How to watch everything Hannibal in chronological order

Carolina

Carolina

Argentinian Carolina has an extensive movie background in the cinematic universe. She is our resident TV analyst and a seasoned expert in global streaming platforms. She showcases her comprehensive knowledge through her love for Netflix 'Originals', Frozen, The Good Place, and The Dragon Prince.

Hannibal Lecter jumped from literature into films and TV series and became an icon of popular culture.

Thanks to Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal, Hannibal was widely known and fascinated audiences around the world.

The mixture of being a dangerous serial killer with a prodigious mind that can be the villain and hero at the same time has made Hannibal a character with many layers.

So, if you want to discover this character for the first time, or you’re already a fan but don’t know about all the films and TV series about him, here I present to you a guide covering everything about Hannibal.

And the most important thing: how to watch it all in chronological order!

Who is Hannibal Lecter?

Hannibal wax work

Dr Hannibal Lecter was created by novelist Thomas Harris. Lecter is a serial killer who eats his victims, he’s a cannibal.

Besides his dark side, he’s also a respected forensic psychiatrist. After he’s put in prison for his crimes, he becomes a consultant for FBI agents Will Graham and Clarice Starling to help them to profile and find other serial killers.

Lecter made his first appearance in Thomas Harris’ 1981 novel Red Dragon, where he has a small role as the villain.

He appears in a total of four novels: Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising. All of them have been adapted to films, with the Hannibal TV series being a retelling of the four of them.

Lecter is a highly intelligent and cultured man with refined manners who was born to a family belonging to Lithuanian nobility and the Visconti and Sforza families of Italy. His origins are explored in detail in Hannibal Rising, both the novel and the film.

In media, Hannibal has been impersonated by four different actors: Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins, Mads Mikkelsen, and the late Gaspard Ulliel.

Films

Although Hannibal’s first appearance in films was back in 1986 with Manhunter, it wasn’t until 1991, with the release of The Silence of the Lambs, portrayed by Antony Hopkins, that the character became popular.

In the following list, I show you the Hannibal films in the release order, and we’ll talk about the chronological order later.

Manhunter (1986)

Crime, Mystery, Suspense – 120 min.

Manhunter is the first adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon.

The film was written and directed by Michael Mann (Collateral, Public Enemies), and it follows FBI profiler Will Graham, portrayed by a very young William Petersen (CSI), who comes out of retirement to offer his talents to catch a serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy.

However, Graham should face his past and work along with Lecktor, Hannibal’s surname has the spelling changed in this version, who nearly killed Graham in the past.

William Petersen is followed by Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang, and Brian Cox as Dr Lecktor.

Although Manhunter received mixed reviews back in time, and it was a flop at the box office, its merits are valued today by critics and audience alike having become a cult film.

This film also paved the path for what later will be a trend in detective drama: the FBI profiling and forensic work.

After a second adaptation of the same novel was made in 2002, 16 years after Manhunter, is when this film received the appreciation it deserved.

As David Edelstein said in his review of Red Dragon for Slate, “The best thing about Red Dragon (Universal), the second adaptation of Thomas Harris 1981 novel, is that it reminds you how scary and seminal the first adaptation-Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986)-was.”

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Crime, Drama, Suspense – 118 min.

In 1991, Jonathan Damme (Philadelphia, The Manchurian Candidate) directed Ted Tally’s adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs. This film gave Anthony Hopkins the global acknowledgement he deserved by his magnificent portrayal of Hannibal Lecter.

The film follows young FBI trainee Clarice Starling, excellently portrayed by Jodie Foster, who is after a serial killer known as Buffalo Bill, played by Ted Levine, who skins his female victims.

Starling seeks the help and advice of the imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who happens to be a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer.

The Silence of the Lambs won the five main Academy Awards in the 64th Oscars ceremony: Best Picture, Best Director (Damme), Best Actor in Main Role (Hopkins), Best Actress in Main Role (Foster), and Best Screenplay Adaptation (Tally).

The film, a psychological horror film, is considered by critics, film directors, and audiences as one of the greatest and most influential films.

The Silence of the Lambs is also considered “culturally, historically, or aesthetically” significant by the U.S. Library of Congress and it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2011.

Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter have become two relevant and iconic characters in the genre, being considered by The American Film Institute among the greatest film heroines and villains.

Hannibal (2001)

Crime, Drama, Suspense – 131 min.

Ridley Scott took charge of the directional duty in this sequel based on the homonymous book by Thomas Harris.

After the release of The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris spent several years writing a sequel, he even sent drafts to Jonathan Damme and Jodie Foster, but sadly, they left the project later.

The story follows disgraced FBI special agent Clarice Starling who a decade after tracking down serial killer Jame Cumb, is blamed for a failed drug raid that resulted with five dead people.

Starling is contacted by Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), a wealthy child molester who also happens to be the only survivor of the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter.

Lecter is missing since he escaped custody during the investigation of the Cumb case. Verger, who was paralyzed and disfigured by Lecter during a therapy session, is seeking revenge by following a scheme to capture, torture and kill Lecter.

By using his influences, Verger makes Starling be reassigned to the Lecter case, basically to use her as bait.

I must confess that when Hannibal was released, I was a little bit disappointed that Jodie Foster didn’t reprise her role of Clarice Starling. This made me skip this film at the cinema (yes, I used to be a little bit extremist about movies when I was younger).

Of course, I wasn’t the only one disappointed, and although Julianne Moore did a great job, she wasn’t up to Jodie Foster’s performance.

Red Dragon (2002)

Crime, Drama, Suspense – 124 min.

With the direction of Brett Ratner (After the Sunset, X-MEN The Last Stand) and Ted Tally again as screenwriter, Red Dragon is the second adaptation to the big screen of the novel of the same name written by Thomas Harris.

Although Manhunter, the previous version by Michael Mann, is a terrific film, Red Dragon needed an updated version with Anthony Hopkins in the skin of Hannibal Lecter again to complete the saga.

The story follows FBI profiler Will Graham, portrayed this time by Edward Norton. In 1980, Graham is working in the case of a cannibalistic serial killer, and he starts working along with forensic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter on a psychological profile of the killer.

Lecter realizes that Graham is going to discover he’s the killer, so he stabs him. After this incident, Lecter is put in prison in an institution for the criminally insane. Graham decides to quit the FBI after the traumatic experience.

Years later, Graham is convinced to get back as a profiler when a new serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy has already killed two families and is ready for his next victims. Graham has no choice but to consult Lecter to solve the case.

Besides Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton in the main roles, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Anthony Heald complete the cast.

Hannibal Rising

Adventure, Crime, Drama – 121 min.

Hannibal Rising is based on the book of the same name written by Thomas Harris. It’s a prequel to the previous films, depicting Hannibal’s hard childhood as the only survivor of the Lecter family in Lithuania during World War II.

The story shows Hannibal’s motivations to become the cannibalistic serial killer he was later known as.

In 1944, Hannibal Lecter was eight years old and he lived with his family in the Lecter castle in Lithuania. When the German invasion of Soviet territory became one of the deadliest front lines in World War II, the Lecter family moved to a retired place.

Three years later, when the Nazis are retiring from Soviet territory, a group of them destroy a Soviet tank stopped in the front of the Lecter lodge killing everyone except Hannibal and his younger sister Misha.

Although they managed to survive in the cottage, something terrible happened to them, changing Hannibal forever.

In his teens, Lecter moves to Paris to live with his aunt, Lady Murasaki. Along with starting his career as a medicine student, he begins his path as a serial killer seeking revenge.

The portraying of this young Hannibal Lecter was in the hands of French actor Gaspard Ulliel, who tragically died in 2022 in a ski accident.

Ulliel is followed by Gong Li as Lady Murasaki, Dominic West as Inspector Pascal Popil, and Rhys Ifans as Vladis Grutas.

How to watch all Hannibal films in chronological order

The whole franchise consists of five films, but the saga produced by MGM is four films.

Although Manhunter is a stand-alone movie, it’s worth watching it as an early approach to the character and Thomas Harris’ novel at a time when sequels and prequels didn’t exist yet.

The chronological order to watch the films is as follows:

  • Hannibal Rising (2007)
  • Manhunter (1986)
  • Red Dragon (2002)
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • Hannibal (2001)

TV series

Two TV shows have been produced based on Hannibal Lecter.

Hannibal (2013)

Crime, Drama, Horror

3 seasons – 39 episodes – 44 min. each episode

Hannibal was developed by Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, American Gods) for NBC. The series is based on the characters and situations from Red Dragon, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising novels written by Thomas Harris.

The series explores the early relationship between FBI profiler Will Graham and the forensic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter as they’re destined to play a cat-mouse game.

Lecter is secretly a cannibalistic serial killer planning to manipulate the FBI from the inside to cover his crimes.

However, Lecter’s fascination with Graham’s ability to empathize with psychopathic murderers makes him play with him by pushing Graham’s sanity to the limit and trying to turn him into a serial killer.

Although the series takes elements and characters from the previously mentioned novels, it’s not a direct adaptation of them.

Fuller’s original plan was to make seven seasons, with the three first ones telling an original story and the rest adapting each novel. After the end of season two, he decided to include the books differently and changed Lecter’s origins, for example.

Some fans of the books will note the absence of Jame Crumb and Clarice Starling in the arc of The Silence of the Lambs. This is due to a copyright issue since the characters’ rights are in the hands of MGM.

Hannibal is portrayed by a magnific Mads Mikkelsen, who is accompanied by a great cast: Hugh Dancy (Law and Order) as Will Graham, Caroline Dhavernas (Mary Kills People) as Dr Alana Bloom, Laurence Fishburne (Matrix) as Jack Crawford, and Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) as Dr Bedelia Du Maurier.

The series has received positive reviews from critics and audiences alike. However, it has always been remarked that the gore element and graphical violence of the series make it not suitable for everyone.

Clarice (2021)

Crime, Drama, Mystery

1 season – 13 episodes – 60 min.

Clarice is based on The Silence of the Lambs novel by Thomas Harris, and it’s set between the events of this 1991 film adaptation and Hannibal film.

The series, a co-production between CBS (Paramount) and MGM, follows the titular character, played by Rebecca Breeds (The Originals), as she’s back to work to chase serial killers and sexual predators while facing the political intrigues in Washington DC.

Although the audience gave overall positive reviews, the critics weren’t so kind. CBS canceled the series after one season.

There was a plan to move it to Paramount+, but since this was a joint production with MGM, who holds the rights to the character, the idea was aborted.

How to watch everything Hannibal in chronological order

Clarice is the only TV series that is part of the film chronology, while Hannibal works as a stand-alone series.

To watch Hannibal, you don’t need to be familiarized with the novels of the films since it’s a retelling with a different approach and altered events. Leaving Hannibal aside, the chronological order for everything Hannibal is as follows:

  • Hannibal Rising (2007)
  • Manhunter (1986)
  • Red Dragon (2002)
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • Clarice – TV show (2021)
  • Hannibal (2001)

Did you know that…?

Hannibal wax statue

Gene Hackman was going to make The Silence of the Lambs?

Right after the book was published in 1988, Gene Hackman bought the rights by splitting the cost with Orion Pictures.

His plan was to write and direct the film at the time of playing the Hannibal Lecter role.

Anthony Hopkins provoked Jodie Foster?

During the first encounter between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, he mocks Clarice’s southern accent.

This was improvised on camera by Hopkins, and Foster felt hurt with her reaction being real. She later thanked Hopkins for provoking a real reaction.

Jodie Foster refused to play Clarice Starling for directing a film that was never made?

When Hannibal was released, it was a surprise that Jodie Foster didn’t reprise her role as Clarice Starling, and in her place was Julianne Moore.

Although Foster was involved in the creation of the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, at the last moment, she refused to work on it.

The real reason was she had signed to work on Flora Plum as director, so she wasn’t available to work on Hannibal.

However, due to production issues, Flora Plum never saw the light. Also, according to Foster’s words in some interviews, she wasn’t so interested in playing Clarice again.

Anthony Hopkins was furious and heartbroken with Jodie Foster?

When he found out Jodie Foster wasn’t going to reprise her role of Clarice Starling, he was angry and disappointed and he also was disappointed with Jonathan Damme not directing the sequel.

The Hannibal series is set in the same fictional universe of Bryan Fuller’s series?

Hannibal shares the same fictional universe of Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, and Mocking Lane, all created and written by Bryan Fuller.

Summary

Hannibal Lecter is a fascinating and evil character that has been lurking on our screens for more than 30 years.

With five films and a TV series focused on him, it’s fair to ask how to watch all this material in chronological order.

For this purpose, I’ve written this article showing you not only the chronological order but also providing you with a good summary of each film and series.

I hope you can enjoy watching all this content as much as I did.

Which one is your favourite Hannibal film? Let me know in the comments below.

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