The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most beloved movies of all time. With 25 fun and fascinating facts, Joey Jones is here to tell the story behind the scenes.
Released in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption is the story of Andy and Red, two prison inmates who strike up an unlikely friendship. With themes of hope, faith and humanity all explored, Frank Darabont’s film was a box office flop but grew in stature over time to become a classic.
Fresh fish! Praise the Lord! We’re in Shawshank to bring you some enormous facts on an iconic movie.
1. There’s a memorable, unfortunately named character early on
Before we meet our protagonists in full, we’re introduced to Shawshank prison. It’s a grim, desperate place, and our first night there is brutal. When one new inmate can’t stop crying, vicious prison guard Byron Hadley (Clancy Brown) beats him to a pulp.
The inmate dies off-screen in the infirmary so isn’t in the film long, and in the credits, he’s named ‘Fat Ass’. Played by an actor called Frank Medrano, but Jon Favreau also auditioned for the part. Favreau said, “it was the worst audition I ever did.”
Hadley takes down ‘Fat Ass’.
2. Darabont didn’t want Hadley to be too realistic
Clancy Brown said he received offers from real-life corrections officers to help make his portrayal of Hadley realistic. He was going to do it, but when he spoke to Frank Darabont, he told him to turn them down. Darabont told Brown that how we see Hadley isn’t necessarily how he really is. It’s how Andy and Red see him, which is interesting.
3. Darabont made the film with the author’s blessing
In the late 80s, Darabont found himself in what he called, “a rut of horror movie after horror movie”. As well as directing Buried Alive (1990), he’d also written A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), The Blob remake (1988), and The Fly 2 (1989).
In 1984, Darabont had made a short called The Woman In The Room, based on a Stephen King short story. King has a policy that any filmmaker can adapt his stories for $1. He was impressed with Darabont’s work on that short story so when Darabont asked if he could adapt his novella Rita Hayworth And The Shawshank Redemption, King said yes and gave him a cut-price deal of $5000.
Rita Hayworth And The Shawshank Redemption was from a collection of short stories by King called Different Seasons. There were 4 stories in that book, and two of the others have been turned into movies as well. They are Stand By Me (1986), directed by Rob Reiner. And Apt Pupil (1994) directed by Bryan Singer.
4. Another famous director wanted the rights to the novella
King’s novella was very highly thought of. So much so that another famous director wanted to make The Shawshank Redemption. Rob Reiner offered $2.5 million dollars for Darabont’s Shawshank script. Darabont refused Reiner’s offer though because, in his words, “this was my chance to do something really great.”
Shortly afterwards, Columbia picked up the screenplay. And, after Darabont took a wage cut to get the gig, he was making The Shawshank Redemption.
5. Darabont has two cameos in the film
Not satisfied with writing and directing, Frank Darabont makes two subtle appearances in the movie too.
In the very opening scenes, we see Andy in his car holding a revolver. There’s a close up of Andy’s hands as he loads the gun. Those are Frank Darabont’s hands. Also, we later see Andy scratching his name into the wall of his cell, rather famously. Again, we see a close up of Andy’s hands and, again, they’re Darabont’s hands.
Darabont’s hands show up when Andy sits in the car
6. Darabont took inspiration from one of the greats
An unlikely source for The Shawshank Redemption maybe, but Darabont has said that he took inspiration from Goodfellas (1990). Directed by Martin Scorsese, Goodfellas also features iconic narration, deliveredy by Ray Liotta. Darabont said he thought Scorsese handled that narration so well that, during production, he watched Goodfellas every Sunday.
Ray Liotta’s narration in Goodfellas
7. The narration was not without its problems
The narration in Shawshank is delivered by Red, played by Morgan Freeman. It’s now iconic voicever, but getting it right was not a simple task. Darabont actually recorded the narration before he filmed the movie. And in that session, Morgan Freeman recorded the entire thing in one 90 minute take. During production, it was played on the set to set the pacing for each scene. But, when Darabont listened back to it, there was a hiss in the background that the sound engineers couldn’t remove. So, Freeman had to come back in and record all of his narration again. And, to do it at the level that Freeman had done originally, it took 3 weeks.
Morgan Freeman’s iconic narration as Red
8. The cast weren’t all blown away with Darabont
Surprisingly, perhaps, when cast members were asked about working with Frank Darabont, there was a slightly mixed response.
Tim Robbins was full of praise and said:
“Frank made a beautiful, extraordinary film. It changed my career, and my life.”
But Morgan Freeman tells a slightly different tale. He said:
“It was a strange production. There were moments of extreme tension on the set, between the director and actors, between everybody. Just this personality stuff between different groups. It was very strange.”
9. Stephen King, however, was a huge fan
Stephen King sold Darabont the rights to his novella for $5000. However, King never cashed that cheque. In fact, he was so pleased with the film that he had the cheque framed and mailed back to Darabont. There was a note attached, saying: “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”
Stephen King and Frank Darabont
10. Other actors could have played Andy
The main character in Shawshank is Andy Dufresne. An innocent man framed for murder, he’s played flawlessly by Tim Robbins in a career-defining role. However, Robbins was not the first name considered to play Andy.
When Rob Reiner was interested in the script, he wanted Tom Cruise as Andy. Cruise was worried about working with an inexperienced director like Darabont, so said he would do it if Reiner kept an eye on things. But Reiner said, “I’m either directing it or I’m not,” and said no – so Cruise said no.
Other names considered before Tim Robbins were Jeff Bridges, Kevin Costner, Matthew Broderick, and Nicholas Cage. And the role was offered to – and turned down by – Tom Hanks. There were scheduling conflicts with Forrest Gump (1994), so Hanks said no.
After Hanks said no, Darabont went to the next name on his list, which was Tim Robbins. He was quickly was cast as Andy, which worked out rather well.
Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne
11. A classical piece makes it into the film
One of the most famous scenes in the film is the Mozart scene. Andy locks himself in the Warden’s office and blares opera music over the speakers. The music is from The Marriage of Figaro, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The piece is sung by two ladies who are composing a letter to the husband of one of them. One of their husbands has been cheating and they’re arranging a secret rendezvous to expose his infidelity.
When Darabont was writing the script, he had writer’s block and would listen to Mozart to help inspire him. So, he decided to use the piece in the film.
Also, the moment that Andy turns up the speakers – that wasn’t in the script and was Tim Robins’ idea.
Andy plays Mozart
12. Tim Robbins did a lot of preparation for the film
Tim Robbins did quite a bit of prep for his role as Andy. Andy spends quite a bit of time in the hole, so Robbins did his research. He actually spent some time locked away in solitary confinement before production.
He also had to interact with a bird (Jake, the pet of librarian, Brooks) in some scenes. Robbins spent time with that bird so he could predict when it was going to squawk. This mean he could fit his lines around it.
13. Huge names were considered to play Red
Before Morgan Freeman was cast as Red, some giants of Hollywood were considered for the part.
Client Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Paul Newman and Robert Redford were all considered. This was because, in King’s novella, Red was a middle-aged white Irishman with greying-red hair – hence “Red”. There’s a little nod to that in the film, too. When Andy asks, “why do they call you Red?” Red replies “I dunno. Maybe it’s cos I’m Irish.”
Sidney Poitier turned the role down. He thought portraying a convicted murderer didn’t do a lot to further the image of the black man in Hollywood. And, Charlie Sheen was so desperate to play Red that he called up an executive at Castle Rock and said, “I’ll do it for f*cking scale!”Sheen even offered to do a 30-minute showcase of himself as Red. But Darabont said, “absolutely no chance”.
Darabont said he always had Morgan Freeman in mind for the role because of, “his demeanour and authoritative presence”.
14. Freeman enjoyed some of his own work, too
A recurring scene in the movie is when we see Red appearing in front of the parole board. The final hearing, where Red is released, is the most famous. And Freeman himself called the final hearing his best ever piece of acting.
Also, on the parole forms, we see a picture of a young Red. How he looked when he was locked up. Young Red in the picture is played by Alonso Freeman, Morgan’s son.
Alfonso Freeman also has a cameo in the film when Andy first arrives in Shawshank – he’s one of the inmates shouting, “Fresh fish! Fresh fish!”
There’s another nice touch during the parole scene around the sound design. When the parole officer stamps ‘Approved’ on Red’s form, the stamp makes a loud bang. The same loud bang we hear when Warden Norton blows his brains out at the end of the movie.
The final hearing where Red is released
15. Freeman was committed to the role
We mentioned Tim Robbins’ commitment to his role, and Morgan Freeman was no different. One of the key scenes is when Andy and Red first meet in the prison yard. Red is playing baseball, and Andy asks him to get a rock hammer. That scene took 9 hours to shoot, so Freeman was throwing the baseball all day long. The following day he turned up with his arm in a sling, but didn’t complain once.
16. Another superstar turned a role down
Tommy is one of the most tragic figures in the film. A young man incarcerated for armed robbery, he turns his life around with Andy’s help. However, when it turns out Tommy could get Andy released, Warden Norton has him gunned down by Hadley.
Tommy was played by Gil Bellows, but Darabont originally actually wanted Brad Pitt. However, Pitt decided to do Interview With The Vampire (1994) instead.
17. There were some changes to the King novella
As mentioned, The Shawshank Redemption is based on a Stephen King short story. It’s quite a faithful adaptation on the whole, though there are some key differences.
- There’s a major change to how the film ends, compared to the book. The film famously ends on Zihuatanejo beach with Andy and Red reunited. King’s book, however, was more ambiguous. The short story ends a few scenes earlier. Red is on the bus at the begining of his adventure, and the book ends with his line, “I hope to see my friend again. I hope…”
- In the book, Andy smuggles $500 into the prison up his bottom! And he uses this money to pay other inmates to beat up Boggs. (Boggs being the leader of The Sisters, who assault Andy repeatedly). In the film, it’s Hadley who paralyses Boggs.
- Tommy isn’t killed in the book. The warden just has him transferred to another prison.
- In the movie, we never find out the crimes our main chracters are convicted of, except Andy. Well, Red murdered his wife by disabling her brakes. The accident killed a neighbour and child as well. Brooks murdered his wife and daughter after a losing streak at poker.
- In the King book, there are actually 3 wardens. Darabont made the decision to combine them all into one – Warden Norton, played by Bob Gunton.
Different Seasons, written by Stephen King
18. King was a fan, but had one criticism
Stehpen King loved Darabont’s adaptation, as mentioned. He did have one criticism of the film, though. It seems the hole that Andy digs through the wall to ecape from his cell was too round for King’s tastes. He apparently said the hole was like something Wile E. Coyote digs when he’s trying to catch Road Runner!
19. Darabont changed the title slightly
Stephen King’s original novella was titled Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption. It references the Rita Hayworth poster Andy hangs on his cell wall.
Darabont says that even though he took Rita Hayworth out of the title, he received a phone call about Hayworth from the agent of a famous supermodel. The agent apparently said, “it’s the best script she’s ever read. She’d be perfect for the part of Rita Hayworth.”
20. The Director of Photography doesn’t like the film’s most famous shot
The most iconic shot in The Shawshank Redemption is possibly from Andy’s escape sequence. Having crawled through 500 yards of, “sh*t-smelling foulness” (according to Red), he falls into the river. Standing with his arms raised in the rain, we get an overhead crane shot of Andy.
A very famous shot, but DP Roger Deakins doesn’t like it. He said, “That’s one of those shots that I hate. I hate it because I over-lit it.”
The famous shot of Andy comes just after he escapes
21. Darabont included some subtle visual clues to the twist
In certain scenes throughout the film, Andy occasionally has big dark circles under his eyes. Not every scene, just some of them. Watching for the first time, you might think this is the stress of Andy’s situation taking its toll. That’s not the case, though. These are the days when he’s been up all night digging the hole.
22. Andy would be a millionaire in today’s money
At the end of the film, the Warden gets his comeuppance when Andy escapes and makes off with his savings. Andy steals $370,000 from the Warden. That might not seem an enormous amount today, but in 1966 (when the film is set), that was the equivalent of $2.9m.
23. The film was a flop on release
The budget for Shawshank was $25m and, on its initial theater run, it made just $16m at the box office. A mega-flop that didn’t even recoup its production budget.
There’s a couple of theories as to why the film performed so poorly. Firstly, at the time it was released, Shawshank was competing directly with Pulp Fiction (1994) in theaters. Pulp Fiction was a phenomenon and took over $200m at the box office, which no doubt impacted Shawshank.
Also, the title allegedly caused issues. Basically, movie-goers had no idea what ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ meant. Talking about the title, Morgan Freeman said: “Even after the movie came out, people would come up to me and say ‘Oh, I loved you in that movie… The Scrimshaw Reception? The Shimshank Reduction?”
24. The tide quickly turned
Then, though, Shawshank was nominated for 7 Oscars, and made another $10m at the box office. That gave Castle Rock some hope and they ordered 320,000 copies of the movie for VHS rentals. The figure was way out of line with what a movie that made $30m would usually do, but it worked.
In 1995, Shawshank was the most rented VHS in America. Since then, it’s gone from strength to strength with theatrical re-releases, DVD sales and TV rights as well. Bob Gunton later said the film is so popular in terms of TV screenings, he makes about $100,000 a year.
Also, Shawshank is now the most replayed movie in US TV history. It replaced Scarface (1983) as number one.
25. The place Shawshank was shot has reaped the benefits
Lots of the movie was shot in Mansfield, Ashland, and Upper Sandusky – all in Ohio – and they’ve all benefited. Since the film’s release, they get about 18,000 visitors per year and the local economy has increased by about $3m per year.
There’s a Shawshank trail in Ohio, where they sell Shawshank Bundt Cakes, Redemption Pie, and Red Wine.
And predictably, the year after Shawshank was released, sales of Rita Hayowrth posters in the US went up by about 1000%.
Check out the website for more info on the Shawshank Trail.
Bonus fact: According to IMDb, it’s the greatest movie ever… maybe
The Shawshank Redemption comes out at number 1 in the IMDb list of greatest movies ever made, but it may or may not be there by fair means.
For a long time, The Shawshank Redemption was always second on IMDb. The Godfather (1972) coming in at number 1. Then, in 2008, The Dark Knight was released. There’s a lot of Batman fans in the world, and they wanted The Dark Knight to be number one. So, thousands logged into IMDb and downvoted The Godfather to reduce its average rating.
That worked, because The Godfather was knocked from its perch. But it wasn’t replaced by The Dark Knight. It was replaced by The Shawshank Redemption. And Shawshank has been in the top spot ever since.
The Dark Knight is currently third, with 9 out of 10.
And we’re at the end of our list – 25 interesting and fun facts on one of Hollywood’s most beloved movies. Please share on your social platforms, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for lots of great video content.
The beginning of a beautiful friendship
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