Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my general thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. This week’s film is #72 on the list: The Shawshank Redemption (1994).
The Shawshank Redemption’s is the quintessential crowd pleaser on the list. It earned positive reviews at the time, and got a handful of Academy Award nominations (though it won none), but I’d argue that its reputation as one of the greatest films of all time is largely owed to its massive popularity on IMDb, where it fought with The Godfather for the #1 slot. That it didn’t make the original 1998 AFI list speaks to my theory. Regardless, it’s foolish to entirely dismiss it as merely a Dorm Room Classic, because there’s immense skill behind that universal appeal. Darabont’s even-handed direction, Deakins’s evocative cinematography, and most of all, Freeman’s warm performance make it entertaining and surprisingly comforting, especially for a prison film, let alone a Stephen King adaptation. It may play to the crowd, sanding down any hard edges to make it easily digestible, but there’s something admirable about Darabont’s measured sensibilities. The legacy may not be warranted, but the film’s resonance with audiences can’t be denied.
Does It Belong on the List?
Don’t mistake my light praise as adoration, there’s no way in hell this belongs on the list.