[Reminder: these articles do contain spoilers. In this case, I really would like you to see the film before reading this, so stop what you're doing and go and watch the film. I'll see you in two hours. OK?]
I'll never forget when Rob (housemate at the time) told me he owned Shawshank on DVD but had never watched it and was thinking of getting rid of it as he was probably never going to watch it. So that same day Gloria and I sat him down and insisted we all watch it together, and I think Kevin and Martyn probably joined us for the experience as well. Because when a film is this good, you WANT to share it with everyone, because you know - guaranteed - that they will like it too. And sure enough, as the credits rolled, Rob grinned up and said "That's so good! I can't believe I've never seen that!"
The thing that always amazes me - and it shouldn't, I know - is that it's a Stephen King story. Yes, the horror writer whose more accessible material would be something like 'The Green Mile' (which made the short-list for this Top 40) but who more normally is responsible for some of that darkest horror stories you'll ever encounter. But here we have a story, told over time with real character development, without the need for supernatural intervention and it wonderfully, gloriously works. The first time I watched it I remember the tension building, particularly when the Tim Robbins character gets the rope, night falls, and he doesn't come out of his cell in the morning... the sheer tension is amazing. And they look in, and the cell is... empty. Completely empty.
And then the movie gives you about five minutes to figure it out, while the prison authorities shout and search before the hole behind the poster is discovered, and the real situation is revealed. And you get that glorious moment of freedom when you see him escape, along with his perfectly planned-and-executed series of events to appear as the silent-silent-partner and make off to Mexico with all the money. And finally, when Morgan Freeman gets to join him and the credits roll... I just remember thinking "That's so good! I can't believe I've never seen that!"
It is that good.