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The untold truth of The Shawshank Redemption

Following a modestly successful release in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption has gone on to become one of the most beloved and acclaimed movies ever made. It often sits at number one atop IMDb's list of the top 250 movies of all time (as voted on by users), outranking even The Godfather, Schindler's List, and The Dark Knight. With performances for the ages from Tim Robbins as quiet, new inmate Andy Dufresne and Morgan Freeman as wizened lifer Red, it's a simply told, deeply affecting drama set in the imposing Shawshank prison. But at its core, this is a film about the impossibility of caging the human spirit. It's a movie about hope. So get busy livin', or get busy readin' these little known facts about The Shawshank Redemption.

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It's based on a Stephen King novella

Dozens of books and stories by Stephen King have been turned into movies and TV miniseries, but The Shawshank Redemption is one of the very few that isn't in the horror genre. It's based on Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, one of the four novellas that comprise the 1982 collection Different Seasons. The collection also includes the thriller Apt Pupil, which became a film in 1998, and the coming-of-age drama The Body, which Rob Reiner turned into Stand by Me. In fact, the only section of Different Seasons that hasn't been adapted for the screen is The Breathing Method, a non-horror story that involves a woman giving birth…while decapitated.

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Frank Darabont has a great relationship with Stephen King

While many filmmakers have put Stephen King's stories onto celluloid, the author hasn't always been a fan of these adaptations. For example, he disliked Stanley Kubrick's 1980 version of The Shining, finding Kubrick's characterization of Wendy (Shelley Duvall) to be misogynistic. Nevertheless, he encourages new filmmakers to adapt his work by offering young directors the rights to his short stories for just one dollar.

In the early 80s, Frank Darabont paid his buck to adapt "The Woman in the Room." He then gained some screenwriter cred by writing films like A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and 1988's The Blob. Bolstered by his success in the business, Darabont approached King again, only this time asking about Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Evidently, King enjoyed Darabont's take on "The Woman in the Room" so much that he sold the Shawshank rights for a mere $1,000. However, King never even cashed the check. Instead, he had it framed and gave it back to Darabont as a gift.

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Rob Reiner almost directed the film

After writing the script for The Shawshank Redemption, Darabont sent the screenplay to Castle Rock Entertainment, the production company run by Rob Reiner (Stand by Me, Misery). Castle Rock producer Liz Glotzer, a self-described fan of prison movies, loved Darabont's adaptation, calling it "the best script she'd ever read." In fact, she threatened to leave the company if Castle Rock didn't move on it. However, Rob Reiner wanted to direct the film, and he offered Darabont $3 million to sell the screenplay. After all, Darabont had only helmed one actual move at this point, a made-for-TV endeavor called Buried Alive. Castle Rock also promised to finance any film of Darabont's choice. However, the young director wouldn't change his mind, taking a lesser sum and the directorial duties that went along with it. And as Shawshank became one of the greatest movies ever made, it seems like the man made the right choice.

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Tom Cruise almost played Andy

Though he wouldn't be directing the movie, Rob Reiner did have a hand in the casting, offering the role of Andy to none other than Tom Cruise. The two had worked together in 1992's Oscar-nominated A Few Good Men, with Cruise playing the lead and Reiner calling the shots behind the camera. While the superstar was definitely intrigued by the project, he didn't want to work with such an inexperienced director like Darabont, saying he'd only take the part if Reiner was running the show. After Cruise passed, the role was offered to the likes of Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, and Nicolas Cage, all of whom said no. Eventually, the part made its way to Tim Robbins, and now, it's pretty much impossible to see anyone else in the movie.

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The role of Red was written for a white actor

In Stephen King's original novella, the character of Red was an Irish-American guy with, appropriately enough, reddish-gray hair. So when thinking about who to cast in the part, Darabont considered two of his favorite older, white actors: Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall. However, neither actor could accept the part, and that's when Castle Rock producer Liz Glotzer suggested going with Morgan Freeman. Darabont loved the idea, and Freeman signed on, eventually earning an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. And sure, his hair wasn't red, but Darabont got around that by writing a joke to explain the nickname. When Andy asks why people call him Red, Freeman's character responds, "Maybe it's because I'm Irish."

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The story behind the name change

When it comes to long titles, The Shawshank Redemption is a bit of a mouthful. Of course, the name could've been a whole lot longer, as King's novella was called Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. But why did the first three words get cut out of the title? Well, Darabont didn't change it for linguistic reasons. Instead, he altered the name because he didn't want to mislead casting agents—or actresses—into thinking it was a biopic on '40s movie star Rita Hayworth. (Hayworth's main "role" in the film is as a poster covering up Andy's secret tunnel out of prison.) Early on in the production process, Darabont says he received a bunch of resumes and headshots from actresses interesting in playing the "title role," as well as an agent who represented a supermodel trying to get into acting. "That told us how carefully that agent had read the script," Darabont later said, "and how much hot air floats around Hollywood from time to time."

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It was a big hit on video

These days, pretty much everyone loves The Shawshank Redemption, but it wasn't a huge box office success when it first came out. The movie earned just $18 million in late 1994, and then another $10 million when it was re-released into movie theaters in early 1995 after landing seven Academy Award nominations. Fortunately for film fans everywhere, the movie finally became a hit on home video. Upon its initial release on VHS, Warner Bros. manufactured and shipped 320,000 copies of The Shawshank Redemption to video stores. That kind of volume, usually reserved for big blockbusters, was a gambit by Warner Bros. to get the movie in front of as many video store shoppers as possible…and it worked. Despite competition like The Lion King and Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption became the most rented video of 1995, eventually grossing about $80 million in rentals.

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The reason why it's on TV so much

One of the reasons The Shawshank Redemption is such a classic is because plays on TV a lot. Like a whole lot. So why is Shawshank so popular on the small screen? Well, a year before Castle Rock Entertainment produced The Shawshank Redemption, cable TV tycoon Ted Turner bought the company as part of an effort to provide his channels with programming. When the TV rights for Shawshank became available, Turner took the movie and made it part of TNT's "New Classics" campaign, which is probably why it seems like The Shawshank Redemption is on TNT all the time. In fact, if you look at the numbers, you'll discover that in 2013, Shawshank aired on cable for a jaw-dropping total of 151 hours. So if you turn on your TV right now, there's a good chance you'll see Tim Robbins standing in the rain.

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Nelson Mandela was a big fan

Since starring in The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman have both gone on to win Oscars, for Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, respectively. And both actors have starred in huge hit movies—Robbins in War of the Worlds and Freeman in The Dark Knight trilogy, to name just a few for each. And yet, whenever these actors talk to fans, it seems people only want to chat about Shawshank.

Speaking to Vanity Fair, Freeman explained, "About everywhere you go, people say 'The Shawshank Redemption—greatest movie I ever saw." Robbins has had quite a few similar experiences, saying, "All over the world, wherever I go, there are people who say, 'That movie changed my life.'" The actor also once said that when he met Nelson Mandelapresident of South Africa, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and real-life prisonerthe great man "talked about loving Shawshank."

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The story behind the film's dedication

At the end of The Shawshank Redemptionafter Andy and Red reunite, and we're all wiping away tearsthere's still one last moving moment. It's a dedication that reads, "In memory of Allen Greene." So who is this guy exactly? Well, on the director commentary track on the Shawshank DVD, director Frank Darabont explaines that Greene was his first-ever agent.

As Darabont explained, in the '80s, he was "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." But when Darabont met Greene, he discovered a friend and an ally. Sadly, Greene died of complications from AIDS right before Shawshank started filming, and that's why the director decided to pay his friend tribute. "I wanted to acknowledge not just his significance to my career," Darabont said, "but also that he was an incredibly decent, much-loved, and much-missed person in the lives of those who knew him."