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The Shawshank Redemption (1994) is one of the most iconic movies of the 1990s.
Movie fans today still love the human drama set in a complex prison ecosystem, as well as the iconic performances by Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins.
It’s a rough prison movie (though not nearly as rough as something like American History X (1998)), but it’s also a heartwarming tale, and I love it!
Another reason why The Shawshank Redemption is still popular is its many iconic movie quotes. This is top-notch screenwriting at play. And the cinematography by Roger Deakins is outstanding as always.
The movie is an adaptation of a work by the same name written by Stephen King, one of the country’s most popular writers, so it makes sense that the writing will stick with people for a long time.
Even more than 30 years after its release, people still quote The Shawshank Redemption to each other.
Whether you’re looking to refresh your knowledge of the movie or just want to relive the best moments, here are some of the most iconic quotes from The Shawshank Redemption.
1. “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, says this quote in one of the best performances of his career. In this scene, Red is arguing with prison newcomer Andy about the value of hope. While Andy sees hope as his ticket out of prison, Red sees hope as dangerous.
Their difference in perspective comes from their different life experiences. Red has been in prison for so long that he knows he has no chance of earning parole, so hope would only cause him more pain by making him yearn for something that he can’t have.
This quote is important because it illustrates one of the central themes in the movie, hope.
2. “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
One of the movie’s other iconic quotes comes from Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) and offers a completely different perspective on hope.
Andy says this in a letter to Red that he left for Red after he finally gets out on parole.
Hope is what got Andy out of prison and gave him the strength to fight for his way out even after 19 years behind bars. Through this quote, he’s trying to share some of that hope with Red.
3. “It’s funny. On the outside, I was an honest man. Straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook.”
This line is said by Andy to Red when they have a conversation about the money laundering scheme he is helping out the prison warden Norton carry out using the alias “Randall Stephens”.
In the clip above, Andy reflects on the irony, that is outside prison life, he was an honest banker and, in fact, innocent of the crime he was imprisoned for. But inside the prison walls, he’s become a criminal in helping not only the warden but also other prison staff.
4. “I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright.”
This is another iconic line from Red, delivered by Morgan Freeman. This line comes at the end of the movie after Andy makes his daring escape.
Red and the others still behind bars are reminiscing about Andy and talking about his newfound freedom. Red has mixed feelings about Andy’s escape because he is happy for his buddy, but he misses him badly.
The line is also a reflection of Andy’s nature. While Andy’s cleverness helped him make the best of prison, his drive for freedom never went away, and he would have suffered without finding a way out. Or, as Red also puts it in the same monologue,
“Andy Dufresne – who crawled through a river of shit, and came out clean on the other side.”
5. “I believe in two things: discipline and the bible. Here you’ll see both. Put your trust in the Lord – your ass belongs to me! Welcome to Shawshank!”
The Warden, played by Bob Gunton, says this quote when the audience (and Andy) are introduced to him.
This quote introduces us to the world of The Shawshank Redemption, where Warden Norton rules with an iron fist, often using religious principles to justify beating down the men in his care.
This quote helps us get to know his hypocritical character and introduces the importance of religious themes in the movie.
6. “The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.”
Brooks Hatlen, a prison long-timer portrayed by the actor James Whitmore, says this quote in a voiceover where he reads from a letter to the guys still in prison.
After nearly 50 years behind bars, Brooks is released, but he is completely unprepared for the world that he encounters, which leads to his tragic demise.
The full quote is:
Dear fellas. I can’t believe how fast things move on the outside. I saw an automobile once when I was a kid, but now they’re everywhere! The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.”– Brooks
This quote and Brooks’s fate as a character illustrate one of the central themes in the movie, which is about how prisons affect people.
7. “How can you be so obtuse?”
Andy, the main character of The Shawshank Redemption played by Tim Robbins, says this line when The Warden refuses to help him after he discovers the truth about his wife’s murder.
For his defiance, he gets a month in solitary, showing the cruel nature of the Warden who not only refuses to help his most useful prisoner but also punishes him.
The quote is also a useful insight into Andy. We get to see his defiance, even though he knows that he will be punished and that his intelligence and eloquence weren’t diminished by time in prison.
Plus, it’s a great insult to use when somebody annoys you.
8. “I tell you those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream.”
Red (Morgan Freeman) says this line after Andy breaks into the guard’s office and plays opera for his fellow prisoners over the loudspeaker system. While Red is not an educated man and doesn’t understand what the opera was saying, he can feel the emotion and beauty in the music.
The quote talks about the power of art to lift people’s spirits and remind them of better times, even people “in a gray place” such as Shawshank State Prison. Prison is designed to beat the beauty and appreciation of art out of people, but a little dose of beauty gives everyone a lift.
9. “I like to think the last thing that went through his head other than that bullet was how the hell Andy Dufresne got the best of him.”
One of the most satisfying aspects of The Shawshank Redemption is that in the end, the innocent man escapes from prison and the sadistic warden is humiliated. He takes his own life to avoid being arrested for the money laundering that Andy revealed once he escaped from prison.
Red’s quote speaks to how much Andy’s escape meant to the other prisoners as well. When leaving, Andy gave them hope and lifted the boot of the sadistic Warden off of their necks. Plus, who doesn’t like a good quote about a villain finally getting what he deserves?
10. “That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left.”
This is another powerful line from Red (Morgan Freeman), delivered at his parole hearing. It is part of a larger speech where he dismisses the concept of rehabilitation. After decades behind bars, Red has lost hope that he could readjust to life outside or rejoin society in a normal way.
It’s also an insight into the prison system. Red’s been beaten down by Shawshank but to get a chance at freedom he has to prove that he can be “rehabilitated.” His speech captures the hypocrisy of the people around him.
11. “Every man has his breaking point.”
Red (Morgan Freeman) says this about Andy just before he makes his grand escape. Andy was pushed to escape by the cruelties of the Warden, who used and manipulated him.
However, this quote doesn’t just apply to Andy. Every person has that point after which they can’t take it anymore and will do anything to change their situation.
This quote is so iconic because it can apply to everyone, not just people wrongfully imprisoned for decades.
These are just a few of the most iconic quotes from The Shawshank Redemption. Which one is your favorite?
About the author:
Jan Sørup is a videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.