This movie seems to be in just about every top 5 movie list out there. For me personally I would have to rate it in the top 2 or 3 movies I’ve ever watched. But why is it that so many people love this movie? Why is it that this movie holds the #1 movie of all time spot on IMDB.com? I mean… that is saying something. To be the best movie ever? People have been making movies for over 80 years. A full 58% of the over 1 million people who rated this movie on IMDB.com rated it a full 10 out of 10 stars. That gives it just over 600,000 ratings of 10 stars. The movie in second place (The Godfather) only has 758,000 ratings total.
This is definitely one of the times the Oscars actually got it right. This movie won 7 Oscars in 1995 including Best Picture. I imagine that many movies that win Best Picture end up on the IMDB Top 250… but saying that Shawshank is the #1 movie of all time is like taking all 85 movies that have won the Oscar for Best Picture and then saying… Shawshank Redemption, you are the best of the best, here’s the Oscar for not just the best movie of 1994, but the best movie EVER!
But why is this movie so popular? Is it the overall theme of redemption? Is it the character development? The acting? The story of a hope realized? I believe at least part of the reason this film is so popular is because of the search for freedom and finding it. This story is about a group of men imprisoned (most of them for life) but with a longing desire to be free. Doesn’t sound so appealing really… until you start to realize that most of these men have been in the system so long they are now “institutionalized” to the point that they fear their own freedom. One old timer in the movie actually tries to kill somebody when he finds out they are going to let him out of jail. He’d been there so long he didn’t want to leave.
Why do people resonate with that story? Is it because we are all trapped? We are all institutionalized? We’ve been a part of this world for so long, the thought of having freedom from the trappings of this world scare us so much we cling to our existence when we find out there is a way out. A way to have eternal life? How many people have heard the good news of Jesus Christ yet refuse to accept it? Finding Jesus is finding freedom. Andy Dufresne does not find Jesus in this movie but he does find freedom from imprisonment, from being institutionalized. And he teaches Red how to be free as well. Red doesn’t gain his freedom until he actually tells the truth to the parol board. As in life, you cannot find freedom until you confess your sins to Jesus.
Another common theme in the movie is hope. Throughout the movie, Andy, gives hope to his fellow inmates that they didn’t have before… and this continues to the very end of the movie. Jesus represents the hope of the human race. One of the tag lines for this movie was, “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.” 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” And Romans 5:3-5a says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us.”
I believe the reason this movie is so popular is, without even knowing it, a group of unbelievers created a film that touched the deepest part of the human soul much in the same way the story of Jesus’ resurrection has touched so many throughout the centuries. So this movie resonates with Christians and non-christians alike because of the message of hope and salvation. Many who love this movie likely do not even realize that the freedom they are looking for, the hope they need in their lives, the one truth they can put their hope in, is the God of the universe and His son Jesus Christ.