The Silence of the Lambs (film)

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The Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Produced by
Screenplay by Ted Tally
Based on The Silence of the Lambs
by Thomas Harris
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Tak Fujimoto
Edited by Craig McKay
Strong Heart/Demme Production
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release date
  • January 30, 1991 (1991-01-30)(New York City)
  • February 14, 1991 (1991-02-14)(United States)
Running time
118 minutes [1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$19 million [2]
Box office$272.7 million [2]

The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 American psychological horror thriller film [3] directed by Jonathan Demme from a screenplay written by Ted Tally, adapted from Thomas Harris's 1988 novel of the same name. The film stars Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, and Anthony Heald. [4] In the film, Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee, seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer to apprehend another serial killer, known only as "Buffalo Bill", who skins his female victims' corpses. The novel was Harris's first and second respectively to feature the characters of Starling and Lecter, and was the second adaptation of a Harris novel to feature Lecter, preceded by the Michael Mann-directed Manhunter (1986).

Psychological horror is a subgenre of horror and psychological fiction that relies on mental, emotional and psychological states to frighten, disturb, or unsettle readers, viewers, or players. The subgenre frequently overlaps with the related subgenre of psychological thriller, and it often uses mystery elements and characters with unstable, unreliable, or disturbed psychological states to enhance the suspense, drama, action, and paranoia of the setting and plot and to provide an overall unpleasant, unsettling, or distressing atmosphere.

Thriller film film genre

Thriller film, also known as suspense film or suspense thriller, is a broad film genre that evokes excitement and suspense in the audience. The suspense element, found in most films' plots, is particularly exploited by the filmmaker in this genre. Tension is created by delaying what the audience sees as inevitable, and is built through situations that are menacing or where escape seems impossible.

Jonathan Demme American director, producer and screenwriter

Robert Jonathan Demme was an American director, producer, and screenwriter. He is best known for directing the psychological horror The Silence of the Lambs (1991), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director. He also directed Melvin and Howard (1980), Swing Shift (1984), Something Wild (1986), Married to the Mob (1988), the concert film Stop Making Sense (1984), Philadelphia (1993) and Rachel Getting Married (2008).


The Silence of the Lambs was released on February 14, 1991, and grossed $272.7 million worldwide against its $19 million budget, becoming the fifth-highest grossing film of 1991 worldwide. The film premiered at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival, where it competed for the Golden Bear, while Demme received the Silver Bear for Best Director. Critically acclaimed upon release, it became only the third film, (the other two being It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ), to win Academy Awards in all the top five categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is also the first (and so far only) Best Picture winner widely considered to be a horror film, and one of only four such films to be nominated in the category, along with The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975), and Get Out (2017). [5]

The year 1991 in film involved some significant events.

41st Berlin International Film Festival 1991 film festival edition

The 41st annual Berlin International Film Festival was held from 15 to 26 February 1991. The festival opened with Uranus by Claude Berri. The Golden Bear was awarded to Italian film La casa del sorriso directed by Marco Ferreri. The retrospective dedicated to Cold War films was shown at the festival.

The Golden Bear is the highest prize awarded for the best film at the Berlin International Film Festival. The bear is the heraldic animal of Berlin, featured on both the coat of arms and flag of Berlin. The winners of the first Berlin International Film Festival in 1951 were determined by a German panel, and there were five winners of the Golden Bear, divided by categories and genres. Between 1952 and 1955, the winners of the Golden Bear were determined by the audience members. In 1956, the FIAPF formally accredited the festival, and since then the Golden Bear has been awarded by an international jury.

It is regularly cited by critics, film directors, and audiences alike as one of the greatest and most influential films of all time. In 2018, Empire ranked it 48th on their list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. [6] The American Film Institute, ranked it as the 5th greatest and most influential thriller film of all time while the characters Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter were ranked as the greatest film heroine and villain respectively. The film is considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant by the U.S. Library of Congress and was selected to be preserved in the National Film Registry in 2011. [7] A sequel titled Hannibal was released in 2001, in which Hopkins reprised his role. It was followed by two prequels: Red Dragon (2002) and Hannibal Rising (2007).

American Film Institute nonprofit educational arts organization devoted to film

The American Film Institute (AFI) is an American film organization that educates filmmakers and honors the heritage of the motion picture arts in the United States. AFI is supported by private funding and public membership fees.

Part of the AFI 100 Years… series, AFI's 100 Years…100 Thrills is a list of the top 100 most exciting, action-packed, suspenseful or frightening movies in American cinema. The list was unveiled by the American Film Institute on June 12, 2001, during a CBS special hosted by Harrison Ford.

AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains is a list of the one-hundred greatest screen characters as chosen by the American Film Institute in June 2003. It is part of the AFI 100 Years... series. The list was first presented in a CBS special hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The presentation programme was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Nonfiction Special.


FBI trainee Clarice Starling is pulled from her training at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia by Jack Crawford of the Bureau's Behavioral Science Unit. He assigns her to interview Hannibal Lecter, a former psychiatrist and incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer, whose insight might prove useful in the pursuit of a psychopath serial killer nicknamed "Buffalo Bill", who kills young women and then removes the skin from their bodies.

Clarice Starling fictional character from the Hannibal Lecter series by Thomas Harris

Clarice M. Starling is a fictional character who appears in the novels The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal by Thomas Harris.

FBI Academy academy located in Quantico, Virginia

The FBI Academy is the Federal Bureau of Investigation's law enforcement training and research center located near the town of Quantico in Stafford County, Virginia. Operated by the Bureau's Training Division, it was first opened for use in 1972 on 385 acres (156 ha) of woodland, which is not available for public tours.

Quantico, Virginia Town in Virginia, United States

Quantico is a town in Prince William County, Virginia, United States. The population was 480 at the 2010 census.

Starling travels to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where she is led by Frederick Chilton to Lecter's solitary quarters. Although initially pleasant and courteous, Lecter grows impatient with Starling's attempts at "dissecting" him and rebuffs her. As she is leaving, one of the prisoners flicks semen at her. Lecter, who considers this act "unspeakably ugly", calls Starling back and tells her to seek out an old patient of his. This leads her to a storage shed, where she discovers a man's severed head with a sphinx moth lodged in its throat. She returns to Lecter, who tells her that the man is linked to Buffalo Bill. He offers to profile Buffalo Bill on the condition that he may be transferred away from Chilton, whom he detests.

Frederick Chilton fictional character in Thomas Harriss Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs

Dr. Frederick Chilton is a fictional character appearing in Thomas Harris' novels Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs.

<i>Acherontia styx</i> species of insect

Acherontia styx, the lesser death's head hawkmoth or bee robber, is a sphingid moth found in Asia, one of the three species of death's-head hawkmoth. It is very fond of honey, and bee keepers have reported finding dead moths in their hives as a result of bee stings. They can mimic the scent of bees so that they can enter a hive unharmed to get honey. Their tongue, which is stout and very strong, enables them to pierce the wax cells of the beehive and suck the honey out. They are also known to be a pest of yuzu in South Korea, using their tongue to pierce and damage the fruit.

Offender profiling, also known as criminal profiling, is an investigative strategy used by law enforcement agencies to identify likely suspects and has been used by investigators to link cases that may have been committed by the same perpetrator. Multiple crimes may be linked to a specific offender and the profile may be used to predict the identified offender's future actions. In the 1980s, most researchers believed offender profiling was relevant only to sex crimes, like serial rape or sexual homicide, but since the late 1990s research has been published to support its application to arson (1998), and then later terrorism (2000) and burglary (2002)..

Buffalo Bill abducts a Senator's daughter, Catherine Martin. Crawford authorizes Starling to offer Lecter a fake deal, promising a prison transfer if he provides information that helps them find Buffalo Bill and rescue Catherine. Instead, Lecter demands a quid pro quo from Starling, offering clues about Buffalo Bill in exchange for personal information. Starling tells Lecter about the murder of her father when she was ten years old. Chilton secretly records the conversation and reveals Starling's deceit before offering Lecter a deal of Chilton's own making. Lecter agrees and is flown to Memphis, where he verbally torments Senator Ruth Martin, and gives her misleading information on Buffalo Bill, including the name "Louis Friend".

<i>Quid pro quo</i>

Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase used in English to mean an exchange of goods or services, in which one transfer is contingent upon the other; "a favour for a favour". Phrases with similar meanings include: "give and take", "tit for tat", and "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" and "one hand washes the other".

Starling notices that "Louis Friend" is an anagram of "iron sulfide"–fool's gold. She visits Lecter, who is now being held in a cage-like cell in a Tennessee courthouse, and asks for the truth. Lecter tells her that all the information she needs is contained in the case file. Rather than give her the real name, he insists that they continue their quid pro quo and she recounts a traumatic childhood incident where she was awakened by the sound of spring lambs being slaughtered on a relative's farm in Montana. Starling admits that she still sometimes wakes thinking she can hear lambs screaming, and Lecter speculates that she is motivated to save Catherine in the hope that it will end the nightmares. Lecter gives her back the case files on Buffalo Bill after their conversation is interrupted by Chilton and the police, who escort her from the building. Later that evening, Lecter kills his guards, escapes from his cell, and disappears.

Starling analyzes Lecter's annotations to the case files and realizes that Buffalo Bill knew his first victim personally. Starling travels to the victim's hometown and discovers that Buffalo Bill was a tailor, with dresses and dress patterns identical to the patches of skin removed from each of his victims. She telephones Crawford to inform him that Buffalo Bill is trying to form a "woman suit" out of real skin, but Crawford is already en route to make an arrest, having cross-referenced Lecter's notes with hospital archives and finding a transsexual woman named Jame Gumb, who once applied unsuccessfully for a sex-change operation. Starling continues interviewing friends of Buffalo Bill's first victim in Ohio, while Crawford leads an FBI HRT team to Gumb's address in Illinois. The house in Illinois is empty, and Starling is led to the house of "Jack Gordon", whom she realizes is actually Jame Gumb, again by finding a sphinx moth. She pursues him into his multi-room basement, where she discovers that Catherine is still alive, but trapped in a dry well. After turning off the basement lights, Gumb stalks Starling in the dark with night-vision goggles, but gives his position away when he cocks his revolver. Starling reacts just in time and fires all of her rounds, killing Gumb.

Sometime later, at the FBI Academy graduation party, Starling receives a phone call from Lecter, who is at an airport in Bimini. He assures her that he does not plan to pursue her and asks her to return the favor, which she says she cannot do. Lecter then hangs up the phone, saying that he is "having an old friend for dinner", and starts following a newly arrived Chilton before disappearing into the crowd.




The Silence of the Lambs is based on Thomas Harris' 1988 novel of the same name and is the second film to feature the character Hannibal Lecter following the 1986 film Manhunter (1986). Prior to the novel's release, Orion Pictures partnered with Gene Hackman to bring the novel to the big screen. With Hackman set to direct and possibly star in the role of Crawford, negotiations were made to split the $500,000 cost of rights between Hackman and the studio. [8] In addition to securing the rights to the novel, producers also had to acquire the rights to the name "Hannibal Lecter", which were owned by Manhunter producer Dino De Laurentiis. Owing to the financial failure of the earlier film, De Laurentiis lent the character rights to Orion Pictures for free. [9]

In November 1987, Ted Tally was brought on to write the adaptation; [10] Tally had previously crossed paths with Harris many times, with his interest in adapting The Silence of the Lambs originating from receiving an advance copy of the book from Harris himself. [11] When Tally was about halfway through with the first draft, Hackman withdrew from the project and financing fell through. However, Orion Pictures co-founder Mike Medavoy assured Tally to keep writing as the studio itself took care of financing and searched for a replacement director. [12] As a result, Orion Pictures sought director Jonathan Demme to helm the project. With the screenplay not yet completed, Demme signed on after reading the novel. [13] From there, the project quickly took off, as Tally explained, "[Demme] read my first draft not long after it was finished, and we met, then I was just startled by the speed of things. We met in May 1989 and were shooting in November. I don't remember any big revisions." [14]


Jodie Foster was interested in playing the role of Clarice Starling immediately after reading the novel. However, in spite of the fact that Foster had just won an Academy Award for her performance in the film The Accused (1988), Demme was not convinced that she was right for the part. [15] [16] Having just collaborated on Married to the Mob (1988), Demme's first choice for the role of Starling was Michelle Pfeiffer, who turned it down, later saying, "It was a difficult decision, but I got nervous about the subject matter". [17] Still not convinced, he went to Meg Ryan who rejected it as well for its gruesome themes and then to Laura Dern, of whom the studio was skeptical as not being a bankable choice. [18] As a result, Foster was awarded the role due to her passion towards the character. [19]

For the role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Demme originally approached Sean Connery. After the actor turned it down, Anthony Hopkins was then offered the part based on his performance in The Elephant Man (1980). [20] Other actors considered for the role included Al Pacino, [21] Robert De Niro, [21] Dustin Hoffman, [21] Derek Jacobi [22] and Daniel Day-Lewis. [22]

Gene Hackman was originally cast to play Jack Crawford, the Agent-in-Charge of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI in Quantico, Virginia but he found the script "too violent." [21] Scott Glenn was then cast in the role. To prepare for the role, Glenn met with John E. Douglas, after whom the character is modeled. Douglas gave Glenn a tour of the Quantico facility and also played for him an audio tape containing various recordings that serial killers Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris had made of themselves raping and torturing a 16-year-old girl. [23] [24] According to Douglas, Glenn wept as he experienced the recordings and even changed his liberal stance on the death penalty. [25]


Principal photography for The Silence of the Lambs began on November 15, 1989 and concluded on March 1, 1990. [26] [27] Filming primarily took place in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with some scenes shot in nearby northern West Virginia. [28] The home of Buffalo Bill used for exterior scenes was in Layton, Pennsylvania. [29] [30] The exterior of the Western Center near Canonsburg, Pennsylvania served as the setting for Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. [31] In what was a rare act of cooperation at the time, the FBI allowed scenes to be filmed at the FBI Academy in Quantico; some FBI staff members even acted in bit parts. [32] [33]


The Silence of the Lambs: The Original Motion Picture Score
Film score by
ReleasedFebruary 5, 1991
RecordedAugust, 1990 in Munich
Label MCA Records
Producer Howard Shore
Howard Shore chronology
The Silence of the Lambs: The Original Motion Picture Score
Naked Lunch
Hannibal Lecter chronology
The Silence of the Lambs
Professional ratings
Review scores
Allmusic Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svgStar empty.svg

The musical score for The Silence of the Lambs was composed by Howard Shore, who would also go on to collaborate with Demme on Philadelphia . Recorded in Munich during the latter half of the summer of 1990, the score was performed by the Munich Symphony Orchestra. [34] "I tried to write in a way that goes right into the fabric of the movie," explained Shore on his approach. "I tried to make the music just fit in. When you watch the movie you are not aware of the music. You get your feelings from all elements simultaneously, lighting, cinematography, costumes, acting, music. Jonathan Demme was very specific about the music." [35] A soundtrack album was released by MCA Records on February 5, 1991. [36] Music from the film was later used in the trailers for its 2001 sequel, Hannibal . [37]

The Silence of the Lambs: The Original Motion Picture Score
1."Main Title"5:04
2."The Asylum"3:53
4."Return to the Asylum"2:35
5."The Abduction"3:01
6."Quid Pro Quo"4:41
7."Lecter in Memphis"5:41
8."Lambs Screaming"5:34
9."Lecter Escapes"5:06
10."Belvedere, Ohio"3:32
11."The Moth"2:20
12."The Cellar"7:02
Total length:57:09


Box office

The Silence of the Lambs was released on February 14, 1991, grossing $14 million during its opening weekend. At the time it closed on October 10, 1991, the film had grossed $131 million domestically with a total worldwide gross of $273 million. [38] It was the 5th-highest grossing film of 1991 worldwide. [39]

Critical reception

Jodie Foster.jpg
The performances of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins garnered widespread praise and won them the Academy Awards for Best Actress and Best Actor respectively.

The Silence of the Lambs was a sleeper hit that gradually gained widespread success and critical acclaim. [40] Foster, Hopkins, and Levine garnered much acclaim for their performances. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 96% of 92 film critics have given the film a positive review, with an average rating of 8.83/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Director Jonathan Demme's smart, taut thriller teeters on the edge between psychological study and all-out horror, and benefits greatly from stellar performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster." [41] Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 85 out of 100, based on 19 reviews from mainstream critics, indicating "universal acclaim". [42] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale. [43]

Roger Ebert, of Chicago Sun-Times , specifically mentioned the "terrifying qualities" of Hannibal Lecter. [44] Ebert later added the film to his list of The Great Movies , recognizing the film as a "horror masterpiece" alongside such classics as Nosferatu , Psycho , and Halloween . [45] However, the film is also notable for being one of two multi-Academy Award winners (the other being Unforgiven ) disapproved of by Ebert's colleague, Gene Siskel. Writing for Chicago Tribune , Siskel said, "Foster's character, who is appealing, is dwarfed by the monsters she is after. I'd rather see her work on another case." [46]


Academy Awards record
Best Picture, Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt, Ronald M. Bozman
Best Director, Jonathan Demme
Best Actor, Anthony Hopkins
Best Actress, Jodie Foster
Best Adapted Screenplay, Ted Tally
Golden Globe Awards record
Best Actress, Jodie Foster
British Academy Film Awards record
Best Actor, Anthony Hopkins
Best Actress, Jodie Foster

The film won the Big Five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Demme), Best Actor (Hopkins), Best Actress (Foster), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally), making it only the third film in history to accomplish that feat. [47] It was also nominated for Best Sound (Tom Fleischman and Christopher Newman) and Best Film Editing, but lost to Terminator 2: Judgment Day and JFK , respectively. [48]

Other awards include being named Best Film by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, CHI Awards and PEO Awards. Demme won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival [49] and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Director. The film was nominated for the Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association. It was also nominated for the British Academy Film Award for Best Film. Screenwriter Ted Tally received an Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. The film was awarded Best Horror Film of the Year during the 2nd Horror Hall of Fame telecast, with Vincent Price presenting the award to the film's executive producer Gary Goetzman. [50]

In 1998, the film was listed as one of the 100 greatest films in the past 100 years by the American Film Institute. [51] In 2006, at the Key Art Awards, the original poster for The Silence of the Lambs was named best film poster "of the past 35 years". [52] The Silence of the Lambs placed seventh on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments for Lecter's escape scene. The American Film Institute named Hannibal Lecter (as portrayed by Hopkins) the number one film villain of all time [53] and Clarice Starling (as portrayed by Foster) the sixth-greatest film hero of all time. [53] In 2011, ABC aired a prime-time special, Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time , that counted down the best films chosen by fans based on results of a poll conducted by ABC and People magazine. The Silence of the Lambs was selected as the No. 1 Best Suspense/Thriller and Dr. Hannibal Lecter was selected as the No. 4 Greatest Film Character.

The film and its characters have appeared in the following AFI "100 Years" lists:

In 2015, Entertainment Weekly's 25th anniversary year, it included The Silence of the Lambs in its list of the 25 best movies made since the magazine's beginning. [54]

64th Academy Awards Best Picture Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt, Ron Bozman Won
Best Director Jonathan Demme Won
Best Actor Anthony Hopkins Won
Best Actress Jodie Foster Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Ted Tally WonAdapted from The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Best Film Editing Craig McKay Nominated
Best Sound Tom Fleischman, Christopher Newman Nominated
49th Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Jodie Foster Won
Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Anthony Hopkins Nominated
Best Director Jonathan Demme Nominated
Best Motion Picture – Drama Kenneth Utt Nominated
Best Screenplay Ted Tally Nominated
45th British Academy Film Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role Anthony Hopkins Won
Best Actress in a Leading Role Jodie Foster Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Ted Tally Nominated
Best Cinematography Tak Fujimoto Nominated
Best Direction Jonathan Demme Nominated
Best Editing Craig McKay Nominated
Best Film Ron Bozman, Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt Nominated
Best Film Music Howard Shore Nominated
Best Sound Skip Lievsay, Christopher Newman, Tom Fleischman Nominated


Upon its release, The Silence of the Lambs was criticized by members of the LGBT community for its portrayal of Buffalo Bill as bisexual and transsexual. In response to the critiques, Demme replied that Buffalo Bill "wasn't a gay character. He was a tormented man who hated himself and wished he was a woman because that would have made him as far away from himself as he possibly could be." Demme added that he "came to realize that there is a tremendous absence of positive gay characters in movies". [55] Much of the criticism was directed towards Foster, whom the critics alleged was herself a lesbian. [56]

In a 1992 interview with Playboy magazine, the feminist and women's rights advocate Betty Friedan stated: "I thought it was absolutely outrageous that The Silence of the Lambs won four [ sic ] Oscars. […] I'm not saying that the movie shouldn't have been shown. I'm not denying the movie was an artistic triumph, but it was about the evisceration, the skinning alive of women. That is what I find offensive. Not the Playboy centerfold." [57]

See also

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Jame Gumb is a fictional character and the main antagonist of Thomas Harris's 1988 novel The Silence of the Lambs and its 1991 film adaptation, in which he is played by Ted Levine. In the film and the novel, he is a serial killer who murders overweight women and skins them so he can make a "woman suit" for himself.

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