for all the movies made from Stephen King’s work, some remain frustratingly out of reach.
The acclaimed author Stephen King is possibly the author whose works have been adapted to screens of all sizes the most.
Literally dozens of Stephen King’s books, novellas, and short stories have been adapted for the big screen, short-lived TV shows, or streaming movies. These adaptations include timeless works like Carrie, The Shining, The Dead Zone, and The Shawshank Redemption as well as more recent classics like It and The Outsider. A few, like “Salem’s Lot,” “The Stand,” “The Shining,” and “It,” have seen several adaptations.
There have also been a lot of King adaptations along the road that either never made it to the screen at all or made it in a very different shape than what was initially intended. Some of these had well-known directors and screenwriters who had a vision for the material, but who ultimately left the project as it stalled out or after that vision was watered down, altered, or altogether abandoned.
Here are seven Stephen King adaptations that were never released as originally planned, along with the directors that were at one time involved. While some of them might someday return from the dead, it’s quite unlikely that they’ll be as these gifted, and in some cases legendary, individuals remembered them.
The 1984 fantasy epic The Talisman, which King co-wrote with the late Peter Straub, a renowned horror author, may be the King work that has endured the longest period of development hell. Years ago, Steven Spielberg’s business, Amblin Entertainment, bought the book’s rights, thereby making them theirs permanently, with the intention of making a movie. Since then, it has seen multiple revisions, including a feature film, a six-hour TNT miniseries, a feature once more, and the current Netflix limited series, which is executive produced by the Duffer brothers of Stranger Things fame.
However, Spielberg long ago gave up on his plans to helm The Talisman, so while we hope it eventually hits the big screen, we are left to speculate as to what a Spielberg-helmed adaptation of a Stephen King book may have looked like. The story undoubtedly hits all of The Beard’s signature sweet spots, including a young protagonist, coming-of-age tale, fantasy setting, and disturbing but not outright horror story. We have a sneaking suspicion that he may have knocked this one out of the park. The project will hopefully benefit from his ongoing supervision to get the adaption fans have been waiting for.
The Dragon’s Eyes.
King’s standalone fantasy book The Eyes of the Dragon, aimed for younger readers but nevertheless tied to The Stand and his massive Dark Tower series of books, was described by Deadline as “YA’s Game of Thrones” when a Hulu series adaptation of the book was announced in 2019. Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies whose name is frequently associated with unfruitful endeavors, was even given the title of showrunner.
It appears that Eyes, which was previously created unsuccessfully as an animated feature and a Syfy miniseries, has met the same fate on Hulu. Grahame-Smith announced the project’s cancellation on The Kingcast podcast owing to financial and creative constraints. The Hulu adaptation marked the best opportunity to date for a more family-friendly King story to appear on film, even though it was too early for other creatives and cast to join the project.
Everyone is aware of what transpired in 2017 when The Dark Tower, a movie purportedly based on and a sequel to King’s monumental eight-book fantasy/horror/sci-fi/Western cycle, made its theatrical debut after years of unsuccessful attempts. The film was a colossal failure with critics, ardent fans of Stephen King, and general audiences. King devotees were furious that Sony had attempted to condense his magnum opus into a 90-minute picture, while average audiences simply didn’t get it or didn’t care.
Years of planning and preparation eventually led to the release of the film, which was first in the hands of J.J. Abrams (about 2007) before being purchased by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment in 2010. The eighth book had not yet been released, thus Abrams had planned a simple seven-film series. However, by 2009, he and his Bad Robot firm had abandoned the project.
The following year, it was acquired by Imagine and Universal Pictures, and Howard and Grazer came up with a new, much more ambitious plan: an interconnected series comprising three films and two limited TV series, with the latter serving as a link between the theatrical pictures. In April 2011, they even managed to cast Javier Bardem in the titular Roland role. However, Universal had been worried about the budget from the start, and as the project’s cost increased, so did the studio’s worry. Just three months after Bardem’s casting was revealed, Universal ultimately decided to scrap the entire production.
Warner Bros. picked it up for a little while, thinking that the linking series could air on HBO, but they were out of the picture by August 2012. Next came the feature film via Sony, and you know how that went. More recently, Amazon picked up the rights and even commissioned a pilot for a TV series version (with a different cast), but ultimately passed as well.
What would the Howard/Grazer iteration have looked like? For one, the casting of Bardem was excellent, even better than the still-impressive Idris Elba in the 2017 feature. Given enough time and money, the movie/TV hybrid might have been expansive enough to attract a whole new audience for such an unusual construct. But for now The Dark Tower remains unreachable.
The Long Walk
King’s first completed novel, written while he was in college in the late 1960s but not published until 1979 under the name Richard Bachman, The Long Walk was set in a totalitarian future America where a brutal government stages a grueling contest for 100 boys that ends in death for all but one. King adaptation specialist Frank Darabont, of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist fame, picked up the rights in 2007, hoping to make an arthouse-style picture.
Darabont’s option finally lapsed after years and ended up at New Line Cinema by 2018, with André Øvredal slated to direct from a screenplay by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac). We’ve heard little about it since, and we kind of wish Darabont could have stuck with it. His three King films to date feature small groups of people bonding or clashing under very intense circumstances, and we think his sensibility could have done The Long Walk justice.
From a Buick 8
The late, great horror filmmaker George A. Romero has been associated with Stephen King since the late 1970s, and at one point or another was attached to screen versions of King classics like The Stand and Pet Sematary. In the end, however, Romero only ended up directing two: Creepshow and The Dark Half. The former is an all-timer (done in collaboration with King himself), while the latter is an underrated minor gem that suffered from poor distribution.
Following the turn of the century, Romero was attached to another King book for a couple of years: it was announced in 2005 that he would direct an adaptation of From a Buick 8, the author’s 2002 novel about a car that is a gateway to a dangerous dimension. The script was penned by actor Johnathon Schaech and author Richard Chizmar, founder of the horror-oriented indie publishing house Cemetery Dance Publications (with which King has long been associated), for their then-new company Chesapeake Films.
Start-up film companies are notorious for announcing projects that never happen, and in this case Chesapeake could never secure financing for the film. Romero was replaced by Tobe Hooper, beginning a long, tortured path of development that has most recently landed at the feet of director Jim Mickle and actor Thomas Jane. While the project may technically still be alive, we mourn the fact that From a Buick 8 joins the list of unrealized King/Romero projects that have come and gone over the years, especially since Romero seemed particularly attuned to his friend’s storytelling instincts.
One of King’s most frightening recent novels, 2014’s Revival follows a minister who loses his faith after his wife and child are killed in a car accident and begins to experiment with electricity to raise the dead. Josh Boone, director of New Mutants, penned a script for Universal Pictures that was eventually put into turnaround, after which Intrepid Pictures and filmmaker Mike Flanagan picked up the rights and pitched the project to Warner Bros. Although Flanagan wrote a script that King himself approved, the studio passed on the project as the King adaptation craze began to peter out in 2020.
Flanagan already had two King-based movies (Gerald’s Game and Doctor Sleep) under his belt, with the author’s work heavily influenced original projects like Midnight Mass, so he would have been a near-perfect choice to bring the dark, tragic Revival to the screen.
Doctor Sleep Prequel/The Shining Sequel
Unfortunately Mike Flanagan has had two disappointments in a row when it comes to developing King projects. Along with the stalled Revival, the writer-director watched his potential plan for a follow-up to Doctor Sleep crumble when that film took a hard nap at the box office.
That follow-up, commissioned by Warner Bros. before the results came in for Doctor Sleep, was tentatively titled Hallorann and would have focused on the early years of the Overlook Hotel’s one-time head chef, who has the psychic talent known as “the shining” himself. But once Doctor Sleep tanked, “Warner Bros. opted not to proceed with [Hallorann],” Flanagan wrote on Twitter (via Variety). “They control the rights, so that was that.”
Flanagan actually had another idea up his sleeve as well, this time for a direct sequel to Doctor Sleep. As he told Den of Geek, the film would have focused on Abra (Kyliegh Curran), the young girl with psychic powers who began to come into her own – with Dan Torrance’s (Ewan McGregor) guidance — by the end of Doctor Sleep.
“When I met Stephen King, I asked him like, is there more? Do you have anything else for Abra Stone? Because my God, she’s so great,” Flanagan said. “And he left it open … it was people asking questions like that that made him write Doctor Sleep.”
Alas, it looks like neither film will come to pass at this point. But never count out King nor the filmmakers and studio ready to tap into his creative vision – even if it sometimes never bears fruit.
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