Columbia Pictures (1994)

Why Is the Shawshank Redemption Ranked 1st in IMDB’s Top 250 Films of All Time?

5 min readJun 23, 2021


It’s been more than 25 years since the release of the masterpiece known as The Shawshank Redemption, and no film has managed to outrank it on the IMDB’s top ranking for years.

How come, a film that only grossed 28 million dollars, has amassed more votes on the page than any other (2.4Mill)? Even more so than blockbuster hits & films with huge fanbases like Dark Knight, The Godfather, or The Lord of the Rings?

In this article, we will analyze The Shawshank Redemption, to see what was the reason we think has made it stay as the top-ranked movie in IMDB of all time for so long.

Well, we think that part of what makes it transcend better than the rest is because of how it reaches a level of precision and perfection in its plot threads, character arcs, and emotional connection that many movies, even great ones, aspire to have, establishing core thematic elements that most people can connect with, even though most of us haven’t experienced being imprisoned.

Let me first quickly refresh you a little bit on the plot of this film. The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of Andy Dufresne through his years in Shawshank’s Prison while serving a wrongfully called sentencing of a crime that he didn’t commit. One would think that this movie would focus specifically on a thread that addresses his pursuit of proving his innocence to allow himself freedom, but this is not the case. This is the ultimate redemption arc movie since it explains the challenges, growth and possible outcomes that a redemption could have, success & failure alike, while exploring the concept of one’s freedom through the eyes of many different prisoners.

Columbia Pictures (1994)

The film is actually more Shawshank’s Prison’s story than Andy’s. He is just the prisoner it chooses to focus more on throughout the course of the story and the guide that drives the plot forward with his decisions that change the story and the prison, alike. As its name states, The Shawshank Redemption not only tells the redemption story that Andy underwent but the redemption of the prison as a whole by the sole impact that prisoner Andy Dufresne had on the community, including prison guards, staff and his fellow prisoners.

Prison changed Andy as much as he changed Shawshank. In the beginning, we meet Andy as someone cold, doubtful, and full of inner conflict. Andy even went to the length of considering murder as an escape from his inner struggles in the first scene. But then again, the self-confined setting of prison became a turning point that led him on the path of self-exploration and inner redemption.

The main redemption arcs are mainly the ones from Andy, Red, Brooke and the prison as a whole, however, there are many more. Each one has a different setup, purpose, and outcome. These outcomes explore the reality of the concept of freedom, and how being free is not confined to the meaning of being able to have spatial liberties, but one’s ability to live personally free by fighting and overcoming our insecurities, troubles and barriers through our own choices and a solid self-being. The film suggests that freedom is actually a subjective state of being, rather than a physical situation.

Columbia Pictures (1994)

This is best drawn in Brooke’s storyline through his desire to spend the rest of his days in prison and his ultimate decision to take his life after he tastes “freedom” outside of prison. Brooke felt free inside the prison, because after a lifetime of serving his time, it’s the only place that he knows; the only place where he doesn’t feel like a stranger.

Andy exemplified to the prisoners that freedom comes from within through one’s own inner life. This inner life is fueled by our ability to pursue what is meaningful and to enjoy what brings us happiness and stress relief. Andy’s inner life was developed through his ability to clearly define his mission in life through his relationships, hobbies, and abilities as a financial advisor.

For Andy, his own inner life growth made him endure and adapt to the harshness of prison and make a life out of himself while also following his spatial freedom dreams of escaping and living in Zihuatanejo. Helping others make the best out of their situation fueled Andy as much as Andy fueled them to become the best versions of themselves. There’s truly a very defined before & after of life in Shawshank, and it was all because of Andy, and the others’ willingness to redeem themselves.

As is in real life, The Shawshank Redemption shows us that redemption needs to be earned, especially by ourselves, even though other people do help and impact heavily on the way we view our world. But ultimately, its success rests precisely in the hands of each one of us for it to actually be achieved. This desire to change, overcome and adapt rests solely in one’s mind. Without the decision, need and desire to actively change, our real character arc can become one of failure, as was Brooke’s.

Columbia Pictures (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption is a story about slow and steady perseverance which parallels Andy’s efforts to escape and chase his dreams with his acts to reform the prison:

  • It teaches us the meaning of finding and defining our own purpose and self-accept ourselves.
  • It teaches us that emotional strength not only needs outside support but a well-defined inner life, strong mentality and passions.
  • It teaches us that following through with the journey to reach our goals is its own reward.

In a sense, these lessons are what makes The Shawshank Redemption so special for many, and why we not only think, but know are the reasons it has touched the hearts of many and placed it at the very top of the rankings of IMDB with over 2.4 million voters. This film managed to focus its story on a very relatable path of self-acceptance, discovery & ultimately our desire of transcendence while becoming the best version of ourselves

Thank you, Stephen King, for bringing out Shawshank from your imagination, and thank you, Frank Darabont, for bringing it to life on the screen.

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