Since his first appearance in the 1981 Thomas Harris novel, Red Dragon, Hannibal ‘the cannibal’ Lecter has been an enduring icon of horror. On the page he has terrified readers across a series of novels and on screen he has done the same over a collection of films.

But what is the best order to watch the Hannibal Lecter movies? Read on and I will fill you in, taking into account his on-screen debut, his Oscar winning adaptation, and the other movies that have featured the devilishly delectable Lecter.

Grab a fork, it’s time to tuck in.

The ‘Lecktor’ order

OK, let’s kick things off with the ‘Lecktor’ order. And no, that’s not a typo; when Hannibal Lecter made his first on-screen appearance he was called Hannibal Lecktor.

You may or may not recall, but the cannibalistic killer first cropped up in the 1986 thriller, Manhunter. The movie – an adaptation of the novel, Red Dragon – was directed by Michael Mann and featured Brian Cox in the role of Lecktor.

Unlike a later adaptation of Red Dragon (see below), Hannibal’s involvement in this movie was brief. It’s clear he was not the focus of this particular project, instead he was merely a background player in a much larger narrative.

If you want to watch the Lecktor order then it’s really quite simple as it only consists of this one movie:

  • Manhunter (1986)

So, why is there only one film?

Although it has become somewhat of a cult favourite in recent years (I personally think it’s great), upon release Manhunter was neither a critical or a commercial hit. As such, it remains the only film to feature Cox in the role of Hannibal.

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The Anthony Hopkins order

Image: ©Orion Pictures

Now onto more familiar ground.

For most people, if you say the name Hannibal Lecter, they will connect it with the movie, The Silence of the Lambs. This is because Silence is not only a fantastic motion picture, with a memorable turn from Sir Anthony Hopkins as Lecter, it is also a five-time Academy Award winner.

It’s rare for a horror movie to pick up Academy Awards, but Silence did it, bagging Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. These awards, plus the film’s commercial success, ensured a franchise for Lecter that would stretch beyond this one movie.

That franchise was built around Hopkins, who would reprise the role of Lecter for two additional movies. The first was a sequel to Silence and the second was a prequel.

Here’s the viewing order:

  • Red Dragon (2002)*
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • Hannibal (2001)

All three films are based on novels by Thomas Harris. Red Dragon is effectively a remake of Manhunter, with Hopkins now the star.

Is Red Dragon better than Manhunter? I guess it’s down to personal preference.

I quite like watching both takes on the story, and seeing how they differ. They may share the same DNA, but they are not quite the same.

*You’ll note that for this viewing order I’ve put the films in chronological order – NOT production order. While Silence was the first movie to be made with Hopkins in the role of Lecter, Red Dragon is the first entry in the timeline.

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The prequel order

Image: ©Momentum Pictures/MGM

Following the completion of Red Dragon, Anthony Hopkins departed the role of Hannibal Lecter, paving the way for a new actor to take on the part. That new actor was Gaspard Ulliel, who played Lecter for Hannibal Rising – a prequel to tell the back story of the character.

Hannibal Rising was based on a novel by author, Thomas Harris, but it was not a critical or commercial success. It is the only Lecter movie to star Ulliel.

The order for this is:

  • Hannibal Rising (2007)

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Production order

Image: ©Universal Pictures/MGM

And finally, if you want to watch the Hannibal movies in production order, then this is the best order to follow:

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

If you watch the movies in this order you will get to watch three different takes on the role of Hannibal Lecter (with varying results). In this order the films zip along the timeline, so it can be quite confusing, but collectively they present an interesting insight into how this character has been adapted for the big screen.

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Should you want to delve deeper into the world of Hannibal Lecter, the film series has been turned into a very good TV show, with Mads Mikkelsen taking on the role of Doctor Lecter. The show – simply titled Hannibal – ran for three seasons, with all three collected together in a Blu-ray boxset.

Hannibal adapts elements from the novels, Red Dragon and Hannibal, but reworks them to fit its own narrative. Had the series run beyond three seasons it would have also adapted parts of The Silence of the Lambs.

I have a copy of the Blu-ray boxset myself and it includes every episode, alongside a number of special features. If this is something you want to explore further, click to view on Amazon UK or Amazon US.

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So, are you new to Hannibal or are you a life-long fan? How well do the movie’s shape up to the original novels? Better? Worse? Also, who is the better Lecter – Cox, Hopkins, Ulliel or Mikkelsen? Sound off in the comments section below to have your say.

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