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21 Surprising Facts About “The Shawshank Redemption”

21 Surprising Facts About “The Shawshank Redemption”

“The Shawshank Redemption” is a 1994 classic film with many interesting facets. For one, the acting is stellar, each scene is a carefully crafted masterpiece, and the story telling style keeps you interested from the opening scene to the very end where you’re left wanting more. No matter how many times you’ve seen this movie, you always more at the end! So many people are watching scenes on TikTok these days, leading an increase in people watching it again (or for the very first time!). The comments tend to be filled with people who believe it is among the top few films of all time. I would tend to agree. And once in a while you’ll come cross the line from The Last Man on Earth TV show…”it truly as a Shawshank Redemption” which is good for a chuckle. With that said, here are some facts you might find intriguing…

  1. Stephen King Connection: The movie is based on a novella called “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” written by renowned author Stephen King.
  2. Box Office Performance: Despite being a classic today, the movie wasn’t initially a commercial success, only gaining popularity after it started being played on TV and after its seven Academy Award nominations.
  3. Critical Acclaim: The film holds a very high score on Rotten Tomatoes, and is often cited in lists of the greatest films of all time (which it absolutely is!). On IMDb, it has been #1 on the Top 250 list since 2008.
  4. Morgan Freeman’s Narration: Morgan Freeman’s compelling narration was one of the film’s highlights, establishing him as one of the go-to voices for narration in film. He narrated the film as the character Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding. I mean let’s face it, if someone was going to narrate your life, wouldn’t you put Freeman’s voice among the top names on the list?!
  5. The Title: The film’s title was deemed too difficult for people to remember, which led to a lack of interest in seeing it in theaters. Some people reportedly confused it with “Scaramouche,” a 1952 swashbuckler film. But of course, anyone who hasn’t been smart enough to take a chance and watch the movie is missing out.
  6. Unconventional Casting: Morgan Freeman’s character, ‘Red,’ is described as a white Irishman in Stephen King’s novella. However, Freeman’s excellent audition for the role led to this racial difference being dismissed. The film jokingly references this by having Red answer the question of why he’s called ‘Red’ by saying, “Maybe it’s because I’m Irish.” It’s an interesting scene because the movie has a serious tone and in the scene, there isn’t any laughter about what he says.
  7. Brooks’ Bird: One of the inmates, Brooks Hatlin, has a pet crow named Jake which we see in one of the first prison scenes. Interestingly, the crow could actually act. It was trained to open a box of candy and even ‘act’ like it was eating, despite the fact that chocolate is harmful to birds.
  8. Filming Location: “The Shawshank Redemption” was filmed primarily at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. The location was chosen for its imposing, Gothic-style architecture, which contributed significantly to the movie’s atmosphere. Although the reformatory had ceased operations several years before filming began, it provided the perfect setting for the fictional Shawshank State Penitentiary. In addition to the Ohio State Reformatory, a few scenes were also filmed in nearby towns. For instance, the opening court scene was shot at the Upper Sandusky Courthouse in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and the Brooks’ boarding house scenes were filmed in Mansfield. The beach scene at the end of the movie, where Red finds Andy, was shot in the U.S. Virgin Islands, on a beach in Saint Croix. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that because believing it was Zihuatanejo, Mexico (which is four miles from popular tourist town Ixtapa), helps you experience the story.
  9. The Library: The library scenes in the movie were shot in the reformatory’s actual library. However, the books on the shelves were empty boxes with the appearance of books, due to budget constraints. This actually sounds a little odd because how much could books actually cost?! I suppose you have to consider that books were as cheap and available as they are now.
  10. Opera Scene: The opera song Andy plays over the loudspeakers is “Canzonetta sull’aria” from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro.” Neither Robbins nor Freeman knew that the scene would be as powerful and impactful as it turned out to be.
  11. The Poster: Three different women appear in the poster in Andy’s cell: Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, and Raquel Welch. They mark the passage of time and are pivotal to the plot.
  12. Director’s Cameo: Director Frank Darabont made a cameo in the film as the voice of the off-screen broadcaster who announces the arrest of the corrupt warden.
  13. Awards: The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Freeman, Best Adapted Screenplay for Frank Darabont, and Best Cinematography, but it did not win in any category. However, it has been recognized by multiple other organizations and is widely considered a masterpiece (because it is one!). Sometimes it takes time to recognize genius work.
  14. Reunion: In 2019, the principal cast, including Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, and Bob Gunton, along with director Frank Darabont, reunited for the 25th anniversary of the film’s release to celebrate its enduring legacy.
  15. Reused Props: The same oak tree used in the film was also used in The Green Mile, another film adaptation of Stephen King’s work directed by Frank Darabont.

Famous Actors Who Turned Down Roles in The Shawshank Redemption

A number of actors turned down roles in “The Shawshank Redemption.” While it’s hard to imagine the movie without Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, that was almost the case!

  1.  Ford, Kevin Costner, and Tom Hanks: These actors were among those considered for the role of Andy Dufresne before Tim Robbins was cast. Costner couldn’t take the role due to his commitment to “Waterworld,” and Hanks was tied up with “Forrest Gump.”
  2. Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Clint Eastwood: All of these actors were considered for the role of Red. It’s said that Redford was the studio’s first choice, but director Frank Darabont insisted on Morgan Freeman.
  3. Brad Pitt: Brad Pitt was originally supposed to play the role of “Tommy,” the young prisoner who becomes pivotal to the story. However, Pitt dropped out of the project to do “Legends of the Fall” instead. The role of Tommy was eventually played by Gil Bellows. I can see Pitt doing a good job here though.
  4. James Gandolfini: The late James Gandolfini, known for his role in “The Sopranos,” reportedly turned down the role of prison guard Captain Byron Hadley, which ultimately went to William Sadler.
  5. Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall: Both actors were considered for the role of Warden Norton before it eventually went to Bob Gunton. And Gunton nailed it.
  6. Alternate Casting Scenarios: Some other alternative casting possibilities were floated, like Jeff Bridges as Andy and Nicolas Cage as Tommy, but these combinations never materialized. Better for us, trust me!

The casting decisions and considerations behind movies like “The Shawshank Redemption” can often be just as fascinating as the film itself, as they provide insight into how different the film could have been with different actors. Even though some popular actors had to turn down roles in this film, the final cast turned out to be perfect, and their performances have cemented the movie as a timeless classic. If you haven’t see it in a while, or not at all, go watch it!

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Adrian is a writer and more!