Every Hannibal Lecter Adaptation, Ranked


Audiences love a good villain, and one of the tastiest literary and cinematic characters is Hannibal Lecter. The book series, written by Thomas Harris, consists of four entries: Red Dragon (1981), The Silence of the Lambs (1988), Hannibal (1999), and Hannibal Rising (2006). Throughout the decades, various filmmakers and actors have taken a crack at bringing the charismatic and sadistic cannibal to life. Five movies and two TV series later, the characters from Harris’s books have received a few adaptations, from Oscar-winning portrayals to films fans would rather forget .

The Dino De Laurentiis Company has had a hand in producing each screen version of the characters as they own partial rights to the Harris characters. Their efforts resulted in films with varying degrees of critical and commercial success. Each fan will have a favorite adaptation of Hannibal Lecter, but it can objectively be said two of these tower above the rest.

7 ‘Hannibal Rising’ (2007)

Director: Peter Webber

Image via MGM

Focusing on the younger years of cinema’s favorite cannibal, Hannibal Rising is often considered the weakest adaption of the franchise. It’s based on the last book released and is, to date, the last film version of Lecter’s story. Where earlier tales found success, Peter Weber‘s attempt at bringing the young, sophisticated Lecter to the screen suffered from poor writing and acting that didn’t live up to franchise highs. The best prequels reveal new sides to their subjects; the worst come across as unnecessary attempts of milking a cash cow; such is the case for Hannibal Rising.

Young Hannibal is portrayed by the late Gaspard Ulliel, who tries his hardest and is by far the best part of the movie. Still, he falls short of replicating the elegance and deadly charisma that the actors before him laid the foundation for. Scoring dismally low with a fanbase who had seen it all, Hannibal Rising is an introduction to a legendary character that no viewer really needed or asked for. The film’s existence as a shameless cash-grab is more apparent given the book’s mediocre ratings and the slow downfall of the cinematic adaptations since The Silence of the Lambs.

Hannibal Rising poster

Hannibal Rising

Release Date
February 6, 2007

Aaran Thomas , Gaspard Ulliel , Li Gong , Helena-Lia Tachovská , Richard Leaf , Dominic West


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6 ‘Clarice’ (2021)

Creators: Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet

Clarice Starling standing in front of an evidence board in the show Clarice.
Image via CBS

A series perhaps too late to the game, Clarice failed to reinvigorate a franchise that brought forth so many heavy hitters before it. Canceled after one season, CBS’s drama focuses on FBI agent Clarice Starling’s career one year following the Buffalo Bill case. Here, Starling comes to life thanks to Rebecca Breeds, best known for her work on The Originals and Legacies, both series from The CW.

The show received unenthusiastic critical and audience reviews—it holds a 42% on Rotten Totamoes. Reviews called it safe and bland, considering its storyline a weak adaptation of Harris’s themes and characters. Clarice‘s sole strength lies in Rebecca Breeds’ inspired performance. The actress wisely opts for an understated approach that has no echoes of Jodie Foster or Julianne Moore. Unfortunately, she is entirely let down by every other aspect of the show, from the uninspired production values to the weak screenplays and even, on occasion, her co-stars.

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5 ‘Hannibal’ (2001)

Director: Ridley Scott

Clarice Starling aiming a fun somewhere off-camera in Hannibal.
Image via MGM

With a tight timeline between the releases of Hannibal and Red Dragon, Anthony Hopkins worked on back-to-back Lecter scripts. The third book and final plotline in the Harris series finds Lecter post-escape, living in Rome while Clarice Starling is reeling from a career-low point. Hannibal has Starling played by Julianne Moore, as Jodie Foster opted out due to disagreements with the direction of Starling’s story, especially considering the character’s controversial storyline in Harris’ novel.

Ever the consummate prom, Moore nailed the West Virginia accent and put a distinctive spin on Clarice, even if her performance couldn’t possibly live up to Foster’s. Following his Oscar-winning epic, Gladiator, Ridley Scott opted for a similar approach to this franchise-in-the-making. Hannibal provided audiences with a blockbuster take on Harris’ novel, even if it came at the expense of the depth Jonathan Demme used a decade earlier. Overly gory and somewhat exploitative, Hannibal maintains the novels’ but never elevates it, remaining a middle-of-the-road blip in the franchise’s history.

Hannibal poster with Anthony Hopkins


Release Date
February 9, 2001

132 minutes

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4 ‘Red Dragon’ (2002)

Director: Brett Ratner

Will Graham talking to a chained Hannibal Lecter in Red Dragon
Image via Universal Pictures

Boasting the return of Hopkins to the role, Red Dragon brought on well-known stars to co-star, including Edward Norton as Will Graham, Harvey Keitel as Jack Crawford, and Ralph Fiennes as Francis Dolarhyde. While this film marks the second time Graham and Lecter took the screen, it wouldn’t be the last. The film faithfully adapts the novel, where Graham asks for Lecter’s help to catch Dolarhyde, a serial killer targeting families.

Scoring decently high with critics and audiences, Brett Ratner‘s take on the consultant/agent relationship between Lecter and Graham succeeded as a satisfying yet relatively safe thriller. Norton brings a worthy adversary to Dolarhyde and Lecter onscreen and succeeds in portraying Graham’s broken psyche. Alas, Red Dragon‘s biggest issues are behind the camera, with Ratner’s uninspired direction breaking the film’s tension and leading to clunky, poorly constructed sequences.

Red Dragon poster with Anthony Hopkins

Red Dragon

Release Date
September 29, 2002


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3 ‘Manhunter’ (1986)

Director: Michael Mann

Hannibal Lektor inside his cell with his mouth open in Manhunter
Image via De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Before he became the patriarch of the Roy family, Brian Cox sported a prison uniform to play Hannibal Lecter, renamed Hannibal Lektor, in Michael Mann‘s Manhunter, opposite William Petersen as Will Graham and Tom Noonan as Francis Dollarhyde. Although reception to the film has improved in recent years—it currently has a Certified Fresh 93% on Rotten Tomatoes—Manhunter initially received mixed critics and audiences.

Conforming to the 80s thriller genre, Manhunter is the first cinematic adaptation of Harris’s books. While the spelling change to Hannibal’s name is perhaps questionable, the production and storytelling value of the film ranks it within the top three Lecter appearances. Nowadays, Manhunter is widely considered a precursor to the true-crime genre and a worthy adaptation of Harris’ novels—even if it doesn’t do half as much considering the talent involved.

Manhunter movie poster


Release Date
August 14, 1986


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2 ‘Hannibal’ (2013-2015)

Developer: Bryan Fuller

Hannibal Lecter held captive and about to be muzzled in Hannibal.
Image via NBC

The culmination of decades’ worth of attempts and spearheaded by creator Bryan Fuller, Hannibal is a fascinating reinvention of Thomas Harris’ canon. Casting the incomparable Mads Mikkelsen as the titular cannibal, NBC brought to the screen an artistic, horrific depiction that painted the full picture of the distinguished Lecter from the books. Because the series begins as a prequel of sorts, audiences can step into Lecter’s office and witness him as a practicing psychiatrist. Thus, viewers are privy to seeing what he was like prior to his capture as Lecter plays the FBI and matches wits with Will Graham (Hugh Dancy).

Interrupted by the network’s devastating cancellation, the series stopped short of introducing Clarice Starling and The Silence of the Lambs plot, only covering storylines up to Red Dragon. Like the 1991 movie before it, Hannibal‘s greatest strength is developing a gripping, alluring, and borderline addictive relationship at its center. Bolstered by the electrifying chemistry between Mikkelsen and Dancy, Hannibal and Graham’s dynamic is fascinating to behold, dancing between the professional and the personal with remarkable wit and macabre humor. Although it only lasted three seasons, Hannibal is a triumph of thought and execution and one of the greatest seasons of television.

Hannibal TV Show Poster


Release Date
April 4, 2013

Main Genre


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1 ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)

Director: Jonathan Demme

Hannibal Lecter wearing a mask while being restrained in The Silence of the Lambs
Image Via Orion Pictures

The Silence of the Lambs is the definitive depiction of Hannibal Lecter. With keen production techniques, including actors speaking directly to the camera, director Jonathan Demme placed viewers in the hot seat with Hopkins’ piercing eyes staring right through them as if in their own therapy session with the sadistic psychiatrist. Audiences and critics continue to slide into the therapy chair time and time again.

Foster and Hopkins won Best Actress and Best Actor Academy Awards for their portrayal of the Harris characters, while the film itself won the Big Five Oscars, becoming the first and so far only horror movie to win Best Picture. This dark and decidedly non-romantic 1991 Valentine’s Day release brought to the screen one of the most compelling cinematic chess matches viewers and critics had ever seen. Despite not being the production’s first choice for starring roles, Foster and Hopkins emulated a dynamic that was never replicated by future adaptations until the TV series.

The Silence of the Lambs - 1991 - poster

The Silence of the Lambs

Release Date
February 14, 1991

118 min.

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