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The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 psychological crime/horror thriller directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Anthony Heald and Brooke Smith. It is based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris, his second to feature Dr. Hannibal Lecter, brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. In the film, Clarice Starling, a young FBImarker trainee, seeks the advice of the imprisoned Lecter on catching a serial killer known only as "Buffalo Bill". The film won the top five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay. To date, it is the third and most recent winner of this achievement.


Clarice Starling is pulled from her training at the FBI Academymarker at Quantico, Virginia by Jack Crawford of the Bureau's Behavioral Science Unit. He tasks her with interviewing Hannibal Lecter, a former psychiatrist and incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer, believing Lecter's insight might be useful in the pursuit of vicious serial killer "Buffalo Bill". Starling travels to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where she is led by Dr. 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. But as she is leaving, one of the prisoners obscenely flicks semen at her. Infuriated with this offense, Lecter calls Clarice back and tells her to seek out an old patient of his. Clarice is led to a storage lot where she discovers a man's severed head. She returns to Lecter, who tells her that the man is linked to Buffalo Bill. Though Lecter denies killing this man, he offers to profile Buffalo Bill if he will be transferred away from Chilton, whom he dislikes.

In light of Buffalo Bill's recent abduction of a U.S. Senator's daughter, Crawford authorizes Starling to offer Lecter a fake deal promising a prison transfer if he provides information that helps find Buffalo Bill and rescue the abductee. Instead, Lecter begins a game of quid pro quo with Starling, offering comprehensive clues and insights about Buffalo Bill in exchange for events from Starling's childhood, something she was advised not to do. Unbeknownst to them, Chilton records the conversation and reveals Starling's deal as a sham before offering to transfer Lecter in exchange for a deal of Chilton's own making. Lecter agrees and is flown to Memphis where he reveals personal information on Buffalo Bill to federal agents. As the manhunt begins, Starling visits Lecter at his special cell in a Tennessee courthouse and confronts him with her decryption of the name he provided, which was an anagram. Lecter refuses Starling's pleas for the truth, as she believes everything he stated was false, and forces her to recount her traumatic childhood. She tells him how she was orphaned, relocated to a relative's farm, discovered a lamb slaughterhouse and failed in an attempt to rescue one of the lambs. Lecter gives her 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 manages to escape from his cell and disappears.

Starling analyzes Lecter's annotations to the case files and realizes that Buffalo Bill's first victim knew him personally before he killed her. Starling travels to the victim's hometown and discovers that Buffalo Bill was a tailor, with dresses and templates identical to the patches of skin removed from each of his victims. She telephones Crawford to inform him that Buffalo Bill is trying to fashion a "woman suit" of real skin, but Crawford is already en route to make an arrest, having cross-referenced Lecter's notes with a hospital's archives and finding a man named Jame Gumb who once applied for a sex-change operation. Starling continues interviewing friends of Buffalo Bill's first victim while Crawford leads a SWAT team to Gumb's address in Illinois. Starling is led to the house of "Jack Gordon", who she realizes is actually Jame Gumb. She pursues him into his multi-room basement where she discovers the recently-abducted Senator's daughter traumatized and 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 and is shot to death by Starling.

Some time later at the FBI Academy graduation party, Starling receives a phone call from Lecter, who is at an airport in Biminimarker. He assures her that he does not plan to pursue her and asks her to show him the same courtesy, which she says she cannot do. Hannibal then hangs up the phone, and begins following a newly arrived Chilton, who is fleeing since Lecter is at large.




Michelle Pfeiffer was initially offered the role of Clarice Starling, but turned it down. She has said about her rejection of the part, "that was a difficult decision, but I got nervous about the subject matter." According to Jonathan Demme, there were 300 applicants for the role of Clarice Starling.


The Silence of the Lambs was distributed by Orion Pictures; MGM (who bought Orion in 1997) currently holds the rights.



Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster gained overwhelming acclaim with their portrayals of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, even though Hopkins' screen time in the entire film is just over 24 minutes. Their respective portrayals won both of them Academy Awards in 1992, and Hopkins' portrayal, as of 2009, remains the shortest lead role ever to win an Oscar. (See List of Academy Award Records).

The Silence of the Lambs is a sleeper film. When it was first released its expected success was so low that it was almost immediately distributed to movie rental companies rather than to theaters. The film ultimately received widespread critical acclaim; Rotten Tomatoes records that The Silence of the Lambs received a 96% positive response from critics. Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster also received praise for their performances. Roger Ebert specifically mentioned the "terrifying qualities" of Hannibal Lecter, and has since recognised the film as a "horror masterpiece," alongside such classics as Nosferatu, Psycho, and Halloween. However, the film is also notable for being one of two multi-Oscar winners disapproved of by Ebert's colleague, Gene Siskel, the other being Unforgiven.

Box office

Domestic Box Office
Opening Weekend $13,766,814
% of Total Gross 10.5%
Close Date 10 October 1991
Total U.S. Gross $130,742,922
Worldwide Box Office
Total Worldwide Gross $272,742,922

Awards and honors

Academy Awards record
1. Best Actress, Jodie Foster
2. Best Actor, Anthony Hopkins
3. Best Director, Jonathan Demme
4. Best Picture, Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt, Ronald M. Bozman
5. Best Adapted Screenplay, Ted Tally
Golden Globe Awards record
1. Best Actress, Jodie Foster
BAFTA Awards record
1. Best Actor, Anthony Hopkins
2. Best Actress, Jodie Foster

Jonathan Demme won an Academy Award for Best Director. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins both won Oscars for their roles as Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter, respectively. The film won additional Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. The Silence of the Lambs is only the third (and most recent) film to win the five most prestigious Academy Awards (after It Happened One Night, 1934 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1975).

The film is second in the department of most Oscar nominations for a horror film (7) tying the record previously set by Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte in 1964; The Exorcist is in first place with 10 nominations.

Other awards include "best picture" from CHI Awards, the "best film" from PEO Awards, and Best Film from National Board of Review, all in 1991. In 1991, Jonathan Demme was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best director. In 1992, Ted Tally received an Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. In 1991 it was nominated for "best film" at the BAFTA Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts). In 1998, it was listed as one of the 100 greatest movies in the past 100 years by the American Film Institute.

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".

The Silence of the Lambs placed 7th on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments for Lecter's infamous escape scene. The American Film Institute named Hannibal Lecter as portrayed by Hopkins the number one film villain of all time and Clarice Starling as portrayed by Foster the sixth greatest film hero of all time.

In 1991, Silence of the Lambs was awarded Best Horror Film of the Year during the 2nd Horror Hall of Fame Telecast. Vincent Price presented the award to the film's Executive Producer Gary Goetzman.

American Film Institute recognition

Homophobia and sexism charges

Upon its release, The Silence of the Lambs was criticized by members of the gay community for being what they perceived as another in a long line of negative on-screen portrayals of LGBT characters in the absence of any positive portrayals, but the director Jonathan Demme's next project was the AIDS-related drama Philadelphia.

In a 1992 interview with Playboy magazine, notable feminist and womens' rights advocate Betty Friedan stated, "I thought it was absolutely outrageous that The Silence of the Lambs won four 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."


Marketing for the film included images of Hopkins and Foster with Death's-head Hawkmoths covering their mouths.

In the images, the death's head on the moths' backs is not their natural pattern, but a superimposed miniature image of Salvador DalĂ­ and Philippe Halsman's In Voluptas Mors, which forms the image of a skull from naked bodies.

In popular culture

The Silence of the Lambs has been parodied multiple times in the media:
  • In 2005, an award-winning Off-Off-Broadway parody was produced called SILENCE! The Musical.
  • Ezio Greggio created the film The Silence of the Hams where rookie FBI agent Jo Dee Foster (Billy Zane) goes to Dr. Animal Cannibal Pizza (Dom DeLuise) to track a serial killer.
  • In the feature film Clerks II, Jay parodies the "I'd fuck me" scene. This scene was also parodied in the Family Guy episode "Stew-Roids", with Chris in the Buffalo Bill role. Seth Green reportedly based Chris' voice on the Buffalo Bill character.
  • In the 1998 Spanglish novel "Yo-Yo Boing!" by Giannina Braschi a New York City socialite pays a left-handed compliment to a rival by telling her: "You're very powerful. That's probably why Makiko compared your expression to Hannibal the Cannibal in "The Silence of the Lambs."" (ISBN 0-935480978)
  • Comedy duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders parodied The Silence of the Lambs on their show French & Saunders.


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