The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 American psychological horror film directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Ted Tally, adapted from Thomas Harris' 1988 novel. It stars Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee who is hunting a serial killer, "Buffalo Bill" (Ted Levine), who skins his female victims. To catch him, she seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. The film also features performances from Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald, and Kasi Lemmons.
The Silence of the Lambs was released on February 14, 1991, and grossed $272.7 million worldwide on a $19 million budget, becoming the fifth-highest-grossing film of 1991 worldwide. It premiered at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival, where it competed for the Golden Bear, while Demme received the Silver Bear for Best Director. It became the third film (the other two being 1934's It Happened One Night and 1975's 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 only Best Picture winner widely considered a horror film, and one of only six horror films to have been nominated in the category with The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975), The Sixth Sense (1999), Black Swan (2010), and Get Out (2017).
The Silence of the Lambs is regularly cited by critics, film directors, and audiences as one of the greatest and most influential films. In 2018, Empire ranked it 48th on their list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. The American Film Institute ranked it the fifth-greatest and most influential thriller film while Starling and Lecter were ranked among the greatest film heroines and villains. The film is considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant by the U.S. Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2011. A sequel, Hannibal, was released in 2001, followed by the prequels Red Dragon (2002) and Hannibal Rising (2007).
In 1990, Clarice Starling is pulled from her FBI training at the Quantico, Virginia FBI Academy 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. Crawford believes Lecter's insight could prove useful in the pursuit of a psychopath serial killer nicknamed "Buffalo Bill", who kills young women and removes their skin from their bodies.
At the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, Dr. Frederick Chilton makes a crude pass at Starling before he escorts her to Lecter's cell. Although initially pleasant and courteous, Lecter grows impatient with Starling's interviewing and rebuffs her. As she is leaving, a prisoner named Miggs flicks semen at her. Lecter, who considers this an "unspeakably ugly" act, calls Starling back and tells her to seek out his old patient. This leads her to a storage facility, where she discovers a jar containing a man's severed head. She returns to Lecter, who says the man is linked to Buffalo Bill. He offers to profile Buffalo Bill on condition he is transferred away from Chilton, whom he detests. Another Buffalo Bill victim is found with a death's head moth lodged in her throat.
Buffalo Bill abducts Catherine Martin, a senator's daughter. Crawford authorizes Starling to offer Lecter a fake deal, promising a prison transfer if he provides information that helps them capture 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 her father's murder when she was ten years old. Chilton secretly records the conversation and reveals Starling's deceit before offering Lecter a different deal. Lecter agrees and is flown to Memphis, where he meets and torments Senator Martin, then gives her misleading information on Buffalo Bill, including that his name is "Louis Friend".
Starling figures out that "Louis Friend" is an anagram of "iron sulfide"—fool's gold. She visits Lecter, who is now imprisoned in a cell in a Tennessee courthouse, and requests the truth. Lecter says all the information she needs is contained in the Buffalo Bill case file, then insists on continuing their quid pro quo. She recounts a traumatic childhood incident of hearing spring lambs being slaughtered on a relative's Montana farm. Lecter speculates that Starling hopes that saving Catherine will end the recurring nightmares she has of lambs screaming. Lecter returns the Buffalo Bill case files to Starling as Chilton arrives and has the police escort her from the building. Later that evening, Lecter kills his guards, escapes from his cell, and disappears.