Stephen King movies have made over two billion dollars at the box office. That is a pretty staggering number, even in the age of billion-dollar blockbusters like Aquaman and Black Panther. To think that a single writer is fundamentally responsible for literally dozens of movies that have collectively made the gross domestic product of many small nations is pretty wild, no matter how you cut it. It is a testament to the enduring power of Stephen King that even one of his less famous films is dominating the charts on Netflix, 15 years after it was made. That movie is 2007’s The Mist, directed by frequent Stephen King collaborator Frank Darabont, and it is currently the number four most-watched movie on Netflix.
In a comprehensive filmography that includes enormous box office earners like the recent two-part adaption of It (which grossed approximately $327 and $211 million, respectively) and critically adored films like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, The Mist is pretty much middle of the pack. It made a decent $57 million (off of an $18 million budget) but certainly did not set the world on fire. Critics were lukewarm on it then and now, with it currently holding a 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Compared to Frank Darabont’s earlier Stephen King adaptations The Shawshank Redemption (which flopped on release, only to be reassessed as a modern classic) and The Green Mile (which is less fondly remembered, but made a quarter of a billion dollars), The Mist was something of a non-start. So why is this particular Stephen King film doing so well on Netflix?
Simply put, it is because The Mist is one of Stephen King’s most terrifying film adaptations on Netflix or otherwise. Unlike It with its leering, loquacious killer clown or Pet Sematary’s haunting revenant roadkill cat, there is nothing particularly easy to put on a movie poster for this movie. Sure, there are monsters aplenty out in the titular mist of the movie and they are masterworks of horror designs, but they are not the real villains of the film. Like many great movies, the true monsters of The Mist are human beings.
The Mist begins as all Stephen King Netflix and otherwise adaptations must, in a small Maine town full of distinctive characters. After a thunderstorm causes severe damage to the town of Bridgton, visual artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane, doing some of his best work) makes a run to the local grocery store with his neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher) to stock up on supplies, only to find low-grade panic mode already setting in with the townsfolk. The movie makes it clear there is tension between Drayton and Norton from past conflicts, but also portrays them as fundamentally willing to try to work through their conflicts civilly. That is not how things go, unfortunately.
The titular mist rolls over the town and traps a collection of shoppers, employees, and military personnel from a nearby base inside, played by character actor greats like Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones, and William Sadler. They are spooked by a man who runs out of the mist claiming “something” is out there, but no one is convinced until tentacles start grabbing people and tearing them apart, flying bug monsters invade the store, and religious fanatic Harden starts prophesizing the end of the world. Despite the H.P. Lovecraft monsters lurking in the mist (whose presence is never completely explained in a restrained touch by Stephen King and Frank Darabont), the conflict in this Netflix hit is all about people turning on each other and breaking from common sense and morality.
It is unsurprising that The Mist was not really a hit in theaters. It is a dark and gloomy-looking movie, as you would expect from a movie about monsters and mist. It feels claustrophobic and stressful in a way that was not in vogue during the heyday of torture porn movies like Saw; the horror and tension are not in the gore (though there is plenty of that), but in seeing society break down so suddenly. Also, it has famously one of the single bleakest endings in all of cinematic history, which departed from the original novella and was signed off on by the author himself. It is the ideal kind of Stephen King horror movie to watch at home on Netflix, hopefully in the company of trusted loved ones, not in a theater full of people that could turn on you at any time if some monsters showed up. But that is probably why this particular Stephen King movie has become a hit on Netflix now.