Hannibal Lecter is one of the most well-known and well-established serial killers of all time — and he’s not even real. He’s a character originally created by author Thomas Harris in the early 1980’s, but within the past 30 years he’s grown into a mighty beast with not only a book franchise, but multiple films, and a highly popular television show going into its third season.
Understandably, those going into the show with no prior knowledge of Hannibal Lecter may not want to know his history as to avoid spoilers. And although the show is taking a slightly different path from the books, it contains many of the same plot points and characters. However, for those who want to do their research and learn more about the man behind the mask made out of human skin, here’s a brief intro post to the Hannibal Lecter franchise.
Red Dragon (Book) (1981)
Red Dragon is the first book in the series and our introduction to Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Additionally, we are introduced to FBI agent Jack Crawford and the brilliant FBI profiler that just so happens to be his protégé, Will Graham. Crawford coaxes Graham out of his early retirement in order to help him track down a killer known as the Tooth Fairy a.k.a. The Red Dragon. Additionally, we’re introduced to the tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds, who was later changed to the female Freddie Lounds for the TV series.
Manhunter (Film) (1986)
Manhunter is a film adaptation of the Red Dragon novel. In this version, Will Graham is played by a super young looking William Petersen — best known as CSI‘s Gil Grissom — while Hannibal Lecktor (spelled differently in this film) is played by Brain Cox. The film was written and directed by Michael Mann. This movie is mostly about Will Graham battling his inner demons while attempting to capture Francis Dolarhyde a.k.a the Tooth Fairy, though Hannibal Lector still makes a small, but important appearance.
The Silence of the Lambs (Book) (1988)
The Silence of the Lambs is the sequel to Red Dragon and continues to follow Hannibal Lecter’s fascinating life. Jack Crawford again cajoles one of his apprentices …only this time it’s the young trainee Clarice Starling. In the same way that Graham had to go to Lecter for help on The Tooth Fairy case, Crawford has Starling go to Lecter to help apprehend a new killer, Buffalo Bill.
The Silence of the Lambs (Film) (1991)
Clearly, this film is an adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs — and perhaps the most famous installment in the saga of Hannibal Lecter. Though Clarice Starling isn’t technically a character in NBC’s Hannibal, she does have some similarities to the character Miriam Lass. Miriam’s storyline in the television show also follows parts of Will Graham’s journey in the books. The film is directed by Jonathan Demme and stars Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling. Additionally, it won 5 Oscars, which is impressive because it was only the second “horror” movie ever to be nominated in the Best Picture category.
Hannibal (Book) (1999)
This book is the third in the series and takes place 7 years after The Silence of the Lambs. Since the dealings of the past book, Lecter has fled to Florence, Italy and Starling’s career has taken a turn for the worse. In this book, we are introduced to the Verger siblings — Mason and Margot — who are introduced in the television series in Season 2.
Hannibal (Film) (2001)
Again, this is the film adaptation of Hannibal novel. In this version Clarice Starling is played by Julianne Moore instead of Jodie Foster and it is directed by Ridley Scott, but Lecter is still played by Hopkins. The film didn’t do nearly as well as The Silence of the Lambs, but it is still a great look into the mind of Hannibal Lecter.
Red Dragon (Film) (2002)
This is the second film adaptation of Red Dragon — the first being the aforementioned Manhunter. It is the prequel to both The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, with Lecter’d portrayal being continued by Anthony Hopkins. However in this version, Will Graham is played by Edward Norton and Ralph Fiennes plays The Tooth Fairy/The Red Dragon/Francis Dolarhyde. Dolarhyde has not yet appeared in the television series yet, but the promos — and a casting of Richard Armitage — allude to his arrival in mid Season 3.
Hannibal Rising (Book) (2006)
Hannibal Rising is, as of right now at least, the final book is Harris’ Hannibal series. It is a prequel to the three previous novels and follows Hannibal through his childhood in Lithuania during the second World War through his young adulthood in America.
Hannibal Rising (Film) (2007)
Similarity, Hannibal Rising is the most recent film in the Hannibal Lecter franchise. The screenplay was adapted by Harris himself and the movie was filmed in Prague. In this young iteration of Hannibal, the serial killer is played by Gaspard Ulliel.
Hannibal (TV series) (2013)
Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal television series on NBC is the latest adaptation in the story of Hannibal the cannibal. It mostly focuses on the Red Dragon novel and the friendship/rivalry between Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) leading up to the latter’s arrest, but as the seasons progress, it is involving more material and backstory from the other books and movies.
If you’re interested in learning more about what is happening in the television show Hannibal, I recommend reading Red Dragon or watching either Manhunter or Red Dragon going into Season 1 to learn about the Hannibal Lecter/Will Graham relationship. Additionally, I recommend reading/watching Hannibal going into Season 2 to learn about the Mason and Margot Verger storyline and what we can only assume will happen in Season 3 with Hannibal fleeing to Europe. Furthermore, the show goes into some storylines discussed in The Silence of the Lambs, so it wouldn’t hurt to read/watch that as well.
The television show is a different adaptation and thus not following the books to a T, however, familiarizing yourself with the franchise may help you to notice all of Fuller’s reference to Thomas Harris’ original works.
What is your favorite piece of work in the Hannibal franchise? Let us know in the comments!