How Movies Made From Stephen King Books Have Been Marketed Through the Years

The author isn't always front and center

Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey star in The Dark Tower, which opens today.
Headshot of Chris Thilk

If you watched the one trailer for this week’s The Dark Tower, you saw text that informs the audience the movie is based on the best-selling series of novels from Stephen King. The campaign wants to make it clear it’s an adaptation of material that’s already very popular, the implication being that the movie will be just as good, so you’d best go see it.

That may be the strongest call to action in the entire campaign. That there was only one trailer (which debuted just three weeks before opening weekend) for an effects-driven fantasy film based on a popular series of novels seems to indicate that reported trouble behind the scenes has resulted in a questionable finished product.

Regardless, King is a household name, with his books gracing many a family trip to the beach for the weekend. To date, there have been over 60 feature-film adaptations of novels, novellas or short stories from the author, along with dozens of retellings on TV. That number will grow even before the end of the year, with a new version of It (previously adapted as a TV mini-series in 1990) coming to theaters and Netflix releasing an adaptation of Gerald’s Game.

So, with King working hard to keep his name and work at the top of the pop-culture pile, it’s a good time to look back at how that name has been used in the marketing for just a handful of previous movies based on his writings.



The first movie to adapt a King story was Carrie, four years prior to The Shining. This being the first go at seeing if buyers of his books would turn into buyers of movie tickets, it’s not surprising the trailer waits until it’s almost over to mention him. Even then, while his name appears on screen, the narrator, who so far has laid out the characters and plot, just says it’s “based on the chilling best seller.” King wasn’t a proven attraction yet, and it shows.


The Shining

The story of a writer who goes crazy while staying at a remote hotel with his family during the winter is more along the lines of what audiences expected from King at this point in his career. The trailer for The Shining leads with showing that it’s directed by Stanley Kubrick, but then explains it’s “based on Stephen King’s best-selling masterpiece of modern horror.” That’s notable considering this was just the second film to be made based on a book by the author. King famously had issues with Kubrick’s interpretation, to the point where he wrote the screenplay for a 1997 miniseries that took another crack at it.



Misery is a frightening tale of obsession, and that’s what’s conveyed in the trailer for the 1990 film adaptation starring Kathy Bates and James Caan. Because it’s more drama and less horror, King gets mentioned but in a more subdued manner than would be seen in other marketing efforts. All he gets here is a simple line saying it’s “based on the book by…” without a lot of other hyperbole or adjectives.


The Shawshank Redemption

King’s presence is more minimal in the trailer for The Shawshank Redemption, the movie you may not have seen in theaters but have watched a dozen times on TNT while in Little Rock on business. The novella was called Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, but the author isn’t given much attention in the trailer, just a small credit at the very end. Perhaps this is because, as an inspirational drama about the triumph of the human spirit, it wasn’t as “on brand” for casual fans of King’s. He was certainly a big name at this point, but using his name might have created the wrong expectations.

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@ChrisThilk Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategy consultant in the Chicago suburbs. You can find him at, where he shares his thoughts on content marketing, media and movie marketing.