Parker started out as an advertising copywriter for advertising agencies in the 1960s and 1970s and began to write his own Television commercial scripts. Through his association with producer David Puttnam he wrote the screenplay for the 1971 feature Melody.
In 1978 Parker directed Midnight Express which was loved by critics and ended up earning Parker a number of Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture. He later was nominated for Best Director for Mississippi Burning (1988).
plus various commercials.