Believe it or not, The Silence of the Lambs was released on Valentine’s Day in 1991. The movie was scheduled for release in the middle of February because Orion Pictures, its distributor, already had a can't-miss hit with Dances With Wolves, and they wanted to give Kevin Costner as little competition as possible for the 1991 awards season. The strategy paid off, as Dances With Wolves won seven Oscars. But one year later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn’t—and/or couldn’t—forget about Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. On the occasion of the film's 30th anniversary, here are some things you might not have known about Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs.
1. The Silence of the Lambs is the third film to ever win all the "Big Five" Oscars—Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay.
The other two were It Happened One Night in 1935, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1976.
2. Gene Siskel gave The Silence of the Lambs a thumbs down.
Gene Siskel infamously didn’t see what all the fuss was about, dismissing the movie as a “star-studded freak show” and writing that The Silence of the Lambs was “a case of much ado about nothing.” The Oscars, and Roger Ebert, disagreed.
3. The rights to Hannibal Lecter were given away for free.
Michael Mann's movie Manhunter (1986) was based on Thomas Harris’s 1981 novel Red Dragon, the first of four books featuring the most infamous psychiatrist/cannibal in the world. Manhunter barely made half of its budget back at the box office, so producer Dino De Laurentiis gave away the rights he had for Lecter to The Silence of the Lambs producers gratis. Lecter’s second movie ended up making $272.7 million, about $264 million more than his first.
4. Gene Hackman was originally set to direct and star in The Silence of the Lambs.
Gene Hackman and Orion Pictures split the $500,000 needed to purchase the movie rights to the book. But Hackman dropped out days after he watched clips of himself at the 1989 Oscars as FBI Agent Rupert Anderson in Alan Parker's Mississippi Burning; he decided he didn't want to follow up a dark role with an even more unlikable character.
5. Michelle Pfeiffer was the first choice to play Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs.
Jodie Foster initially wanted to buy the film rights to Thomas’s book herself, but Hackman beat her to it. She then settled for fighting for the role of FBI agent Clarice Starling. Director Jonathan Demme wanted Pfeiffer, but like a lot of other actors, she was “concerned about the darkness of the piece.” Demme didn’t like Foster’s Boston accent in her movie The Accused, even though it won her an Oscar. But after meeting the determined actress twice, he changed his mind.
6. Jodie Foster was concerned that The Silence of the Lambs was going to make the FBI look stupid.
Demme directed the 1988 comedy Married to the Mob (starring Pfeiffer), which didn’t portray the FBI in the smartest light. After the agency impressed Foster with their handling of a death threat against her, they had earned her respect, enough that she approached Demme before filming to make sure that the FBI would be portrayed “in the correct way.”
7. Sean Connery was the first choice to play Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.
8. Anthony Hopkins channeled an author, an actress, and a computer in playing Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.
9. Anthony Hopkins used our fear of doctors and dentists to ramp up the scares in The Silence of the Lambs.
It was Hopkins’s idea for Lecter to wear white. His theory was that people already have a fear of doctors and dentists who wear white on the job.
10. Hannibal Lecter never said "Hello, Clarice" in The Silence of the Lambs.
The line that most people think was a quote is actually, "Good evening, Clarice."
11. Thomas Harris did not base Hannibal Lecter on any one person.
He was a general composite of all of the evil that Thomas Harris saw while doing research. "There is no one, thank goodness, like him," said FBI profiler John Douglas, the inspiration for Jack Crawford.
12. Scott Glenn broke down while researching his role as Jack Crawford for The Silence of the Lambs.
Douglas gave Glenn a tour of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia. After hearing tapes of serial killers Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris raping and torturing a 16-year-old girl, Glenn walked out “in tears” and was suddenly in favor of the death penalty.
13. Most of The Silence of the Lambs was shot around Pittsburgh.
The outside of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane is in fact the exterior of the Western Center Hospital in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Western Center closed in 2000, but was saved from demolition after it was designated as a historical landmark.
14. Buffalo Bill's house in The Silence of the Lambs was the home of a high school physics teacher.
Bentworth High School’s Harold Lloyd, whose own home double as Buffalo Bill's abode, claimed that some crew members were rude, items were stolen, and a security guard was fired for running tours through the house at night. In October 2020, the house hit the market for just under $300,000.
15. Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs was based on three serial killers.
16. BUFFALO BILL’S DANCE WAS NOT IN THE SCREENPLAY.
But it was in the original book and Ted Levine, the actor who played the serial killer Jame Gumb, insisted that the scene be included because it helped explain the demented character better.
17. Ted Levine needed a little liquid courage before shooting his dance scene in The Silence of the Lambs.
Before the big scene, Levine “took a couple shots” of tequila.
18. The skull on the moth on the movie poster is from a photo of Salvador Dalí.
The image is taken from In Voluptas Mors, a photo of Salvador Dalí posing next to a skull made up of seven naked women. It was inspired by a Dalí sketch and taken by photographer Philippe Halsman.
This story has been updated for 2021.