20 Facts You Never Knew About The Shawshank Redemption
Released in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption follows banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman) as they come up against a world of corruption at Shawshank State Penitentiary. The film went on to receive seven Academy Awards nominations in 1995 and is now remembered and revered as one of the greatest films of all time. Here are 20 things you might not have known about it.
20. Stephen King never cashed his royalty cheque
You might not have known that The Shawshank Redemption was based on a book called Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, largely because marketers actively tried to omit Stephen King’s name from the film’s advertising. Apparently, the studio wanted the film to appeal to a prestigious audience, and at the time King was largely known for being a ‘pulp fiction’ writer.
Interestingly, filmmaker Frank Darabont gave King $5,000 for the rights to adapt Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, but King never cashed the cheque. Instead, he framed it and gave it back to Darabont. He also included a sweet reference to the beloved movie: a note that read “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”
19. Morgan Freeman injured his arm from pitching a baseball for nine hours for one scene
While you’d never guess it, the sequence where Andy and Red first meet while playing baseball took a staggering nine hours to shoot. Apparently, perfectionist Darabont wanted the important scene where Andy and Red first interact to be literally flawless. The nine hours took their toll on Morgan Freeman especially, as the scene featured a shot of him pitching a baseball.
Repeating the motion for nine hours straight resulted in Morgan Freeman injuring his arm. But according to the rest of the cast and crew, Freeman didn’t voice a single complaint during this long shoot. Instead, the crew realised what an ordeal they’d put Freeman through when he turned up to the set the next day with his arm in a sling.
18. It wasn’t a box office success
Given the success of The Shawshank Redemption today, you might have forgotten that the film wasn’t exactly an overnight box office success on release in 1994. The film had the misfortune of coming out around the same time as Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump, both huge hits. As a result, The Shawshank Redemption performed only modestly at the box office.
Shawshank brought in $58.3 million, on a budget of $25 million. The film’s popularity only really took hold when over 320,000 VHS copies of the film were released and distributed throughout the US. It then went on to become one of the top rented films of 1995, and has since become widely recognised as one of the greatest movies of all time.
17. A picture of Morgan Freeman’s son was used for Red’s mugshot
When you see Red’s parole papers, the mugshot of a younger-looking Red is actually that of Morgan Freeman’s younger son, Alfonso Freeman. In the movie, Red’s mugshot is said to have been taken when he was 20 years old, while Alfonso was in his early 30s when the photo was taken. This wasn’t Alfonso’s only cameo in The Shawshank Redemption – he also plays an inmate.
Alfonso can be spotted cheering the arrival of ‘fresh fish’ – aka new prisoners – at the beginning of the film. Born in 1959, Alfonso is one of four children to Morgan Freeman. Reportedly, Alfonso didn’t meet his father until 1984, but he afterwards embarked on an acting career of his own and starred in Se7en, Burn, The West Wing, ER and Death’s Door.
16. The film’s title caused chaos
The full title of Stephen King’s novel was Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, but naturally the title was shortened when it came to deciding on a name for the movie. Many in Hollywood thought the inclusion of Rita Hayworth’s name might lead audiences to believe the film was some kind of biopic about the Hollywood star.
Despite this, even the title The Shawshank Redemption managed to cause issues with audiences. Morgan Freeman went as far as blaming the “unmemorable” title for the film’s poor performance at the box office, later reflecting: “They said it [Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption] won’t fit on the marquee. I said, ‘So what? Just put Rita Hayworth…’ but they chose not to so it took a while to catch on.” Robbins claimed that he heard fans asking “What was that Shinkshonk Reduction thing?”
15. Clancy Brown turned down the chance to meet real prison officers
Clancy Brown does such a fantastic job of portraying the sadistic Captain Hadley in the movie, you might think that Brown shadowed some prison officers to pick up some ideas for the role. However, Brown actually turned down the chance to get some real advice from prison officers. He refused to meet real officers because he didn’t want to play Captain Hadley as a ‘realistic’ prison officer.
Brown felt that Hadley was an evil man first and foremost and wanted to portray him as such instead of placing too much emphasis on his job as a prison officer. “The best villains are always reflections of what’s going on in society at that time,” Brown has since commented. “If you can tap into that psyche and figure out what that is. In Shawshank, the guy was such an a**hole, but the reason that he was an a**hole – was that he was an a**hole!”
14. Some claim there’s a big plot hole in the jailbreak scene
In the film, Andy routinely replaces his pin-up posters in order to conceal the (spoiler alert!) giant tunnel he is digging to escape from the prison. He starts off with one of Rita Hayworth, before replacing that with a picture of Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch, before finally replacing that with a poster of 60s bombshell Raquel Welch.
The poster of Welch in One Million Years BC has been the subject of fans’ ire for years, as many argue that Andy would not have been able to replace the poster over the tunnel after making his escape. However, it’s entirely possible that Andy pinned the poster above the tunnel only – meaning it fell as a flap over the tunnel after he left – although we never see this happen onscreen.
13. One scene required a maggot that had died of natural causes
In one scene, Brooks Hatlen feeds a maggot to his pet crow. The American Humane society (AH) were monitoring to ensure the bird was not harmed – but then said that the scene was actually cruel to the maggot, as the filmmakers were going to feed the bird a live one. The AH dictated that the crew must find a maggot that had died a natural death and asked that they feed that to the bird instead.
Amazingly, the crew managed to do just that! “The first time we shot [that scene],” Tim Robbins later recalled, ”someone from the ASPCA was on the set because we were using a bird that day. We were informed by the person that we weren’t allowed to kill the maggot on screen. So today (for the reshoot) someone made a little matchstick director’s chair with a star on it and ‘Maggot’ on the back. We put the maggot on his chair between takes.”
12. Brad Pitt was supposed to play Tommy
Brad Pitt was lined up to play Tommy Williams in The Shawshank Redemption, but unfortunately he had other commitments and opted to star in Interview with the Vampire instead. The role of Tommy ultimately went to Gil Bellows. Tommy’s story is a tragic one: incarcerated for burglary in 1965, he befriends Andy and Red before being murdered by Hadley on Norton’s orders.
Much like Brad Pitt at that point in time, Gil Bellows was then at the start of his acting career – The Shawshank Redemption was the first feature that he ever starred in. Bellows later gained further recognition by starring as CIA agent Matt Callan in The Agency, and he also featured in Ally McBeal, Eyewitness and the thriller Kill Kill Faster Faster.
11. One of the film’s most memorable scenes isn’t from the novel
One of the most memorable scenes from the film comes when Andy locks himself in the Warden’s office and plays The Marriage of Figaro through the tannoy system. However, this scene was not in the novel at all and was actually written for the movie. It was also Tim Robbins’ idea to have Andy turn up the volume on the music during the sequence.
The moment sees Red’s narration turn to some particularly poignant words: “To this day, I have no idea what those two Italian ladies were singing about,” he says. “Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are left best unsaid. I would like to think they were singing about something was so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words and make your heart ache because of it.”
10. Robbins spent time in solitary confinement to prepare for the role
Tim Robbins helped to develop his performance by spending time in Andy’s shoes in a real jail. He even tried to recreate one of Andy’s worst ordeals. “I spent some time in solitary, to prepare for Shawshank,” the star told CBS News in 2013. “I asked to be locked up. It gives you a good idea of what the isolation is, and what the loneliness of it is.”
“When I was doing Shawshank, I talked to the actual prison guards working as extras and asked them what they would change about criminal justice if they could change anything,” Robbins has also recalled. His experience inspired him to start acting courses for prison inmates as a form of therapy, and he has been outspoken about prison reform in the USA since.
9. The Stephen King novel is Morgan Freeman’s favourite
In a 2005 interview with IGN, Morgan Freeman was asked to name his favourite novel. “Well, it is a novella, but I do like The Shawshank Redemption,” he replied. However, when it comes to his favourite role of all time, Freeman’s answer may come as surprise to many fans – especially when you consider Freeman has played God and Nelson Mandela alongside the beloved character of Red.
“I’ll tell you. My favourite role was the one that sort of pushed me, galvanised my career, into the movies,” Freeman told CBS in 2010. “It was a picture called Street Smart, in which I played a pimp!” This 1987 breakout role, which saw him star alongside Christopher ‘Superman’ Reeve, did indeed bring Freeman to Hollywood’s attention, though the film was a commercial failure.
8. Clint Eastwood was considered to play Red
When Andy asks Morgan Freeman’s Red about his unusual name, Red smiles and says jokingly, “Maybe it’s because I’m Irish.” In the original Stephen King tale, Red’s nickname comes from his full name, Ellis Boyd Redding – and the character also happens to have flame-red hair. He is a middle aged white character of Irish descent.
When casting Red, many big name stars were considered for the role, including Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman. The idea to cast Morgan Freeman instead came from producer Liz Glotzer. Having already starred in the prison drama Brubaker (1980), Freeman decided to keep prisoner research to a minimum, stating: “Acting the part of someone who’s incarcerated doesn’t require any specific knowledge of incarceration. Because men don’t change. Once you’re in that situation, you just toe whatever line you have to toe.”
7. The cast had to work around an interrupting crow
The movie shows older prisoner Brooks raising a baby crow, which Brooks winds up giving the name Jake. Brooks sets it free before leaving the jail, then himself later meets a dismal fate after decades of being institutionalised. While we think the bird actor who played Jake did a spectacular job, reportedly he caused a lot of commotion during the filming of some delicate scenes.
Behind the scenes, the bird playing Jake would caw loudly and repeatedly, interrupting the other actors as they delivered their lines. The bird had not been trained to make noises or remain silent on demand. Andy actor Tim Robbins managed to overcome this problem by memorising the bird’s cawing patterns and habits, and waiting for appropriate pauses to deliver his own lines.
6. Frank Darabont watched Goodfellas every Sunday during filming
The filming process was often intense for Shawshank – but during his days off, director Frank Darabont was still thinking constantly about how to create a masterpiece. Reportedly, he sat down every Sunday during filming to watch the entirety of the Martin Scorsese movie Goodfellas, which had been released in cinemas just a few years earlier.
Darabont has said Goodfellas was a major inspiration for The Shawshank Redemption. He was inspired by the 1990 movie to perfect the voiceover, and he borrowed techniques from Scorsese to edit scenes smoothly and show the long passage of time. The works of director Frank Capra, including It’s A Wonderful Life, were also a big inspiration to Darabont.
5. Despite seven nominations, the film didn’t win a single Academy Award
In perhaps one of the most short-sighted Oscar decisions ever, The Shawshank Redemption didn’t win a single Academy Award. It was nominated in seven categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Original Score (in composer Thomas Newman’s first ever nomination).
Darabont pointed out that the film’s lacklustre box office performance made even its Oscar nominations something of a surprise: “Nobody had heard of the movie, and that year on the Oscar broadcast, they were mentioning this movie seven times.” Likewise, the movie was nominated for two Golden Globes but did not win in either category.
4. Freeman’s narration was recorded before the movie was even filmed
While most filmmakers wouldn’t dream of recording a voiceover before they’ve filmed their movie, Frank Darabont decided to take that risk with Morgan Freeman on Shawshank. He did this because he wanted the movie’s pacing to perfectly match Red’s overall narrative, and so he pre-recorded the entire (much-loved) voiceover. This created some particular difficulties while filming.
The length of scenes and camera moves had to fit in around Freeman’s voice, but Darabont later noted that when they fitted, it was very moving. “I remember we got a nice take,” he said. “I turned around, and somebody behind me had tears rolling down their face, and I thought, OK, good, that one worked. ” Darabont has said the crew were “exhausted” by the end of that sequence.
3. Darabont has refused to release the deleted scenes
Something of a perfectionist, director Darabont has been loathe to release the deleted scenes from The Shawshank Redemption. Keen fans will notice that it’s very difficult to get your hands on either of the two known deleted scenes, which were never included in video or DVD releases – perhaps because the filmmakers felt they would spoil the image of a magnificent film.
However, the two scenes reached the public on one occasion in 1995, when they were broadcast on Showtime. They were later taped and uploaded to YouTube but have since been deleted. In one of the scenes, a guard enters Andy’s escape tunnel, encounters the sewage flooding and begins screaming expletives and vomiting violently. In the other cut scene, Red struggles to adapt to life on the outside, particular when meeting modern women for the first time in decades.
2. Robbins has described the film as a ‘love story’
Chosen by IMDb as the greatest movie of all time, The Shawshank Redemption is a drama with plenty of historical and spiritual elements woven in, and a spectacular jailbreak to boot. While the film means a great deal in different ways to countless fans, in Tim Robbins’ opinion the film’s most important theme is male friendship in times of hardship.
He has even described The Shawshank Redemption as “a uniquely non-sexual love story between two men.” The critic Roger Ebert emphatically agreed, stating: “Many movies offer us vicarious experiences and quick, superficial emotions. Shawshank slows down and looks… It is deeper than most films; about continuity in a lifetime, based on friendship and hope.”
1. The movie is dedicated to Darabont’s friend and agent
With the final shot lingering on an idyllic beach, just as Red and Andy reunite, the movie’s final message appears in white writing: ‘In Memory of Allen Greene.’ This pays tribute to Darabont’s first ever agent and close personal friend, as the director’s commentary for the movie further explains. Greene specialised in securing movie rights to literary works.
According to Darabont, Greene started off as “a set dresser on low-budget movies who wanted to be a writer, and it’s very hard to get an agent to believe in you on that level.” Greene passed away from complications of AIDS before filming began for Shawshank. “I wanted to acknowledge not just his significance to my career,” Darabont noted, “but also that he was an incredibly decent, much-loved, and much-missed person in the lives of those who knew him.”