How to watch the Hannibal Lecter movies in chronological order

The blood-curdling tales about the sinister gourmet cannibal, Hannibal Lecter, by Thomas Harris have given life to five unforgettable films spanning two decades.

In the realm of horror, the name Hannibal Lecter arguably has a spot at the top. Thomas Harris penned four novels featuring the chilling cannibal: “Red Dragon” (1981), “The Silence of the Lambs” (1988), “Hannibal” (1999), and “Hannibal Rising” (2006). These narratives served as the groundwork for five Hannibal Lecter movies and a popular TV series, deemed by many as the finest Lecter adaptation.

“Red Dragon” was twice transformed into film. Initially, director Michael Mann’s film “Manhunter” took inspiration from Harris’s “Red Dragon”. It didn’t inspire any sequels, but five years later, “The Silence of the Lambs” hit the screens, drawing wide applause from critics and audiences.

The popularity of the movie, featuring Anthony Hopkins in his Oscar-winning performance, prompted filmmakers to create more films with Hopkins reprising his role. This eventually led to another interpretation of “Red Dragon”. For a majority of viewers, “Silence of the Lambs” was their first encounter with the malevolent Dr. Lecter, a role that has become synonymous with Anthony Hopkins.

The franchise has had a fascinating journey on the big screen. Here are the Hannibal Lecter movies in chronological order, followed by an order of release date.

Chronological Order of Hannibal Movies

Hannibal Rising
Hannibal Rising narrates the early life of Hannibal Lecter and his transformation into a cannibalistic serial killer. Because of the absence of Anthony Hopkins, “Hannibal Rising” didn’t draw a substantial crowd, earning just $27 million domestically, a sum less than what “Hannibal” or “Red Dragon” raked in their opening weekend.

For many audiences, the film felt like an uninspired effort to stretch the franchise and was the last Hannibal Lecter film to hit theaters. However, the franchise was revitalized six years later with the launch of “Hannibal” on NBC.


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“Manhunter” stands out from the other Hannibal movies. William Peterson assumes the role of lead detective, Will Graham, and Hannibal Lecter is depicted by Brian Cox. While “The Silence of the Lambs” is the most recognized entry in the series and audiences’ first introduction to Hannibal Lecter, it was “Manhunter” that first brought the character to the screen.

The title was altered from “Red Dragon” to “Manhunter” (much to the chagrin of Michael Mann) to disassociate the film from The Year of the Dragon that bombed in the box office, as well as martial arts films.

The movie turned out to be a commercial flop but gained cult status due to its ’80s aesthetics and different take on the Lecter character, who was more clinical and less theatrical than Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal. The decision to recast Lecter was a disappointment to Cox, but he admitted in a 2007 interview that he understood the reasons behind the decision.

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Red Dragon
This film was the second adaptation of Harris’s “Red Dragon”. Featuring Edward Norton as Will Graham and Anthony Hopkins reprising his role as Hannibal Lecter, this film has a more traditional Hollywood feel, a direct contrast to the avant-garde “Manhunter”. The film wasn’t as well received as “The Silence of the Lambs”, but it managed to outperform the original “Manhunter”.

The Silence of the Lambs
“The Silence of the Lambs” is perhaps the most iconic Hannibal movie, featuring an Oscar-winning performance by Anthony Hopkins. The movie, which also won Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Actress (for Jodie Foster’s performance as Clarice Starling), was a cultural sensation. The film’s depiction of Lecter as a sophisticated, cultured man with an extreme palate for human flesh made it a defining entry in the horror genre.

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This movie, the direct sequel to “The Silence of the Lambs”, sees Anthony Hopkins reprise his role as Hannibal Lecter. Julianne Moore takes over from Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, who is now a disgraced FBI agent. The movie didn’t garner the same critical praise as its predecessor but was a commercial success, grossing over $350 million worldwide.

Chronological Order of Hannibal Movies by Release Date

Manhunter (1986)
Manhunter is the first movie in the Hannibal franchise, bringing the character of Hannibal Lecter to the big screen for the first time. However, it failed to make much of an impact at the box office and has since become a cult classic.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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This is the second movie in the Hannibal franchise and the first to feature Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. The film was a critical and commercial success and won five Academy Awards.

Hannibal (2001)
The third film in the series, Hannibal is a direct sequel to The Silence of the Lambs and sees Anthony Hopkins reprise his role as Lecter. The film was a box office hit, despite mixed reviews from critics.

Red Dragon (2002)
The fourth film in the series, Red Dragon is a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs and features Edward Norton as FBI agent Will Graham. The film was well-received by fans of the franchise, and Hopkins returned once more to play Hannibal Lecter.

Hannibal Rising (2007)

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The final film in the series, Hannibal Rising is a prequel that details the early life of Hannibal Lecter. Despite its failure at the box office, the film has a cult following and is still appreciated by fans of the franchise.

Hannibal (TV series, 2013-2015)

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Created by Bryan Fuller, the Hannibal TV series was a critical success and is considered by many as one of the best adaptations of Harris’s work. It features Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter and Hugh Dancy as Will Graham. The show delves deep into the twisted relationship between the two characters, providing a fresh perspective on the Hannibal Lecter story.

There you have it – a snapshot of all the Hannibal Lecter movies and the TV series in chronological order and by release date. Happy viewing!

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