Hollywood execs have no doubt also been attracted to the fact that most King theatricals have been produced for moderate budgets. Up until The Green Mile ($60 million budget), the average budget for a King theatrical over a 20-year period stood at a little over $11 million. Subtract the few top-of-the-line King adaptations from the roster – The Shining, The Running Man (1987), Misery (1990), The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – and the average budget over the same period drops to a lean $8.7 million.
While these elements go a long way toward explaining Hollywood’s ceaseless mining of King’s material, there remains something paradoxical about the major studios’ fealty to the brand; a fact which, in itself, reveals something indicative about today’s Hollywood mindset.
King’s literary success has never found parity on the big screen. While, as an author, he has been a consistent bestseller for decades, the canon of King screen works can boast only very few major box offices success. Of 41 Stephen King theatrical movies released between 1976-2007 (including non-thrillers like the elegiac boyhood tale Stand By Me , and prison drama The Shawshank Redemption), 19 either fell short of breakeven on their domestic release or were outright flops. Most of the remainder were modest or mid-range performers with the average box office for those same 41 releases standing at a little over $30 million domestic gross per. Only four Stephen King adaptations over that same period grossed more than $60 million: The Shining ($65 million), Misery ($61.3 million), The Green Mile ($136 million – best performance of a Stephen King movie to date), and 1408 ($72 million). The record becomes even more uninspiring the more parsed it gets: only seven of these 41 features have grossed more than $40 million domestic; 18 grossed less than $20 million; seven earned less than $10 million.