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Escape from Alcatraz & The Shawshank Redemption - A Comparison

Updated on May 14, 2013

Intro

I just watched Escape from Alcatraz for the first time last night and I was amazed to the discover just how similar it is to The Shawshank Redemption. Of course they're both prison break movies so they're going to be similar in that way but there are so many other similarities that it had me reassessing The Shawshank Redemption quite a bit. The Shawshank Redemption has been one of my favourite films since I first watched it when I was 18. Everything about it is incredible - from the acting and dialogue to the cinematography and score.

After having seen Escape from Alcatraz I can highly recommend it and whilst it's a lot more low key than Shawhshank, it still manages to get you to care about the characters and become involved in their attempt to break free. When I was watching EFA there many moments that I was strongly reminded of Shawshank so I thought it'd be worth examining the similarities of both films to see just how closely related they are.

Note:

This lens isn't supposed to read as an expose shaming The Shawshank Redemption for plagiarism, rather an interesting look at the way both films share similar traits whilst offering a unique take on the prison genre.

The Facts

& Similarities

  • Escape from Alcatraz was released in 1979. The Shawshank Redemption was released 15 years later in 1994
  • Stephen King released 'Different Seasons' which includes 'Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption' in 1982. 3 years after Escape from Alcatraz was released in cinemas
  • Both films feature a main character who is reticent, has an above average IQ and faces adversity from other inmates and the prison warden
  • Both films feature an older character who surreptitiously feeds a small pet when guards aren't looking. In Shawshank it's a bird, whilst in Alcatraz it's a mouse
  • In both films, the main character befriends an inmate who has a lot of influence amongst the other prisoners
  • In both films the escape method is the same i.e. tunnelling through the prison walls using a small pointed object.
  • The Prison Warden in both films have very similar traits and exhibit an extreme need to control every aspect of the inmates' lives

Conclusion

Whilst Stephen King was undoubtedly inspired by the Alcatraz prison break and more specifically Escape from Alcatraz when writing Rita Hayworth & Shawshank Redemption, there is still enough that's original to the story to make it a unique experience when compared to Escape from Alcatraz.

When I watched the movie last night the big difference that struck me between the two films is that Escape from Alcatraz is a much more straight forward prison break movie when compared to Shawshank. The subject of breaking out is discussed right from the beginning of the film and the escape of Frank Morris and co. is its primary focus. That isn't to say that there's no character development but when compared to Andy Dufresne, Frank Morris is a fairly one dimensional character. In fact I found the supporting characters to be much more interesting in EFA

**SPOILERS**

In comparison TSR is much more of a character study that has broader themes when compared to Alcatraz. In TSR you only learn that Andy had been working towards his eventual escape for much of his incarceration towards the end of the film. This means that the bulk of the film is focused on Andy's experience inside Shawshank and the relationships his forges with the other inmates, which arguably makes it a more satisfying experience when compared to EFA.

My Rating

The Shawshank Redemption - 10/10

Escape from Alcatraz - 9/10

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How Similar Do You Think They Are?

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Buy the Movies Online

Escape From Alcatraz
Escape From Alcatraz

A great prison break movie based on a true story. Incredibly simple and effective storytelling and great cast.

 
The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption

One of my favourite movies of all time. Everything about it is perfect - the acting, cinematography, soundtrack, dialogue.

 

The Shawshank Redemption Trailer

Escape from Alcatraz Trailer

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