Jodie Foster has been a working actress for over half a century. That fact is a bit surprising since she is only 55 years old. Foster started acting when she was only three and was cast in a famous Coppertone sun tan lotion commercial. The appearance led to numerous other commercials and guest appearances on practically all the popular TV shows of that era such as “Bonanza”, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”, and “Gunsmoke”. She would also take over Tatum O’Neal’s Oscar winning role in “Paper Moon” when that show was made into a television series. While she worked steadily none of her television series were particularly successful which probably helped her avoid the typecasting that kids from “The Brady Bunch” and other shows faced.
She only began to earn name recognition in her early teen years when she starred in a number of successful films, some directed by Martin Scorsese. In 1976 she would earn an Oscar nomination at the age of 14 as Best Supporting Actress for Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.” At the time she was the fifth youngest person to ever be nominated in that category. Her role in this film as a teenage prostitute saved from a cruel pimp by a deranged gunman would be one that would come to haunt her later life.
After graduating from college, she struggled to make a career for herself as an adult actor like many child stars do. The role that changed things was that of a rape victim in the film “The Accused.” Foster struggled with the role and had a particularly difficult time doing the courtroom scenes of the film. Director Jonathan Kaplan had to really push her to get the emotion he wanted and Foster felt she had failed him. Convinced her performance would be critically panned, she applied to graduate school and was prepared to get her PhD. and become a college English professor. “The Accused” ended up receiving glowing reviews for Foster and the Academy welcomed back their former child nominee with a win for Best Actress.
Foster has continued to both star and direct films ever since and has the new movie “Hotel Artemis” opening. Let’s look back on our career with a photo gallery of her 15 greatest films, ranked from worst to best, which also includes her second Oscar-winning role in “The Silence of the Lambs.”
15. FOXES (1980)
“Foxes” tells the story of four teenage girls growing up in the San Fernando Valley of suburban Los Angeles. This film can be seen as a bit of a turning point in Foster’s career since although she is still playing a teenager she is the most mature and stable of the characters and you can see the beginning of qualities emerge here that would later come to be displayed when she became an adult actress.
14. LITTLE MAN TATE (1991)
For the first film she directed, Foster chose this story of a single mother raising a young boy with a genius IQ. The kid’s intellect has made him a bit of a social outcast at his regular public school so his mother reluctantly enrolls him in a school for gifted kids. Foster is extremely warm and tender with the young boy whom she is also directing.
13. ANNA AND THE KING (1999)
This story of how a British school teacher travels to Siam (now Thailand) to teach the king’s children has been told multiple times in all mediums. Foster’s version is quite opulent and she brings a strong intelligence to the role. (Although Roger Ebert felt Foster was too intelligent to fall in love with the temperamental king).
12. CARNAGE (2011)
Based on the Tony Winning Play “God of Carnage,” this film teams Foster with a strong cast to tell the story of two Brooklyn parents meeting to discuss a conflict between their children. Things degenerate in their discussion and the parents turn out to have bigger conflicts then the children. Foster nicely plays her character’s descent from calm and reasonable to enraged and hysterical.
11. PANIC ROOM (2002)
Foster stepped in at the last minute for an injured Nicole Kidman to play a single mother who moves with her daughter into an elaborate New York City house. The house is equipped with a “panic room” where the occupants can hide and lock themselves into in case there is an intruder.
10. THE BRAVE ONE (2007)
This film was labeled a female version of the classic Charles Bronson film “Death Wish.” It features Foster as a radio talk show host whose husband is murdered one night as they walk their dog. Foster then turns into a vigilante shooting and killing other thieves and hoodlums she encounters in the city.
9. BUGSY MALONE (1976)
This film tells takes the typical gangster film and tells it with a twist by casting children in all the lead roles. Foster won raves from Ebert for her work as Tallulah a gun moll and singer in a nightclub. He also references how at only thirteen Foster was getting the kind of roles for which adult actresses were wishing.
8. FREAKY FRIDAY (1976)
Adults trading places with children and vice versa became a popular theme in movies in the 1980s but the first to set up this scenario was “Freaky Friday.” Foster stars with the great Barbara Harris as a mother and daughter who both wish they had each other’s lives… and then magically get their wish.
7. TAXI DRIVER (1976)
Foster received her first Oscar nomination (Best Supporting Actress) as the teenage hooker Iris in this highly acclaimed but highly controversial film from director Martin Scorsese. Iris is at times a sophisticated streetwise urchin full of bluster and bravado, but Foster also manages to convey the frightened damaged child underneath the exterior.
6. ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1974)
Ellen Burstyn won a Best Actress Oscar, but proving there are no small parts, Foster briefly appears in the film and steals every moment she’s in. Freed from her roots in child-oriented material you can feel 11-year-old Foster’s sheer delight playing Audrey, a smart-ass, ripple drinking kid whom the title character’s son befriends in guitar class.
5. THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976)
Foster brings an emotional complexity well beyond her years in this riveting thriller. In her one of her Oscar speeches Foster stated that societies’ outcasts were her people. That is clearly demonstrated in this story of a young woman whose father dies and wants her to live out the rest of her childhood alone untarnished by society and normal schooling. Her character Rynn lives alone in her family house and spends her days reading the books her father has left for her.
4. NELL (1994)
Foster played another loner in this film about a young woman discovered living alone in a remote wilderness cabin. She has never learned any formal language or how to communicate with others. Foster received a great deal of acclaim for this role in which she had to speak in a made-up language. She won the first ever Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress for her performance and also received a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
3. CONTACT (1997)
This is a complicated and intriguing story of a scientist who believes she has made contact with extraterrestrials and must fight government red tape as well as religious philosophers to continue her quest for contact with another life form. Foster is in fine form as the determined scientist. Sometimes Foster’s own evident intelligence has got in the way of her disappearing into characters but this time she merges perfectly with the character.
2. THE ACCUSED (1988)
Foster was a slightly surprising Oscar winner for Best Actress in the highly competitive category in 1988. She showed incredible range in this story of a woman who is raped in a bar by three men while others cheer them on. Foster goes from sexy seductress to shattered victim with many more emotions in between. She is particularly noteworthy in a scene where she barges into the house of her lawyer (Kelly McGillis) and castigates the lawyer for betraying her.
1. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
Foster had to fight for her role in what was to become her second Best Actress Oscar win in four years. Director Jonathan Demme had originally wanted his “Married to the Mob” star Michelle Pfeiffer for the role but Foster campaigned hard to be his second choice and she got her wish. Her portrayal of Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee thrust into the search for a serial killer, was paired with Anthony Hopkins as the famed Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins won a Best Actor Oscar). The two would match wits in the quid pro quo arrangement Lecter has set up where he will give her clues to find a serial killer if she gives him details about her life.