Dozens of Stephen King’s short stories and novels have been adapted into film and television, and it seems every one has its own love affair with the rest of King’s work.
The various King adaptations are packed with easter eggs and references to other titles, and it’s no surprise—King constantly does the same in the books themselves. Maybe it’s the oft-shared settings in and around Maine, maybe it’s King’s patchwork attempts at establishing a shared universe, or maybe it’s just self-congratulatory fun. Regardless of why King always references King, the same holds true for his movies and television shows.
This list is dedicated to ten of the cheekiest of those self-referential winks, times when King and his adaptors posed the question, “Say, do you remember King and his adaptors?”
10 The Dark Tower – Pennywise
Stephen King always intended The Dark Tower to unite his many works into one shared multiverse, so pulling easter eggs from it feels like cheating. But because the movie was a Nikolaj Arcel adaptation, I’m calling it open season. Of its many easter eggs, it’s the unmistakable It reference that stands out.
At one point in the film, the young shine-empowered hero Jake Chambers finds himself stumbling through the ruins of the universe known as Mid-World. There, he wanders into the ruins of an ancient theme park. What remains is a half-buried statue with its clown hand emerging into the surface, holding Pennywise’s trademark bunch of balloons, as well as a theme park ride, labeled oh-so-subtly “Pennywise.”
9 Castle Rock – “Wanna See a Body?”
Let’s continue with getting the easy easter eggs out of the way first. Like The Dark Tower, Castle Rock’s TV show is also meant as a bridge between King’s various stories. Many locations, props, and even characters themselves are direct references to various King books. However, some of the show’s easter eggs are more subtle and unexpected, like one brief nod to Stand By Me.
As King has come to be known as a master of horror, some forget that he also penned the story that became the classic coming-of-age film Stand By Me. The movie’s inciting incident is young Vern’s sincere question to his gang of friends, “You guys wanna go see a dead body?” The same line shows up in Castle Rock episode five, when the Kid stands atop a roof, overwhelmed by a deluge of internal voices. Amidst the crowded chorus, one voice cuts through the rest and says, “Wanna see a body?”
8 It – Turtles
Fans of King lore will know of Maturin, the massive, god-like turtle that birthed at least one of the universes and who doesn’t look very highly upon Pennywise. In the novel, Maturin makes direct appearances, communicating with Bill and offering the boy advice and encouragement. Though its parts were cut from the movie, director Andy Muschietti included a few winks to the divine reptile.
Throughout both movies, during pivotal or emotionally charged scenes, turtles find their way onto the screen. They come in the form of a turtle sticker, turtle Lego bricks, turtle statues, and conversations about actual turtles. However, the most subtle reference (because it’s never stated in the movie) is that the root Mike obtains from the Native Americans to guide him on his journey is itself named Maturin. As director Muschietti said, “Maturin’s still there in the movie. It’s just not personified by a giant turtle.”
7 Pet Sematary – Cujo
The original Pet Sematary novel contained an overt reference to Cujo and its titular murderous St. Bernard. In the book, old neighbor Jud Crandall tells the protagonist, Louis Creed, about a rabid dog that killed four people a few years ago. The same story made its way into the 2019 film adaptation, but the story became even darker.
In the movie, Jud again tells the story, but this time to a guest in the middle of a child’s birthday party. It’s an inappropriate story for that setting and makes you question Jud’s judgment. More than that, it makes you wonder how that version of Maine could have so much bad luck with pets in just a few years.
6 The Mist – Gunslinger Roland
The 2007 big-screen adaptation of King’s The Mist was a tense and violent horror that provided some solid commentary on partisan factionalism. Perhaps the most notable part of the film is its ending: a bleak, anguish-laden sequence that pulls a complete 180 from King’s original, happier ending. As far as easter eggs go, however, it’s the opening shot that wins a spot on our list.
The very first shot is of protagonist David Drayton, painting Roland the Gunslinger from The Dark Tower. The painting is unmistakable, between the gun in the figure’s hand, his bandoliers, the solitary red rose, and the literal dark tower behind him. The figure looks like Clint Eastwood, reflecting the early Dark Tower cover art that portrayed Roland as a carbon copy of Eastwood.
5 The Shining – Hedge Maze Foreshadowing
Stanley Kubrick’s film version of The Shining is likely the best King adaptation ever, and ironically the one King likes the least. Regardless, it’s a classic. Its heavy use of symbolism, combined with Kubrick’s reputation as an obsessive auteur, has caused fans to pick over every frame of the film for symbols, allusions, foreshadowing, and even evidence that the moon landing was faked. Whether all or any of it is real, there is no end to the theories. One such clever observation is how the film cleverly foreshadowed its hedge maze ending.
For one thing, there’s Jack’s first tie, a decidedly forest-green affair with a large, exaggerated knit pattern that crisscrosses over itself, forming what looks eerily like a hedge maze. For another, there are the cartoons Danny watches. The first cartoon he watches shows Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner through a literal maze of train tracks. The following cartoon Danny turns on features the same Looney pair, this time accompanied by a song that goes, “The coyote’s after you, Road Runner. If he catches you, you’re through.”
4 It: Chapter 2 – “Here’s Johnny!”
Speaking of The Shining, It: Chapter 2 references the horror classic that is unusually obvious for a non-multiverse-driven King film. Perhaps the single most famous piece of dialogue from The Shining comes from Jack Torrence as he breaks down a bathroom door, sticks his head through, and yells, “Here’s Johnny!” It: Chapter 2 repeats the line and shot almost exactly.
When Bev ends up stuck in a bathroom stall, Pennywise tries to force his way in, taking on the forms of the people closest to Bev and pushing on the door. In the form of bully Henry Bowers, Pennywise sticks his head through the cracked door and delivers the classic Nicholson line. The shot is even framed the same way as the original Kubrick shot.
3 It – Tim Curry Cameo
Tim Curry delivered a memorable performance as Pennywise in the 1990 It miniseries, and the 2017 film was essentially guaranteed to shout him out in some way. It did indeed, in the form of an unmistakably Curry-styled Pennywise doll.
In the film, Richie finds himself trapped in a room with dozens of frightening clown dolls, all variations on the Pennywise theme. One clown on the left has the exact hair, makeup, and outfit that Curry’s Pennywise wore, and the reference is clear.
2 Doctor Sleep – Original Danny
Many easter eggs are obvious and easy, but the reason this particular egg from Doctor Sleep gets the number two spot is that it seemed like the absolute last thing that would ever make it into the film.
During a little league game in which the villainous True Knots scouts out a young player with shine, the camera shifts to a conversation between two onlookers in the stands. One of those two men is actually a grown-up Danny Lloyd, who played the original Danny Torrance as a child. As fun as that is, it becomes much more impressive when you find out that Danny Lloyd retired from acting after The Shining and his Doctor Sleep cameo was his first acting job in 38 years.
1 It: Chapter 2 – Bad Endings
Perhaps the best easter egg from any King-based film comes in It: Chapter 2 in the form of King personally roasting himself. Throughout the film, a running gag is that Bill, now grown up and a successful writer, is talented and beloved—aside from his crappy endings. This is a nod to probably the most common criticism King gets in real life: that his books are wonderful but never end satisfactorily.
Taking it even farther, King himself cameos in the film and personally says to Bill that his endings stink. It shows a lot of endearing humility on King’s part, or if looked at another way, a bird flipped to his constant critics. Either way, it’s a fun easter egg and a natural culmination to King’s long career of referencing himself.