When “The Shawshank Redemption” hit theatres in 1994, it opened to little box office success but much critical acclaim.
Since then, the prison drama has gone one to become the most re-run movie on television (tying with “Scarface”), accounting for 151 hours of basic cable air time last year alone, according to research firm IHS.
After initially bringing in just $18 million at the box office, “Shawshank” gained popularity when it was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1995, but didn’t win one.
After the Oscars, Warner Bros. re-released the film and it grossed an additional $10 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The re-release primed the movie for a video release — which at the time, was still a big business. People discovered it on video, making it the most rented movie of 1995.
After all of the video rentals and TV air time, the film’s actors are still earning a healthy residual income from the movie they shot two decades ago.
Bob Gunton, who played the mean prison warden, told WSJ’s Russell Adams that the film is still generating a very substantial income for him.
Gunton told Adams that he still gets residual payments — “not huge, but steady, close to six figures by the film’s 10th anniversary in 2004.” Since then, he has continued to get “a very substantial income,” which is highly unusual for so many years later.
“I suspect my daughter, years from now, will still be getting checks,” he said.
The film’s bigger name stars, such as Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, likely make far more than Gunton, who says he still gets recognised almost daily from the role.
“It’s an incredible moneymaking asset that continues to resonate with viewers,” Jeff Baker, executive vice president and general manager of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment theatrical catalogue, told WSJ.
The turning point for the film’s run on TV first came in 1997, when Ted Turner’s TNT channel got the cable-broadcast rights to the film and made “Shawshank” an anchor of its “New Classics” campaign.
After grossing $US28 million domestically and another $US30 million overseas around the time of its 1994 release, “Shawshank” went on to make around $80 million in sales on the video rental market, Warner Bros’ Mr. Baker told WSJ.
Warner Bros. wouldn’t say how much money it has earned from the movie, but did reveal it’s one of the top movies that drive much of their library’s value, current and former Warner Bros. executives revealed to WSJ.
But as Russell interestingly points out in his WSJ article, the slow-to-grow “Shawshank” strategy may be worth it after all.
The movie’s profits to date may sound small in a world where some films gross $US100 million in a single weekend. But such figures only begin to show a movie like “Shawshank”‘s long-term importance for a studio’s financial picture. That’s why there are six big studios: Smaller ventures that lack a reservoir of films have trouble surviving flops.
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