A meek banker named Andy Dufresne is wrongfully convicted of murdering both his wife and her lover in 1947. He is sent to Shawshank State Prison for a life sentence. While there, he finds a friend in Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding. While at Shawshank, he is beaten and raped repeatedly by a gang while working in the prison laundry, and the corrupt warden and his lieutenant are abusive to Andy to the extent of commiting crimes on the way. Andy gets a poster of Raquel Welch and adores it, which nobody else understands. He tells Red that he is planning an escape, but only Red believes he can pull it off.
Andy has hope that he will escape from the dreadful prison, a hope that will make him look into the very depths of his soul. At the very end, the warden cannot find Andy, and discovers that the poster of Raquel Welch was so important to Andy because it was covering the escape tunnel he was digging in his cell for twenty years with Red's rock hammer. Andy has done what everybody else said he couldn't do, he escaped from Shawshank Prison by crawling through a sewage pipe and washing in a thunderstorm. Using underground methods and money he secretly did hide from the warden he manages to escape from the region and expose the corrupt activities of the warden and his lieutenant. The lieutenant is arrested and the warden commits suicide. Red has been paroled after serving forty years in prison. Through a secret message of Andy he later finds out, where Andy is. He skips the border to Texas to live in Mexico with Andy.
- Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne
- Morgan Freeman as Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding
- Bob Gunton as Warden Samuel Norton
- William Sadler as Heywood
- Clancy Brown as Capt. Byron Hadley
- Gil Bellow as Tommy Williams
- Mark Rolston as Bogs Diamond
- James Whitmore as Brooks Hatlen
Frank Darabont secured the film adaptation rights from author Stephen King after impressing the author with his short film adaptation of The Woman in the Room in 1983. Although the two had become friends and maintained a pen-pal relationship, Darabont did not work with him until four years later in 1987, when he optioned to adapt Shawshank. This is one of the more famous Dollar Deals made by King with aspiring filmmakers. Darabont later directed The Green Mile (1999), which was based on another work about a prison by King, and then followed that up with an adaptation of King's novella The Mist. Rob Reiner, who had previously adapted King's novella The Body into the film Stand By Me (1986), offered $2.5 million in an attempt to write and direct Shawshank Redemption. He planned to cast Tom Cruise in the part of Andy and Harrison Ford as Red. Darabont admired and seriously considered Reiner's vision, but ultimately decided that directing the film himself was his "chance to do something really great"
Ohio State Reformatory, also known as the Mansfield Reformatory, served as the fictional Shawshank prison. Though the film is set in Maine, the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio, served as the fictional Shawshank State Penitentiary. Although a large portion of the prison was torn down after filming, the main administration building and two cell blocks remain and are now a tourist attraction. Several of the interior shots of the specialized prison facilities, such as the admittance rooms and the warden's office, were shot in the reformatory.The interior of the boarding room used by Brooks and Red was located in the administration building, though exterior shots were made elsewhere.
The score was composed by Thomas Newman and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1994, which was his first Oscar nomination. The score consists largely of faint piano music, and tremolo strings during more active or humorous moments in the film. The score's two main themes only appear two to three times. The prison theme, first heard in the beginning, is a four-note ascending line in the bass, which is developed and reaches its climax when Andy is standing in the river in the rain. The second theme represents freedom, and is first heard when the inmates are sharing beer, feeling like 'free men'. This theme does not reoccur until the final credits, and is then grander, with fuller orchestration. Zimmer himself has credited the score as the one "that has influenced everything the most", and stated that Newman expanded the harmonic palette of film scores.
The film is regarded among the greatest films of all time, and one of the best Stephen King Adaptations.
The film is ranked #1 on IMDB's Top 250 list.