Grading the Hannibal Lecter Franchise

He is suave, charming, and intelligent. However, he will also slice out your insides and make an entree out of them. He is Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a creation of novelist Thomas Harris. A man who should be regarded with horror but there is something undoubtedly captivating about him. A character this fascinating was bound to be a hit on the silver screen and indeed he has been. Since 1986 Hannibal Lecter has terrorized moviegoers While he is mainly known for stealing the show in Silence of the Lambs, the good doctor has made many more appearances.

Manhunter (1986): Many fail to realize that this woefully obscure gem was actually the onscreen debut of Hannibal Lecter portrayed by Brian Cox. An adaptation of Red Dragon, the movie follows profiler Will Graham who is brought out of retirement to hunt the Tooth Fairy. In order to find this dangerous man, the troubled investigator has to turn to the killer who drove him to a nervous breakdown, Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (spelled differently for unknown reasons).  Naturally the cannibalistic doctor sees this as a chance to play mind games with the man who stopped him. Will Graham must ultimately battle a killer and his own inner demons. Given that Anthony Hopkins had yet to define Hannibal as a smooth supergenius, Cox had free reign with his interpretation of the character. He brought a scary grounded realism based off real life serial killer Peter Manuel to the role in this cult classic.


Silence of the Lambs (1991): This is not only the best film in the franchise but is also a full-fledged cinema masterpiece. With the serial killer Buffalo Bill on the loose holding the daughter of a senator at his mercy, FBI trainee Clarice Starling is thrown into the lion’s den. She must come face-to-face with an intelligent monster in the hopes of finding some kid of information to stop a murderer. Dr. Lecter develops a fascination with the tenacious young agent and in the process gets into her head in a dangerous way. Hannibal may only be in the movie for a few minutes, but he ominously looms over everything. For much of the runtime the danger he poses is built up so when he finally breaks free it is nothing short of terrifying. Under the direction of Jonathan Demme, Silence of the Lambs is the kind of movie that burrows into your brain and you never forget. Both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins turn in performances so good they created two of the most iconic characters in moviedom.


Hannibal (2001): Given the massive success of Silence of the Lambs there was naturally going to be a sequel. Sadly, neither Jodie Foster nor director Jonathan Demme returned. They were replaced with Julianne Moore and Ridley Scott for this follow-up to the Best Picture winner. Whereas Silence of the Lambs was a tense and terrifying thriller, Hannibal was more of a standard horror movie. Ten years after the events of the first film, the disfigured but powerful Mason Verger hunts down the man who ruined him, Hannibal Lecter. In order to stop Verger, Agent Starling also hunts down the man who left such an impact on her. The Old World streets of Florence truly make for a beautiful setting and a classy monster like Hannibal fits perfectly against this backdrop. Granted Ridley Scott is too talented to make a truly “bad” movie, but coming from the heights of it’s predecessor this movie was a massive letdown which failed to meet expectations. 


Red Dragon (2002): The final outing of Sir Anthony Hopkins in the role, as he wanted one last chance to remind audiences how scary Hannibal was. The producers decided the way to do this was going to the character’s past and revisiting Red Dragon. This time Ed Norton was cast as Lecter’s favorite foil Will Graham. After a bloody confrontation with Hannibal Lecter, Agent Graham is forced to once again cooperate with him to stop the Tooth Fairy. As this killer grows more dangerous Will Graham has to go into even darker places of his mind in order to stop him. Red Dragon seemingly caught many off guard with how good it was. A stellar cast led by Hopkins and Norton truly delivered on their front in this fun thriller.


Hannibal Rising

Hannibal Rising (2007): Was this movie even necessary? With rare exceptions, knowing the entire life story of a monster takes away their mystique and damages their ability to inspire fear. Given that this was a movie based off a book Thomas Harris was reluctantly forced to write, I guess the film is as good as could be expected. Shortly after the Second World War an orphaned and exiled Hannibal Lecter finds a home with his aunt Lady Murasaki. Once he uncovers his repressed memories that a group of Nazi deserters killed and ate his sister years before, the young Lecter sets out for revenge. Hannibal Rising took a captivating and terrifying character and tamed him. With bargain bin psychological issues driving him, Hannibal becomes an antihero in this underwhelming film.


Hannibal (TV) (2013-2015): Using Thomas Harris’ books as a base, fan favorite TV creator Bryan Fuller brought Hannibal Lecter to the small screen to tremendous acclaim. Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy play Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham, two men tied into a complex relationship as they help Jack Crawford hunt down a series of dangerous killers. This beautifully stylized show earned itself a spot among the greatest horror shows ever in just three short seasons. Ever since it was prematurely cancelled fans have been clamoring for more Hannibal. Recently the show finally popped up on Netflix where it has found renewed interest so hopefully Bryan Fuller and the rest of the cast and crew can ride this momentum to more terrifying but enthralling stories.