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Why Stephen King never cashed his Shawshank Redemption royalty cheque

The Shawshank Redemption famously bombed when it came out, but has since made more money from TV rights. One person who hasn't got rich off it is Stephen King.

The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption, which was adapted from a Stephen King novella, is the definition of a sleeper hit. When first released, it was met with a lukewarm reception and bombed at the box office. It also didn’t win a single award at the Oscars. However, it has since become increasingly beloved by people watching it on video or television, and now regularly tops lists of the best movies of all time.


An article published in the Wall Street Journal in 2014 explains how The Shawshank Redemption still makes money to this day. It has become one of the tent-poles of the Warner Bros film library, and they’ve made more money licensing it to television than they did when it was released, at the box office. It’s a film whose popularity has endured through the VHS and DVD eras, Blockbuster coming and going, cable television and now the streaming age.

Because of this, even actors who had smaller supporting roles such as William Sadler and Clancy Brown still receive healthy royalty cheques in the mail. One person who hasn’t made bank from the movie is Stephen King, who sold the rights to then unknown director Frank Darabont in the late 80s for $5,000.

Don’t feel too badly for multimillionaire successful author Stephen King though. It turns out that he never even cashed the cheque that Darabont gave him for adapting his novella into one of the best drama movies ever. Years after Shawshank came out, the author got the cheque framed and mailed it back to the director with a note inscribed; “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”

King reflected on the slow success of The Shawshank Redemption; “It took a while. All at once, after a period of time, it became a big thing. So it wasn’t like a Harry Potter thing that goes to the theatres and—boom. In that sense, I think it was like Casablanca. It’s one of those movies that we think of when we think of that iconic American movie experience.”

Check out our guide to the best 90s movies.