Directed by Rob Reiner, the film received critical acclaim for Bates's performance as the psychopathic Annie Wilkes, and Bates won the 1990 Academy Award for Best Actress for her role, making Misery, as of 2017, the only Stephen King adaptation to be an Oscar-winning film. The 'hobbling' scene in the film was ranked #12 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
Famed novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is the author of a successful series of Regency romance novels featuring a character named Misery Chastain. Wanting to focus on more serious stories, he writes a manuscript for a new novel that he hopes will launch his post-Misery career. While traveling from Silver Creek, Colorado to his home in New York City, Paul is caught in a blizzard and his car goes off the road, rendering him unconscious. A nurse named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) finds Paul and brings him to her remote home.
Paul regains consciousness and finds himself bedridden with broken legs and a dislocated shoulder. Annie claims to be his "number one fan" and talks a lot about him and his novels. Out of gratitude, Paul lets Annie read his new manuscript. While feeding him, she is angered by the profanity in his new work and spills soup on him but apologizes. Soon after, Annie reads the latest Misery novel, discovers that Misery dies at the end of the book and flies into a rage. She reveals to Paul that nobody knows where he is, and locks him in his room.
The next morning, Annie forces Paul to burn his new manuscript. When he is well enough to get out of bed, she insists he write a new novel titled Misery's Return, in which he brings the character back to life. Paul complies, believing Annie might kill him otherwise. One day, when Annie is away, Paul sneaks out and begins stockpiling his painkillers. He tries poisoning Annie during dinner, but fails. Paul later finds a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about Annie's past. He discovers that she was tried for the deaths of several infants, but the trial collapsed due to lack of evidence. Annie had quoted lines from his Misery novels during her trial. Annie later drugs Paul and straps him to the bed. When he wakes, she tells him that she knows he has been out of his room and breaks his ankles with a sledgehammer to prevent him from escaping again.
The local sheriff, Buster (Richard Farnsworth), is investigating Paul's disappearance. When a shopkeeper informs the sheriff he has sold Annie considerable quantities of typing paper, Buster pays Annie a visit. When he finds Paul drugged in the basement, Annie fatally shoots Buster and tells Paul that they must die together. He agrees, on the condition that he must finish the novel in order to "give Misery back to the world". He conceals a can of lighter fluid in his pocket.
When the manuscript is done, Paul asks for a single cigarette and a glass of champagne, to which Annie complies. Using the match Annie gives him, Paul sets the manuscript on fire, and as Annie rushes to save it, he hits her over the head with the typewriter. They fight and Annie is killed.
Eighteen months later, Paul, now walking with a cane, meets his publishing agent Marcia (Lauren Bacall) in a restaurant in New York City. The two discuss his first non-Misery novel, and Marcia tells him about the positive early buzz. Paul replies that he does not care, and that he wrote the novel for himself. Marcia asks if he would consider a non-fiction book about his captivity, but Paul declines. While at the restaurant, he imagines the waitress as Annie. The waitress says she is his "number one fan", to which Paul uncomfortably responds "That's very sweet of you".
Producer Andrew Scheinman read Stephen King's novel Misery on an airplane, and later recommended it to his director partner at Castle Rock Entertainment, Rob Reiner. Reiner eventually invited famed writer William Goldman to write the film's screenplay. Given that Reiner was a director with a career of comedies, once he read the novel he identified with the theme of "a guy who needed a new challenge, who needs to push himself and grow". King had refused to sell the novel's adaptation rights because of how other works of his were mishandled in film translations, but eventually let Reiner do Misery after his 1986 adaptation of Stand by Me.
Reiner worked closely with Goldman on the screenplay, with the director explaining that "We got rid of the most gory and horrific parts. I wanted to concentrate on the idea of this chess match between the artist and his fan."
In the original novel, Annie Wilkes severs one of Paul Sheldon's feet with an axe. Goldman loved the scene and argued for it to be included, but Reiner insisted that it be changed so that she only breaks his ankles. Goldman subsequently wrote that this was the correct decision as amputation would have been too severe.
The part of Paul Sheldon was originally offered to William Hurt (twice), then Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Richard Dreyfuss, Gene Hackman, and Robert Redford, but they all turned it down. Warren Beatty was interested in the role, wanting to turn him into a less passive character, but eventually had to drop out as post-production of Dick Tracy extended. Eventually someone suggested James Caan, who agreed to play the part. Caan commented that he was attracted by how Sheldon was a role unlike any other of his, and that "being a totally reactionary character is really much tougher." According to Reiner, it was Goldman who suggested that Kathy Bates, then unknown, should portray Annie Wilkes.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received an 89% rating; the consensus reads, "Elevated by standout performances from James Caan and Kathy Bates, this taut and frightening film is one of the best Stephen King adaptations to date."
Roger Ebert liked the film, stating, "It is a good story, a natural, and it grabs us."
The genre magazine Bloody Disgusting ranked Misery fourth place in its list of "10 Claustrophobic Horror Films".
King himself has stated that Misery is one of his top ten favorite film adaptations, in his collection "Stephen King Goes to the Movies".
Misery grossed $10,076,834 on its opening weekend, finishing at second at the box office behind Home Alone. It eventually finished with $61 million domestically.
The film's score was composed by Marc Shaiman.
William Goldman also adapted the book for the theatre. His play version premiered in 2012 at Bucks County Playhouse. The adaption later transferred to Broadway from November 2015 to February 2016, starring Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf. The play received mixed reviews from theatre critics. Willis was widely criticized for his portrayal as Paul Sheldon with reviewers saying that while the actor tried his best, he "lacked emotion" as the captured character. However, Metcalf was met with widespread critical acclaim for her performance as Annie and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.
The film was remade in India as a Malayalam and Tamil film titled Julie Ganapathi.