrive, they realize another couple is already staying at the house. Apparently, Mitch and Jane are friends of Randall’s parents. When both couples decide to stick around, they start getting sick, and they see there’s something seriously wrong with the water.

A Disaster Mini-Feature that Feels Relevant

The Beach House does a great job of allowing the characters to explore and display their inner thoughts in a film that doesn’t actually require this. Themes of guilt, sexual tension, and the scrutiny of grown-ups don’t exactly match with the premise, but writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown does a great job at adding this layer to characters that are already interesting.

Liana Liberato’s performance as Emily is the best of her career and is a great example of how interesting Stephen King’s female characters are when transitioning from book to film. Stream on Shudder.

17 Fright Night (1985)

Fright Night

Fright Night

Release Date
August 2, 1985

Cast
Chris Sarandon , William Ragsdale , Amanda Bearse , Roddy McDowall , Stephen Geoffreys , Jonathan Stark

Runtime
102

Fright Night, by writer/director Tom Holland, is the story of Charley Brewster, a 17-year-old dude who discovers something shady about his new neighbors. They carry body bags around, Jerry isn’t seen during the day, and he’s extremely charming.

In the best ’80s horror film fashion, he draws conclusions early and suspects they’re actually vampires. He seeks the help of a local TV personality by the name of Peter Vincent, who lets Charley know his performances were all an act and vampires don’t exist. However, Vincent accompanies Charley to visit the Dandridge household and realizes Charley may be right.

The Best 1980s Vampire Film

The ’80s vampire classic is an iconic horror film with a risky comedy tone that makes it an ideal gateway horror film for newbies. Fright Night still feels like a fresh take on the classic horror subgenre that oftentimes gets a bit too sober. We like to think that it has that ’80s vibe that Stephen King constantly used in his stories framed around young characters.

Also, it’s a bit too obvious that the characters in the film probably love to read Stephen King, and Charley learned a thing or two about vampires from Salem’s Lot. You can rent Fright Night on Prime Video.

Related: 10 Stephen King Movies That Would be Better as a Modern Miniseries

16 Flatliners (1990)

The 1990 film by Joel Schumacher, Flatliners, tells the story of medical students who get a brilliant idea and somehow devise it with terrible consequences. Rachel, Joe, David, and Randy get in tune with Nelson’s idea to explore what lies in the aftermath of death.

Using an array of confusing terminology, drugs, and medical equipment, they do this by basically “flatlining” themselves, only to be brought back to life and revealing what they saw in the beyond. Unfortunately, near-death experiences also carry side effects.

A Premise Worthy of the Horror Master

Sure, Flatliners is a bit farfetched in terms of its execution, but the idea and premise are solid enough to resemble those “lightning in a bottle” ideas that Stephen King used to have. Contrary to what people may remember, it’s not as campy as time has painted it out to be, and the characters are actually well-written. Besides, it has a theme of exploration of death that Stephen King recently included in one of his groundbreaking modern works, Revival. Stream on Showtime.

15 The Witch (2015)

The Witch

The Witch

Release Date
January 27, 2015

Director
Robert Eggers

Runtime
92

The Witch takes viewers to the 1600s in the United States, a period of religious dependence and tension. A family of six is banished from their commune, and they’re forced to go on the road and create a farm in the middle of nowhere. Quickly, the teenage daughter, Thomasin, collides with her family’s orthodox values when she witnesses strange phenomena taking place around them. What she doesn’t know is that something evil surrounds them, and it may all have to do with her presence.

A Possession Idea as Seen from a Teenager’s Eyes

The great directorial debut by Robert Eggers takes place in New England, a very important region when it comes to the world of Stephen King.

Also, the character of Thomasin is very well-built and follows an organic transition into something very personal. This “shift” eventually turns into a puberty-led path to an inevitable place: Thomasin realizes she was destined to join a coven of witches. King hasn’t written a major work on witches, but if he were to do so, it would probably grab some of that lore that The Witch was very effective in portraying. Stream on Max.

14 Summer of 84 (2018)

summer of 84

Summer of 84

Release Date
August 10, 2018

Director
François Simard , Anouk Whissell , Yoann-Karl Whissell

Runtime
105

Summer of 84 takes place in Cape May, Oregon, where many teenage boys have disappeared. Teenage Davey leads a gang of misfits who begin taking an interest in investigating what’s been causing the crimes and ultimately decide Davey’s neighbor has to be involved with the disappearances. When Nikki, Davey’s crush, joins them in their journey, they will face the wrath of a man who doesn’t like kids messing with his serial-killing business.

A Mashup of ’80s Culture and King’s Takes on Teen Horror

Directed by the collective known as RKSS, Summer of 84 is a nice, nifty horror film that’s much better than its nostalgia-driven facade will tell you. However, the influence of King’s features like Stand by Me and even The Long Walk is undeniable when it comes to character setup and even language. The geographical setting also feels like you’re stuck in a Stephen King story, where unimaginable threats will rise at some point. Stream on Shudder.

13 The Black Phone (2021)

Black Phone

The Black Phone

Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson adapt a script based on Joe Hill’s sory, The Black Phone. Ethan Hawke stars as a child killer whose latest abductee is receiving calls from dead victims.

Release Date
June 24, 2022

Runtime
1hr 42min

In The Black Phone, a town in Denver is being terrorized by recent child abductions. The sightings show that a mysterious black van is the vehicle used by a man simply known as The Grabber, who kidnaps children who are never seen again.

Young Finney Blake is his most recent victim, and even though the kid suffers from the psychological torture of the maniac who has locked him in the basement, Finney remains optimistic because he’s found a way to get help. Not from the outside, but from spirits that communicate with him through a phone hanging from a wall in the dungeon.

In this Case, the DNA Matches

Probably the reason why The Black Phone feels so much like a Stephen King film is because it was inspired by a short story written by King’s son, Joe Hill. Hill hasn’t hidden away the fact that his work is directly inspired by his father. The compelling adaptation by Scott Derrickson is incredible faithful to the book, which makes it ideal for the list of films that feel like Stephen King but aren’t. The setting, the characters, and most of all, the villain, match the elements usually seen in the King-verse. Rent on Apple TV.

12 Joy Ride (2001)

Joy Ride

Joy Ride

Release Date
October 5, 2001

Director
John Dahl

Runtime
97

In Joy Ride, Lewis and Fuller Thomas find themselves in a pickle. The siblings are enjoying a road trip from California to Colorado, and Fuller insists they should buy a CB radio to have some fun on the road. Lewis complies, and instantly they start contacting strangers on the road.

They play a prank on truck driver Rusty Nail over the airwaves, and then try to get revenge on a rude dude they meet in a hotel by making an appointment between the fictional Candy Cane (Lewis in a girly voice) and Rusty Nail; they will actually send Rusty over to the rude guy’s room. Rusty Nail doesn’t like this one bit, brutally mutilates the man, and swears revenge on the two brothers.

A Near-Perfect Thriller

Again, with the characters. The film based on J.J. Abrams and Clay Tarver’s script rounds up a collection of traits for just about every character, and director John Dahl follows the rules of a solid script. This makes the first act in Joy Ride ideal in terms of establishing both motive and motivation for the unaware men who think they can get away with anything.

The naive and almost innocent consideration of the Thomas brothers, especially Fuller, makes this underrated film comparable to King’s features, where characters are presented in their raw form, no matter the consequences of their acts. You can rent Joy Ride on Apple TV.

Related: 10 Incredibly Underrated Stephen King Movies You May Have Missed

11 The Boy Behind the Door (2020)

The Boy Behind the Door

The Boy Behind the Door

Release Date
September 27, 2020

Director
David Charbonier , Justin Powell

Cast
Lonnie Chavis , Ezra Dewey , Kristin Bauer van Straten , Scott Michael Foster , Micah A. Hauptman , Rich Ceraulo

Runtime
88

In The Boy Behind the Door, two very good friends are walking home after a long day of playing. Unfortunately, a kidnapper lurks and takes them. They wake up in the trunk of a car and desperately try to escape, but someone arrives and takes Kevin and leaves Bobby.

The clever boy is able to escape, but instead of running, he decides to help his friend. This takes him inside the house, where Kevin is desperately screaming for help. The film is about Bobby’s crafty attitude to remain unharmed and ultimately save his friend from very bad men.

One You Will Feel Was Made by Fans of ’80s Horror Films

The film’s reminiscent of teenagers-in-peril films that were pretty common in the ’80s. Also, Bobby’s brave attitude elevates him above any young character in recent cinema because he simply won’t give up, but he doesn’t portray the relentless boy who knows he won’t be harmed.

In other words, heroism isn’t the same in The Boy Behind the Door, a film that was heavily influenced by The Goonies and The Shining, according to writers/directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell. This sharp exercise in tension is one of the most underrated horror thrillers to come out in the 2020s. You can stream The Boy Behind the Door on Shudder.

10 The Fog (1980)

the fog

The Fog

Release Date
February 8, 1980

Runtime
89

John Carpenter’s The Fog took audiences to Antonio Bay in 1980, as the town is celebrating its centennial and a looming fog is approaching from the open sea. Weirdly, the residents don’t make much of it, but when murderous ghosts appear, they react. It’s up to Elizabeth, Nick, and Stevie to try and find the reason for the event, and apparently it has to do with the town’s past, one in which a leper was banished and thrown to sea.

A Solid Enough Ghost Story

It’s not that the film feels like Stephen King. It feels like an adaptation of a classic horror book. And no, James Herbert’s novel of the same name has no relation to this one. Carpenter and Debra Hill’s original script stems from the usually untold stories of small towns in America that could have been born out of a single spark of greed and violence.

In his books, King usually includes actions taken by the ancestors that have horrible consequences in the present. And also, doesn’t Antonio Bay resemble Needful Things‘ Castle Rock? You can rent The Fog on Prime Video.

9 Run (2020)

Run (2020)

Run (2020)

Release Date
November 20, 2020

Director
Aneesh Chaganty

Runtime
90 Minutes

Aneesh Chaganty’s fascinating horror thriller, Run, is the story of Chloe Sherman, a teenager whose premature birth caused her body to be disabled for life. She suffers from diabetes, partial paralysis, and a cardiac illness. Needless to say, Chloe can’t be a regular teenager. When she gets a bit too curious about her situation and the past, she discovers her overprotective mom, Diane, may be related to her disability. And no, mommy doesn’t like people digging around in the past.

Hitchcock Would Have Loved This

The film runs in the same vein of nifty little thrillers that exist for entertainment purposes. 89 minutes of pure nightmare fuel, brought to you by two spectacular performances by Kiera Allen, and Sarah Paulson, who arguably gives her best performance in the movie business.

It feels King-y because there’s no denying the influence of Rob Reiner’s Misery in its similar premise, and also because of the fine-tuning of Chloe’s character and her characterization of a self-awareness feeling that King’s characters usually execute in his books. This underrated thriller is a must-see for fans of the genre. Stream on Hulu.

8 The Lost Boys (1987)

In The Lost Boys, Michael and Sam Emerson move with their mother, Lucy, to the coastal town of Santa Carla in California. Michael falls for the wrong girl and immediately draws the attention of a biker gang. When Michael starts spending too much time with Star and her posse, Sam starts thinking there may be something wrong with his brother: he may have turned into a child of the night, AKA a vampire. Sam will have to seek the help of those who believe in him.

A Different Style of Vampire Film

What makes the film similar to King’s work is that it lands the vampire subgenre differently from its peers. Sure, the rules apply the same, but the portrayal of teenage culture is very, very effective at making the film a fans’ favorite. Also, Santa Carla as a fictional setting is really unique and original, which is also a staple of King’s films and how their directors establish the setting where hell will break loose. Rent on AppleTV.

7 The Block Island Sound (2021)

The Block Island Sound

The Block Island Sound

Release Date
March 11, 2021

Director
Kevin McManus , Matthew McManus

Cast
Chris Sheffield , Michaela McManus , Neville Archambault , Jim Cummings , Jeremy Holm , Matilda Lawler

Main Genre
Horror

Runtime
99 Minutes

The Block Island Sound, by the McManus brothers, is the story of Harry, a young fisherman who becomes obsessed with his father’s disappearance when working off the coast of Block Island. Harry starts to follow his father’s steps and quickly finds there may be a stronger force at play than he thought, and he will face the consequences of facing it. This is one of the best horror films in recent history that you have probably never seen.

Small Town Dynamics with a Touch of Family Drama

A clever approach to building the characters around family drama is reminiscent of what King usually does in the first chapters of his books. Thanks to very good performances and a sharply written script, The Block Island Sound manages to make its small-town horror more effective than usual, as it never goes out of its way to satisfy viewers seeking a monster film. On the contrary, it goes for a slow-burn style of narrative that allows it to be more realistic. And scarier. Stream on Netflix.

6 Malignant (2021)

Malignant poster

Malignant

Release Date
September 10, 2021

Runtime
111 min

Malignant is the story of Madison, a young pregnant woman whose life drastically changes when her abusive boyfriend violently attacks her. During the attack, she passes out, and when she opens her eyes, a strange figure attacks her while her boyfriend lies mauled on the ground.

Her baby doesn’t survive the attack, and Madison begins to have strange visions of murders before the police find the bodies. When she and her sister investigate, they realize these violent acts have to do with something living inside Madison, an evil creature that was unleashed during Madison’s ordeal.

A Genre Shift that Resembles King’s Narrative Tools

James Wan’s modern campy classic gave audiences a lot to talk about a few years ago. No one was prepared for his horror proposal that went against the trends and heavily paid homage to ’80s monster features and other offshoots of the period. What’s more interesting is how he uses Akela Cooper’s script to abruptly transition from psychological horror to a creature feature at the snap of a finger.

Madison’s character treatment feels familiar, as it makes people remember Stephen King’s treatment of good vs. evil when seen through the eyes of a single character. Stream on Max and Netflix.

5 Stir of Echoes (1999)

David Koepp’s Stir of Echoes is the story of Tom Witzky, a blue-collar worker in Chicago who accepts a challenge to let his sister-in-law hypnotize him. After all, he doesn’t believe in esoterical mumbo-jumbo. What happens is that soon after he gets out of the trance, Tom starts to experience strange phenomena that include foreshadowing, ghost visions, and great communication with his son, who also has the ability to communicate with the afterlife. Unfortunately, his visions become more aggressive, and Tom tries to find a solution.

A Classic Ghost Story that Still Matters

The film suffered from the frenetic aftermath of The Sixth Sense and fell into second place all the time in 1999. However, Stir of Echoes is a classic take on the ghost subgenre that still feels as effective as it was back then. Witzky’s transition from paranoia to “savior” is very reminiscent of King’s complicated moral compass, only in his books this often takes more than a few days. Stir of Echoes solves everything easily and conveniently. Stream for free on Tubi.

4 Insidious (2010)

Insidious

Insidious

Release Date
September 13, 2010

Runtime
102

James Wan’s Insidious is the story of the Lamberts, a family who decide on a new start in a new home. Everything goes great until young Dalton enters the attic and falls into a coma the day after. Months go by, and Dalton is still asleep. The parents decide to move to a new home, as the other one has too many memories (and spooky stuff). But then things start occurring in the new home, which leads them to think perhaps it’s not the house that’s haunted. But is it Dalton?

Undoubtedly Inspired by King’s Ghost Stories

It’s clearly inspired by The Shining, a King film that the author doesn’t really like. But there are also elements of the book in the second half of the movie, when Dalton’s revealed not to be the center of the possession. We won’t spoil more for you in case you haven’t seen one of the best ghost movies recently produced. The family being taken apart by the unimaginable threat is also a staple of King’s character development. Stream on Netflix.

Related: 10 Performances in Stephen King Movies That Are Massively Underrated

3 Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

Release Date
August 27, 1971

Director
John D. Hancock

Cast
Zohra Lampert , Barton Heyman , Kevin O’Connor , Gretchen Corbett , Alan Manson

Runtime
89 Minutes

John Hancock’s Let’s Scare Jessica to Death tells the story of Jessica, a disturbed woman who spent some time in an institution until doctors felt she could be released into her husband’s care. Accompanied by their friend Woody, they move into a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, where a strange woman who calls herself Emily has broken in.

However, Jessica sees her click with Woody and decides to welcome her in. What follows is Jessica’s ordeal, as she begins to get spooked by entities in her new home and eventually starts to believe she should have never left the hospital.

Paranoia Turns Into Reality

Yes, the film came out before Stephen King released his first novel. But Let’s Scare Jessica to Death does a great job at incorporating new traits into its already-built characters, and Jessica feels like a reflection of years of the “hysterical woman” subgenre that Hollywood capitalized on.

King isn’t a stranger to this part of the story, as his work, both in the films and the novels, goes past the suspicion, and acknowledges victims because they’re part of a bigger conspiracy. In Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, something similar happens, but it’s perfectly handled in a work that’s undoubtedly inspired by Robert Wise’s haunted house gem, The Haunting. Rent on AppleTV.

2 Green Room (2015)

Green Room

Green Room

Release Date
April 15, 2016

Director
Jeremy Saulnier

Runtime
94

Jeremy Saulnier’s outstanding thriller Green Room allowed audiences to access the underground punk scene in 2015. The band known as Ain’t Rights is not exactly hitting it out of the park, so they accept just about every gig they can get. This takes them to a deteriorating bar in the middle of nowhere. Right as they start playing, they realize they’re in a den of skinheads. When a violent act leaves a dead body, the Ain’t Rights become witnesses, and the neo-Nazi lords won’t let them go easily.

Brilliantly Moving Between Thriller and Horror

Saulnier’s depiction of violence is unique. It follows a very specific style of camera work and… release. In gritty American thrillerGreen Room, not much happens, but when it does, it resembles the outbursts that King uses in his books when hell breaks loose, usually in a very enclosed and confined space where characters are discarded quickly and easily. Adding the punk rock element is also typical of King, as he often adds rock music to his literary universe. Rent on Apple TV.

1 Explorers (1985)

Explorers

Explorers

Release Date
July 12, 1985

Runtime
109

Joe Dante’s Explorers is the story of Ben, Wolfgang, and Darren, a trio of underdog teenagers who don’t exactly fit into their mundane lives. Ben is fascinated by science fiction, Wolfgang is the usual geek who knows all about technology, and Darren is a punk. They get together and manage to build a spaceship by putting together circuit boards taken from one of Ben’s dreams. If you were a kid in the ’80s, this was your kind of movie.

A Teenage Sci-Fi Adventure that Screams ’80s Pop Culture

An ’80s sci-fi extravaganza that not many people remember. Ridden with great special effects, Explorers was an ideal teenage adventure that allowed Ethan Hawke to make his film debut. It feels like a Stephen King film because of the witty nature of the kids’ relationship with each other. Very Stand by Me, very It, and very Christine, regardless of the film’s notable absence of horror elements. You can stream Explorers on Kanopy.

Let’s stay in tune with the master of horror, and check out the darkest Stephen King movie endings:

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