The film received two Academy Award nominations, one for Sissy Spacek in the title role and one for Piper Laurie as her abusive mother. The film featured numerous young actors – including Nancy Allen, William Katt, Amy Irving, and John Travolta – whose careers were launched, or escalated, by the film. It also relaunched the screen and television career of Laurie, who had not been active in show business since 1961.
Shy, bullied high school student Carrie White experiences her first period as she showers with other girls after gym class. Unaware of what is happening to her, she panics and pleads for help. The other girls respond by pelting her with tampons, laughing and chanting "Plug it up! Plug it up!" Gym teacher Miss Collins breaks up the commotion and attempts to console Carrie. A light bulb mysteriously breaks as Carrie reaches the height of her panic.
Later, the school principal seems uncomfortable as Miss Collins expresses bewilderment that Carrie is so uninformed. As he dismisses Carrie from school for the afternoon, she becomes frustrated at both cigarette smoke emanating from an ashtray, and the principal repeatedly referring to her by the name "Cassie", causing the ashtray to flip from his desk and shatter. On her way home, a young boy teases Carrie, and she makes him fall off his bicycle with just a look. At home, Carrie is abused by her fanatically religious mother, Margaret, who rants about menstruation being the result of sinful thoughts. Carrie is locked in a small closet and forced to pray for forgiveness. When she is finally allowed to return to her room, she gazes into her reflection, causing the mirror to shatter.
Carrie's classmate Sue feels guilty, so she arranges for her boyfriend, handsome and popular Tommy, to ask Carrie to the upcoming prom. Reluctant at first, Carrie accepts after encouragement from Miss Collins. Another classmate, Chris, throws a tantrum and skips her detention for bullying Carrie, so she is banned from the prom. Swearing vengeance, she recruits her delinquent boyfriend Billy to play a prank on Carrie. They slaughter pigs from a nearby farm and place a bucket of their blood above the stage at the school’s gymnasium.
Margaret discovers Carrie's prom plans and attempts to abuse her again. Having researched her telekinesis, Carrie asserts her power and stands up to her mother. Margaret responds by accusing Carrie of being a satanic witch.
At the prom, Carrie finds acceptance among her peers and shares a kiss with Tommy. Chris's friend Norma rigs the election and Carrie is crowned Prom Queen. Carrie’s joy is cut short when Chris pulls a rope to dump the pigs' blood on her. Chris and Billy escape through a back door, while the bucket falls on Tommy's head, knocking him unconscious. The blood-soaked Carrie hallucinates that everyone in the gymnasium is laughing at her and soon unleashes telekinetic fury upon the crowd, guilty and innocent alike. The doors slam shut, a high-pressure water hose assaults many people (including Norma, who is knocked unconscious), the principal is electrocuted, and Miss Collins is crushed to death. As the gym catches fire, Carrie calmly walks out and locks the remaining students inside. Chris and Billy attempt to run over Carrie as she walks home, but Carrie causes their car to flip and explode.
At home, Carrie is comforted by her mother, who strokes her daughter's hair as she tenderly comforts her in her arms; revealing her guilt about having conceived Carrie through her only act of sexual intercourse with Carrie's drunken father, which she had in part enjoyed. As they pray together, Margaret stabs her daughter in the back and pursues her through the house. Defending herself, Carrie causes kitchen utensils to fly through the air and crucify Margaret. Distraught over her mother's death, Carrie loses control of her powers as the house crumbles and burns down around her.
Sometime after Carrie’s death, Sue, the sole survivor of the prom massacre, is seen laying flowers on the charred remains of Carrie's home beside a vandalized For Sale sign saying "Carrie White burns in Hell!". Just then, a bloody arm reaches from the rubble and grabs her, causing Sue to wake up from her nightmare screaming.
Carrie was the first Stephen King novel to be published and the first to be adapted into a feature film. In an interview in Port Charlotte, Florida at a public appearance near his home on the Gulf coast on March 20, 2010, King said he was 26 years old at the time and was paid just $2,500 for the film rights, but added "I was fortunate to have that happen to my first book." De Palma told Cinefantastique magazine in an interview in 1977:
I read the book. It was suggested to me by a writer friend of mine. A writer friend of his, Stephen King, had written it. I guess this was almost two years ago [circa 1975]. I liked it a lot and proceeded to call my agent to find out who owned it. I found out that nobody had bought it yet. A lot of studios were considering it, so I called around to some of the people I knew and said it was a terrific book and I'm very interested in doing it. Then nothing happened for, I guess, six months.
Lawrence D. Cohen was hired as the screenwriter, and produced the first draft, which had closely followed the novel's intentions. United Artists accepted the second draft but only allocated De Palma a budget of $1.6 million, a small amount considering the popularity of horror films at the time. The budget eventually rose to $1.8 million. Certain scripted scenes were omitted from the final version, mainly due to financial limitations.
Many young actresses auditioned for the lead role, including Melanie Griffith. Sissy Spacek was persuaded by husband Jack Fisk to audition for the title role. Fisk then convinced De Palma to let her audition, and she read for all of the parts. De Palma's first choice for the role of Carrie was Betsy Slade, who received good notices for her role in the film Our Time (1974). Determined to land the leading role, Spacek backed out of a television commercial she was scheduled to film, rubbed Vaseline into her hair, didn't bother to wash her face, and arrived for her screen test clad in a sailor dress which her mother had made her in the seventh grade, with the hem cut off, and was given the part.
Nancy Allen was the last to audition, and her audition came just as she was on the verge of leaving Hollywood. She and De Palma later married.
De Palma began with director of photography Isidore Mankofsky, who was eventually replaced by Mario Tosi after conflict between Mankofsky and De Palma ensued. Gregory M. Auer, assisted by Ken Pepiot, served as the special effects supervisor for Carrie, with Jack Fisk, Spacek's husband, as art director.
The White house was filmed in Santa Paula, California and to give the home a Gothic theme, director and producers went to religious shops looking for artifacts to place in the home.
A wraparound segment at the beginning and end of the film was scripted and filmed which featured the Whites' home being pummeled by stones that hailed from the sky. The opening scene was filmed as planned, though on celluloid, the tiny pebbles looked like rain water. A mechanical malfunction botched production the night when the model of the Whites' home was set to be destroyed, so they burned it down instead and dropped the scenes with the stones altogether. The original opening scene is presumed lost.
The final scene, in which Sue reaches toward Carrie's grave, was shot backwards to give it a dreamlike quality. This scene was inspired by the final scene in Deliverance (1972). Spacek had insisted on using her own hand in the given scene, so she was positioned under the rocks and gravel. De Palma stated, "Sissy, come on, I'll get a stunt person. What do you want? To be buried in the ground?!" However, Spacek declared, "Brian, I have to do this." De Palma explains that they "had to bury her. Bury her! We had to put her in a box and stick her underneath the ground. Well, I had her husband bury her because I certainly didn't want to bury her. I used to walk around and set up the shot and every once in a while we'd hear Sissy: 'Are we ready yet?' 'Yeah, Sissy, we're going to be ready real soon.'"
The score for Carrie was composed by Pino Donaggio. In addition, Donaggio scored two pop songs ("Born to Have It All" and "I Never Dreamed Someone Like You Could Love Someone Like Me") with lyrics by Merrit Malloy for the early portion of the prom sequence. These songs were performed by Katie Irving (no relation to star Amy Irving and her mother, Priscilla Pointer). Donaggio would work again with De Palma on Home Movies, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Double, Raising Cain, and Passion.
The soundtrack album was originally released on vinyl in 1976 from United Artists Records. A deluxe CD edition containing a few tracks of dialogue from the film was released by Rykodisc in 1997, and a 2005 CD re-release of the original soundtrack (minus dialogue) was available from Varèse Sarabande. In 2010, Kritzerland Records released all 35 cues of Donaggio's score for the film on a two-disc CD set which was presented as the complete score. Also included in this edition were the versions of "Born to Have It All" and "I Never Dreamed..." which were heard in the film, as well as instrumentals of both songs, and hidden at the end of the final track, a version of the "Calisthenics" cue with Betty Buckley's studio-recorded voice-over from the detention scene. The second disc was a remastered copy of the original 13-track album. The Kritzerland release was a limited edition of 1,200 copies. Kritzerland re-released the first disc as "The Encore Edition" in February 2013; this release was limited to 1,000 copies.
Carrie received largely positive reviews and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1976.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated the film was an "absolutely spellbinding horror movie", as well as an "observant human portrait", giving three and a half stars out of four. Pauline Kael of The New Yorker stated that Carrie was "the best scary-funny movie since Jaws – a teasing, terrifying, lyrical shocker". Take One Magazine critic Susan Schenker said she was "angry at the way Carrie manipulated me to the point where my heart was thudding, and embarrassed because the film really works." A 1998 edition of The Movie Guide stated Carrie was a "landmark horror film", while Stephen Farber prophetically stated in a 1978 issue of New West Magazine, "it's a horror classic, and years from now it will still be written and argued about, and it will still be scaring the daylights out of new generations of moviegoers." Quentin Tarantino placed Carrie at number 8 in a list of his favorite films ever.
Nevertheless, the film was not without its detractors. Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice commented, "There are so few incidents that two extended sequences are rendered in slow-motion as if to pad out the running time..."
In addition to being a box office success - earning $14.5 million in theater rentals by January 1978 - Carrie is notable for being one of the few horror films to be nominated for multiple Academy Awards. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie received nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress awards, respectively. The film also won the grand prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival, while Sissy Spacek was given the Best Actress award by the National Society of Film Critics. In 2008, Carrie was ranked number 86 on Empire Magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. This movie also ranked number 15 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies, and No. 46 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Greatest Cinema Thrills, and was also ranked eighth for its famous ending sequence on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments (2004).
In a 2010 interview, King replied that he thought, although dated now, Carrie was a "good movie."AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – number 46
Carrie, along with the novel, has been reproduced and adapted several times.
The Rage: Carrie 2 was released in 1999. It featured another teenager with telekinetic powers who is revealed to have shared a father with Carrie White. The film received universally negative reviews and was a box office failure. Amy Irving reprises her role of Sue Snell from the previous film.
In 2002, a television film based on King's novel and starring Angela Bettis in the titular role was released. The film updated the events of the story to modern-day settings and technology while simultaneously attempting to be more faithful to the book's original structure, storyline, and specific events. However, the ending was drastically changed: instead of killing her mother and then herself, the film has Carrie killing her mother, being revived via CPR by Sue Snell and being driven to Florida to hide. This new ending marked a complete divergence from the novel and was a signal that the film served as a pilot for a Carrie television series, which never materialized. In the new ending, the rescued Carrie vows to help others with similar gifts to her own. Although Bettis' portrayal of Carrie was highly praised, the film was cited by most critics as inferior to the original.
In May 2011, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Screen Gems announced that Carrie would be adapted to film once more. Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote the script as "a more faithful adaptation" of King's novel but shared a screenplay credit with the 1976 film's writer Lawrence D. Cohen. Aguirre-Sacasa had previously adapted King's epic novel The Stand into comic-book form in 2008.
The role of Carrie was played by 16-year-old actress Chloë Grace Moretz. Julianne Moore starred as Carrie's mother Margaret White, and Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell. Alex Russell and Broadway actor Ansel Elgort played Billy Nolan and Tommy Ross respectively. Portia Doubleday was given the role of Chris Hargensen and Judy Greer was cast as Miss Desjardin.
Kimberly Peirce, known for her work on Boys Don't Cry, directed the new adaptation. It was released on October 18, 2013 and received mixed reviews.
A 1988 Broadway musical of the same name, based on King's novel and starring Betty Buckley, Linzi Hateley and Darlene Love, closed after only 16 previews and five performances. An English pop opera filtered through Greek tragedy, the show was so notorious that it provided the title to Ken Mandelbaum's survey of theatrical disasters, Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops.
Early in the 21st century, playwright Erik Jackson attempted to secure the rights to stage another production of Carrie the musical, but his request was rejected. Jackson eventually earned the consent of King to mount a new, officially-sanctioned, non-musical production of Carrie, which debuted Off-Broadway in 2006 with female impersonator Sherry Vine in the lead role. Similarly, many other unofficial spoofs have been staged over the years, usually with a gym teacher named "Miss Collins" (as opposed to the novel's "Miss Desjardin" and the musical's "Miss Gardner"), most notably the "parodage" Scarrie the Musical, which hit the Illinois stage in 1998 and was revived in 2005; Dad's Garage Theatre's 2002 production of Carrie White the Musical; and the 2007 New Orleans production of Carrie's Facts of Life, which was a hybrid of Carrie and the classic American sitcom The Facts of Life.