8 King First Edition Covers vs Film Interpretations

Timothy RawlesNewsLeave a Comment

Interpretations, interpretations. There are about as many of those as there are opinions. But when you are hired to create the cover art for a novel how much liberty can you take?

Years ago, to judge a book by its cover you simply had to pick it up. Nowadays it’s less of a cover and more of a PNG image next to a button that says download now.

Probably the most influential horror author of the last 40 years, Stephen King has made a career of memorable characters, but sometimes the covers of his books didn’t always match up to the characters in the movies.

Just as directors take certain liberties with who the characters are and what they look like, so too do the artists who create the cover art for the book jacket.

Here are some of his first edition book covers that may or may not have missed the mark when the movies came out. We are only examining the first US printings; there were subsequent releases later for paperbacks which may have gone into more detail as King’s career grew.

And we are also not looking at the text or descriptions of these characters from inside the books: only the first edition covers and the actors and situations that played out on screen.

Cover-to-screen changes are very noticeable on King’s first bestseller, Carrie. On the book, Carrie has auburn curls and brown eyes, a far cry from the now iconic role made famous by Sissy Spacek, with her piercing blues and strawberry blonde hair in the movie.

Carrie: Book published: 1974

Film adaptation releases: 1976 – 2002 (TV movie) – 2013

2002 (TV movie)


The Shining: Book published:  1977

Film adaptation releases: 1980 – 1997 (TV miniseries)

For The Shining, the jacket makes Jack Torrance less of a presence than Kubrick’s vision. Even Wendy looks like a supermodel on the front, not the gangly cowardess depicted by Shelley Duvall in the famous movie.  The 1997 miniseries seemed to have given some reference to the first edition graphic as Steven Weber and Rebecca De Mornay are much closer to the family on the jacket. Even Danny got a bowl cut for the miniseries, looking similar to the one on the book although seemingly much happier. 

1997 (TV miniseries)

The Dead Zone: Book published:  1979

Film adaptation releases: 1983

We can’t see much of Johnny Smith’s visage on this classic novel, Christopher Walken who plays the part in the film has a striking resemblance to the book’s depiction, if only slightly thinner. 

Firestarter: Book published:  1980

Film adaptation releases: 1984

Drew Barrymore seemed the perfect casting choice if producers were taking from the original novel cover. The jacket shows very little of Charlie, but Drew is almost identical to the book illustration in facial features and temperament. 

Cujo: Book published:  1981

Film adaptation releases: 1983

Well, poor Cujo. There’s really nothing an artist would have to interpret here. Large Saint Bernard, snout gnarling in the penumbra. Probably an easy payday for this artist. But later on, another iconic King pet would make a really drastic change from book cover to screen…

Pet Sematary: Book published: 1983

Film adaptation releases: 1989

..and that animal is Church from Pet Sematary. On the book, we see an angry domestic longhair, in the Mary Lambert film it changes to a British short hair, some viewers initially thought Church was a Russian Blue breed.

IT: Book published:  1986

Film adaptation releases: 1990 (TV miniseries)– 2017

This cover is interesting. It shows Georgie’s paper boat anchored near a storm drain with IT’s hand in the latter stages of transformation.

Of course in both film adaptations of the novel, IT is introduced as Pennywise the clown, beckoning below the sewer with Georgie’s boat in hand, but with clown gloves. Not this semi-spoiler art from the first edition cover.

Misery: Book published:  1987

Film adaptation releases: 1990

The difference here is not for characterization, it’s decor. In this great novel from King, Annie Wilkes holds famous romance writer Paul Sheldon hostage in a small room. The cover shows the bed on the left wall and a single window in the center. In the film, the windows multiply and the bed is on the right wall.

Well what do you think? Did the artist doing the first covers get it right the first time or did the directors making the film adaptations do it better? Tell us what you think in the comments below.