One of the great villains created in the past 50 years is Hannibal Lecter, in the movie The Silence of the Lambs, from the book by Thomas Harris, Red Dragon. The original film created from Harris’ book, entitled Manhunter, going on in the films that followed, and has given us a bar to reach for as far as villains are concerned. Hannibal the Cannibal was one of the key characters that inspired audiences to clamor for stories, movies and TV that feature him, Manhunter, The Silence of the Lambs, sequel and two prequels: Hannibal, Red Dragon and Hannibal Rising, and a relatively successful NBC television series, Hannibal.
Some of his characteristics are obvious; he is a murderer and eats human flesh, which is gruesome. In exchange for some freedoms, Hannibal cooperates with FBI profiler Will Graham, offering information to hunt down a killer on the loose. There are several facets that contribute to Hannibal’s draw, not just his smarts and charisma, ruthlessness and perversion, but he also has his own bizarre code of ethics. His intelligence is revealed to the audience not only in the way he manages and negotiates for himself, escapes imprisonment, in his ability to accurately track down the killer, but also in the insane rationalization for his bizarre behaviors. He kills people he thinks commit insufferable crimes, but also those who insult his cultural sensibilities. He tries to kill Mason Verger just because he was rude while his therapy session.
His humor and intelligence are weapons he wields with facility at will. One of his most famous lines in Silence of the Lambs shows Clarice Starling exactly the lengths to which he will go to satiate himself. “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” “Killing must feel good to God too. He does it all the time, and are we not created in his image?” “I do wish we could chat for longer but I’m having an old friend for dinner.” Saying stuff like that while keeping a straight face makes Hannibal Lecter a charming yet terrifying person.
- Brian cox played Lecter in 1986’s Manhunter. Manhunter centers on Will Graham, a retired criminal profiler who seeks an incarcerated Lecter’s assistance after being recruited to hunt down a new killer known as “The Tooth Fairy”. Cox’s Lecter is much more low-key and less charismatic than Anthony Hopkins’ version.
- Gaspard Ulliel, a French actor and model, as a young Hannibal in 2007’s Hannibal Rising, which reveals the cannibalistic serial killer’s backstory. Unfortunately, Hannibal Rising earned bad reviews, and is almost unanimously considered the worst movie featuring Lecter. Ulliel’s Hannibal doesn’t at all seem like he would grow up to be the man we saw in the Hopkins films, and also looks and sounds absolutely nothing like Hopkins.
- Mads Mikkelsen: If there’s anyone in Anthony Hopkins’ league when it comes to playing Hannibal Lecter, most fans would argue it’s Mads Mikkelsen, star of NBC’s Hannibal TV series. Many Lecter fans were skeptical of a new take on the character, especially one on network TV. Those same fans were taken aback at just how great Bryan Fuller’s series turned out, and how spellbinding Mikkelsen proved to be in the role. While Hannibal was never a ratings hit, it lasted for three highly acclaimed seasons.
- Anthony Hopkins: One of the greatest suspense thrillers of all time, The Silence of the Lambs adapted Thomas Harris’ sequel to Red Dragon, which in many ways boasts a similar setup. FBI rookie Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is tasked by boss Jack Crawford with seeking the help of an incarcerated Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins) in order to track down a killer dubbed “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine). The Silence of the Lambs went on to clean up at the Oscars, and make Hopkins’ Hannibal a pop culture touchstone. Hopkins would reprise the role for 2001’s Hannibal, which saw Julianne Moore take over as Clarice, and return again for Red Dragon, which saw a redo of the Lecter/Graham story with Edward Norton as Will.