‘Shawshank’ stars reunite for 20th anniversary

Story highlights

"Shawshank" stars Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins reunited Tuesday

It's been 20 years since the two actors starred in the beloved movie

"Shawshank" had a rough start but is now considered a standout

CNN  — 

Believe it or not, it’s been 20 years since Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins had that epic reunion in “The Shawshank Redemption.”

On Tuesday, the two actors came together once again to celebrate the movie’s 20th anniversary with writer/director Frank Darabont, who adapted “Shawshank” from a Stephen King short story.

The movie’s tale of two prisoners trying to survive and hold on to hope while serving life sentences in a ’40s-era prison is now considered a cinematic classic, but “Shawshank” actually had a rougher start when it was released in September 1994.

The movie didn’t perform well at the box office and barely made back its production budget of $25 million. It had critical acclaim but not the trophies to prove it, as the Academy Awards left “Shawshank” out in the cold. The period drama was nominated for seven Oscars and went home without winning a single one.

Cut to two decades later, and “Shawshank” is now known as the movie that everyone can love.

“I really cling to the letters from people for whom the movie really meant something,” Darabont told the audience at Tuesday’s reunion, which was hosted by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. “It stopped somebody from committing suicide, or at least they credit it for it having saved their lives that day. Whatever someone needed to hear that day to reinforce them as a human being, the movie gave it to them. It’s only then you realize you’ve made something more than just a two-hour movie.”

Both Robbins and Freeman said they knew they were on board as soon as they read Darabont’s script.

At the time, Freeman hadn’t even been told which part to read for, but “after I read the script, I called my agent, and I said, ‘Whatever.’ It didn’t really matter to me which part,” Freeman recalled, according to IndieWire. “But then my agent told me they wanted me to play Red, and what I did know after finding that out was that I was going to own it.”

“Frank wrote a beautiful, truly extraordinary script,” Robbins added. “I suggest anyone who is trying to write screenplays to read that script. It’s so beautifully constructed.”

Darabont also gave plenty of credit to King for dreaming up a story with universal impact, and the writer/director revealed that he initially was going to end the movie in the same way King ended his version.

“The movie ended in my original script with Red on the bus going off to this uncertain and hopeful future, which is how the novella ends,” Darabont said. “But the folks at (production company) Castle Rock thought after putting the audience through two-plus hours of hell, we might owe them a union at the end.”

That ending is just one of the reasons “Shawshank” is still beloved all these years later. “About everywhere you go, people say, ‘The Shawshank Redemption – greatest movie I ever saw,’ ” Freeman told Vanity Fair this year.

Robbins agreed, swearing that wherever he goes, “all over the world, there are people who say, ‘That movie changed my life.’ … When I met (Nelson Mandela), he talked about loving ‘Shawshank.’ ”