In the broad plot details, Andrés Muschietti’s 2017 Stephen King adaptation It is astonishingly close to Rob Reiner’s 1986 Stephen King adaptation Stand By Me. In both movies, a group of pre-adolescent kids run around the outskirts of a small town, bonding during the long summer days and nights. In both movies, one of those kids has a terrifying abusive father; another has recently lost a brother, and his shell-shocked parents have mostly abandoned him to his own devices.
The child protagonists in both Stand By Me and It are outcasts and nerds, largely ignored and forced to find comfort in each other. They’re all hunted by a pack of ferocious, dangerous bullies — bigger kids who are bored with their sleepy town, and victimize other people for entertainment. Both groups of kids set out to look for a corpse, and along the way, they become each other’s emotional support, with all the idealized intensity and simplicity Stephen King always puts into evoking childhood. And both films are openly coming-of-age stories, about the last days of innocence before unwanted adult realizations and responsibilities set in.
But only one of these movies has the kids facing a shape-shifting killer clown. In Stand By Me, the only real monster is death itself — the sudden understanding, brought on by a child’s corpse, that childhood doesn’t last forever, and even kids can die. In It, the child corpses pile up early and often, and an understanding of death is baked into the world — especially into the town of Derry, Maine. The film’s first death occurs in its opening sequence, as a horrifying clown calling himself Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) lures a little boy named Georgie Denbrough into a fatal trap. Months later, Georgie’s brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher, from St. Vincent and Midnight Special) has become obsessed with finding Georgie’s body, and he leads his friends Ritchie (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stan (Wyatt Oleff) into trouble as they search the sewers for some sign of the boy.