1980s Dark Crime Thriller Set The Stage For Award-Winning Classic

By Charlene Badasie | Updated


Few characters loom as large and sinister as Hannibal Lecter, who made his on-screen debut in the 1986 film Manhunter. Based on Thomas Harris’s novel Red Dragon, the movie, which featured Brian Cox as Lecter, essentially laid the groundwork for the later masterpiece Silence of the Lambs, which featured Sir Anthony Hopkins as the cannibalistic serial killer.

Brian Cox Beat Anthony Hopkins By Five Years


Brian Cox’s portrayal of Lecter, though overshadowed by Hopkins’ iconic performance in 1991, deserves recognition for its unique interpretation. In Manhunter, Lecter is a study of subtlety and understated malevolence. His calm demeanor conceals a razor-sharp intellect and a predatory instinct. Cox’s performance showcases Lecter’s ability to manipulate and control.

The Plot Of Manhunter


Manhunter revolves around former FBI agent Will Graham (William Petersen), who is reluctantly drawn back into the world of criminal profiling to catch a serial killer known as the Tooth Fairy. As the killer terrorizes Atlanta, Graham seeks assistance from his former nemesis, the incarcerated Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox).

The tension in Manhunter escalates when the Tooth Fairy communicates with Lecter through a coded message. Graham and fellow FBI Agent Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) decipher the message, revealing a chilling plan to target Graham and his family. The race to catch the Tooth Fairy intensifies as Graham’s family is relocated to safety.

Manhunter Wasn’t As Well Received As The Silence Of The Lambs


Written and directed by Michael Mann, Manhunter was not a commercial success during its initial theatrical run. It earned around $8.6 million against a budget of approximately $15 million. The film received a lukewarm reception from viewers, and the movie struggled to find a wide audience. This was likely due to its dark and unconventional story.

Manhunter also received mixed reviews from critics. While some praised the film’s atmospheric and stylish direction, others found fault with the pacing and narrative choices. However, over the years, the movie gained a cult following among fans of the thriller genre. It has subsequently been re-evaluated more positively by some audiences who appreciate its unique approach to the source material.

Red Dragon

The same novel would be adapted 16 years later, this time sharing the title of the book — Red Dragon. Following The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal (2001), Red Dragon (2002) serves as a prequel and is succeeded by 2007’s Hannibal Rising.

 Like Manhunter, the story follows FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton), who seeks assistance from the notorious serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in apprehending murderer, Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes). The cast also includes Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Hannibal Lecter


Hannibal Lecter, who made his on-screen premiere in Manhunter and was later immortalized in The Silence of the Lambs, continues to leave a lasting impact on popular culture. Following the movies, the television series Hannibal, created by Bryan Fuller, provided a fresh perspective on the character with Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter.

Across the various adaptations, Hannibal Lecter’s chilling intellect and charisma remained a central theme, contributing to his enduring legacy as one of fiction’s most captivating and terrifying figures.