How Goodfellas Inspired The Shawshank Redemption

"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster." 

The opening line of "Goodfellas" is one of the most memorable in film history. It makes sense, then, that it would've inspired other great filmmakers in the years since its release. Count Frank Darabont among them. According to Mental Floss, the director of "The Shawshank Redemption" took inspiration from the Martin Scorsese film's famous voiceover, along with its editing style.

"The Shawshank Redemption" was released in 1994, four years after "Goodfellas," and tells a different kind of crime story. It's based on Stephen King's novella, "Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption," which follows inmate Andy Dufresne as he serves time for the murder of his wife and her lover.

Two Distinct Uses of Voiceover

Darabont's film utilizes voiceover very differently than Scorsese's. "Goodfellas" gives criminal Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) the floor, and the unreliable narrator guides us through his decades in the Mafia. If "The Shawshank Redemption" drew directly from the film, it might make Andy the film's narrator. Darabont, though, stays true to King's novella, instead telling the story through the eyes of fellow inmate Red (Morgan Freeman). Red is a considerate and largely honest narrator who lends the story a sense of wisdom and retrospect. Henry Hill's narration is much more frenetic than Red's deliberate storytelling, but both voiceovers serve as the narrative backbone for the films they serve.

In an interview with The Best of Creative Screenwriting, Darabont talks about how much "Goodfellas" meant to him when he was making "The Shawshank Redemption," calling his tape of the film a "talisman" that he returned to most weekends. "I'd sit there totally blown-out and depressed, and I'd pop in Goodfellas and get inspired again," he said. Darabont considers "Goodfellas" one of the best films of all time, saying in the interview that he's lost track of how many times he's seen it.

Both Skillfully Show the Passage of Time

You can also see the influence of "Goodfellas" in the way "The Shawshank Redemption" marks the passage of time. "Goodfellas" covers a lot of ground, starting in 1955 and ending with a title card that updates us on Hill's whereabouts as of 1990. "The Shawshank Redemption" similarly takes on a huge swath of time; by the time Red is finally paroled, he's served a 40-year-sentence at the titular penitentiary. Both movies move concisely through the years, lingering on important chapters in each characters' lives and glossing over less thrilling periods of equilibrium.

"Goodfellas" and "The Shawshank Redemption" are often called two of the best films of the 1990s — and even of all time. When he was depressed and watching "Goodfellas" again and again, Darabont couldn't have known the lasting impact his work, and the inspiration he took from Scorsese's film, would have. Decades later, both films still hold up, revealing poignant and painful truths about human nature and the fallibility of man. Fellow fans, maybe it's time for a double feature.