On June 17, at a top-secret government laboratory in rural California, a weaponized version of influenza (called Project Blue) is accidentally released. A guard escapes the lab and begins traveling across country to his family home in East Texas, unintentionally spreading the virus along the way. A few days later he crashes his car into a gas station in Arnette, East Texas, where Stu Redman (Gary Sinise) and some friends have gathered. As the man lays dying, he warns Redman that he had been pursued by a "Dark Man". The next day, the U.S. military arrives to quarantine the town.
The other townspeople, taken with Stu to a CDC facility in Vermont, soon sicken and die, but Stu remains healthy and unaffected. Outside, the supervirus, nicknamed Cap'n Trips, rages unchecked. In two months it has killed 99% of the world population.
By the month of August, the virus runs its course, leaving immune survivors scattered across the country. They include would-be rock star Larry Underwood (Adam Storke), who had just had his big break but is now stranded in New York City; Nick Andros (Rob Lowe), a deaf-mute man in Arkansas; Frannie Goldsmith (Molly Ringwald), a young woman from Ogunquit, Maine; Harold Lauder (Corin Nemec), Frannie's teenaged neighbour who has had a crush on her for years; Lloyd Henreid (Miguel Ferrer), a criminal stuck in a prison cell in Arizona; and "Trashcan Man" (Matt Frewer), a mentally ill arsonist and scavenger.
The survivors soon begin having visions, either from kindly Mother Abagail (Ruby Dee) or from the demonic Randall Flagg (Jamey Sheridan). The two sets of survivors are instructed in dreams to either travel to Nebraska to meet Mother Abagail, or to Las Vegas to join Flagg.
As their journeys begin, Lloyd is freed from prison by Flagg in exchange for becoming his second in command. Trashcan Man, who is a pyromaniac, destroys a set of fuel tanks in Indiana, then repeats this in Iowa, destroying the entire city of Des Moines. Through these acts of arson Trashcan Man wins Flagg's favor, and follows the voice of the "Walkin' Dude," directing him to travel to Las Vegas and serve him.
Larry Underwood escapes New York with a mysterious woman named Nadine Cross (Laura San Giacomo). Despite their mutual attraction, Nadine is unable to consummate a relationship with Larry because of her visions of Flagg, who commands her to join him as his concubine, and she leaves Larry to travel on her own.
After escaping the CDC facility, Stu gathers a group of survivors, including Frannie, Harold, and Glen Bateman (Ray Walston), a retired college professor. They are later joined on their journey by various other immune survivors who have all been dreaming the same things about Mother Abagail and the Dark One in the West.
As the group travels toward Nebraska, Harold is consumed with jealousy over the ease with which Stu has assumed leadership and grown close to Frannie, who Harold considers his rightful girlfriend (despite Frannie's consistently clear messages to the contrary). When Harold spies on Frannie and Stu kissing in the woods, something in him snaps, though he hides his growing mental instability from the others.
Meanwhile, Nick makes his way across the Midwest, eventually meeting Tom Cullen (Bill Fagerbakke), a gentle mentally challenged man who spells everything "M-O-O-N." On their journey, Nick and Tom encounter Julie Lawry (Shawnee Smith), a vicious girl who tries to join them, but quickly exposes her evil nature and is rejected by Nick. She vows to kill them and it is clear she is heading not towards Mother Abagail but towards the Other One.
Eventually Nick's group reaches Mother Abagail's farm in Hemingford Home, Nebraska. She warns that a great conflict is imminent and they must all travel on to Boulder, Colorado. There, by mid-September, the various survivors join with others to form a new community, known as the Boulder Free Zone, where they begin restoring society by turning the electricity back on and settling into homes and family life.
Meanwhile, Flagg sets up an autocratic society in Las Vegas, having already restored the electricity and working toward the defeat of the Boulder Free Zone with weapons found in the region—including nuclear warheads from a nearby silo.
Initially all is well in Boulder. However, by October Frannie feels increasing anxiety because she is unsure whether or not her baby will be immune to the superflu, since its father died of it back in Maine. Meanwhile, Harold grows dissatisfied with his life in Boulder, his resentment of Stu and Frannie becoming an obsession. He begins seeing visions from Flagg. Harold is seduced by Nadine (who is following Flagg's command) and decides to join her in carrying out Flagg's dictates.
Mother Abagail, the spiritual center of Boulder, becomes convinced that she has fallen into the sin of pride and leaves town to walk in the wilderness. The seven members of the Free Zone committee choose three people to go west and spy on Flagg's Las Vegas: Dayna Jurgens (Kellie Overbey), Judge Farris (Ossie Davis), and Tom Cullen. They hypnotize Tom to follow a set of instructions, including that he leave Las Vegas at the next full moon.
Shortly thereafter, Harold and Nadine plant a bomb in Frannie and Stu's home, planning to set it off during a meeting of the Free Zone council. Meanwhile, Abagail returns to town greatly weakened and gives a psychic warning to the council members at the meeting. The warning allows most of the council to escape the explosion, but Nick and Susan Stern are killed.
In the hospital after the bombing Mother Abagail tells Stu, Larry, Glen, and fellow council member Ralph Brentner that they must travel to Las Vegas to confront Flagg; her message delivered, she passes away. Nadine and Harold make a run for the hills, where Harold dies in an accident caused by Flagg, and Nadine is raped by Flagg, who shows her his true demonic face, driving her to insanity.
Flagg returns to Las Vegas with a traumatized Nadine. He becomes increasingly unstable, showing his true face to Lloyd in a rage. He finds Dayna Jurgens and she kills herself rather than give away her secrets; Judge Farris gets out of town, but Flagg finds him on the road. However, before he can torture Farris for information, one of his henchmen accidentally kills him. Tom Cullen leaves when the moon is full, but Julie Lawry sees and recognizes him; she tries to alert Flagg, but is too late and Tom makes it out into the desert, where he successfully hides from Flagg and his men. Shortly after this, a crazed and desperate Nadine taunts Flagg about his loss of control over the situation, and in a final act of will commits suicide with Flagg's unholy fetus inside her.
With winter fast approaching, the Boulder foursome of Stu, Larry, Glen, and Ralph set out on their quest. Stu breaks his leg in an accident and must stay behind while the others continue. Larry, Glen, and Ralph are soon captured by Flagg's forces and temporarily imprisoned, although Glen is soon executed for refusing to divulge information in exchange for his life. Larry and Ralph are forced to endure a show trial on Fremont Street. As they are being tortured, to the delight of Flagg's acolytes, Trashcan Man arrives with a stolen nuclear weapon. Flagg transforms into a demon, but is unable to stop the unfolding chaotic end of his plan; a spectral hand reaches out to detonate the bomb. The voice of Mother Abagail declares that God's promise has been kept, destroying Las Vegas and apparently killing Flagg.
Meanwhile, Stu is rescued by Tom, who takes him to a nearby cabin to heal his broken leg as winter sets in. They eventually return to Boulder by December's end in the midst of a blinding snow storm. Frannie gives birth to a baby in Stu's absence. Shortly thereafter Stu arrives back home and learns that the infant has the flu, though the Boulder doctors cannot determine whether or not it will be fatal. After a terrifying wait, the infant Abagail Redman survives the flu, signaling the end of the plague in a world where immune survivors of the superflu virus can now reproduce with the assurance that their offspring will also be immune.
With the end of both Captain Trips and Flagg clearing the way, Stu and Frannie and the other survivors set to work rebuilding the world.
Moses Gunn had originally been cast as Judge Farris, but shortly after filming had commenced his health declined, and he died shortly after that. Ossie Davis, who was present at the filming because his wife, Ruby Dee, was playing Mother Abagail, took over the role of Judge Farris.
Having both starred in previous film adaptations of King's works, Ed Harris and Kathy Bates both had small, uncredited roles in the early parts of the series. Bates's character, Rae Flowers, was originally a man (Ray Flowers), but when Bates became available, King - who wanted her to play the part - rewrote the role as a woman. Harris plays the Army general in charge of the original bio-weapons project who kills himself after the failure of the disease containment.
Rob Lowe had been originally considered for the role of Larry Underwood, but Garris felt that having him in the more unusual role of the deaf and mute Nick Andros would better suit the production (Lowe has been deaf in his right ear since childhood). Adam Storke ended up with the role of Underwood, where his musical skills were an asset.
Miguel Ferrer, who played Lloyd Henreid, was originally interested in the role of Randall Flagg, but the sights for that part were initially set on actors such as Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, and James Woods. Stephen King wanted someone the audience "wasn't terribly familiar with". After Ferrer heard that Jamey Sheridan had been offered the part but wasn't sure it was something he wanted to do, Ferrer convinced him to take the part.
Production Designer Nelson Coates, who garnered an Emmy nomination for his design work, created all 225 sets for the miniseries. Faced with prices of $40 per stalk for New York-made fake cornstalks, Coates opted instead to grow 3,250 cornstalks as a cost-cutting measure; when a winter storm hit Utah, the reproduction of a Nebraska house with cornfield became complicated by the fact that the harsh weather did not allow the corn crop to grow taller than 4 feet.
Signs at Rae Flowers' radio station feature the logo of WZON, a real-life radio station in Bangor, Maine, owned by King.
Originally, parts of the miniseries were to be filmed on location in Boulder, Colorado. After the passage of Colorado Amendment 2, which nullified local gay rights laws, the production was moved to Utah due to protests.
The film was met with generally positive reviews.
John J. O'Connor at the New York Times wrote, "A great deal of time and money has gone into this production, and it's right up there on the screen... The nagging problem at the heart of "The Stand" is that once the story settles early on into its schematic oppositions of good versus evil, sweet old Mother Abagail versus satanic Flagg, monotony begins to seep through the superstructure... Muddled, certainly, but Stephen King's 'The Stand' is clever enough to keep you wondering what could possibly happen next."Won – Best Mini Series Casting: Lynn Kressel
Won – Outstanding Makeup For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special:
Steve Johnson, Bill Corso, David Dupuis, Joel Harlow, Camille Calvet
Won – Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Miniseries or a Movie:
Grand Maxwell, Michael Ruschak, Richard Schexnayder, Don Summer
Nominated – Outstanding Art Direction For A Miniseries, Or Movie:
Nelson Coates, Burton Rencher, Michael Perry, Susan Benjamin
Nominated – Outstanding Cinematography For A Miniseries Or Movie: Edward J. Pei
Nominated – Outstanding Miniseries: Richard P. Rubinstein, Stephen King, Mitchell Galin, Peter R. McIntosh
Nominated – Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (Dramatic Underscore): W.G. Walden
Nominated – Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries: Gary Sinise