The Silence of the Lambs Movie Poster Image

The Silence of the Lambs

Thriller that made the serial killer a superstar.
Popular with kidsParents recommend
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Horror
  • Release Year: 1991
  • Running Time: 118 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

While it likely wasn't the filmmaker's goal, this movie made serial killers look magnetic, brilliant, and like resourceful masterminds, thanks to the compelling Hannibal Lecter character.

Positive role models

  "Buffalo Bill" has been criticized for perpetuating the stereotype of transvestites and transsexuals as loathsome misfit maniacs. The overshadowed heroine, Clarice Starling, is a youngish female crimefighter of humble origins, with an idealistic streak to save innocent lives, who must approach Lecter's world of evil and madness without being engulfed by it. Starling succeeds in this telling (though in one book sequel she ultimately succumbed). Most characters of color are domestics, with the exception of Clarice's rather underwritten best friend, her female roommate.


Usually the worst stuff is offscreen -- but it's just barely offscreen. A woman is beaten unconscious, then kept prisoner in a pit. Characters are shot at close range, two policemen are savagely assaulted, one bitten in the face. A blood-drenched Hannibal Lecter seen exultant after the act of murder. Mutilated corpses and human skins are shown.


A full-frontal nude scene (sort of) for the gender-confused psycho killer Buffalo Bill. A brief (hardly titillating) look at one of his victims, nude and bloated on an autopsy table. A madman masturbates and throws his bodily fluids at Clarice Starling (it happens quickly and goes without much dialogue explanation). Brief references to kinky sex and sexual acts, sometimes in a criminal-investigative context, sometimes in terms of men hitting on the Jodie Foster's character.


Curse words, usually from frothing lunatics or victims under duress. Other characters (like Hannibal or Clarice) swear only when quoting lines.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some social drinking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this Best Picture Oscar winner got condemned by both sides. Family-values advocates like Michael Medved called it too gruesome and disgusting (albeit well made) to deserve the Academy Award. Gay-rights activists said it stereotyped transgendered people as freakish monsters. Still, kids may be curious. The movie concerns extreme psychopaths and the graphic atrocities they commit, including references to twisted sexual urges and perversities. Much of the worst violence is offscreen, in autopsy photos or just discussed -- but that's close enough, and we witness some representative brutality and horror near the climax. The murderous psychologist-serial killer Hannibal Lecter is something of a "gentleman" killer, contrasted with the grotesque "Buffalo Bill," who is shown at one point fully nude. There is an oppressive atmosphere of menace, especially towards women.

What's the story?

(Jodie Foster) plays Clarice Starling, a young, idealistic FBI trainee sent in to consult on a case with Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant but diabolical therapist who's been caged for eight years. Clarice's quarry is a mystery slayer tagged with the nickname "Buffalo Bill," because the victims -- all plus-sized women -- turn up partially skinned. Lecter won't cooperate with the veteran FBI agents on using his Sherlock Holmes-like powers (and some insider info) on figuring out Buffalo Bill's whereabouts. But Clarice appeals to the deadly doctor, who feeds the young woman vital clues in trade for personal details about the wounds in her own past.

Is it any good?


Anthony Hopkins plays Lecter with magisterial authority and aplomb, resulting in a box-office smash that won the Best Picture Oscar and made Hannibal Lecter a much-imitated screen icon. Apart from the visceral suspense and grisly police antics, this film's strength is its girl power; a very sympathetic heroine interacts with the serpentine Lecter and then goes out to fight another human monster, in environments heavy with male-oriented threat and authority (indeed, you can say that the horrendous Lecter treats Clarice with more courtesy and respect than the so-called "normal" men around her). Silence of the Lambs thus has a complicated sense of virtue and evil coming to bargain with each other.

While the unfortunate consequence glorified a villain in the public mind, the narrative does indeed possess a moral center. Too bad you have to go through the autopsy scenes to reach it.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the heroine Clarise Starling, whose plight is actually the core of the film's drama and humanity (Hannibal Lecter just steals every scene and subplot he's in). She's an ambitious but vulnerable orphan, a young woman trying to persevere in an often- grisly career fighting the worst kind of crime, in an environment dominated by men -- even the "normal" ones are pretty creepy. Why do you think Clarice fascinates Lecter so much? Does the movie glamorize violence and glorify a villain?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:February 13, 1991
DVD/Streaming release date:August 24, 2004
Cast:Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Scott Glenn
Director:Jonathan Demme
Run time:118 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:restricted

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 14 years old Written byHaydimi July 18, 2010

Not worth seeing if you were given one R-rated movie to watch, but still good, especially the climax.

I was looking for a good scare when I watched this movie. The first half of the movie wasn't R-rated whatsoever. They had negative moments in it, but it was just boring. The second half dealt with a drag queen (naked at one point, full frontal nudity of a half man half woman) and there was a lot more swearing in the second half. Many violent attacks with creepy blood when Hannibal eats someone. Praises murderers works throughout the movie. There is a cannibal who talks about eating people constantly. One lady is tortured and stuck in a well and swears.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Kid, 12 years old June 5, 2010
are you kidding me people? half of the reviews rated it ok for kids 12+? it is gorey, violent, lots of sexual behavior. (it's about a cannibal and a guy who is making a suit of human skins!!!!) NOT ok for any kids under 15 or so.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing