Stephen King Earned $5,000 for the Rights to ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ But He Never Cashed His Check

In the early 1970s, Stephen King was an aspiring writer who was unsure if his first book Carrie would sell. The iconic classic went on to become one of the greatest horror stories ever told.

Half a century later, and King is considered to be the best supernatural fiction writer of all time. He has written 62 novels, selling more than 350 million copies worldwide.

In 1984, the 73-year-old author wrote a novella titled “Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption.” King sold the movie rights to the story under his unique “Dollar Baby” program, and in 1994 it became the inspiration for the classic prison film The Shawshank Redemption starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.

Where King got the idea for ‘The Shawshank Redemption’

The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Robbins), a convict falsely imprisoned for the murder of his wife and her lover. He spends his time in jail reflecting on his life, befriending Red (Freeman), a fellow inmate who teaches him how to live behind bars with courage and hope.

Vanity Fair explained King’s 96-page novella was “anything but cinematic, consisting largely of Red ruminating about fellow prisoner Andy.” It was a culmination of the memories he had from watching classic prison movies as a child.

Virtually unknown in the entertainment industry, Frank Darabont obtained the rights from King, passionate about bringing his story to the big screen. Taking only eight weeks to write the screenplay, Darabont had developed one of the best scripts ever written. Rob Reiner, coming off the success of Stand By Me, offered the young director $3 million for the film rights, but Darabont refused, wanting to tell the story on his own terms.

When the Oscars asked King how he felt about the film adaptation, the acclaimed author said, “When I first saw it, I realized he’d made not just one of the best movies ever done from my work, but a potential movie classic. That turned out to be the case.”

The Shawshank Redemption received seven Academy Award nominations, going up against Forrest Gumpfor Best Picture. The film has more Oscar nominations than any other movie based on King’s work.

What King did with the $5,000 check

Stephen King signing copies of his book 'Revival' at Barnes & Noble
Stephen King signs copies of his book “Revival” at Barnes & Noble Union Square on November 11, 2014 in New York City. | John Lamparski/WireImage

Before Shawshank, Darabont developed a short film based on King’s short story “The Woman in the Room.” Several years later, after directing A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and The Blob, Darabont approached King for the rights to the “Rita Hayworth” story. Looper reported that King agreed to give up the film rights, and according to the Wall Street Journal, “Darabont cut a check for $5,000.”

IMDb reports, “Stephen King never cashed his $5,000 check for rights to the film.” They explained, “Several years after the movie came out, King got the check framed and mailed it back to Frank Darabont with a note inscribed, ‘In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.'”

‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is one of the best movies of all time

The film had an initial gross of only $18 million, which was not enough to cover the estimated $28 million production budget. Freeman claimed the movie was a flop in the box office because it had a weird title. The name was difficult to say and didn’t roll off your tongue like the movies of its time, such as Pulp Fiction.

After the Oscar nominations, the film broke even, grossing another $10 million, but according to IMDB, “the film was still deemed to be a box office failure.” When Ted Turner bought the rights and began airing it regularly on cable television, the movie suddenly became a big hit.

Now considered one of the best movies ever made, according to InsiderThe Shawshank Redemption “went on to make around $80 million in sales on the video rental market.” Warner Bros. has not revealed how much money the movie has earned, but executives did tell the Wall Street Journal, “it’s one of the top movies that drive much of their library’s value.”

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