Demme's 1980 film Melvin and Howard did not have a wide release, but received widespread critical acclaim, and led to the signing of Demme to direct the Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell star vehicle Swing Shift. A big-budget production intended to be a major prestige picture for Warner Bros. as well as a commercial breakthrough for Demme, Swing Shift was compromised by creative differences, with Demme renouncing the film. The film was released in May 1984, and was generally panned by critics and neglected by moviegoers.
In 1991, Demme won the Academy Award for The Silence of the Lambs—one of the few films to win all the major categories (best film, best director, best screenplay, best actor, and best actress). Demme directed an Oscar-winning turn from Tom Hanks in his next feature, Philadelphia.
Since then, Demme's films have included remakes of two popular films: The Truth About Charlie, a remake of Charade that starred Mark Wahlberg in the Cary Grant role; and The Manchurian Candidate, with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep.
In 2007, Demme's film Man from Plains, a documentary about former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's book tour in promotion of his book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, premiered at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals.
One of his common directorial motifs is to allow characters to look directly into the camera. Demme formed his production company, Clinica Estetico, with producers Edward Saxon and Peter Saraf. They were based out of New York for fifteen years.