20 Most Essential Jonathan Demme Movies

From serial-killer thrillers to 'Stop Making Sense,' mob comedies to a feature-length monologue – the Demme films you need to see ASAP

'Caged Heat' (1974)

Like a lot of filmmakers from his generation, Demme got his start with King of the B's Roger Corman, as a writer and producer helping to churn out biker flicks and other cheapo exploitation movies on the schlockmeister's assembly line. So when it came time to make his directorial debut, it wasn't surprising that the young man took on a women-in-prison film (he'd already penned a few for Corman); what was shocking was the sheer glee in which Demme turned this tale of a convict (Erica Gavin) into an up-against-the-wall-motherfucker middle finger to authoritarianism. Yes, there's sleazy genre tropes galore here, but even his exploitation work felt fresh and funky. You could tell greater things lay ahead for him besides shooting ladies behind bars. DF