The Scariest Movie Of All Time Is Trending On Streaming

The Shining is in the top ten most streamed movies on HBO Max.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

Another Halloween has just come and gone, but it seems that not everyone is ready to let go of spooky season. That is likely the reason why The Shining, perhaps the best candidate for the scariest movie of all time, is in the top ten most-watched movies on HBO Max, despite viewers being well on their way to Thanksgiving dinner and Mariah Carey holiday songs. The Stephen King-Stanley Kubrick horror film is worth watching at any time of year, so hopefully, it will stick up there a little bit longer. 

The Shining stars Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic and aspiring writer, who has brought his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to a seasonal gig as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in the remote Rocky Mountains. Despite the fragility of the family’s bonds (primarily due to Jack having dislocated Danny’s arm while drunk) and the knowledge that a previous caretaker had slaughtered his family over the course of the exact same job, the trio settles in for a long, cold, snowbound winter. Then creepy things start happening, and all work and no play make Jack go…murderous. 

The Shining is likely one of the most analyzed and iconic horror films of all time, if not in any genre. Images like the two eerie twin girls standing in a hallway, the snow-filled hedge maze, and even Jack Nicholson’s flat, dead stare have all become recognizable completely independent of the film itself, which makes any examination of it difficult. However, The Shining loses no power as a film for all that it has been dissected, parodied, and imitated a million times over. 

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It is to the credit of Stanley Kubrick that the movie has such a continual, palpable sense of dread, even though very little actually happens plotwise in the film. However, credit must also be given to Jack Nicholson, working at the peak of his star power and abilities, and Shelley Duvall, whose performance as the increasingly mentally frayed Wendy was nominated for a Razzie Award (they took it back), reappraised as an intense, physical work of art, described as misogynistic, a product of on-set abuse, and a dozen more things. And then, there is Stephen King himself. 

The Shining was released in 1980, by which time Stephen King was already known as one of the best-selling authors in the world and the master of modern horror, while Stanley Kubrick had come to be acknowledged as arguably the most preeminent filmmaker of his generation. Kubrick had just come off the relative commercial and critical disappointment of Barry Lyndon, while King was in the midst of a run of future film adaptations like Firestarter (later to star Drew Barrymore as a pyrokinetic child) and The Dead Zone (with a psychic Christopher Walken). Though Kubrick was not known as a horror director, it made a lot of sense for him to latch onto the potential box office success of a Stephen King work like The Shining

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Notoriously, Stephen King detested Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, though he has softened a little bit over the years. He eventually made his own television miniseries version of his book, which holds no threat of overshadowing the 1980 film version, but it is a testament to the power of the film version of The Shining that it so occupied King’s mind that he could not let it be the defining adaptation of his work.

In that, Stephen King failed. The Shining was only the second of his works to be adapted to film (after 1976’s Carrie) but is undoubtedly the most acclaimed of the now-dozens of films, television mini-series, comic books, plays, and even operas based on his stories. The Shining did the most difficult thing a horror film can ever try, which is to get actual critical praise from the intelligentsia of society.

However, The Shining was only a moderate commercial success when it was released, and received reviews that criticized it for its slow, deliberate pace (as though that were not both intentional and inherent to the story) and the inexplicability of much of is now-iconic imagery. However, it is clear that even 42 years later, people can’t get enough of this particular kind of slow terror.