20 facts you might not know about 'The Shawshank Redemption'
Columbia Pictures

20 facts you might not know about 'The Shawshank Redemption'

The rise of “Shawshank Redemption” was a surprising one. At the time it was fairly well-received but was decidedly not the biggest film of 1994. In fact, that’s one of the biggest movie years of the last three decades, which made it hard for “Shawshank” to completely stand out. And yet, in time, it would become a cable staple and eventually rise to be the most popular movie on IMDb’s audience rating system. Want to know more about the film that snowballed into a populist juggernaut? Here is some trivia about “Shawshank Redemption.”

 
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The movie is based on a novella by Stephen King

The movie is based on a novella by Stephen King
Columbia

There have been many adaptations of Stephen King stories over the year, almost all of them of the horror variety. You would not necessarily expect a prison film without any supernatural elements to be a King adaptation, but “Shawshank Redemption” is based on the King novella “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” which first appeared in the King book “Different Seasons.”

 
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“Shawshank Redemption” wasn’t the first time King and director Frank Darabont worked together

“Shawshank Redemption” wasn’t the first time King and director Frank Darabont worked together
Columbia

Darabont first came across King’s radar in 1983. He wanted to adapt King’s short story “The Woman in the Room.” King sold him the rights to his story for one dollar. This was actually a normal thing King did with short stories to try and help new, inexperienced directors get exposure.

 
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It took Darabont a while to get to work on writing the screenplay

It took Darabont a while to get to work on writing the screenplay
Columbia

Several years after “The Woman in the Room” deal connected King and Darabont, the director returned to see if he could get the rights for “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” King wasn’t sure it could be adapted, but he agreed to sell the rights for $5,000. This was in 1987. It would not be until 1992 that Darabont actually got to work writing the screenplay.

 
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Rob Reiner wanted to direct himself

Rob Reiner wanted to direct himself
Columbia

After finishing the script for the movie, Darabont took “The Shawshank Redemption” to Castle Rock, the production company you might remember from “Seinfeld.” Rob Reiner, one of the cofounders of Castle Rock, loved the script. In fact, he loved it so much that he wanted to direct it himself. He offered Darabont a couple million for the script, but Darabont held steadfast that he wanted to direct.

 
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Morgan Freeman’s casting went against the King story

Morgan Freeman’s casting went against the King story
Columbia

Freeman plays Red, the wizened convict who befriends Andy and gives him guidance. This casting went slightly against how the character was written in the novel. In the book, Red is a white Irishman. Obviously, Freeman is neither of those things. There is a joke in the film where Andy asks Red why he’s called Red, to which he quips, “Maybe it’s because I’m Irish.”

 
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Brad Pitt was cast, but dropped out of the production

Brad Pitt was cast, but dropped out of the production
Columbia

A young and unknown Brad Pitt was cast in the role of Tommy. Then, “Thelma and Louise” came out. Suddenly Pitt wasn’t so unknown, and he decided to drop out to pursue other opportunities. Gil Bellows, who was making his film debut, took the role instead.

 
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Tim Robbins recommended the cinematographer

Tim Robbins recommended the cinematographer
Columbia

The look of “Shawshank” is a big part of its success. You can thank cinematographer Roger Deakins for that. Considered one of the all-time best at his chosen profession, he has been nominated for 15 Oscars, winning twice. Deakins is a longtime collaborator of the Coen Brothers, which is how Tim Robbins met them. When he took on the role of Andy, Robbins recommended Deakins to Darabont.

 
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Though the movie is set in Maine, it was not shot there

Though the movie is set in Maine, it was not shot there
Columbia

Basically, every King story takes place in Maine, and this one is no different. However, they did not actually go to Maine for shooting the film. The bulk of the movie was shot in Mansfield, Ohio, using the Ohio State Reformatory in the city for the prison in the film. Also, they didn’t go to Zihuatanejo, Mexico either. Those scenes were shot in St. Croix.

 
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King’s name was largely kept out of the promotion

King’s name was largely kept out of the promotion
Columbia

King is one of the most popular and prolific authors ever. You’d think his name would be a big part of the promotion. Some movies and TV shows have basically been sold primarily on King’s involvement. “Shawshank” was different, though. They barely mentioned King when it came to promoting the movie’s release. The studio wanted a “more prestigious” audience, and felt they would associate King with his stories like “Cujo” and “Pet Sematary.”

 
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The movie was a box office flop

The movie was a box office flop
Columbia

“The Shawshank Redemption” is now a beloved movie. That was not the case at first, though. In fact, “Shawshank” made only $16 million in its initial run before being pulled. Given that the movie cost $25 million to make, that was a disaster. However, the film would get a re-release and an international release that got the film up to $58.3 in lifetime box office. Even so, for a film this popular, that’s surprisingly bad.

 
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It may have been a commercial flop, but the Oscars gave it some love

It may have been a commercial flop, but the Oscars gave it some love
Columbia

That re-release? It came after the Academy Award nominations came out. The Academy dug the film more than initial audiences did. “Shawshank” received seven Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. Alas, it did not win a single one of those awards.

 
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A business deal played a big role in the rise of the movie’s popularity

A business deal played a big role in the rise of the movie’s popularity
Columbia

In 1993, Castle Rock was bought by Ted Turner. That meant Turner Broadcasting System owned the rights to Castle Rock movies, and that includes “Shawshank.” Turner started airing the film on TNT constantly. The cost was minimal for Turner to air it, so it was an easy way to fill hours. Oh, and how they filled hours. “Shawshank” is one of the quintessential “cable movies.” By 2013, it had aired on 15 different basic cable networks and gotten as much airtime as any movie.

 
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The tree from the movie no longer stands

The tree from the movie no longer stands
Columbia

In the film, Andy leaves a note under an oak tree for Red that directs Red to their reunion in Mexico. It became known as “The Shawshank Tree” and become a bit of a tourist attraction. Then, in 2011, the tree was struck by lightning. While the tree stayed up, it was damaged, and in 2016 strong winds finished the job of taking down the Shawshank Tree. In 2017 they cut the tree down and used it to make “Shawshank” memorabilia.

 
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Darabont directed two more King adaptations after “Shawshank”

Darabont directed two more King adaptations after “Shawshank”
Warner Bros.

Clearly, Darabont is a fan of King. He has directed two more films based on King stories. One of them, “The Green Mile,” was a big hit and got Oscar nominations. The other, “The Mist,” has its fans, but was not quite as popular.

 
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Morgan Freeman’s son has a cameo

Morgan Freeman’s son has a cameo
Columbia

You can catch a glimpse of Freeman’s son Alfonso in the movie. When you see mug shots of a young Red, it’s Alfonso standing in for his father. You can see the family resemblance.

 
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Freeman had never narrated a film prior to “Shawshank”

Freeman had never narrated a film prior to “Shawshank”
Columbia

Freeman serves as the narrator for “The Shawshank Redemption.” These days, we’re used to Freeman’s sonorous voice narrating a movie or TV show. It’s practically a trope at this point. He narrates documentaries like “March of the Penguins.” Of course, Freeman hasn’t been narrating movies forever, even if it seems like it. In fact, “Shawshank” was his first time providing a film’s narration.

 
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Tom Cruise attended table reads for Andy, but turned the movie down

Tom Cruise attended table reads for Andy, but turned the movie down
Columbia

As with any movie, there are casting plans that never come to fruition. One of those for this film involved Tom Cruise. Cruise went so far as to attend table reads for the role of Andy, the lead of the movie. However, Cruise was reticent to work with a director as inexperienced as Darabont. That left the opening for Robbins to step in.

 
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It was the most-rented movie of 1995

It was the most-rented movie of 1995
Columbia

Another reason for “Shawshank” rising from a box-office flop to the favorite film of millions of people? In addition to the Oscar nominations and the eventual cable showings, “Shawshank” was a huge rental hit. In spite of the lack of success on the big screen, Warner Home Media sent out 320,000 VHS copies for rental across the United States. The gambit paid off, as “The Shawshank Redemption” was the most-rented movie of 1995.

 
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Rita Hayworth was dropped from the title to avoid confusion (it didn’t help)

Rita Hayworth was dropped from the title to avoid confusion (it didn’t help)
Columbia

As we said, the King story the movie is based on is called “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” Why the change? In addition to being a more succinct title, Darabont was concerned people would think the movie was a Hayworth biopic with the original title. There was something to that. Darabont heard from agents representing actresses who wanted to play Hayworth, and some people even showed up to the studio looking to audition for the non-existent role.

 
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Stephen King never cashed Darabont’s check

Stephen King never cashed Darabont’s check
Columbia

The $5,000 check that Darabont signed over to King to get the rights to his novella? King never bothered to cash it. Granted, he didn’t need the cash by 1994, but King took things a step further. King framed the check and sent it back to Darabont. He included a note that read, “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

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