Hannibal Lecter is one of the most sadistic yet compelling fictional serial killers of all time. His name is one synonymous with slaughter and bloodshed, yet his sophisticated demeanour and intelligence make him an intriguing and terrifying criminal, one whose impact on cinema is arguably unmatched.
The Hannibal media franchise, based on the novels by Thomas Harris, has become a classic horror movie franchise in its own right over the past thirty-plus years. The series’ second movie The Silence of the Lambs is one of the most critically successful horror films of all time – it went on to win 7 Oscars (including Best Picture) – while its sequels and prequels have grossed over $290million at the box office, with Hannibal (2001) being one of the ten highest grossing horror films in history.
Featuring Anthony Hopkins at arguably his very best (his performances stirring fear through the smallest of mannerisms), the Hannibal movies have left an indelible mark on cinema and our wider culture. In this edition of Ranked, we here at The Film Magazine are looking back at all five Hannibal movies to see how one brutal psychiatrist-turned-cannibal left his mark on horror history, judging each Hannibal film franchise entry from worst to best in terms of artistic merit, societal impact, critical reception and audience perception, for this: the Hannibal Movies Ranked.
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5. Hannibal Rising (2007)
The most recent movie in the Hannibal franchise is the fourteen-year-old Hannibal Rising, and it’s on the bottom of this list because it simply doesn’t feel like a horror movie at all.
Hannibal Rising is more like a war flick than a horror and, unfortunately for any fans of the previous movies, Anthony Hopkins doesn’t step into the killer’s shoes this time. Instead, Gaspard Ulliel takes up the role of Hannibal long before his incarceration or his meeting with Clarice Starling.
As an origin story, Peter Webber’s Hannibal Rising reveals far more of Dr Lecter than we have ever seen before. As a young boy, Hannibal isn’t entirely monstrous, but his backstory is. After his parents are killed in his home country of Lithuania during the Second World War, the Nazis occupy the family lodge and terrorise eight-year-old Hannibal and his toddler sister, Micha. When food becomes scarce, the Nazis turn to the youngsters. Now a teenager and the only surviving sibling, Hannibal is out to get revenge on those who murdered his loved ones.
There’s no denying how brutally horrific Hannibal’s history is, but more than anything else it proves to be unbearably sad, and this distinction would prove to be this film’s downfall. In every other adaptation, the mystery of who Hannibal is and what he’s capable of is exactly what makes him so difficult to look away from. Due to what we see of his tragic life in Hannibal Rising, however, there are no secrets left to uncover – we know Hannibal will stop at nothing to get revenge and, in a way, we root for him or even feel sorry for him. Nothing is held back, and as a result the character of Hannibal is diminished.
Peter Webber’s adaptation isn’t awful, but it lacks the subtlety that makes Hannibal the eerie villain we have come to know him as. And as for the man himself, Gaspard Ulliel can’t quite match Anthony Hopkins’ iconic performance.
4. Hannibal (2001)
The second instalment in the Hannibal franchise was met with some anger amongst fans, as well as leading star Anthony Hopkins. Not only was Jonathan Demme (the director of The Silence of the Lambs) not returning, but nor was Jodie Foster as the young FBI agent Clarice Starling. Perhaps even more frustratingly, Starling was re-cast, and was this time played by Julianne Moore.
Unlike Hannibal Rising, Hannibal (2001) is capable of stirring fear and discomfort in a scarily effortless way, but its plot is far too complex. Hannibal is once again at the forefront of the story, this time living in exile in Florence, Italy, aiming to find Agent Starling (who is in trouble with the FBI for being rather ‘trigger happy’). Meanwhile, an old victim of his, Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), is also on the hunt for the killer and pulls corrupt officer Renaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) into his schemes.
It’s a rather fast-paced movie in comparison to the others (borrowing from Scott’s action-centric directorial trademarks), but with so much happening it lacks in tension.
Hannibal (2001) features some beautiful imagery, but it is the dynamic between Dr Lecter and Clarice Starling that proves to be the most interesting aspect of this long-awaited sequel.
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