To this day, “The Stand” remains Stephen King’s longest novel ever written and is an absolute behemoth of a story (and a physical book). King has called his own version of “Lord of the Rings” with an epic journey being set in America, and there’s no denying its impact on his career, as well as horror as a whole.
Given how massive a story it is, adapting it is no easy task, but it’s been done twice (once in 1994 and again in 2020/2021), both with incredibly different results. In both cases, the series is set in “modern” day to when it was released, and in both cases, they’re very much a representation of that time.
So, in the interest of horror and Stephen King fandom, we thought it would interesting (and fun) to look at both adaptations of “The Stand” and objectively determine which one reigns supreme!
Round I – Characters
“The Stand” is known for its ensemble, without really have a “main character” (although Stu does fit that profile the most). So in order to properly judge this round, we have to look at the characters overall and see which version did a better job with most of them.
The primary characters we’re primarily focusing on are Stu Redman, Franny Goldsmith, Larry Underwood, Glen, Nick Andros, Tom Cullen, Harold Lauder, Nadine Cross, Lloyd Henreid, Mother Abigail, and Randall Flagg, but just know there are many others.
Having several more hours of runtime, the 2020 version definitely makes use of its time, and spends a great deal of energy focusing on its characters.
This results in Franny getting more development, Harold’s descent into madness being more nuanced and understandable, and an arc for Lloyd that was present in the original, but didn’t get the time or attention it deserved.
As previously mentioned, the 1994 was very much a product of its time, and the result was a somewhat cartoonish portrayal of characters like Tom Cullen, Larry Underwood, and Randall Flagg (especially in his devil makeup).
The 2020 adaption certainly made mistakes (which we’ll get to), but it did a better job of making its characters feel like fully fleshed out people.
While the 2020 miniseries does win this round, it is worth mentioning that there were two characters that were done infinitely better in 1994; those being Nick Andros and Mother Abigail.
The newer version barely gives Nick any screentime and really doesn’t do his character justice, whereas the original spent more time with him before the plague started and better developed his character.
And while Whoopi Goldberg does a good job with Mother Abigail, it just feels like the famous actress in a costume and makeup, whereas Ruby Dee embodied that role, and you really believed she was 106 years old.
Round I Winner – 1994
Round II – Story
For this round, we’re not so much looking at which one adapted King’s novel better, and instead will be rating them based on which version pulled off their respective narratives better. Both tell the story of the world ending by plague, followed by two camps of survivors thriving, and an ultimate clash between good and evil.
Granted that’s a gross oversimplification of 1400+ pages of prose, but those are the primary story beats. The opening plague is handled much better in 1994, as it devoted a quarter of its entire runtime to that plot point.
That first installment works brilliantly even as its own standalone pandemic movie, even if you never watched the rest. The 2020 version tells its story in a jumbled nonlinear format (which we’ll get to), but the bulk of its focus is on setting up the everyday life in Boulder and New Vegas.
Much like it did with the characters, both locations feel much more like real, organic places than in the 90’s predecessor. Both versions essentially have the same problematic ending, but that’s more an issue from the source material.
The ultimate destruction of New Vegas has nothing to do with the arrival of Larry, Glen, and Ralph/Ray, so therefore their sacrifice doesn’t really add up. Also, destroying everyone there sort of makes Lloyd’s redemption pointless as well.
It’s a close round with both versions doing something better than the other, but the 1994 version gets the plague right and that’s such a pivotal plot point, so it gains a slight edge.
Round II Winner – 1994
Round III – Pacing/Style
There’s no way to discuss the 2020 adaptation without mentioning is nonlinear timeline. In a similar vein to Lost, several episodes focus solely on one character, and show their journey from plague to either Boulder or New Vegas.
It was a bold choice that worked for Lost because that was such a long-running series. The same can’t be said for The Stand, where all it does is created confusion and really ruin its pacing on momentum.
By the time the miniseries is ready to drop this technique, it’s already too close to the end to make a difference. To be fair, the 1994 version does rush its plot along a bit too fast in the third and fourth installments (because it spent so much time on the plague in the beginning), however its issues don’t compare to that of the messed up timeline in 2020.
It was incredibly jarring and just made for a disjointed watching experience. This round is less the 1994 adaption winning, and more the 2020 version losing.
Round III Winner – 1994
Round IV – Effects/Production Design
At this point, it’s mathematically impossible for the 2020 version to win, but we wanted to throw it a bone and highlight something that it does particularly well. Obviously the world of special and visual effects have come a long way in the 26 years in between adaptations.
So it’s not entirely fair to compare them on this. But it’s not so much the quality of effects we’re comparing as how their utilized, particularly in the climax of the series. In both versions (much like the book), Larry and Ralph/Ray are going to be executed by Randall Flagg, when the Trashcan Man arrives with a nuclear warhead, which is activated by the “hand of God”.
It’s very on the nose, and just a bit tacky (same goes for the novel), but the newer version definitely makes better use of this plot point. The older version features a literal hand reaching down and setting off the nuke that completely takes the viewer out of the experience with just how silly it looks.
The same scene plays out in the 2020 finale, but does so with the “hand of God” being a series of lightning strikes coming from a dark cloud. It’s really fascinating and visually interesting to see it done via natural disaster, and even conjures up images of the plagues in Egypt from Exodus.
Round IV Winner – 2020
Round V – Themes/Tone
As before, the overall winner has already been determined, but this is something that couldn’t not be discussed. Both versions deal with the conflict between good and evil, as well as faith and belief.
There’s also a seemingly out of place commentary on addiction where New Vegas executes them and doesn’t accept them (which does seem to go against their whole epicurean existence). It’s a bit clunky in both, but the arguments about faith, belief, and fear aren’t.
They especially come to a head when Glen confronts Lloyd with the fact that he only follows Flagg out of fear. The newer version even includes an epilogue episode where Flagg tempts Frannie one more time.
It handles its themes in a much more nuanced manner than its predecessor did. So while the original was an overall better miniseries, the new one does deserve some recognition for things it did right.
Round V Winner – 2020
Overall Winner – 1994
Which one do you prefer and why? Let us know in the comments!