The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Frank Darabont
Produced by Niki Marvin
Screenplay by Frank Darabont
Based on Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
by Stephen King
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Edited by Richard Francis-Bruce
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • September 10, 1994 (1994-09-10) (Toronto)
  • September 23, 1994 (1994-09-23) (United States)
Running time
142 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million[2]
Box office $58 million[3]

The Shawshank Redemption is a 1994 American drama film written and directed by Frank Darabont, and starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Adapted from the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the film tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who is sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary 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.

Although the film was a box office disappointment, it received multiple award nominations (including seven Oscar nominations) and highly positive reviews from critics for its acting, story, and realism. It is now considered to be one of the greatest films of the 1990s. It has since been successful on cable television, VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray. It was included in the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition).[4]

In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[5]


In 1947 Portland, Maine, banker Andy Dufresne is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, and is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences at the Shawshank State Penitentiary. Andy is befriended by contraband smuggler, Ellis "Red" Redding, an inmate serving a life sentence. Red procures a rock hammer and later a large poster of Rita Hayworth for Andy. Working in the prison laundry, Andy is regularly assaulted by "the Sisters" and their leader, Bogs.

In 1949, Andy overhears the captain of the guards, Byron Hadley, complaining about being taxed on an inheritance, and offers to help him legally shelter the money. After an assault by the Sisters nearly kills Andy, Hadley beats Bogs severely. Bogs is then transferred to another prison. Warden Samuel Norton meets Andy and reassigns him to the prison library to assist elderly inmate Brooks Hatlen. Andy's new job is a pretext for him to begin managing financial matters for the prison employees. As time passes, the Warden begins using Andy to handle matters for a variety of people, including guards from other prisons and the warden himself. Andy begins writing weekly letters asking the state government for funds to improve the decaying library.

In 1954, Brooks is paroled, but cannot adjust to the outside world after fifty years in prison, and commits suicide by hanging 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 him receiving solitary confinement. After his release from solitary, Andy explains that hope is what gets him through his time, a concept that Red dismisses. In 1963, Norton begins exploiting prison labor for public works, profiting by undercutting skilled labor costs and receiving bribes. He has Andy launder the money using the alias Randall Stephens.

In 1965, Tommy Williams is incarcerated for burglary. He is befriended by Andy and Red, and Andy helps him pass his GED exam. In 1966, Tommy reveals to Red and Andy that an inmate at another prison claimed responsibility for the murders for which Andy was convicted. Andy approaches Norton with this information, but he refuses to listen and sends Andy back to solitary confinement when he mentions the money laundering. Norton has Hadley murder Tommy under the guise of an escape attempt. Andy declines to continue the laundering, but relents after Norton threatens to burn the library, remove Andy's protection from the guards, and move him to worse conditions. Andy is released from solitary confinement after two months, and tells Red of his dream of living in Zihuatanejo, a Mexican coastal town. Red feels Andy is being unrealistic, but promises Andy that if he is ever released, he will visit a specific hayfield near Buxton, Maine, and retrieve a package Andy buried there. He worries about Andy's well-being, especially when he learns Andy asked another inmate to supply him with six feet (1.8 meters) of rope.

The next day at roll call, the guards find Andy's cell empty. An irate Norton throws a rock at the poster of Raquel Welch hanging on the cell wall, revealing a tunnel that Andy dug with his rock hammer over the last 19 years. The previous night, Andy escaped through the tunnel and prison sewage pipe, using the rope to bring with him Norton's suit, shoes, and the ledger containing details of the money laundering. While guards search for him, Andy poses as Randall Stephens and visits several banks to withdraw the laundered money, then mails the ledger and evidence of the corruption and murders at Shawshank to a local newspaper. FBI agents arrive at Shawshank and take Hadley into custody, while Norton commits suicide by shooting himself to avoid his arrest.

After serving forty years, Red is finally paroled. 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.



Chicago Sun-Times film reviewer Roger Ebert argued 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.[9] 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 their outlooks on life.[10]

Actor Tim Robbins noted that the story is unique in depicting a nonsexual love story between two men.[11]


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.[12] 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 King, and then followed that up with an adaptation of King's novella The Mist.

Rob Reiner, who had previously adapted King's 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 admired and seriously considered Reiner's vision, but ultimately decided that directing the film himself was his "chance to do something really great".[6]


Ohio State Reformatory, also known as the Mansfield Reformatory, served as the fictional Shawshank prison

Though the film is set in Maine, the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio, served as the fictional Shawshank State Penitentiary. Although a large portion of the prison was torn down after filming, the main administration building and two cell blocks remained; the site was revisited for filming parts of the film Air Force One.[13] 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.[13] The interior of the boarding room used by Brooks and Red was located in the administration building, though exterior shots were made elsewhere.[13] The prison site is a tourist attraction.[13] Internal scenes in the prison cellblocks were actually filmed on a soundstage built inside the nearby shuttered Westinghouse factory.[13] 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 / 40.65400°N 82.39195°W / 40.65400; -82.39195 (Shawshank tree), near Malabar Farm State Park, in Lucas, Ohio. The tree was split by lightning on July 29, 2011; officials were unsure if the tree would survive.[14] However, due to rally groups and inspections by forestry organizations, the tree was found to be alive and well.[15] The tree was completely felled by strong winds on or around July 22, 2016.[14]

Just as a prison in Ohio stood in for a fictional one in Maine, the beach scenes shown in the final minutes of the film meant to portray Zihuatanejo, Mexico, were actually shot in the Caribbean on the island of St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The beach at ‘Zihuatanejo’ is Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, a two-mile crescent of sand just south of Frederiksted on the southwestern tip of the island. The refuge is a hatching ground for leatherback sea turtles, and open only at limited times (10 am to 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays), and not at all during the breeding season.[16]

The film was dedicated to Allen Greene, an agent and a close personal friend of Darabont. Greene died shortly before the film was released due to complications of HIV/AIDS.[17]


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 score consists largely of faint piano music, and tremolo strings during more active or humorous moments in the film. The score's two main themes only appear two to three times. The prison theme, first heard in the beginning, is a four-note ascending line in the bass, which is developed and reaches its climax when Andy is standing in the river in the rain. The second theme represents freedom, and is first heard when the inmates are sharing beer, feeling like 'free men'. This theme does not reoccur until the final credits, and is then grander, with fuller orchestration. Like Hans Zimmer's score for The Thin Red Line, the track is often played in trailers during their most dramatic moments. Zimmer himself has credited the score as the one "that has influenced everything the most", and stated that Newman expanded the harmonic palette of film scores.

A central scene in the film features the soprano "Letter Duet" ("Canzonetta sull'aria") from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, also known in Italian as "Sull'aria...che soave zeffiretto." In the duet, Countess Almaviva dictates to Susanna an invitation to a tryst addressed to the countess' unfaithful husband. Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman) remarks in his voice-over narration: "I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. [...] I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it." The music highlights the irony in the movie as the opera characters are only singing about a duplicitous love letter to expose infidelity.


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 total of 944 theaters to earn $2.4 million—an average of $2,545 per theater—finishing as the number 9 film of the weekend.[2] The film left theaters in late November 1994, after 10 weeks with an approximate total gross of $16 million.[18]

It was later rereleased in February 1995, during the Oscar season, and made an additional $9 million.[18] In total, the film made about $28.3 million in North American theaters, making it the 51st-highest-grossing film of 1994 and the 21st-highest grossing R-rated film of 1994.[2]

After grossing $28 million at the box office in North America and another $30 million overseas, it went on to the video rental market, and by the end had made about $80 million in sales, Warner Bros said. Television licensing fees to date likely have surpassed U.S. box-office receipts. As a general rule, studios pocket about half of box-office revenue (less than that overseas), two-thirds of home entertainment sales, and almost all of TV licensing revenue. Based on those margins, The Shawshank Redemption has brought in more than $100 million.[3]

Critical response

The Shawshank Redemption garnered widespread critical acclaim from critics and has a "certified fresh" score of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 66 reviews with an average rating of 8.2 out of 10. The critical consensus states "The Shawshank Redemption is an uplifting, deeply satisfying prison drama with sensitive direction and fine performances."[19] The film also has a score of 80 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 19 critics indicating "generally favorable reviews".[20] The film has been critically acclaimed for depicting Jean-Paul Sartre's ideas about existentialism more fully than any other contemporary movie.[21]

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.[22] 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."[22]

Stephen King has considered The Shawshank Redemption to be one of his favorite film adaptations based on his own work.[23]


The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1994, the most for a Stephen King film adaptation,[24] without winning in any category: 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.[25] It received two Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture for Freeman, and Best Screenplay for Darabont.[26] 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.[27] Darabont was nominated for a Directors Guild of America award in 1994 for Best Director for a feature film,[28] while cinematographer Roger Deakins won the American Society of Cinematographers award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography.[29]

Home media

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.[30] 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.[4] TV airings of the film accrued record-breaking numbers.[30]


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 list of The Great Movies.[31] It has been #1 on IMDb's user-generated Top 250 since 2008, when it surpassed The Godfather.[32]

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.[30][33] In March 2011, the film was voted by BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 1Xtra listeners as their favorite film of all time.[34] Additionally, the Writers Guild of America included Frank Darabont's screenplay on its 101 Greatest Screenplays list, at number 22. In an interview, Morgan Freeman quotes, “About everywhere you go, people say, The Shawshank Redemption—greatest movie I ever saw’ ” and that such praise “Just comes out of them”. Lead actor Tim Robbins states, “I swear to God, all over the world—all over the world—wherever I go, there are people who say, ‘That movie changed my life’ ”.[35] In a separate interview, Stephen King said, "If that isn't the best [adaptation of my works], it's one of the two or three best, and certainly, in moviegoers' minds, it's probably the best because it generally rates at the top of these surveys they have of movies. . . . I never expected anything to happen with it."[36]

Year Award Nominee Ranking Ref.
1998 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies The Shawshank Redemption N/A [37]
2003 AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Andy Dufresne (Hero) N/A [38]
Warden Samuel Norton (villain) N/A [38]
2004 AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Duettino – Sull'Aria (from The Marriage of Figaro) N/A [39]
2005 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes "Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin'" N/A [40]
2005 AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Thomas Newman, The Shawshank Redemption N/A [41]
2006 AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers The Shawshank Redemption #23 [42]
2007 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) The Shawshank Redemption #72 [43]
2008 Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time The Shawshank Redemption #4 [33]
2015 National Film Registry The Shawshank Redemption N/A [44]

20th Anniversary Celebration

From August 29 to September 1, 2013, a series of events were held in Mansfield, Ohio, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film. The events included a screening of the film at the Renaissance Theatre, where it originally premiered, tours of some of the filming locations, and a cocktail at the Ohio State Reformatory which posed as Shawshank State Penitentiary for the film. The cocktail was attended by actors Bob Gunton, Scott Mann and James Kisicki, who signed autographs and shared stories with the fans. Director Frank Darabont sent a video greeting the fans who celebrated the anniversary. More than 6,000 fans of the film attended the events.[45][46]

See also


  1. "The Shawshank Redemption". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 "The Shawshank Redemption (1994)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 4, 2010.
  3. 1 2 Adams, Russell (May 22, 2014). "The Shawshank Residuals". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
  4. 1 2 Gilbey, Ryan (2004-09-26). "Film: Why are we still so captivated?". The Sunday Times. London. Archived from the original on 2010-04-13. Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  5. Mike Barnes (December 16, 2015). "'Ghostbusters,' 'Top Gun,' 'Shawshank' Enter National Film Registry". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  6. 1 2 3 Audio commentary with director and writer Frank Darabont
  7. Head, Steve (11 May 2005). "10 QUESTIONS: MORGAN FREEMAN". IGN.
  8. Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature DVD Documentary
  9. Ebert, Roger (1994-09-23). "Review: The Shawshank Redemption". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 2010-04-13. Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  10. Morehouse, Isaac M. (2008-10-03). "Stop Worrying about the Election". Mises Daily. Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 2013-11-24.
  11. Nordyke, Kimberly. "'Shawshank Redemption' Reunion: Stars Share Funny Tales of "Cow Shit," Cut Scenes and that Unwieldy Title". The Hollywood Reporter. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  12. Rauzi, Robin (1993-12-01). "Doing 'Redemption' Time in a Former Prison". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-03-11.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 "Cleveland: The Shawshank Redemption prison". A.V. Club. 2011-08-03. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  14. 1 2 "'Shawshank' tree falls over". Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  15. Destries, Michael (July 30, 2012). "Good News: The Shawshank Oak Tree is Alive and Well". Ecorazzi.
  16. "Filming Locations for Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption, with Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, in Mansfield, Ohio.". Retrieved July 23, 2016.
  17. "Did you KNOW". Retrieved July 23, 2016.
  18. 1 2 "The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – Weekend Box Office Results – Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 2011-04-29.
  19. "The Shawshank Redemption". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2010-08-19.
  20. "The Shawshank Redemption". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2010-08-19.
  21. This claim is made by Alexander Hooke in issue 102 of Philosophy Now, accessible here (link, accessed 3rd June 2014.
  22. 1 2 Gleiberman, Owen (1994-09-23). "The Shawshank Redemption". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2010-05-15.
  23. Matt Lauer interview of King on The Today Show, YouTube, February 8, 2008
  24. "The Best and Worst of Stephen King's Movies – MSN Movies News". 2012-10-20. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-11.
  25. "The 67th Academy Awards (1995) Nominees and Winners".
  26. "THE 52ND ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS (1995)". Golden Globes. Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Archived from the original on December 29, 2010. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  27. "The Inaugural Screen Actors Guild Awards". Screen Actors Guild Awards. SAG-AFTRA. 1995. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  28. Dutka, Elaine (January 24, 1995). "DGA Nods: What's It Mean for the Oscars? : Movies: The surprising nominations of Frank Darabont ("Shawshank Redemption") and Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral") may throw a twist into the Academy Awards". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  29. "9th Annual ASC Awards – 1994". American Society of Cinematographers Awards. American Society of Cinematographers. 1994. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  30. 1 2 3 Kermode, Mark (August 22, 2004). "Hope springs eternal". The Guardian. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  31. Ebert, Roger (1999-10-17). "Great Movies: The Shawshank Redemption". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 2010-04-13. Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  32. Monaco, Paul (May 5, 2010). A History of American Movies: A Film-by-Film Look at the Art, Craft, and Business of Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. 286. ISBN 978-0810874343. Retrieved June 2, 2013.
  33. 1 2 "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire. Bauer Consumer Media. 2008. Retrieved September 30, 2011.
  34. "Radio 1 Movies Blog". BBC. Retrieved 2011-04-29.
  35. Heidenry, Margaret. "The Little-Known Story of How The Shawshank Redemption Became One of the Most Beloved Films of All Time". Retrieved July 23, 2016.
  36. Branch, Chris (24 September 2014). "Stephen King Thought The 'Shawshank Redemption' Screenplay Was 'Too Talky'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  37. "America's Greatest Movies" (PDF). AFI. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  38. 1 2 "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains" (PDF). AFI. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  39. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs" (PDF). AFI. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  40. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes" (PDF). AFI. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  41. "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores" (PDF). AFI. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  42. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers" (PDF). AFI. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  43. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies -- 10th Anniversary Edition" (PDF). AFI. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  44. "'Ghostbusters,' 'Top Gun,' 'Shawshank' Enter National Film Registry". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  45. MansfieldCVB. "Shawshank 20-Year Reunion Celebration 2013". YouTube. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
  46. Glaser, Susan (August 12, 2014). "'The Shawshank Redemption' 20 years later: Mansfield celebrates its role in the classic film". Retrieved November 16, 2015.

Further reading

External links

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