The Accused (1988 film)

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The Accused
Accused ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJonathan Kaplan
Produced byStanley R. Jaffe
Sherry Lansing
Written byTom Topor
Music byBrad Fiedel
CinematographyRalf D. Bode
Edited byO. Nicholas Brown
Gerard B. Greenberg
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • October 14, 1988 (1988-10-14) (United States)
Running time
111 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$13 million[1]
Box office$92.1 million

The Accused is a 1988 American legal drama film directed by Jonathan Kaplan, written by Tom Topor and starring Jodie Foster, Kelly McGillis, Bernie Coulson, Leo Rossi, Ann Hearn, Carmen Argenziano, Steve Antin and Tom O'Brien. In the film Sarah Tobias, a young waitress, is gang-raped by three men at a local bar. She and deputy district attorney Kathryn Murphy set out to prosecute the rapists as well as the men who helped induce the crime.

Set in Washington state, but filmed mainly in Vancouver, British Columbia, it is loosely based on the 1983 gang rape of Cheryl Araujo in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and the resulting trial which received national coverage. The film explores the themes of classism, misogyny, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), slut shaming, victim blaming and women's empowerment.

The Accused premiered at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival, where it competed for the Golden Bear. It was released in limited theatres on October 14, 1988 by Paramount Pictures and was highly controversial upon release, mostly due to its graphic representation of gang rape. The film became a critical and commercial success, grossing over $92 million worldwide against its $13 million budget, and was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the Top 10 Films of the year. Reviewers praised the film's audacity, the authenticity of the portrayal of subject matter, and praised it for being one of the first films to deal with the horrors of rape and its aftermath on a victim's life. Foster's performance marked her breakthrough into adult roles, earning numerous accolades including the Academy Award for Best Actress.


On April 18, 1987 at a local bar, 24-year-old waitress Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster) is brutally gang raped by three men who are cheered and encouraged by onlookers. Based upon a lack of strong evidence, including Sarah's own checkered past and her demeanor before the rape, Deputy district attorney Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis) offers the three men a plea bargain to a lesser offense which, although having a similar sentencing range, would make them eligible for parole sooner. Enraged, Sarah feels betrayed by Murphy. Against advice of the District Attorney, Murphy prosecutes three onlookers for their solicitation in encouraging the other men to rape Sarah. At trial, Sarah is finally able to tell her story, but is unable to identify the onlookers. A conviction seems unlikely until the fraternity brother of one of the attackers testifies in a flashback as to what he recalls. With all three onlookers convicted, Sarah's attackers will likely not be paroled.




"Jonathan and I looked at a lot of old films, and we couldn't find one that had explored the subject. There were almost no movies where the subject of the movie is rape. There are many movies that have a rape incident in them, but The Accused is about rape, there's no other subject. And it's about two women; there's no man who comes to rescue them. It's a very tough subject."

—Topor explaining the importance to make the film[2]

Screenwriter Tom Topor was inspired to write the film after the trial of Cheryl Araujo became national news.[2] Dawn Steel called him to ask if he'd be interested in doing a movie on the subject. Sherry Lansing and Stanley Jaffe from Paramount Pictures were subsequently signed on to produce the film. Topor interviewed 30 rape victims and numerous rapists, prosecutors, defense attorneys and medical professionals.[2] Jonathan Kaplan met with Steel and discussed the possibility of making a film on the subject. The original draft of the script mainly focused on the lawyer's story. However, Kaplan wanted the rape victim to be as prominent as the lawyer; the script also featured a pool table (reflecting the real life incident), but the producers were concerned with being sued, so it was changed to a pinball machine.

Following the test screenings, the film received the lowest scores in the history of Paramount. According to Lansing, "The audience thought that Jodie's character deserved the rape."[2] The studio executives wanted to put the film on the shelf and were looking for ways to prevent it from being released. Lansing asked for another screening with just women, which was far more successful. Of the 20 women in the room, 18 had experience with rape — either they or someone they knew had been raped. When tested again months later, it was given one of the highest scores in studio's history.[2]


The studio was looking for a bankable actress who could sell the film. Numerous actresses were offered for the part of Sarah Tobias including Jennifer Grey, Meg Ryan, Joan Cusack, Jennifer Beals, Ally Sheedy and Kelly Preston, but all of them rejected the film due to its gruesome and controversial themes. Foster, who had recently graduated from Yale and didn't make any successful films during her time at school, wasn't the prime choice for the producers. Following numerous auditions as well as rejection from various established actresses, she was finally cast in the part.

Kelly McGillis was initially offered to play Sarah Tobias, but instead took the role of Kathryn Murphy.

Jane Fonda was initially attached to play Kathryn Murphy but left the project as she found the script exploitative and poorly written. Ellen Barkin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sigourney Weaver, Debra Winger, Meryl Streep and Geena Davis were also considered for the part. Kelly McGillis, who just came off Top Gun (1986) was cast for the bankable prospects of the film.[2] McGillis was initially offered to play Sarah but declined, citing her personal experience.[3] She acknowledged at the time of the film's release that she herself had survived a violent attack and rape in 1982 when two men broke into her apartment. Based on her experience, she took on the role of Murphy. Brad Pitt auditioned for the part of Ken Joyce.

Foster viewed the film as a last ditch effort to give her acting career a much needed boost. She had taken a sabbatical from Hollywood to attend Yale, which was prolonged due to John Hinckley's assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan (which he carried out as a means to impress Foster with whom he had been obsessed after seeing her in Taxi Driver) in March 1981. After recovering from the media frenzy surrounding her following the incident, she had experienced a bit of a dry spell upon her return to acting. Most of her films had a lukewarm response both with critics and at the box office. She stated that she would have retired from acting had The Accused followed suit. Ultimately, the film's success revitalized her career.


Principal photography for The Accused began on April 22, 1987 and concluded two months later on June 2. Although set in Washington state, it was filmed mainly in Vancouver, British Columbia. The gang rape scene was highly controversial at the time of its release (and still continues to be), as being the longest, most graphic and boldest representation of sexual assault in mainstream cinematic history. It took five days to complete and the filming was a difficult experience for the cast and crew involved. Everyone felt protective of Foster and worried how traumatic the situation could be for her. In an interview, Foster explained that the rape scene was meticulously rehearsed beforehand, so there would be no unpleasant surprises for anyone involved in the actual scene. She has stated that she does not remember filming the scene and completely blacked out and broke blood vessels in her right eye from crying during the shooting of the scene. The male actors were also overwhelmingly upset.[4][5] Leo Rossi (who played Cliff "Scorpion" Albrect, the bystander), recalled the experience of Woody Brown (who played Danny, one of the rapists) following the filming of the scene, in which he bolted from the set and threw up in his trailer.[2] Complex ranked the rape scene from the film #16 on its list of "The 53 Most Hard-To-Watch Scenes in Movie History".[6]


1.""I'm Talking Love""Vanessa Anderson3:35
2.""At This Moment""Billy Vera & The Beaters2:30
3.""Kiss of Fire""James Harman3:50
4.""Love to the Limit""Only Child3:21
5.""Love in Return""Gina Schock2:20
6.""Middle of Nowhere""Gina Schock and Vance DeGeneres2:10
7.""Walk in My Sleep""House of Schock1:50
8.""Mojo Boogie""Johnny Winter2:50


The Accused was released in limited theatres in North America on October 14, 1988. Although it was supposed to be released in April, it was deferred to October due to the Writers Guild of America's strike. The film premiered at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival in 1989, where it competed for the Golden Bear.[7]


Box office[edit]

In its opening weekend in the United States and Canada, The Accused was number 1 at the box office, grossing $4.3 million in 796 theaters. The film grossed a total of $32.1 million in the United States and Canada[8] and $60 million overseas[9] for a worldwide total of $92.1 million.

Critical response[edit]

Jodie Foster's performance garnered widespread critical acclaim and won her the Academy Award for Best Actress.

The Accused received positive reviews upon release, most notably for Foster's performance. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 91% based on 22 reviews, with an average rating of 7.09/10.[10] On Metacritic, the film has an average score of 65 out of 100 indicating "generally favourable reviews".[11]

In a positive review, writing of the two criminal prosecutions in the film, Roger Ebert finds that the lesson of the trial "may be the most important message this movie has to offer...that verbal sexual harassment, whether crudely in a saloon back room or subtly in an everyday situation, is a form of violence - one that leaves no visible marks but can make its victims feel unable to move freely and casually in society. It is a form of imprisonment."[12] Rob Beattie from Empire, gave the film five out of five stars, calling it phenomenal and called the controversial rape scene "devastating, harrowing and utterly convincing".[13] Judy Steed of The Globe and Mail called it "An experience that is sometimes unbearable and always riveting". Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "A consistently engrossing melodrama, modest in its aims and as effective for the clichés it avoids as for the clear eye through which it sees its working-class American lives".[14]

Marjorie Heins, in the 1998 book The V-Chip Debate: Content Filtering from Television to the Internet, said that educators worried that the film would "receive V ratings and be subject to at least a presumption against curricular use in many public schools."[15]


At the 61st Academy Awards, Foster won Best Actress. This was the film's sole nomination, thus marking the first occurrence of such an event since 1962 (when Sophia Loren won for Two Women) that the winner of the category won for a film with a single nomination. In 2006, Foster's performance was ranked #56 on Premiere's 100 Greatest Film Performances of all-time.[16]

Award/Festival Category Recipient and nominee Result
Academy Awards Best Actress Jodie Foster Won
Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear Jonathan Kaplan Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actress Jodie Foster Runner-up
British Academy Film Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Nominated
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Actress Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Won[a]
Jupiter Awards Best International Actress Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actress Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Runner-up
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films The Accused Won
Best Actress Jodie Foster Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actress Runner-up
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actress Won
People's Choice Awards Favourite Dramatic Motion Picture Actress Nominated
Political Film Society Awards Human Rights The Accused Nominated



  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Ford, Rebecca (January 16, 2014). "'The Accused' Oral History: A Brutal Rape Scene, Traumatized Actors and Producers' Fights to Make the Movie". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  3. ^ Kelly McGillis, as told to Kristin McMurran (November 14, 1988). "Memoir of a Brief Time in Hell". People. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  4. ^ van Meter, Jonathan (January 6, 1991). "Child of the Movies". The New York Times. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
  5. ^ Hollinger 2012, p. 46
  6. ^ Borone, Matt (March 16, 2018). "The 53 Most Hard-To-Watch Scenes in Movie History". Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  7. ^ "Berlinale: 1989 Programme". Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  8. ^ "The Accused (1988)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  9. ^ Groves, Don (August 9, 1989). "UIP Up, Up and Away For Year; Rentals Take Off". Variety. p. 11.
  10. ^ "The Accused". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 20, 2020.
  11. ^ "The Accused Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  12. ^ Roger Ebert (October 14, 1988). "The Accused", Chicago Sun-Times
  13. ^ Beattie, Rob (October 14, 2015). "The Accused Review". Empire. Retrieved May 25, 2017.
  14. ^ Canby, Vincent (October 14, 1988). "The Accused Review". The New York Times. Retrieved May 25, 2017.
  15. ^ Marjorie Heins, "Three Questions About Television Ratings," in The V-Chip Debate: Content Filtering from Television to the Internet, ed. Monroe E. Price. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers (1998): 54
  16. ^ "100 Greatest Movie Performances of All Time by Premiere Magazine". April 2006. Retrieved July 6, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Aquino, John T. (2005). "Big Dan's Tavern Rape Trial (1983) / Film: The Accused (1988)," in Truth and Lives on Film: The Legal Problems of Depicting Real Persons and Events in a Fictional Medium. McFarland. pp. 140–143. ISBN 0786420448.

External links[edit]