Adapted from the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the film tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who spends 19 years in Shawshank State Prison for the murder of his wife and her lover despite his claims of innocence. During his time at the prison, he befriends a fellow inmate, Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding, and finds himself protected by the guards after the warden begins using him in his money laundering operation. Despite a lukewarm box office reception that barely recouped its budget, the film received multiple award nominations and favorable reviews from critics for its acting and realism. It has since enjoyed a remarkable life on cable television, VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray and is thought of as one of the greatest movies of all time. It was included in the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Movies 10th Anniversary Edition.
In 1947, banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is convicted of murdering his wife while she was showering, and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences at Shawshank State Penitentiary. Andy quickly befriends contraband smuggler Ellis "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman), an inmate serving a life sentence. Red procures a rock hammer for Andy, allowing him to create small stone chess pieces. Red later gets him a large poster of Rita Hayworth, followed in later years by images of Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch. Andy works in the prison laundry, but is regularly assaulted by the "bull queer" gang "the Sisters" and their leader, Bogs (Mark Rolston). In 1949, Andy overhears the brutal chief guard Byron Hadley (Clancy Brown) complaining about taxes on a forthcoming inheritance and informs him about a financial loophole. After another vicious assault by the Sisters nearly kills Andy, Hadley severely beats Bogs resulting in Bogs being sent to another prison. Andy is not attacked again. Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton) meets with Andy and reassigns him to the prison library to assist elderly inmate Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore), a pretext for Andy to manage financial duties for the prison. His advice and expertise are soon sought by other guards at Shawshank and from nearby prisons. Andy begins writing weekly letters to the state government for funds to improve the decrepit library. In 1954, Brooks is freed on parole, but unable to adjust to the outside world after 50 years in prison, he hangs himself. Andy receives a library donation that includes a recording of The Marriage of Figaro. He plays an excerpt over the public address system, resulting in his receiving solitary confinement. After his release, Andy explains that he holds onto hope as something that the prison cannot take from him, but Red dismisses the idea. In 1963, Norton begins exploiting prison labor for public works, profiting by undercutting skilled labor costs and receiving kickbacks. He has Andy launder the money using the alias "Randall Stephens". In 1965, Tommy Williams (Gil Bellows) is incarcerated for burglary. He joins Andy's and Red's circle of friends, and Andy helps him pass his General Educational Development (G.E.D.) examinations. In 1966, after hearing the details of Andy's case, Tommy reveals that an inmate at another prison claimed responsibility for an identical murder, suggesting Andy's innocence. Andy approaches Norton with this information, but the warden refuses to listen. Norton places Andy in solitary confinement and has Hadley murder Tommy, under the guise of an escape attempt. Andy refuses to continue with the scam, but Norton threatens to destroy the library and take away his protection and preferential treatment. After Andy is released from solitary confinement, he tells Red of his dream of living in Zihuatanejo, a Mexican Pacific coastal town. While Red shrugs it off as being unrealistic, Andy instructs him, should he ever be freed, to visit a specific hayfield near Buxton to retrieve a package. The next day at roll call, upon finding Andy's cell empty, an irate Norton throws one of Andy's rocks at the poster of Raquel Welch hanging on the wall. The rock tears through the poster, revealing a tunnel that Andy had dug with his rock hammer over the previous two decades. The previous night, Andy escaped through the tunnel and the prison's sewage pipe with Norton's ledger, containing details of the money laundering. While guards search for him the following morning, Andy, posing as Randall Stephens, visits several banks to withdraw the laundered money. Finally, he sends the ledger and evidence of the corruption and murders at Shawshank to a local newspaper. The police arrive at Shawshank and take Hadley into custody, while Norton commits suicide to avoid arrest. After serving 40 years, Red receives parole. He struggles to adapt to life outside prison and fears he never will. Remembering his promise to Andy, he visits Buxton and finds a cache containing money and a letter asking him to come to Zihuatanejo. Red violates his parole and travels to Fort Hancock, Texas to cross the border to Mexico, admitting he finally feels hope. On a beach in Zihuatanejo, he finds Andy, and the two friends are happily reunited.
- Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne
- Morgan Freeman as Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding, Andy's best friend and the film's narrator; convicted of murder in 1927. Before Freeman was cast, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford were each considered for the role. Although written as a middle-aged Irishman with greying red hair (as in the novella), Darabont cast Freeman for his authoritative presence and demeanor; he could not see anyone else as Red. The short dialogue with Andy is a jest towards this casting decision as Red — when asked about the origin of his nickname — answers "Maybe it's because I'm Irish."
- Bob Gunton as Warden Samuel Norton. He is well versed in the Bible and presents himself as a pious, devout Christian and reform-minded administrator, while his actions reveal him to be corrupt, ruthless, and remorseless.
- William Sadler as Heywood, a member of Red's gang of long-serving convicts.
- Clancy Brown as Capt. Byron Hadley, chief of the guards. Hadley is a sadistic guard who thinks nothing of delivering beatings to the inmates to keep them in line. When cast for the role, Brown declined the offer to study real-life prison guards as preparation for his role, because he did not want to base it on any one person.
- Gil Bellows as Tommy Williams, a young convict whose experiences in a previous prison hold the truth about Andy's innocence.
- Mark Rolston as Bogs Diamond, the head of "The Sisters" gang and a prison rapist.
- James Whitmore as Brooks Hatlen, prison librarian/trustee and one of the oldest convicts at Shawshank, having been in prison since 1905. Darabont cast Whitmore because he was one of his favorite character actors.
- Jeffrey DeMunn as the prosecuting attorney in Andy Dufresne's trial.
Chicago Sun-Times film reviewer Roger Ebert suggested that The Shawshank Redemption is an allegory for maintaining one's feeling of self-worth when placed in a hopeless position. Andy Dufresne's integrity is an important theme in the story line, especially in prison, where integrity is lacking. Isaac M. Morehouse suggests that the film provides a great illustration of how characters can be free, even in prison, or unfree, even in freedom, based on one's outlook on life.
Frank Darabont secured the film adaptation rights from author Stephen King after impressing the author with his short film adaptation of The Woman in the Room in 1983. Although the two had become friends and maintained a pen-pal relationship, Darabont did not work with him until four years later in 1987, when he optioned to adapt Shawshank. This is one of the more famous Dollar Deals made by King with aspiring filmmakers. Darabont later directed The Green Mile (1999), which was based on another work about a prison by Stephen King, and then followed that up with an adaptation of King's novella The Mist. Rob Reiner, who had previously adapted another King novella, The Body, into the film Stand by Me (1986), offered $2.5 million in an attempt to write and direct Shawshank. He planned to cast Tom Cruise in the part of Andy and Harrison Ford as Red. Darabont seriously considered and liked Reiner's vision, but he ultimately decided it was his "chance to do something really great" by directing the film himself. Though the film is set in Maine, the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio, served as the fictional Shawshank Prison. Though a large portion of the prison was torn down after filming, the main administration building and two cell blocks remained; the site would be revisited later for filming parts of the film Air Force One. Several of the interior shots of the specialized prison facilities, such as the admittance rooms and the warden's office, were shot in the reformatory. The interior of the boarding room used by Brooks and Red was located in the administration building, though exterior shots were made elsewhere. The prison site is a tourist attraction. Internal scenes in the prison cellblocks were actually filmed on a soundstage built inside the nearby shuttered Westinghouse factory. Downtown scenes were also filmed in Mansfield, as well as neighboring Ashland, Ohio. The oak tree under which Andy buries his letter to Red is located at 40°39′14″N 82°23′31″W, near Malabar Farm State Park, in Lucas, Ohio. The tree was heavily damaged by straight-line winds in a thunderstorm on July 29, 2011; officials are unsure if the tree will survive. The film was dedicated to Allen Greene, an agent and a close personal friend of the film's director, Frank Darabont. Greene died shortly before the film was released due to complications of HIV/AIDS.
The Shawshank Redemption received a limited release on September 23, 1994 in North America. During its opening weekend, the film earned $727,000 from 33 theaters—an average of $22,040 per theater. It received a wide release on October 14, 1994, expanding to a theaters to earn $2.4 million—an average of $2,545 per theater—finishing as the number 9 film of the weekend. The film left theaters in late November 1994, after 10 weeks with an approximate total gross of $16 million. It was later re-released in February 1995, during the Oscar season, and made an additional $9 million. In total the film made approximately $28.3 million in North American theaters, making it the number 51 highest grossing film of 1994 and the number 21 highest grossing R-rated film of 1994.
Entertainment Weekly reviewer Owen Gleiberman praised the choice of scenery, writing that the "moss-dark, saturated images have a redolent sensuality" that makes the film very realistic. While praising Morgan Freeman's acting and oratory skills as making Red appear real, Gleiberman felt that with the "laconic-good-guy, neo-Gary Cooper role, Tim Robbins is unable to make Andy connect with the audience." The film garnered a 90% approval rating from 63 critics—an average rating of 8.2 out of 10—on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes. Metacritic provides a score of 80 out of 100 from 19 critics, which indicates "generally favorable" reviews.
The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1994: Best Picture, Best Actor for Freeman, Best Adapted Screenplay for Frank Darabont, Best Cinematography for Roger Deakins, Best Editing for Richard Francis-Bruce, Best Original Score for Thomas Newman, and Best Sound Mixing for Robert J. Litt, Elliot Tyson, Michael Herbick and Willie D. Burton. It received two Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture for Freeman, and Best Screenplay for Darabont. Robbins and Freeman were both nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role at the inaugural Screen Actors Guild Awards in 1995. Darabont was nominated for a Directors Guild of America award in 1994 for Best Director for a feature film, while cinematographer Roger Deakins won the American Society of Cinematographers award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography.
Despite its disappointing box office return, Warner Bros. shipped 320,000 rental video copies throughout the United States, and it became one of the top rented films of 1995. The film's home viewing success was considered to be based on positive recommendations and repeat customers. The film's Academy Award nominations enabled it to fare well in the video sales and cable TV viewings. In June 1997, TNT, an American cable network, showed the film for the first time. The film was the first feature in TNT's Saturday Night New Classics. A 2004 Sunday Times article suggested that TNT aired the film frequently from then on, about once every two months. TV airings of the film accrued record breaking numbers.
Main article: The Shawshank Redemption (soundtrack)
The score was composed by Thomas Newman and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1994, which was his first Oscar nomination. The majority of the score consists of dark piano music, which plays along the main character's role at Shawshank. The main theme ("End Titles" on the soundtrack album) is perhaps best known to modern audiences as the inspirational sounding music from many movie trailers dealing with inspirational, dramatic, or romantic films in much the same way that James Horner's driving music from the end of Aliens is used in many movie trailers for action films. A central scene in the film features the "Letter Duet" ("Canzonetta sull'aria") from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.
In 1998, Shawshank was not listed in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies, but nine years later (2007), it was #72 on the revised list, outranking both Forrest Gump (#76) and Pulp Fiction (#94), the two most critically acclaimed movies from the year of Shawshank's release. In 1999, film critic Roger Ebert listed Shawshank on his "Great Movies" list. It has been #1 on IMDb's user-generated Top 250 since 2008, when it surpassed The Godfather. Readers of Empire magazine voted the film as the best film of the 1990s, and it placed number 4 on Empire's list of "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time" in 2008. In March 2011, the film was voted by BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 1Xtra listeners as their favorite film of all time.
|1998||AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies||The Shawshank Redemption||N/A|
|2003||AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains||Andy Dufresne (Hero)||N/A|
|Warden Samuel Norton (Villain)||N/A|
|2004||AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs||Duettino – Sull'Aria (from The Marriage of Figaro)||N/A|
|2005||AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes||"Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin'"||N/A|
|2005||AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores||Thomas Newman, The Shawshank Redemption||N/A|
|2006||AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers||The Shawshank Redemption||#23|
|2007||AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)||The Shawshank Redemption||#72|