Hannibal Movies Ranked

3. Manhunter (1986)

Sure, Red Dragon is just a frame-for-frame reboot of Michael Mann’s 1986 thriller Manhunter, but unfortunately the original doesn’t quite reach its full potential – hence its spot behind Red Dragon at number three on this list. 

The plot is exactly the same: the FBI’s Will Graham (this time played by William Petersen) is on the hunt for a vicious killer who kills families in their homes, and he seeks out the infamous Hannibal for help, leaving behind his wife and son. It has to be said that the relationship between Graham and his family is a lot more fleshed out in this particular movie, which offers great insight into the character.

In contrast to later iterations of the Hannibal tales, Manhunter keeps Hannibal hidden until much further into the movie. This should make for a much more intense introduction, but even Brian Cox can’t match the chilling and creepy delivery of the great Anthony Hopkins. Of course he gets the job done – a convincing and knowledgeable psychiatrist, seemingly out of place behind bars – but there isn’t anything about his attitude or mannerisms that is particularly scary. In fact, the only thing that makes us aware we should be afraid of him is the awareness of his crimes. 

Aside from both Brian Cox’s Hannibal and The Tooth Fairy Killer, played by Tom Noonan, the casting of Manhunter cannot be faulted. William Petersen is brilliant as young detective Will Graham, whose fear can be seen behind the brave face he puts on during his conversations with the cannibal, and Joan Allen gives a brilliant performance as the vulnerable and impressionable Reba.

As the first adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, Manhunter isn’t a bad movie and certainly sets the way for the ones to come. It is, however, let down by its lack of any truly frightening elements and therefore lacks in comparison to the upcoming two franchise entries. It also features some very distracting soundtrack choices that, while unsurprising for the eighties, detract from the quality of the experience. 

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2. Red Dragon (2002)

If you’re a fan of the ‘Hannibal’ TV show, you will undoubtedly have heard of the young detective Will Graham. In Red Dragon, we meet the man who put Hannibal the Cannibal behind bars.

A bloody altercation leaves Detective Graham (played by Edward Norton) fighting for his life, but seemingly puts an end to Hannibal’s reign of terror. Several years later, a new killer is on the loose and both Graham and Dr Lecter are pulled out of early retirement.

Red Dragon features a stellar cast – Edward Norton and Anthony Hopkins face-to-face, Harvey Keitel as top dog Jack Crawford, Philip Seymour Hoffman as an irritating journalist, and Ralph Fiennes as the twisted Tooth Fairy Killer – and these characters are who lift this Hannibal entry into second on this list. 

Much of the joy of Red Dragon comes in seeing how differently Hannibal treats Will Graham in comparison to how he treats Clarice, but in general this franchise entry could be described as a perfect horror: it’s ruthless and it’s intense. The only thing it falls short on is how much Hannibal Lecter we get, the famed cannibal replaced as the central villain by the Tooth Fairy Killer, and replaced as the focus of the narrative by Will Graham.

1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs Review

The Silence of the Lambs is the greatest Hannibal movie put to screen. Upon its release in 1991 it became a critical darling, then went on to win Oscars for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Director, Actor and Actress. Over the three decades since, it has become a favourite amongst many horror fans, and remains a high point for the horror genre.

So what is it about this movie that chills us to the bone?

To start with, there’s Dr Lecter himself. Before we know even the slightest thing about him, the unsteady way the camera moves to his cell and the way Hopkins presents himself is terrifying. Like Clarice, we know it isn’t possible for him to jump out at us, but the fear he could hangs over the scene. Things don’t improve during conversation either. Not only do the close-ups make you feel as though he’s staring right through you, but his fake American accent and the way he dissects Starling’s whole personality makes you feel mocked and belittled. It’s a role you couldn’t imagine anybody but Hopkins in – even if just for the delivery of that one line:

“I ate his liver with some fava beans a nice chianti.”

Serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) is slightly more vulgar and savage in his killings than Hannibal is, which makes for a brilliant contrast between the two without derailing the main focus of the story. It’s eerie and dingy, but also haunting and gripping, as though virtually impossible to look away from.

Jodie Foster also excels as Clarice Starling. Fresh-faced and seemingly innocent, but with the toughest streak in the FBI, she isn’t too emotional or emotionless, but a brilliantly written and acted character who will remain one of the best female horror characters ever.

The Hannibal franchise has its flaws, as does any other, but the cannibal is unquestionably one of the most chilling and sinister villains in horror. His crimes make us believe him to be truly inhumane, but often he appears more human than most which is perhaps the scariest thing about him. Whatever the case, his perception, intellect and wit would always make him the smartest person in the room; a room that you probably wouldn’t be leaving alive.

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Do you agree with our order? Would you have chosen something other than The Silence of the Lambs as the best Hannibal film? Or ranked something else as the worst? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to never miss another list like this one.

Written by Libby Briggs

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