Masterpieces are seldom appreciated properly in their time. It's only in hindsight that we realize that we ever had something special on our hands. Believe it or not, that's exactly what happened with Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption when it hit theaters in 1994. Despite the movie's legacy, it didn't earn much at the box office, and Darabont seems to think that has to do with the film's very premise. He explained:
With Shawshank, I think the issue was more that it was a prison movie, it had two significant actors in it, and I think people looked at that trailer and thought, "Oh, this is going to bum me out." I honestly think that was more the factor, by far, than the title. If it's an action movie behind bars, then an audience will automatically show up for it. If it's Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, then it looks like a spoonful of medicine. So people didn't show up.
During a recent conversation with Yahoo Movies, Frank Darabont opened up regarding the lackluster financial performance of The Shawshank Redemption, and gave his opinion regarding the film's lack of box office power. Although many people have historically blamed the film's title for not generating much enthusiasm among members of the mainstream moviegoing community, Darabont seems to think that the film's core premise didn't inherently appeal to audiences. When audiences see prestigious actors like Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman starring in a movie primarily set within the confines of a grim and gray prison, they expect a downer of a movie, and that prevents them from seeing it. On the other hand, if the movie had been advertised as an upbeat thriller, people would've been far more willing to check it out.
At first it almost sounds like he's insulting the intelligence of the average moviegoer, but he's not entirely off base with his assertion. Despite the fact that the Stephen King adaptation is actually one of the most inspiring and hopeful cinematic tales of all time, it very much masks itself as a somber film. The masses don't turn out in droves for a movie that they think will depress them -- even if that movie will go on to become arguably the greatest movie of all time.
Looking back it almost seems silly. By taking the film's marketing at face value, members of the audience who opted not to see Shawshank back in 1994 missed out on the amazing catharsis of Andy Dufresne's escape.
What are your thoughts on Frank Darabont's statement? Is he right, or is he not giving audiences enough credit? Let us know what you think in the comments section below. If there's anything left to say, it's this: get busy living or get busy dying.