I’ve seen The Shawshank Redemption from start to finish twice. Like many I assume, I’ve seen bits and pieces of it probably 500 times, thanks to TNT’s constant rotation. The movie is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its release this week, and if Ted Turner doesn’t have it somewhere on the TNT schedule then he’s dropped the ball big time. Turner, who bought the film’s production company, Castle Rock Entertainment in 1993, sold the film’s cable broadcast rights to his own network, TNT, in 1997, and has since made the movie the network’s most-played film ever. It’s seemingly playing on the network about “every five minutes,” said director Frank Darabont.
It’s that constant rotation that helps make up a big chunk of Warner Brothers’ $1.5 billion profits from television-licensing fees, and consistently rank the film among IMDB voters as the best movie ever. There’s also the movie’s powerful message that no matter how bad things get, there’s always hope. Tim Robbins believes that’s what resonates so well with viewers.
“It’s something to do with the idea that everyone wants to believe there is a place for them on the beach at Zihuatanejo,” Robbins said. Most people have some part of their life that feels like a prison, a trap, he added. The affection for “Shawshank” is the eternal hope that “whatever you’re trapped in, you can find that warm place in the sun.”
To celebrate Andy Dufresne’s crawl to freedom through 500 yards of filth, here’s some trivia into how the movie came together and the difficulties of acting alongside a crow. Oh, and that tunnel of filth — it was chocolate syrup.
1. Morgan Freeman wasn’t sure if he was auditioning for Red or Andy. Freeman loved Stephen King’s short story, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, but he wasn’t sure which part he should audition for when he got the script. Via Hollywood Reporter:
“Most of what I remember is that when I read the script, I didn’t know which character to read for. When my agent told me it was Red, I couldn’t believe they were giving me the movie! I never imagined it would be that character. Tim and I fell into each other as actors; it was one of those easy experiences.”
2. Andy and Red’s first conversation lasted all day. Andy and Red’s first conversation in the prison yard where Red is playing baseball might only last a few minutes on film, but the scene took nine hours to shoot. Morgan Freeman threw the baseball for the entire nine hours until the shot was finished. He came into work the following day with his arm in a sling.
3. Tim Robbins had to adjust his acting for Brooks’ pet crow. The crow that Brooks keeps as a pet wasn’t the best at squawking on command, which meant that Tim Robbins had to carefully time his lines around the crow. When Andy walks into the library and asks “Hey Jake, where’s Brooks?” you notice Tim Robbins carefully watching the crow to look for an impending squawk before beginning his line.
4. The movie didn’t make much of a splash in theaters. The movie is a fan favorite and considered by many to be one of the best movies of all time, but it didn’t exactly break any records at the box office. During the film’s opening weekend it only pulled in $2.4 million, barely enough to give it the ninth slot at the box office that weekend. Morgan Freeman cites the film’s title as the culprit for its poor theatrical reception.
“I was very surprised that the film didn’t get a better reception. It got great reviews, but nobody went to see it. I think the reason was the title. It was confusing! If you can’t sell the title, you can’t get people to see it.”
5. It was only during Oscar season that the public started to notice the movie. The movie received seven Oscar nominations, but didn’t win any. It was during Oscar season that the film was re-released into theaters and grossed an additional $10 million before exploding on home video in 1995, pulling in $80 million. Then in 1997 Ted Turner bought the cable broadcasting rights to the film and the rest is history.
6. Stephen King didn’t make much from the movie. Stephen King sold the film rights for his short story for only $5,000 in the late 1980s and never even cashed the check. Years after the movie came out, King had the check framed and reportedly mailed it to the film’s director, Frank Darabont, with a note inscribed: “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”
7. Morgan Freeman’s son is the man in Red’s mug shot. Red’s mug shot of him as a much younger looking man is actually Freeman’s son, Alfonso Freeman. Alfonso can also be heard as one of the cons shouting “Fresh fish, fresh fish today!”
8. Morgan Freeman wasn’t the first choice for Red. In King’s version, Red is an aging Irishman with graying red hair, hence the name. Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Paul Newman and Robert Redford were all considered for the part before it was given to Morgan Freeman at the recommendation of director Frank Darabont. Considering that there weren’t many black men living in Maine at the time of the movie’s setting, the location was then moved to a fictional prison in Ohio.
9. Mansfield, Ohio offers up a Shawshank reality tour. The movie’s setting has provided steady tourism to the area of north-central Ohio where the now closed Ohio State Reformatory serves as a museum. Tourism officials have capitalized on the movie’s popularity and for a few bucks visitors can tour the prison and see the Warden’s office, the tunnel Andy crawled through and the oak tree where he buried money for Red.
10. Andy’s hands belong to the director. There are two scenes in the movie in which the director’s hands make a cameo appearance. One is the opening scene where Andy is loading the revolver and the other is where Andy is carving his name into his cell wall. The reason for this is that Darabont wanted these closeups to look a certain way and felt only he could get the exact portrayal of Andy’s hands that he wanted.
*Bonus* The Warden’s opening of Andy’s Bible the book of Exodus is no mistake. When the Warden opens Andy’s Bible and discovers the cutaway of his rock hammer he opens it to Exodus. Just like Andy escaping prison, Exodus tells the story of the Jews escape from Egypt.