A ‘communications breakdown’ cost Steven Spielberg a script for Stephen King’s Poltergeist

Both Spielberg and King rose to prominence in the 1970s. According to Entertainment Weekly, King’s novel “Carrie” was published on April 5, 1974, the same day Spielberg’s first feature film, “The Sugarland Express” was released. “. Spielberg made a name for himself as a horror director with the subsequent release of his proto-blockbuster “Jaws” in 1975. Two years later, King’s haunted house family drama “The Shining” proved that a long horror novel could be successful and marketable.

Of course, both artists had hits and misses. Spielberg’s ‘1941’ was bombarded with reviews, while King’s 1977 active-shooter novel ‘Rage’ (published under his pen name Richard Bachman) was bad enough that he called for it to be removed from publication . But by the early 1980s, Spielberg and King were poised to become not just popular artists of the decade, but popular artists of their respective lives.

‘Poltergeist’ would have been a perfect opportunity for these two to work alongside Tobe Hooper, who had directed a much-loved ‘Salem’s Lot’ TV miniseries in 1979. But that wasn’t the case. In the aforementioned Entertainment Weekly article, King said that “it didn’t work out because it was before the internet and we had a communication breakdown.” A Vanity Fair article says King was on “a ship crossing the Atlantic” when the offer was made.

Whether or not King seriously considered the opportunity, Spielberg reached a point where he no longer had time to consider a collaboration with King. He chose to move on rather than jeopardize the production schedule. Spielberg and King would star with the collaboration later in their careers, most notably in the seed of what became King’s 2002 TV miniseries “Rose Red.” But those talks were never just talks.