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Why Are There So Many Stephen King Adaptations?

By Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
By Joseph P. Kelly, Contributing Writer

Stephen King is credited to have written 60 novels, five nonfiction works, and at least 10 collections of short. Out of his works, there are at least 50 film adaptations either already produced or currently in production. Some of King’s novels have even been adapted more than once, like the 2017 version of “It,” which succeeded the 1990 miniseries of the same name. There have also been at least 28 TV adaptations and spinoffs inspired by his work. There was even a musical in 1988 based on his novel “Carrie.” King continues to release new material with no sign of stopping anytime soon, and whenever a new work is released, the movie or TV rights are quickly purchased. How have so many of one author’s works have been adapted to the big screen? And why King?

The simple and most obvious answer is this: There’s just so much material for filmmakers to choose from. It’s a lot easier to develop a story from some already-established source material than starting from nothing. King has so much source material to choose from that screen adapters seemingly have an endless supply. For the majority of authors, the feat of completing upwards of 50 books is rarely accomplished, and for an author who’s written, say, five works, it would be impossible to create so many adaptations from such a small pool of sources.

The success of King’s novels and the subsequent film and TV adaptations entices directors looking for their own success. Producing work derived from the so-called “king of horror” is a safe bet for filmmakers looking to make a name for themselves. If the stories that King creates come with their own built-in fanbase that he has garnered over the years, these fans are bound to generate a certain amount of box office sales.

The stories that King creates are unique, but a proliferation of work doesn’t necessarily mean each story is new and original. King isn’t the only author to have written such a large quantity of works — some mystery or romance genre writers have just as many (think Agatha Christie). However, authors with the same voluminous bibliography often write stories that are shockingly similar and formulaic to one another. His novels range from being rooted in reality to having slight supernatural undertones to being incredibly complex universes separate from this one. This diversity gives filmmakers the opportunity to choose from many topics and put their own spin on one of them.

The success of the recent “It” films will undoubtedly usher in an influx of even more filmmakers adapting King’s novels to ride on the popularity and spotlight that the two “It” films have brought back to King’s stories. The popular TV show “Castlerock” — based on an amalgamation of many of King’s ideas derived from numerous novels — just released the first few episodes of its second season on Hulu, creating even more buzz and dialogue around King’s name. The movie adaptation of “Doctor Sleep,” based off the novel of the same name, is set to come out on Nov. 8. This story is the sequel to King’s novel “The Shining,” and the critically acclaimed movie adaptation of the same name, released in 1980 produced by the iconic director Kubrick. Kubrick, who’s been cited as one of the most influential filmmakers in cinematic history, produced and directed the second ever adaptation of a King novel. “The Shining” is regarded as one of the classic staples in cinematic horror and potentially the impetus for the recognition of King's works have received from filmmakers everywhere. These adaptations of King’s novels have become increasingly popular, so it’s in filmmakers’ best interest to keep creating them.

The other draw of King’s novels is that adhering to his opinion and staying true to the source material are more or less unnecessary. King actually hated the movie version of his novel “The Shining,” believing that Kubrick didn’t look at the screenplay that King had written for the movie, instead of opting to make his own decisions on the film. The film itself still remains one of the most popular and acclaimed movies of all time and is considered as a masterpiece in horror even despite King’s disdain for the film. Even though these novels come with a dedicated fan base, a good deal of artistic license enables filmmakers to reimagine King’s stories — captivating new audiences as well as old fans. King writes so many stories that eventually become films or television specials that he cannot control much of the artististry of these adaptations, leaving those liberties to the filmmakers.

King’s most recent novel, “The Institute,” was released on Sep. 10, and by Sep. 11 the rights had already been reserved for a TV adaptation of the novel. King’s stories are in such high esteem in this new age of adaptations and reboots that in less than 24 hours rights to his newest novel had already been snatched up by Jack Bender, director of iconic television series such as “Lost” and “Game of Thrones.”

There is no stopping these adaptations from continuing — as long as King continues writing, filmmakers will continue to create adaptations. Whether or not these adaptations should be created is besides the point because, in the end, they work. They continue to bring in revenue for film and TV creators, and they attract new audiences to the directors, screenwriters, and actors involved in the production.

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