As of this writing, The Shawshank Redemption is sitting atop the IMDB rankings of the most popular movies of all-time. The film is truly beloved today. However, that wasn’t always the case. While the film was critically praised upon its release, it was a commercial failure. Nobody saw it in the theaters, and most fans found it on home video or cable later. Morgan Freeman thinks that a large part of the reason the movie did so badly at first is because the title is awful.
Appearing on Late Night With Seth Meyers, Morgan Freeman says he knew that Shawshank Redemption was a great film as soon as he read the script, and that he was willing to play any role just to be in it, but if there was one thing he could have changed about it, it was the title page.
The original title [of Stephen King's short story] was … 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.' Now, don’t choose 'Shawshank Redemption' when you’ve got Rita Hayworth! But they said when I complained — and I did — that it won’t fit on the marquee. So what? Just put 'Rita Hayworth…' You’ve got the one-sheet there, it’ll say the rest of it! But they chose not to, and so it took a while to catch on.
While the original title of Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption doesn’t do any better job telling you anything about what the movie actually is, Morgan Freeman has a point that at least that version has the name of a famous movie actress included, which is something people will recognize. Shawshank, the name of the prison where the film takes place, is a meaningless word by itself. Morgan Freeman jokes in the interview that many people would mispronounce the word, even while telling him how much they loved the movie.
Hearing that the reason the title was shortened was so that it could fit on theater marquees is almost quaint. Today, few theaters still have marquees that you can see without standing in front of the ticket window, and the amount of space given to each title is such that even titles much shorter than Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption end up getting cut off. Morgan Freeman makes a good point, that by doing the title his way, the part that you see has Rita Hayworth’s name, which is something, although it’s possible the studio was afraid people would think the theater was showing old movies.
While we’ll never know if the title change would have meant earlier financial success for The Shawshank Redemption we do know that the title they chose didn’t help. In the long run, however, fans find great movies and they eventually did find Shawshank Redemption, making it one of the most popular films ever made.
Throughout his career, Morgan Freeman has been in a ton of incredible movies like Shawshank. In fact, his mere presence is enough to get most people excited about a movie, but did you know he was actually in one of the biggest flops of 2015? In fact, the movie made so little that almost no one even knows the film exists. Click over to the next page for the full story.