The 10 Best Jodie Foster Movie Performances

5. Carnage (2011)


Jodie Foster has not done a lot of comedies in her adult acting career. While the genre may not represent a lot of her former roles, she is great as Penelope Longstreet. She is able to transcend some of the tough outer layers she is known for as the wife of Michael Longstreet (John C. Reilly), a wealthy kitchen gadget salesman and father of their eleven year-old son, Zachary. Another boy at school struck Zachary with a stick.

Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet are the parents of the youngster who hit Zachary and they decided it was best to visit the Longstreets in person to iron out any misgivings over the situation. Things seem straightforward enough until the quiet conversation turns into a giant shouting match.

Carnage is as much social commentary about the “plight” of the upper class as it is absurdist comedy. Based on a play by Yasmina Reza, “God of Carnage”, Roman Polanski gives the screenplay some of his signature touches. We watch the two wealthy, hyper-educated couples start the conversation within the confounds of civility and slowly descend into chaos and hostility.

It is interesting to see the alliances form between the sexes and then switch back to the couples as each character takes a more biting jab than the last. Jodie Foster does a good job of holding it together until it is really time to let loose and that’s what makes her performance so memorable in this film.


4. Contact (1997)


Once again, Jodie Foster stretches the depths of her abilities to play the role of Dr. Ellie Arroway, an astronomer who believes in extraterrestrial life. Her father instilled a love for astronomy in her at a young age. Her mother died in childbirth and she has a close relationship with her dad.

One evening while stargazing with his daughter, her father also passes a way. She is convinced that she can someday still contact him. Ellie keeps up her pursuit of finding alien life while pursuing her research agenda in Puerto Rico using a radio telescope to send signals into the universe. She has to deal with a skeptical supervisor (Tom Skerritt) who threatens to cut her funding. Too further complicate matters; she has a brief affair with a man (Matthew McConaughey) who challenges her atheist beliefs.

Foster is outstanding in this role for several reasons. She is extremely bright in real life and that shines through in this performance. She was a gifted child and attended Yale University. She does an excellent job as presenting as someone who only believes in rational thought and is hyper focused on her goal.

Her tough but thoughtful veneer gives Ellie’s character the right touch. She really commits to this part and because of this, makes it even more convincing. She demonstrates just the right amount of pathos and emotion toward the end of the film that you feel a great deal of empathy for her after all.


3. Taxi Driver (1976)

Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver

This is another stellar entry in Jodie Foster’s body of work. The ultimate antihero film, Taxi Driver is an unflinching look at loneliness and isolation. Robert De Niro plays Travis Bickle, a war veteran who is fed up with the depravity that he sees around him day after day in New York City.

Travis cannot seem to connect to anybody or anything. He takes a job driving cab to deal with his insomnia. After several failed attempts to connect with people, he has a random encounter with a 12 year-old prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster). He becomes obsessed with her and believes he can rescue her from her dangerous lifestyle.

This role was controversial for the child star at the time but her older sister Connie was her body double for the more sexually explicit scenes. In an interview, she stated that the film had a significant impact on her life and she felt she really had to reach to play the character. She plays it to perfection.

Foster was only 14 at the time and this would have been a challenging role for an adult to play. Travis Bickle is alienated from himself and others but feels connected to this young girl. Foster does a great job of being able to connect to his character even if he can’t connect to others. People undeniably remember Taxi Driver for De Niro’s performance but Jodie Foster’s performance is phenomenal in this movie.


2. The Accused (1988)

The Accused

Jodie Foster’s performance in this film earned her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA nomination. The Best Actress nomination was the only nomination for the film. It is based on a true story that took place in a bar in Massachusetts when a young woman was sexually assaulted on a pool table while bar patrons watched and cheered. In The Accused, the prosecutor in the case wants to bring those who cheered on the attack to justice in addition to the perpetrators.

Even though it is based on a true story, the film itself was groundbreaking in many ways. Few movies depicting rape show the aftermath of what happens with the victim emotionally. Even fewer focus on the victim’s quest for justice. The realism of the attack (which takes place on a pinball table in the movie) and Foster’s performance is gut wrenching.

The film is also one of the first to challenge the “blaming the victim” trope that is all too common in these cases. Foster gives a scorching performance as Sarah Tobias. This is a difficult film to watch but the subject matter is something that cannot be ignored.


1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

the silence of the lambs

Some twenty plus years later, this film remains as one of the most chilling psychological thrillers in history. Sir Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter will be revered as one of the more terrifying villains on screen but just as memorable is Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling. Starling plays the young F.B.I. agent who is tasked with interviewing Lecter so he can help profile serial killer Buffalo Bill. While the sinister Hannibal Lecter seems to be the centerpiece of the film, the movie really is more about Clarice Starling.

Foster’s performance is so compelling in this film for a wide variety of reasons. First, keep in mind that Clarice Starling is really playing a role as well. She is really a country bumpkin who managed to work extremely hard to get to where she is in life. She pretends to have much more confidence than she really does. Her male superiors and counterparts don’t really show her the respect that she deserves.

Foster manages to convey this and still have Starling’s character succeed in the movie. Second, Foster plays against Anthony Hopkins extremely well in this film. Foster shows that Starling can be vulnerable with essentially a monster, even though he has no designs to harm Starling. Jodie Foster won her second Academy Award, her first BAFTA, and a Golden Globe for her performance. All were well deserved.

Author Bio: Edwanike Harbour has a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is an avid film buff and currently writes for Madison Film Forum. When she’s not in front of a movie screen, she is usually listening to indie rock and reading Don Delillo novels.