Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About ‘The Shawshank Redemption’

‘The Shawshank Redemption’ tells the story of a banker named Andy Dufresne, a man who is wrongfully accused of a double murder and condemned to serve a life sentence in the eponymous Shawshank prison.
 
The movie follows his life up until (spoiler alert!) he escapes through the prison sewage system. When it was released in 1994, the film got nominated for seven Academy Awards, even though it flopped in the box office. These days, it’s on everybody’s ‘Top 10’ list. Check out these lesser-known facts about the iconic movie!

The Movie Is Based on a Stephen King Novel

Although Stephen King is known for novels featuring horror such as soul-sucking hotels, he wrote the novel that ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is based on. Titled ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’, the novel was part of a collection, including ‘Apt Pupil’ and ‘The Body’ (a.k.a ‘Stand by Me’).

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King sold the film rights to Frank Darabont for $5,000. Can you believe it!? Out of his friendship with Darabont, he never cashed the check. Years later, he sent the framed check to Darabont with the inscription, “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”

The Film Almost Had a Different Director

Before making the film, director Frank Darabont was offered $2.5 million by Rob Reiner for the film rights of Shawshank. Tempting though it may seem, he turned it down, because this was his “chance to do something really great.”

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The movie would have been totally different if Reiner had been at the helm. For one, Reiner had his eyes set on Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise as the actors to play Red and Andy. In the end, we never got to see Maverick escape prison with Indiana Jones. We really dodged a bullet there.

Morgan Freeman Almost Didn’t Play Red

Who else but Morgan Freeman could have portrayed Red? No one, right? Well, some people had different views. In King’s version, the character is an Irish guy with red hair. It’s not exactly how you would describe Freeman. The studio had considered many actors, like Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Harrison Ford.

 

Still, in the end, Darabont chose Freeman. His natural charisma and soulful voice made him perfect for the part. As a tip of the hat to Stephen King, Darabont added the line, “Maybe it’s because I’m Irish,” when Andy asks Red about his nickname.

The Maggot Issue

In the film, Brooks, the old man who works in the prison library, feeds a maggot to his pet crow. The American Humane Association had to step in because, apparently, it was cruel for a maggot to be fed to a crow.

 

After this unforeseen setback, the filmmakers found a maggot that had died of natural causes to feed to the crow, and all was well.

Number 237

Remember room 237 from ‘The Shining’? What about the amount of change the boys have in ‘Stand by Me’? Well, for those of us who are familiar with Stephen King’s body of work, you’ll notice the number 237 is always present throughout his writings.

 

The Shawshank Redemption’s director, Frank Darabont, decided to include it in the movie. After Andy escapes, the guards yell, “Open 237!” before questioning Red about where Dufresne went.

Red’s Story

In the movie, Red’s past is a mystery. We only know that he “committed murder.” But who did he murder? How? The film doesn’t answer any of these questions, but King goes into more detail in his book.

 

It turns out that Red is serving three life sentences for murdering not only his wife, but also his neighbor’s wife and son. Red cut the brakes of his wife’s car to collect insurance money. He didn’t predict that his neighbor’s family would also end up dying in the car when it crashed. Ouch!

The Movie Really Helped the Local Economy

The story, like almost every other Stephen King novel, is set in Maine. Still, the movie was entirely shot in Ohio. The filmmakers used 13 different filming locations that have all become tourist destinations, thanks to die-hard Shawshank fans.

 

Since 1994, 18,000 people have gone to Ohio to look at these sacred Shawshank sites, bringing in $3 million to the local economy. Who knew that a movie about a banker escaping prison through a poop shoot could be so good for the people of Ohio?

Stand-in Hands

Even though Tim Robbins played Andy Dufresne in most scenes, he didn’t play the character during the close-up shots of Andy’s hands. In fact, they’re the hands of director Frank Darabont. He was so particular about the way he wanted Andy’s hands to behave that he did it himself in post-production.

 

So, when Andy’s hands load the revolver in the opening scene or carve his name into his cell wall, it’s Darabont the whole time.

The Movie Flopped at the Box Office

‘The Shawshank Redemption’ was a commercial flop before it became a classic. The movie initially made $18 million at the box office, which wasn’t even enough to cover the studio’s costs. But even though the movie made $10 million more after being nominated for a bunch of Oscars, it was still considered a flop.

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The film only became popular after Warner Home Video shipped 320,000 rental copies across the US. Even though many thought that it was risky to distribute so many VHS tapes of the movie, it paid off.

Freeman’s Speculation

Nowadays, it’s weird to think that this hit movie had such bad box office numbers. The reason for it could be the unfortunate timing that coincided with other cinematic hits. But Morgan freeman had a different idea.

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Freeman speculated that the film’s name was holding it back. It was too difficult for people to pronounce, which made it hard for the film to become popular through word of mouth.

A Different Freeman

Is that digitally de-aged Morgan Freeman on that mugshot? Actually, it’s his son. Red’s mugshots in the movie, which are attached to his parole papers, are actually photos of Alfonso Freeman. He even had a cameo in the film chanting, “Fresh fish! Fresh fish today! We’re reeling em’ in!”

 

This wasn’t the only time Alfonso showed up in one of his dad’s films either. The year after Shawshank came out, he played the fingerprint technician in the movie ‘Seven’.

Trying to Work With a Bird

As mentioned previously, Brooks (the old library man) has a pet crow named Jake. In the movie, Andy goes to work in the prison library and talks to the crow, who keeps squawking. Tim Robbins had to time his lines so the bird’s squawks wouldn’t interrupt him like some avian rap battle.

 

Over time, Robbins knew the bird’s squawking pattern so well that it never ruined a scene. If you look at Robbins closely during the scene, you can tell he’s waiting for Jake’s next yap.

The Infamous Nine-Hour Scene

The scene that took nine hours to shoot was when Andy and Red talk for the first time. Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, keeps throwing a baseball back and forth with Heywood. The scene is less than 4 minutes long, but Freeman had to throw that baseball for nine grueling hours.

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Although he didn’t complain about it, he did have to wear a sling around his arm the next day. Now, that’s commitment to your craft!

Many Scenes Were Deleted

Shawshank is a masterpiece, but like any movie, many scenes were deleted. It’s too bad because they could have added more depth to the story. There were scenes, like Jake’s funeral, that showed how much the inmates loved Brooks (the crow’s owner). There were also hopeful scenes like Tommy getting a visit from his wife, which pushed him to get his life back together.

 

Another deleted scene is a heartbreaking moment where Red has a panic attack at the grocery store and has to hide inside the bathroom because it feels like a cell to him.

No Extra Scenes on DVD

One of the advantages DVD versions have on their theater counterparts is the extras and bonus features. People can’t get enough of bloopers, a backstage look, and deleted scenes.

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However, the DVD release of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ never included any of the scenes left on the editor’s room floor. Frank Darabont was actually so embarrassed by the scenes he didn’t include, he thought it would be best for people to never see them.

The Recording Problem

Morgan Freeman had to record his iconic voice-over twice. The first time took only 40 minutes and was played out loud during filming to set the rhythm of each scene. So why did they record the voice-over a second time? Well, the first recording had a hiss that the movie’s sound engineers couldn’t fix.

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Since the first recording couldn’t be used in the final cut, Freeman had to do it a second time. Though this time, it took the actor three weeks to complete. Who said art was supposed to be easy?

A Change of Title

Stephen King’s original title was ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’. The studio shortened the title, not because it was too long, but because many people in the film industry thought the film was going to be a biopic of the actress. Young actresses and supermodels sent audition requests to play Rita.

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What they didn’t know was that Rita Hayworth (the real one) only appears once in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ when her film ‘Gilda’ is played to the inmates on movie night. The movie never needed anyone to portray Rita.

Not Exactly a Real Jail

Shawshank Prison isn’t a real prison at all. The only real shots were the exterior ones done outside the abandoned Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield.

 

The inside of the reformatory was such a disaster that the filmmakers shot the interior shots on a sound stage. They figured it would be cheaper to create a replica than try to renovate the decaying jail. They definitely fooled us (and the Academy). The set design was so convincing that everyone thought it was filmed in a real prison.

Shawshank References

Stephen King loves Maine. He loves it so much that he lives there, and also sets many of his diabolically frightening novels in the Pine Tree State. ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is no exception. What King also loves to do is interconnect his books. Shawshank is mentioned in many of his works.

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In the film ‘Dolores Claiborne’, based on one of King’s novels, Dolores yells at her husband that he will do time in Shawshank for what he did to their daughter. Shawshank Prison is also mentioned in ‘The Fifth Quarter’, ‘Needful Things’, ‘Sun Dog’, and more.

The Extras Were Ex-Cons

Every filmmaker deals with obstacles. Extras, even though their roles are minor, are still needed to make prison look like a prison and not a ghost town with barred windows. The inmates were supposed to be portrayed by the local inhabitants, but they left after one day of shooting to go back to their regular nine to fives. So, the director had to find a quick solution.

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To get the extras they needed, the production team went to a halfway house. Many of the inmates in the movie were real ex-cons. So it’s safe to say that they were ready for their roles.

A Real Portrayal

Clancy Brown, the actor who plays Captain Hadley, was approached by real correctional officers to help him make his portrayal as realistic as possible. Brown didn’t want to distort the image of real correctional officers, so he turned them all down.

 

Brown knew that to portray Captain Hadley, he had to go all-in on the evil aspects of the character. He did such a great job that Captain Hadley is still one of the most hated movie characters of all time.

Fake Sewage

During the climax of the movie, Andy escapes prison after digging a hole in his cell wall and crawling through the sewers. As you can imagine, he gets elbow deep in his fellow inmates’ waste, among other things. Don’t worry, the excrement wasn’t real. The director didn’t make Tim Robbins crawl through actual human waste.

 

The sludge was much tastier than you think, because the fake waste was a mixture of Chocolate syrup, sawdust, and water. According to the people who still visit the old sets in Ohio, the pipes still smell like chocolate to this day.

The Entire Set Almost Burned Down to the Ground

The set of Shawshank prison’s cell block was built from scratch using plastic sheets over windows and lamps to simulate daylight. This setup was so hazardous that if you put a lamp too close to the plastic sheets, they might catch fire. And you guessed it, that’s exactly what happened.

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Luckily, the director and an extra were on their way to get coffee and extinguished the fire before it became too big. Thanks to a chronic coffee addiction, the set and the movie were saved that day.

Shawshank Souvenirs

‘The Shawshank Redemption’ has brought tourism to Ohio through the years. The local economy benefits a lot from Shawshank tourism. So much so that many local businesses sell Shawshank-related products.

 

If you get to Ohio’s “Shawshank Trail,” you can find products like Reformatory “Red” Wines and Shawshank Bundt Cakes. For you die-hard fans out there, grab a slice of “Redemption Pie” at Two Cousins’ Pizza. Remember not to picture Andy crawling through prison waste when you eat it.

Charlie Sheen Wanted a Part in the Movie

Back in the day, young Charlie Sheen tried everything he could to get a part in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. He even offered to be paid as little as possible, saying, “I’ll do this movie for [expletive] scale,” which means the minimum wage for actors of his caliber (at the time). Sheen also offered to do a 30-minute test reel to play Red.

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Perhaps he didn’t think it through. Sheen could’ve played Red in “Two and a Half Men” days, but he was way too young in 1994. Anyway, the studio ended up choosing Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins instead. Hallelujah!

Missing an Academy Award

Although the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, Terence Marsh was never nominated for Production Design. Strangely, he was snubbed even though he had already won two Oscars for Art Direction in the 1960s.

 

According to director Frank Darabont, the prison set that Marsh had built was so realistic that everyone thought it was a real prison and not a sound stage. Sorry, Terence. Some people are too talented for their own good, and you’re one of them.

The Trailways Coach is Still Running

Near the end, Red boards a Trailways coach after being released from prison. The bus that we see in the movie was an actual antique, found and restored by the late owner of the Blue Ridge Trailways, John Holbein, in 1990. The real bus is a GM PD-4104 that was built in 1960 and later delivered to the Carolina Scenic Trailways.

 

The bus’s current owner is Capital Trailways, based in Montgomery, Alabama. A few lucky people have been able to ride the bus, but you can see the road the bus drove down in Ohio.

A Name Coincidence

Great movies are full of weird coincidences. The film’s cinematographer and academy award magnet, Roger Deakins, shares a similar name with Dekins, the first prison guard who asks Andy Dufresne for financial advice.

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We know what you’re thinking. The director did it on purpose as a nod to Deakins (with an “a”). Well, not really. Dekins (without an “a”) was already in the Stephen King novel that the movie is based on. A crazy coincidence, or is it?

Andy Forgot One Small Detail

At Andy’s trial at the beginning of the film, he tells the D.A. that he threw his pistol in the river. That is the dumbest move the character could have made, but then again, we wouldn’t have had such a fantastic story otherwise.

 

A ballistics test on Andy’s gun would have proved his innocence. His alleged victims were killed with another guy’s gun, Elmo Batch’s, to be precise.

A Different Ending

Frank Darabont didn’t want to show Andy and Red’s reunion at the end of the film. Apparently, he wanted the final scene to show Red getting on the bus ride and going off into the sunset, and presumably, in the direction of the field Andy talked about during the whole movie.

 

The execs at Castle Rock had a different point of view, that of pleasing audiences with a happy ending. The ending we got was a compromise. We see the two reunite on a beach, but from a distance.

Changing the Filming Location

As mentioned previously, the movie ends with Andy and Red reuniting on a beach in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, in 1966. At that time, Zihuatanejo was just a small fishing village, but 28 years later, when the movie was being shot, it had become a vibrant tourist destination and not a deserted paradise as we see in the film.

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The beach that we see at the end of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is actually in the Virgin Islands.

The Famous Rock Wall

The rock wall where Andy leaves directions and money for Red was made by hand. The art department built it several months before filming and left it exposed to the elements to make it look real. It needed to look weather-beaten before shooting.

 

The wall stood for several years until it was sold, you guessed it, on eBay, by the farmer who owned the land. The tree is still there, although it was struck by lightning in 2011. Die-hard fans can still see parts of the wall on the grounds of the Ohio State Reformatory.

Shawshank and ‘The Count Of Monte Cristo’

‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is very similar to ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’. Alexandre Dumas’ novel is even mentioned in the film. The story’s protagonist is put in jail for a crime he didn’t commit (check). He later escapes through a tunnel that took him years to complete.

 

After his escape, he finds buried treasure that he heard about in jail and uses it to get revenge. The “Count” is essentially Andy and Red rolled into one, plus a thirst for vengeance.

There are Many Wardens in the Novel

One way the film differs from Stephen King’s novella is that the book features multiple wardens during Andy’s time in prison. That’s why Warden Norton, in the movie, seems to have multiple personalities because, in a way, he does.

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One day, Norton is kind to Andy, allows him to send letters, and lets him work in the library. On another, he is an entirely different person who treats Andy disgustingly. The wardens in the books (the good and the bad ones) were rolled into one (seemingly) schizophrenic character: Warden Norton.

Introducing the Miranda Rights

The story ends in 1966, which is the same year that the landmark Miranda v. Arizona case appeared before the Supreme Court. From that year on, every defendant had the right to be informed of their rights during their arrest. If you ever wondered why they talk about someone called Miranda during almost every arrest in movie and TV history, now you know.

 

To make the film historically accurate, Captain Hadley is read his Miranda rights when he gets arrested at the end. Happy endings, am I right?

The Symbolism Behind Red’s Name

In a movie packed with symbolism, the one staring everyone in the face is Red’s full name, Ellis Redding. Ellis comes from the Welsh derivative of the word “elus”, which means benevolent, and Redding is a Germanic name meaning “counsel” or “advice”.

 

Put together, Red’s name means “benevolent counselor.” It perfectly fits the role that Morgan Freeman’s character plays in the movie. Later in his career, the role of “benevolent counselor” seems to follow him, like in the ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy and ‘Bruce Almighty’ (where he literally plays God).

The Meaning Behind Andy and the Warden

Red isn’t the only character full of symbolism. Andy Dufresne is seen as a savior, and the name Andy can be translated to brave and courageous. Plus, his initials are A.D. or “anno Domini.” You know, “Year of our Lord.”

 

Warden Norton, on the other hand, symbolizes Lucifer, meaning “bringer of light.” The connection between the warden and the devil is further drawn into focus when he quotes his favorite Bible verse, “I am the light of the world…” Plus, he’s not a very nice guy.

A Limited Release

When ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ was first released on September 23, 1994, only 33 theaters could show it. Then, on October 14, it was released to another 910 theaters. It came out on the same day as ‘Pulp Fiction’, which didn’t help the movie’s box office numbers.

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Both films were nominated for seven Academy Awards that year. Both got their own cult followings. The two films are also listed in the Top 10 of IMDB’s top 250 movies. 1994 was a great year for cinema, as you can see.

The Crew Was Threatened With Fines

Fines are usually something you worry about when you park your car, but not when you’re making a movie. Nevertheless, the shooting schedule in Mansfield was so tight that the crew was told that they would be fined if they came late or held up production.

 

Even though the movie featured successful actors, the production team felt that it would be a good incentive to show up on time. Robbins and Freeman were late once, but they never got any fines. In fact, the filming in Mansfield was wrapped up ahead of schedule.

There Was Tension on the Set

Much like being in prison, life on set wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Constant disagreements between actors, producers, and the director caused “extreme tension,” according to Morgan Freeman. During an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Freeman said that the atmosphere was “very strange.” Whatever that means.

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Even though all the actors had great chemistry on screen, it doesn’t mean they’re best friends in real life. Plus, “extreme tension” is probably what you should be going for when you’re making a film about life in prison.

A Different Film Debut

‘The Shawshank Redemption’ was Frank Darabont’s silver screen directorial debut. He was supposed to make his debut with a Child’s Play-type horror film, but Darabont wasn’t very enthusiastic about the idea, being afraid it would hinder his career.

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He decided to risk it all and adapt Stephen King’s novel. Luckily for him, once the script began circulating, major actors and other filmmakers wanted to work on it.

Morgan Freeman’s Favorite

With a decorated acting career such as Morgan Freeman’s, it’s hard to pick favorites. However, Freeman himself says that this is the favorite movie he’s ever done.

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Freeman has been nominated for five Academy Awards and five Golden Globes, winning one of each. Oddly enough, however, neither of these two awards were received for his work on ‘The Shawshank Redemption’! Still, the film holds a special place in his heart.

Stephen King’s Favorite

Many of Stephen King’s books have been adapted into films (some more troubling than others). Cinema technology and special effects have been greatly developing, making films like ‘It’ eerily realistic, but King doesn’t need all that stuff.

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Apparently, when it comes to film adaptations of his own work, Stephen King rates ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ as one of his favorites.

Drawing Inspiration

One of Frank Darabont’s biggest inspirations at the time of shooting the movie was the film ‘Goodfellas’. He used to watch it once a week (every Sunday) and ended up using elements from it.

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Two of the elements he used are his way of showing the passage of time and his use of voice-over narration.

Brooks’ Crime

The film never blatantly states the crime Brooks is being accused of, though it’s a severe one.

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His alleged crime was the murder of his wife and daughter. His alleged reason for doing that was an extreme fit of anger after a continuous run of poker losses.

No Oscars for You

The film was nominated for an overall of 42 awards — pretty impressive when you learn how badly it flopped when it first came out. Still, the most coveted nominations never materialized into winnings.

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We’re talking about Golden Globes and Academy Awards. The film was nominated for seven Oscars and two Golden Globes but was never given any of those gilded figurines.

Online Popularity

Back in the mid-90s, when the film was first released, the internet wasn’t exactly something you had in every house, let alone in your back pocket. That didn’t stop it from getting incredible online popularity.

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‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is the first movie title to surpass 2 million votes on IMDB, the world’s biggest database for film and TV!

Becoming Andy

Tim Robbins knew he had to work hard in order to walk a mile in a prisoner’s shoes. To prepare for this role and get into Andy’s mindset, Robbins went into solitary confinement.

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Sure, he went into confinement willingly and had no warden to boss him around, but we still salute him for the commitment.

King’s Inspiration

Stephen King is known for his troubling body of work. He deals with topics that are often unpleasant, to say the least. Looking at some of his best-known works like ‘Cujo’, ‘It’, and ‘The Shining’ will have you wondering where he gets all the troubling ideas.

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Well, as far as ‘Shawshank’ is concerned, King put it together based on his recollection of old prison films he watched as a kid. We can’t vouch for the source of inspiration to all of his works, though…

A Surprising Fan

Actress Raquel Welch may not be playing in this film, but she still makes an important appearance. Her image on the poster of ‘One Million Years B.C.’ was adored by all the inmates in the cinematic prison.

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While she no longer wears the prehistoric bikini seen in the poster, Welch is a big fan of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’.

The Canzonetta Sull’aria

In the scene that shows Andy turning up the volume on a classical music piece, the melody in the background is ‘Canzonetta Sull’aria’. For those of you who don’t know, it is a Mozart piece taken from ‘The Marriage of Figaro’.

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Originally, the music was supposed to just be playing in the background, bit Robbins had another idea. He is the one who thought about Andy turning up the volume and drawing more attention.

Remembering Allen Greene

Those of you who actually stay until the end of a film’s credits will notice that ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is dedicated to Allen Green. Who is he? We’re glad you asked.

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Greene was Darabont’s agent, and the two were also close friends. Sadly, Greene passed away from AIDS complications shortly before the film was completed. The dedication was Darabont’s gesture in Greene’s memory.

A Life-Changing Audition

Fat Ass, the ‘Shawshank’ inmate who gets beaten to death, is played by Frank Medrano. One of the people who originally came to audition for that part is actor Jon Favreau, who didn’t get the part.

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In an interview he gave to Empire Magazine, he said that the audition was the worst he’s ever had. Apparently, he doesn’t resent the experience, as it encouraged him to live a healthier life and lose weight.

The Bromance

Modern-day movies are bound to have a romantic relationship or two written into their script. ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, however, isn’t big on romance.

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Still, that doesn’t mean there is no love story there. One of the greatest things about the film, as Tim Robbins once said, is that it has a non-sexual love story happening between two men. True bromance in all its glory.

TNT Didn’t Pay Much for the Film

Since ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ had such a low box office opening, TNT was able to buy the television rights to it for a ridiculously low rate.

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After the film gained popularity, the network could charge high advertising rates when airing the film at a low cost. This means that the network airs the film often while making lots of money in the process.

Red Didn’t Smoke

Cigarettes are common currency in prisons just as they were in ‘Shawshank’.

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There were several scenes in which we saw Red trafficking in cigarettes or even just having them in his possession. Surprisingly, however, he is never really seen smoking a cigarette.

Picture Picking

Other than the memorable posters, Andy’s cell had a few other pictures on its walls. You would expect that they would be put up there by an art director or a set designer but you’d be wrong.

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All those small pictures were actually picked by Tim Robbins himself. Decorating the cell must have helped him better tap into Andy’s character.

Brad Pitt Almost Played Tommy Williams

Hollywood hotshot Brad Pitt was initially supposed to play the part of Tommy Williams, the inmate with the GED exam.

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Eventually, Pitt had to back down from the role in order to play the lead in ‘Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles’. Tommy’s role ended up going to Gil Bellows, and the rest is history.