Hannibal Lecter, the iconic fictional psychiatrist-turned-cannibalistic serial killer, has been adapted for the big screen five times from the series of novels by Thomas Harris.
Succession's Brian Cox was the first actor to bring Dr Hannibal to life in Michael Mann's Manhunter, adapted from Harris' first novel, Red Dragon. Anthony Hopkins famously took over the role for Silence of the Lambs in Jonathan Demme's 1991 adaptation, which won him an Oscar, and saw him reprise the role for the following two instalments.
Cox recently revealed why he didn't return as Hannibal in his 2021 memoir Putting the Rabbit in the Hat, explaining that new director Jonathan Demme wanted "to do everything in a fresh and original way".
"Why wasn’t I asked back? Well, firstly because Michael had let go of the property and it had all got very complicated, as these things do," Cox explained. "Gene Hackman had been approached to direct it, but he jumped ship. Then Jonathan Demme came on board and of course he wanted to be a new broom. He wanted to do everything in a fresh and original way, and he wasn’t interested in who had played Hannibal first. Directors are like that. They want their own creations. They want their own people on it."
Silence of the Lambs remains the most lauded and recognisable film in the franchise, although Cox's Manhunter has garnered appreciation and recognition with age, and is now considered a cult classic.
To celebrate the movies, here are the Hannibal films in chronological order and where you can stream them below.
How to watch the Hannibal movies in order of release date
- Manhunter (1986)
- Silence of the Lambs (1991)
- Hannibal (2001)
- Red Dragon (2002)
- Hannibal Rising (2007)
Starring: Brian Cox, William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang and Tom Noonan.
Adapted by Michael Mann from the 1981 novel by Thomas Harris, the follows William Petersen's FBI profiler Will Graham (William Petersen) coming out of retirement to investigate serial killer Francis Dolarhyde (Tom Noonan), known by the macabre name the Tooth Fairy, due to the bite marks left on his victims. Graham suffered a breakdown after being attacked by Dr Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), whom he sent to prison. However, he visits Lecktor - a former psychiatrist - in his cell to get his insight into the motivations of the Tooth Fairy.
The film focuses on the forensic work carried out by the FBI to catch killers, and the prolonged psychological toll it takes. The production is known for its stylised visuals and while it didn't make much of an impact on the box office upon its release, it's now appreciated as a cult classic.
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Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn and Ted Levine.
The most famous and successful of the franchise, Silence of the Lambs featured the great Anthony Hopkins making his chilling debut as Hannibal Lecter opposite Jodie Foster as ambitious FBI trainee Clarice Starling.
Adapted from the 1988 novel by Thomas Harris, the film went on to become the third film in Academy Awards history to win in all top five categories; Best Actor for Hopkins, Best Actress for Jodie Foster, Best Director for Jonathan Demme, Best Adapted Screenplay for Ted Tally, and Best Picture.
The story follows Clarice Starling as she's assigned to interview Hannibal Lecter, whom the FBI believe could be useful in tracking down a serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill, who is murdering young women and removing their skin from their bodies.
The movie is considered one of the greatest and most influential of all time.
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta, Frankie R. Faison, Giancarlo Giannini, and Francesca Neri.
Hannibal serves as a sequel to Silence of Lambs, adapted by Ridley Scott from Thomas Harris' 1999 novel.
Anthony Hopkins makes his return as Hannibal, with Julianne Moore taking over from Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling. Ten years after tracking down serial killer Jame Gumb aka Buffalo Bill, Clarice finds her position as FBI special agent jeopardised after being held responsible for a drug raid gone wrong that resulted in the death of six people.
Clarice is contacted by Mason Verger, played by Gary Oldman, who is the only surviving victim of Hannibal, who wants to capture and torture him since he paralysed and disfigured Verger during a therapy session. Hannibal is on the run after escaping custody during the Buffalo Bill investigation. The film fared well at the box office and was greeted with mixed reviews from critics.
Red Dragon (2002)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
A prequel to Silence of the Lambs, and a remake of Manhunter, Red Dragon was directed by Brett Ratner and written by Ted Tally, based on Thomas Harris' 1981 novel.
Set in 1980, the film follows FBI agent Will Parker, this time played by Edward Norton, enlisting the help of Hannibal Lecter to capture Francis Dolarhyde, aka the Tooth Fairy, played by Joseph Fiennes. Parker has been working with Lector on of a profile of a serial killer who removes edible body parts from his victims, a cannibal.
Lector attacks Will when he realises he's close to identifying him as the killer, and Lecter is imprisoned in an institution for the criminally insane. The impressive cast also includes Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
It received positive reviews and was a box office success.
Hannibal Rising (2007)
Starring: Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li, Rhys Ifans and Dominic West.
Hannibal Rising is a prequel to Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal, directed by Peter Webber and adapted from Thomas Harris' 2006 novel of the same name.
Set in 1941, the story follows Hannibal Lecter's transition from a vengeful Nazi hunter into a cannibalistic serial killer. We find Lecter at eight-years-old, living in Lithuania with his family including his sister Misha during World War II. An explosion caused by the Nazis kills Hannibal's parents, and he moves in with his aunt and begins plotting revenge on those responsible for his sister's death.
As the film centres on a young Hannibal, Gaspard Ulliel took over the titular role from Anthony Hopkins. The cast also includes Gong Li, Rhys Ifans and Dominic West.
The film received negative reviews, but Gaspard Ulliel was praised for his performance.
Hannibal TV series
Hannibal (2013 - 2015)
The Hannibal franchise also inspired the spin-off TV series Hannibal, created by Bryan Fuller and based loosely on Red Dragon. The series stars Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter and Hugh Dancy as FBI profiler Will Graham. It ran for three seasons between 2013 - 2015.
Hannibal films in order of Rotten Tomatoes score
The following are the Hannibal movies as rated by their score on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.
The Silence of the Lambs is at the top followed closely by Manhunter. Hannibal Rising languishes at the bottom with a very dismal 17 per cent.
- The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - 95 per cent
- Manhunter (1986) - 93 per cent
- Red Dragon (2007) - 69 per cent
- Hannibal (2001) - 39 per cent
- Hannibal Rising - 17 per cent
Hannibal films in order of IMDB score
- Silence of the Lambs (1991) 8.6/10
- Manhunter (1986) 7.2/10
- Red Dragon (2002) 7.2/10
- Hannibal (2001) 6.8/10
- Hannibal Rising (2007) 6.1/10
Perfect to enjoy in the lead-up to Halloween.
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