Transcribed directly from an audio recording
I recently purchased all three seasons of Hannibal the television series. I vividly remember when this was announced back in 2012. I couldn’t believe that there was going to be an attempt to recast the titular role for television. When I saw the first trailer, I was shocked. Generally speaking, I love Mads Mikkelsen, especially after his work in Casino Royale, but him replacing Anthony Hopkins was blasphemy, in my opinion. My disappointment and sheer bewilderment quickly faded away when I watched the first episode on streaming platforms. The show was beautifully shot, well cast, well put together, and I could see that they were not trying to adapt the films. They were trying something new based on the source novels. This fresh take was excellent, bottom line. I’m excited to now officially own this series and to dive back in. As such, I thought this would be a perfect time to take a look at the franchise as a whole and do a rankings list, including the television series. I’ll also be including Manhunter, which technically is the first film in the franchise, even though it doesn’t star Anthony Hopkins.
For context, I’ve loved this franchise for a long time. I’ve seen all of the films and episodes of the television series in the franchise multiple times, in fact, probably too many times. In high school, I was assigned a task to recreate any film scene of my choosing with some of my classmates. When the time came to pick the other three members for the project, everyone had chosen their team. I was left to do it myself. I reached out to a friend of mine to help me film the iconic scene from Red Dragon where Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter speak for the first time after his incarceration. I played both characters. When I played Hannibal, I wore a plain white shirt with wet slicked back hair and when I played Will Graham, my hair was down and messy with blonde highlights. I wore a dress shirt and tie and also added glasses to the character, as well. Essentially I filmed all of the dialogue as each character individually and then cut the two versions together into a cohesive scene. Low and behold, I ended up winning the contest at school and I’ve cherished that scene ever since I made it over twenty-five years ago. I hope you enjoy this franchise as much as I do and with that said, here are the films and television series ranked worst to best.
Number 6 is Hannibal Rising.
This is not a bad film overall, but it really seems like an afterthought. For context, there was pressure put on Thomas Harris to write another novel featuring the Hannibal character so that the filmmakers of the film franchise could make a prequel film. To this end, this film feels unnecessary and whilst it’s nice to have a little background on our titular character, it feels contrived and forced. In my opinion, sometimes with iconic characters, it’s best to leave it up to the imagination of the audience to fill in the backstory. My other point of contention that I have with this film is the casting of Gaspard Ulliel, a French actor. He typically does decent work but having a French actor play the younger version of the British Anthony Hopkins just doesn’t sit well. His accent is noticeable and he seems to be doing an impression of Anthony Hopkins more than actually making the role his own. At the time, this film received generally negative reviews and was seen as unnecessary. I would definitely agree, although any film or television series featuring Hannibal, I’ll watch.
Number 5 is Red Dragon.
Many people don’t know that this is actually a remake. Given its release in 2002, many assume that this is a sequel. In fact, it’s a prequel, and it’s even a remake of Manhunter, technically. After the release of The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, the filmmakers wanted to produce a prequel film based on Red Dragon the novel which would feature Anthony Hopkins to bring cohesion to an actual trilogy. This is a decent idea, but the main issue is the fact that Anthony Hopkins is eleven or so years older than when he portrayed the character in The Silence of Lambs and it’s noticeable. This is why many casual viewers mistake this for a sequel. The filmmakers do the best they can to de-age Anthony Hopkins, but ultimately it doesn’t work well. This isn’t a terrible film, generally speaking, and I do enjoy it to this day, but it takes quite a bit of suspension of disbelief to follow the narrative. Given that this is also a remake of a previous film, it doesn’t feel fresh or unique either. Many casual viewers didn’t see Manhunter but if you did, this film will not feel unique. At the end of the day, this is a Hannibal Lecter film featuring Anthony Hopkins, so ultimately I’m okay with that.
Number 4 is Manhunter.
Many casual viewers of the franchise are not even aware of this film. This is the original cinematic film to feature Hannibal Lecter, although his name is spelled differently in the film. I like this film, generally speaking. It came out in 1986 and features William Petersen before his success in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and is one of the first globally-recognized films of Michael Mann of Heat fame. This film features Brian Cox in the titular role and he actually does quite well. He isn’t Anthony Hopkins, but he does give us a decent portrayal of Hannibal Lecter. This film is rich in contemporary themes of the eighties and I love it. It’s a neo-noir psychological thriller based on the novel Red Dragon and if you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth a viewing.
Number 3 is Hannibal.
This is a decent sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. I appreciate that the owners of the franchise put together a good team to bring this to life. This film is directed by Ridley Scott with a screenplay by the legend David Mamet and a score composed by Hans Zimmer. Generally speaking, this is a great sequel, even though it came out nearly a decade after The Silence of the Lambs. The cast features familiar faces and also brings in great talent like Gary Oldman. It’s disappointing that Jody Foster decided not to return. I generally dislike recasting roles for a variety of reasons but in this case, it would have been extremely hard to not include the Clarice Starling character. With this said, Julianne Moore does a fantastic job. This is a good film in the franchise, even if it doesn’t follow the source material closely or even feature Jodi Foster. My only two points of contention with this film is that I would love to have seen the return of Jodi Foster and I really wish they followed the content of the novel in which Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter fall in love.
Number 2 is Hannibal (TV Series).
My skepticism coming into this series was full tilt, but after watching the first episode I was heavily relieved. This series is beautiful, glamorous, well cast and generally well done. I really hope that at some point we get a fourth season, but ultimately, this doesn’t seem likely due to how long it’s been out of production. I really enjoy the allegories to culinary arts and I love how beautifully each episode is constructed. This series isn’t anything like the films and this is a great thing. It feels unique, fresh and is a wonderful take on the source material from Thomas Harris. Bryan Fuller, the developer of the show, has done a terrific job with this series and you’ll be pleased with Hugh Dancy as Will Graham and Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter.
Number 1 is The Silence of the Lambs.
Is it any surprise that this film is in the number one spot? This is the film that really popularized the franchise and catapulted the name Hannibal Lecter to the minds of many around the world. Many casual viewers may in fact not know that this is technically a sequel, both in regard to the source material and in the film franchise. Technically, this is a sequel to Manhunter in 1986. This film is brilliant and is one of the best films in history, period. At the time, it was a bonafide hit earning more than twenty times its budget. It garnered five Academy Awards and is one of only a select few films to do this. It currently holds a ranking of ninety-six percent on Rotten Tomatoes and is considered by critics and fans as one of the greatest and most influential films of all-time. The performances of Jodi Foster and Anthony Hopkins are iconic and are often quoted to this day. As an interesting side note, Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar for Best Actor although he is only onscreen for sixteen minutes. This film is a sleeper hit and one of the greatest films of all-time and certainly the best film in this franchise.