We check out the finest Jodie Foster films from her early work as a child star in The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane and Taxi Driver to those memorable turns as an adult in the hard-hitting The Accused and masterpiece The Silence of the Lambs.
Jodie Foster is that rare breed of actor: a child star who sustained a career into adulthood and continues to deliver memorable performances and captivating, thrilling, and at times, thought-provoking cinema both as an actress and director.
One of Hollywood’s most durable stars, Foster’s longevity is in part down to keeping her feet on the ground (she took a four-year hiatus during the height of her teenage stardom to attend university, for example) and valuing her privacy.
She’s also attune to a good script with films like The Silence of the Lambs, The Accused, Contact and Taxi Driver remaining some of contemporary American cinema’s finest works. These films also highlight the diversity of Foster’s roles while showcasing the themes that would dominate her work, namely the display of strong-willed, intelligent, independent women often with a striking vulnerability.
What’s also admirable is Foster’s resolute determination to map out her own career path. She developed her own production company which made Nell amongst other films and pursued directing which brought us Little Man Tate (a film she also starred in). And she hasn’t been afraid to take risks, turning down the chance to star in The Silence of the Lambs’ sequel Hannibal in order to tackle a personal film project instead.
Not all Jodie Foster films work and she’s not immune to the odd turkey. But you have to credit the multi-Academy Award-winning actress with the courage to trust her creative judgement for better and for worse.
Here’s a selection of my favourite Jodie Foster films…
10. Bugsy Malone (Parker, 1976)
Foster is electric as gun moll Tallulah in this stylish musical inspired by gangster activity during prohibition era New York and Chicago. In contrast to her other big 1976 role in Taxi Driver, here she is refined in dress and glamourised by a face full of make, her assured and confident persona radiating like the classic screen stars her character is modelled on.
9. Maverick (Donner, 1994)
A playful Foster is a delight in Richard Donner’s comedy western. We don’t often see this side of Foster – sexy, funny, brash. She’s larger than life in her role as a con artist who meets her match in the guise of Mel Gibson’s titular title character.
8. Foxes (Lyne, 1980)
Before Fatal Attraction, 9 ½ Weeks and Flashdance, Adrian Lyne made Foxes with a young Jodie Foster (prior to her four-year hiatus to attend university). This coming of age tale focuses on the lives of four teenage girls at the end of the 1970s. They suffer from the usual problems – relationships, sex, drugs, breaking away from the family nest, school – but the beauty of the film lies in its authentic portrayal of these characters. Foxes is a great time capsule of the period where the decadent seventies meets head on with materialistic eighties.
7. Panic Room (Fincher, 2002)
Foster is a tenacious single mother tackling home invaders with murderous intent in David Fincher’s stylish thriller Panic Room. Maternal instincts dominate as her strong-willed character must also protect her pre-teen daughter, the pair locked in the eponymous panic room which the gun-toting criminals want to get inside. It makes for some intense suspense within a small-scale setting, Fincher’s kinetic camera moving through walls and floorboards tracking the dramatic stand-off. You might think the director is more interested in what his camera is doing but there are some top performances from a cast that includes a young Kristin Stewart, Forrest Whitaker and Jared Leto.
6. Nell (Apted, 1994)
Foster won acclaim for her performance in Nell despite the film itself receiving mixed reviews. That said, Nell is worth seeing for Foster’s intense turn as the title character, a feral young woman who is found in the North Carolina mountains having been raised entirely in an isolated cabin. She’s developed her own language and mannerisms which Foster conveys with a compelling authenticity.
5. The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (Gessner, 1976)
A film that has grown in stature having been largely dismissed on initial release, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane has however always had one thing on its side: the performance of Foster. Indeed, in hindsight, the film could be looked upon as featuring one of the great performances from a child actor, particularly because of the tough subject matter that includes themes of child sex abuse and suicide. Foster, who plays a 13-year-old and was around that age herself when production took place, carries the film as its chief protagonist which is unlike her other early films when she was part of an ensemble or support cast.
4. Contact (Zemeckis, 1995)
Foster’s characters are often strong-willed, intelligent and ambitious people. Perhaps no character embodies Foster’s oeuvre as well as Dr. Ellie Arroway, the SETI scientist who discovers an extra-terrestrial message while stationed at the VLA radio astronomy observatory in New Mexico. Foster’s authentic emotional intensity carries us along a journey peppered with intellectual posturing, scientific mumbo-jumbo, religious pandering, and moral and ethical quandary that would, in less assured hands, leave us bogged down in information overload. But that’s not the case here. Indeed, Foster is aided by the technical accomplishments of the film including director Robert Zemeckis’ wonderful orchestration of drama and, at times, awe-inspiring cinematography.
3. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)
It is quite astonishing that Foster was just 13 years old when she appeared in Martin Scorsese’s part loner character study, part vigilante drama Taxi Driver. The actress would display the mental toughness that distinguished her later performances as a pre-teen prostitute who Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle takes pity on. Her plain-faced, greasy-haired turn displays the tragedy of innocence lost in spite of a streetwise defiance and steely attitude that belies her young age.
2. The Accused (Kaplan, 1988)
An important and challenging role for Foster, here she plays a rape victim who must battle a local township inclined to side with the perpetrators and a district attorney uninterested in delivering proper justice. This was the first sight of graphic rape in a Hollywood film, drawing attention to a subject too often brushed under the carpet. Foster’s performance, which won her an Academy Award, is striking because her victim is not a character we sympathise with by default. The strength of Foster’s starring role is as much down to the script by screenwriter Tom Topor and the direction of Jonathan Kaplan who recognise the need to remain unsentimental in the depiction of both the rape and the ensuing court case.
1. The Silence Of The Lambs (Demme, 1991)
Foster holds her own opposite the great Anthony Hopkins in the most iconic film of her career. Here she plays FBI trainee Clarice Starling who is tasked with helping solve a killing spree by interviewing incarcerated psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter. The Silence of the Lambs is memorable for many reasons not least the power struggle between a manipulative intellectual and a determined, ambitious would-be federal agent. Foster’s talent ensures this small-in-stature character has the courage and intelligence to compete with the domineering mind games of her psychotic adversary. The underlying admiration she ultimate gains from Lecter alongside her own fascination with this criminal’s psychological make-up adds further layers to one of cinema’s most profound good-guy-bad-guy pairings.
Over to you: what are your fave Jodie Foster films?