Many Don’t Remember It, But ‘Life Imprisonment’ Was a Huge Box Office Failure

Not all movies today defined as movie classics were box office hits. Many of them end up being rediscovered and revalued over time, finding a second life beyond theaters, and sometimes, immortality in the history of cinema. This is the case of the adaptation of Stephen King, Life imprisonment, one of the most applauded films of the 90s. Currently, the Frank Darabont film enjoys an unshakable cult, but although it seems incredible, in its premiere it did not manage to gather the audience and was officially branded as commercial failure. Of course, as we will see below, time put it in its place, proving that a box office fiasco does not necessarily mean the end of the road for a movie. ‘Cadena perpetua’ (© 1994 Castle Rock Entertainment) MásCadena perpetua (Dreams of Freedom in Latin America) was released in October 1994 in the United States, and a little later, in February 1995, in Spain. Directed and written by Frank Darabont (The Green Mile, The Mist) from Stephen King’s short story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (1982), the film tells the story of Andrew Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a banker wrongly sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife and his lover, and the strong friendship he develops over the years behind bars with Red (Morgan Freeman), one of the longest-serving and most powerful inmates of the penitentiary. He successfully transformed King’s story into a 140-minute feature film (today it would undoubtedly be adapted as a television miniseries). As a curiosity, the relationship between the director and the author dated back ten years. King launched the Dollar Baby initiative, which gave the option to sell the rights to his work to beginning students and principals for just a dollar. This is how Darabont bought the story with which he directed his first short film in 1984, The Woman in the Room. Thanks to this collaboration, Darabont and King became friends. Years later, the author sold him the life sentence rights for only a thousand dollars, as a gesture to demonstrate his friendship. King never cashed that check, and years after the release it was mailed to Darabont with a note saying “In case you ever need money for bail. With love, Steve ”(IMDb). For his first feature film as a director, Darabont surrounded himself with an unbeatable team that included composer Thomas Newman and acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins, although he wrote the script himself. The original title, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, was shortened in theaters removing the name of the mythical actress so as not to give the impression that it was a biopic of the protagonist of Gilda. Darabont’s work was rewarded in the form of prestige: The film received very positive reviews and was nominated for 7 Oscars, although it did not win any. Life imprisonment is an indisputable classic from the 90s, a drama overflowing with humanity about friendship, injustice, abuse of power and redemption. History tells us about the imperfection and corruption of the American prison system in the 1940s and 1950s, about how prisoners serving long terms, many wrongly accused, are not prepared to re-enter society and have forgotten how to live being free. Despite his marked sentimentality, that humanity that runs through the entire footage makes the film one of the most iconic and appreciated prison dramas of all time. And also one of the most celebrated Stephen King adaptations. Currently, the prolific Maine author is going through a new heyday thanks to multiple adaptations for film and television (11.22.63, It, Castle Rock, Animal Cemetery, Doctor Dream, The Visitor), but his work is not always It has successfully translated to the screen, resulting in numerous commercial and artistic failures. Read moreIn this sense, Life imprisonment is unanimously considered as one of the best screen adaptations of a Stephen King play, and curiously, it is one of the few that does not include any fantastic or horror elements. The writer himself has cited the film on many occasions as one of his favorite adaptations. In fact, a few years after its premiere, he published another story set in a prison (this time with fantastic elements and magical realism), The Green Mile, whose film adaptation was also directed by Darabont. For his part, Morgan Freeman also believes that Life imprisonment is one of the best films of his own filmography (IMDb). And the public agrees. It has been many years in the position number 1 of the best films in history according to the users of the IMDb website, with an impressive 9.3 mark and more than two million votes. Filmaffinity is also one of the highest rated titles, with 8.6 and over 260,000 votes currently. And as we said before, the criticism in this case coincides with the public, with 90% of positive reviews on RottenTomatoes and 80% on Metacritic. But surprisingly, what is now an undoubted classic and a masterpiece for many, at its premiere was an economic failure. Life imprisonment had a budget of 22 million euros and collected only 16 in its initial tour in American cinemas. The 7 nominations for the Oscar that he received later gave him a boost that added an additional 9 million, but even so, his total collection in the United States remained at a mere 25 million euros (figures not counting inflation; BoxOfficeMojo), an insufficient amount that barely It covered the costs of the production and led to her receiving the official label of commercial failure. There has been much speculation about how the film would have worked if it had had other protagonists. In fact, there were many names that were considered to play Andy and Red before the roles fell to Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, most of them big Hollywood stars. Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Nicolas Cage, Charlie Sheen, Johnny Depp, Jeff Bridges and Matthew Broderick were some of the possible candidates to play Andrew, while Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, was proposed for the role of Red. Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Finally, Darabont chose Freeman for his authoritative presence and deep voice, ignoring King’s version, which in the account described him as an Irish red-haired with gray hair (IMDb). It is also believed that the title may have been a factor important in the lack of public interest. But Darabont has his own theory as to why the film initially failed. This was explained by the director in an interview with Yahoo Movies in 2016: “With life imprisonment, I think the problem was that it was a prison movie. I had two prominent actors, but I think people saw the trailer and thought, ‘This is going to depress me.’ Honestly, I think that was a far more important factor than the title. If it had been an behind-the-scenes action movie, the audience would have automatically gone to see it. But as Tom Robbins and Morgan Freeman came out, it looked like a tablespoon of medicine. So people did not go. ” ‘Life imprisonment’ (© 1994 Castle Rock Entertainment) MoreWe will never know if with another title or with Tom Hanks as the protagonist (who incidentally, rejected the role to do Forrest Gump, so we do not believe that he regrets), Life imprisonment would have been a blockbuster. But the truth is that it doesn’t matter anymore. 26 years have passed since its premiere and its legacy lives on, the film became a phenomenon at its own pace, thanks to the video market and television, proving that an initial failure is not a sentence for life. With memorable phrases like “I had to go to prison to become a criminal” or “Be determined to die or be determined to live”, unforgettable scenes such as the death of Brooks or the flight of Andy, large doses of emotion and a timeless story with a A message of universal goodness, Life imprisonment emerged as a great American film classic, thus finding its place in the pantheon of the most beloved movies of all time. Therefore, his disaster at the box office is nothing more than an anecdote.More stories that may interest you: