Hannibal the Cannibal was created by author Thomas Harris in his 1981 novel “Red Dragon” and was first portrayed on film by Brian Cox in the 1986 cult hit thriller “Manhunter,” directed by Michael Mann. But the first Hannibal most of us remember was the one portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Hopkins’s Hannibal was such a pop culture force of nature that the role won him the Best Actor Oscar despite relatively little screentime. He also helped earned the film the Best Picture prize, a stunning feat since the academy usually shuns horror movies.
Hopkins returned as Lecter in the 2000 sequel “Hannibal,” then played him one last time in the 2002 prequel “Red Dragon,” based on Harris’s first novel.
That was it for Hopkins. We next saw Hannibal Lecter as a young man played by Gaspard Ulliel in the under-the-radar 2007 film “Hannibal Rising,” but the famous serial killer didn’t make another strong pop cultural impact until Danish actor Mikkelsen picked up the mantle in 2013.
Mikkelsen had big shoes to fill, but he and series creator Bryan Fuller wisely established a different kind of Lecter. Where Hopkins was slithery, Mikkelsen is suave and refined, and while Hopkins is still probably the actor we first think of in the role, I’d say Mikkelsen now has a strong claim of ownership on the character. Before long, he might even overshadow his Oscar-winning predecessor.
Or maybe he already has. Do you think Mikkelsen is now the definitive Lecter? If not, did Hopkins play him best, or are you partial to the lesser known performances of Cox or Ulliel? Vote in our poll below: