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‘Silence of the Lambs’ and other iconic films from USAF vet Jonathan Demme

Joel Searls Avatar
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Jonathan Demme, Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins at the Oscars for The Silence of the Lambs.

Jonathan Demme is most well known for Oscar-winning films such as The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia. He had hits in other genres and prior decades. His career began in an interesting way through his father introducing Demme to the head of Embassy Pictures in the 1960s. Demme served in the U.S. Air Force during the early 1960s as well. He lived a most interesting life for a veteran and found much success utilizing his creative talents.

Here are some of the top films from Jonathan Demme

1. The Silence of the Lambs

silence of the lambs
Demme with Jodie Foster on set for The Silence of the Lambs.

The blockbuster hit based on Thomas Harris’s 1988 book of the same name came out in theaters on February 14, 1991. The film grossed over $270M worldwide and won numerous awards, most notably winning all five major categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also received the Silver Bear for Best Director for Demme at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival. As of today, it is the only horror film to win Best Picture.

The film stars a litany of great talents such as Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn and Ted Levine including a guest role of Demme’s mentor and accomplished director/producer Roger Corman. The story follows Foster as Agent Clarice Starling in her pursuit of a serial killer while she picks the brain of Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins), an incarcerated serial killer himself, to find the current running amok. The movie has top-notch acting, suspense and directing with chilling moments between Starling and Lecter.

2. Philadelphia

jonathan demme with tom hanks and denzel washington
Demme is on set with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.

The film is about a gay man Andrew Beckett (Hanks) who enlists the help of attorney Joe Miller (Washington) to get back at his employers through a lawsuit for firing him over his having AIDS. The movie broke new ground being the first mainstream Hollywood production to address HIV/AIDS and homophobia. The film earned numerous awards and grossed over $200M. Hanks won the Oscar for Best Actor, and the movie song Streets of Philadelphia by Bruce Springsteen won for Best Original Song. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay but did not win.

The film stars Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen and Antonio Banderas, the A-List of A-List actors. Its supporting cast includes Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman’s wife, Roger Corman again in a cameo role and Demme favorite Charles Napier as a judge. Becket and Miller bond throughout the course of the film as drama, suspense and unsuspected betrayals unfold. Demme makes the legal drama real for viewers through his use of direction and getting top-level performances from his cast.

3. The Manchurian Candidate

machurian candidate jonathan demme
Demme on set with Denzel Washington for The Manchurian Candidate.

The Manchurian Candidate is Demme’s reworking of the original 1962 film with Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Jon Voight and Meryl Streep. It focuses on a Gulf War veteran (Washington) and Medal of Honor recipient who has been brainwashed into being an assassin toward the President. The movie is based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Richard Condon. Although not a blockbuster hit like his prior films it did rate highly with critics and holds an 80% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film has some notable cameos including one again by Roger Corman and Ted Levin. It was nominated for many awards, yet only one for Costume Designer of the Year at the Hollywood Film Awards. Nonetheless, Demme still gets quality performances from his A-List cast and provides an interesting adaptation of the novel.

4. Married to the Mob

jonathan demme married to the mob
Michelle Pfeiffer and Dean Stockwell in Married to the Mob.

Demme’s comedic work with a crime twist stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Modine, Dean Stockwell and Alex Baldwin. The movie follows Pfeiffer who is the widow of a mobster in NYC with Modine playing an undercover FBI agent who must investigate her ties to organized crime. It was nominated for many awards and garnered interest from the Academy with Dean Stockwell being nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

The film was a success at the box office earning double its budget. Most importantly it holds a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and gives Demme to display his talents. Pfeiffer is loveable as Angela de Marco. And you know who makes a small appearance, that’s right you guessed it Frank Stallone (for Norm) errr Charles Napier.

5. Melvin and Howard

melvin and howard

Dem’s first Oscar-nominated film, Melvin and Howard, came out in 1980. The movie is based on the real-life story discovered in the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The story is about Melvin Dummar who was the beneficiary of a $156M will that was supposedly handwritten by Howard Hughes.

The film stars Paul Le Mat, Jason Robards and Mary Steenburgen. Steenburgen won the Oscar for her performance. It also won for Best Screenplay by Bo Goldman. The movie holds a 91% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has a guest appearance by Charles Napier. Demme must have loved having Napier around. More strong work from Demme and more than a decade before his first big blockbuster.