The Hannibal Lecter franchise is a fiction series based around the character, Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic serial killer whose genius is sought out by law enforcement personnel to aid in the capture of other killers. It is a character originating from a series of novels by Thomas Harris.
In 1986, director Michael Mann adapted the novel The Red Dragon into a film, Manhunter. This film would be the first adaptation of the titular character Hannibal Lecter. Following that movie, three more Hannibal Lecter films will be created over the years, popularised by the actor playing the cannibalistic genius, Anthony Hopkins.
The films are The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and The Red Dragon (2002). In 2007, a prequel to the franchise, Hannibal Rising (2007) is made to tell the tale of the killer’s origins. The success of the franchise also inspired two television shows over the years which are NBC’s Hannibal (2013-2015) and CBS’s Clarice (2021). Let’s see which is the ideal order to watch the Hannibal franchise and what each storyline is like.
Best order to watch the Hannibal Franchise
Not all the Hannibal films and TV shows are chronologically connected. The film installments (with the exception of Manhunter) are connected with recurring characters played by the same actors. Manhunter and Red Dragon are the adaptation of the novel The Red Dragon, thus they are similar in plot, however, the Manhunter film was produced as a standalone film. The TV series Clarice, takes place after events from The Silence of the Lambs. However, the TV series Hannibal is not a direct adaptation but is based on characters and elements from the novels. Thus it does not directly tie into the chronological order of the films.
There are two ways to watch the Hannibal franchise. You can watch the film adaptations and choose to include, or ignore the TV series. If you wish to view all the films and TV series in the best order chronologically, you may follow the list below.
- Hannibal Rising – (2007)
- Manhunter (1986)
- Red Dragon – (2002)
- The Silence of the Lambs – (1991)
- Clarice – (2021)
- Hannibal – (2001)
- Hannibal TV series – (2013 to 2015 )
Hannibal movies in order
1. Hannibal Rising – (2007)
Set in 1944, Hannibal Lecter and his younger sister Mischa are the sole survivors of an explosion that had killed their parents. Lithuanian soldiers (Grutas, Kolnas, Dortlich, Milko, Grentz, and Porvik) storm and loot the cottage that the children were hiding in. Unable to find food, the men look menacingly at Lecter and Mischa.
Lecter lives in Paris with his aunt, Lady Murasaki. He commits his first murder by killing a local butcher who insults his aunt. Although suspected of the murder by Inspector Pascal, his aunt’s intervention frees him from being the suspect.
Lecter eventually works in a medical school in France, preparing cadavers. Lecture injects himself with sodium thiopental injection leading him to recall the men who killed and cannibalized Mischa in his past. He returns to Lithuania where he finds his sister’s remains and gives her a proper burial. Dortlich who had noticed Lecter while crossing the Soviet border reveals himself and attempts to kill him. Lecter manages to get the upper hand and decapitates Dortlich.
Milko attempts to assassinate Lecter in his laboratory. Later, Inspector Popil finds a dead Milko in the cadaver tank. Unable to establish Lecter as the killer, Popil lets him go and warns him not to go after the gang.
Grutas holds Murasaki a hostage, baiting Lecter. Lecter in turn, threatens Kolnas’s children, forcing him to give up Grutas’s location. As Lecter willingly spares Kolnas, Kolnas goes after the gun, forcing Lecture to kill him. Lecter is able to find Murasaki in a boathouse. As he unties her, Grutas shoots him and proceeds to molest Murasaki in front of an injured Lecter.
In a final confrontation, Lecter is able to cripple and carve the initial “M” on Grutas’s chest and bites off his cheeks. Disturbed by his behavior, Murasaki flees. The boathouse is set on fire, and Lecture is assumed to be dead.
The film ends with Lecter killing the last member of the group, Grentz in Canada before leaving for America.
2. Manhunter – (1986)
Will Graham is an FBI retiree, who had a mental breakdown after being attacked by the cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecktor. Graham is enlisted by his superior Jack Crawford to investigate another serial killer known as the “Tooth Fairy”, who leaves bite-marks on his victims. Graham visits Lecktor in his cell and consults him in the case, as Lecktor is a former psychiatrist.
Graham discovers that Lecktor and the Tooth Fairy had been communicating through a section of the National Tattler newspaper. The FBI intends to bait the Tooth Fairy by implanting a fake advertisement in the newspaper. The sting operation fails and Freddy Lounds, the tabloid journalist is kidnapped by the Tooth Fairy and killed near the National Tattler office as a warning.
Francis Dollarhyde (“the Tooth Fairy) is attracted to his female colleague, Reba. Graham discovers that Tooth Fairy’s murders are driven by a desire for acceptance. When Dollarhyde witnesses Reba escorted home by another male colleague, he then kills the man and kidnaps Reba.
Graham and Crawford discovered that the murdered families are connected via their home movies, as the killer knows exactly how to break into their homes. The duo figured out that the films were processed at a lab in St. Louis, and discovered that Dollarhyde is the employee who has been watching the home films.
The police surround Dollarhyde in his home. As he attempts to kill Reba, Dollarhyde is stopped by Graham and the police. The fight ends with Graham shooting Dollarhyde after he had injured Crawford and several police officers. In the end, Graham returns home and retires permanently.
3. Red Dragon – (2002)
FBI agent Will Graham visits forensic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter to discuss a murder case. Realizing that Graham is close to discovering he is the killer, Lecter stabs him. Graham fights back and shoots Lecter. Lecter is institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital and Graham has since retired.
Years later, Graham’s former superior, Jack Crawford enlists his help to hunt down the serial killer, “Tooth Fairy”. Graham consults Lecter after visiting the crime scenes. Graham discovers that the Tooth Fairy and Lecter had been communicating through the newspaper, The Tattler. Lecter sends Dolarhyde Graham’s home address, forcing Graham’s family to relocate.
In a sting operation to lure the Tooth Fairy, Graham gives an interview to Freddy Lounds, a tabloid reporter, insulting the killer. The plan fails, ending up with Dolarhyde killing Lounds outside The Tattler’s office.
At his job in a photo lab in St. Louis, Dolarhyde begins a relationship with a colleague, Reba Mcclane. Meanwhile, Graham realizes that the Tooth Fairy cased his victim’s houses via their home videos.
Dolarhyde finds that Reba had been spending time with another male colleague, Ralph Mandy. He kills Ralph and abducts Reba to his house. As he cannot bring himself to shoot her, he shoots himself. The police arrive rescuing Reba soon after.
After staging his death with Ralph’s corpse, Dolarhyde infiltrates Graham’s home in Florida and takes Graham’s son hostage. Graham and Dolarhyde are embroiled in a shootout which ends with Graham’s wife killing Dolarhyde.
4. The Silence of the Lambs – (1991)
Clarice Starling is assigned by Jack Crawford to interview Hannibal Lecter, a former psychiatrist and incarcerated serial killer. Crawford believes that Lecter could provide insight into their ongoing case against the serial killer “Buffalo Bill”. Meanwhile, another Buffalo Bill victim has been found with a death’s head moth lodged in the victim’s throat.
Buffalo Bill kidnaps Catherine Martin. Lecter makes a deal with Starling where he agrees to help in exchange for Starling’s personal information. Starling agrees and tells Lecter of the murder of her father when she was a child.
Eventually, Lecter escapes from prison and disappears. Starling investigated that Buffalo Bill knew his first victim, Frederika Bimmel. She discovers that they were both tailors and that the unfinished dresses and dress patterns were identical to the patches of skin removed from Buffalo Bill’s victims.
Deducing information from their findings, Crawford discovers that Buffalo Bill is a man named James Gumb, who smuggled death’s head moths into America. At Frederika’s house, she encounters Gumb and pursues him into a basement where she finds Catherine trapped in a dry well. While in pursuit, Gumb stalks Starling in the dark, but Starling is able to pinpoint his location when he cocks his gun, and shoots him dead.
5. Clarice – (2021)
Set one year after the events of The Silence of the Lambs, FBI Agent Clarice Starling gets an urgent assignment from VICAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program) in the investigation of serial killings.
While investigating the case, Starling is captured and subdued by the deranged doctor, Marilyn Felker, who sedates her with drugs, in order to get her to spill the beans on what the FBI knows about her. The drugs give her vivid hallucinations, making her relive her moments confronting Buffalo Bill a year ago. The FBI arrives and rescues Starling but fails to stop Felker from committing suicide.
VISCAP’s investigations lead them to identify that Alastor Pharmaceuticals is behind the killings. VICAP rushes to Alastor to prevent them from purging any incriminating evidence. Clarice who has been keeping her pent up anger in finally gives in to her rage and punches an FBI agent. In turn, she hands in her badge and gun.
During the investigation, Clarice is captured and imprisoned in an animal testing facility, where she finds other trafficked victims held captive. As VISCAP raids the facility, Krendler is critically shot and Clarice is rescued. Krendler wakes up in the hospital with Clarice watching over him. After a brief chat, Krendler reinstates Clarice but orders her on mandatory leave for her to recuperate.
6. Hannibal – (2001)
FBI Agent Clarice Starling’s career crumbles as she is blamed for a drug raid gone wrong. Meanwhile, Mason Verger, a wealthy pedophile plans to get revenge on Hannibal Lecter as he was horribly disfigured by Lecter. Together with corrupt Justice department agent, Paul Krendler, they plan to use Starling to lure Lecter out.
Lecter lures Starling but is captured instead by Verger’s men who trailed her. Verger intends to feed Lecter to his breed of wild boars. Starling decides to rescue Lecter. During the process, she is shot by a guard. Verger orders his assistant to shoot Lecter. However, fueled by his hate towards his boss, he shoves Verger into the pen, allowing the wild boars to eat him alive.
Lecter treats Starling’s wound at Krendler’s secluded lake house. She awakes to find herself and Kendler, dressed fancily at a dinner table. She watches in horror as Lecter opens Krendler’s scalp, removes the top of his skull, and feeds it to him. Starling tries to attack Lecter but he easily overpowers her. As he professes his love for her, she handcuffs her hands to his, trapping him.
Hearing the police, Lecter is about to sever her cuffed hand with a cleaver. Later, Starling is seen with the police with her hands intact. On a flight, Lecter is seen with his bandaged arm in a sling.
7. Hannibal – (2013-2015)
Jack Crawford initiates Will Graham into the Behavioral Science Unit (BAU) to investigate the case of disappearing college girls. Jack also seeks the help of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist who is secretly a cannibalistic serial killer. Together they hunt down the murderer known as the Minnesota Shrike.
When the Minnesota Shrike case closes, two killers known as the Copycat Killer and the Chesapeake Ripper strikes. Lecter, the actual killer is able to subtly manipulate Jack that Will is the person behind the killings.
In a desperate attempt to prove his innocence, Will escapes arrest and confronts Lecter. Before he can shoot Lecter, Jack arrives and arrests him.
When the Copycat Killer strikes again, newly found evidence exonerates Will of the Copycat and Ripper cases. Crawford and Will work together gaining the trust of Lecter in hopes of catching him unaware. Graham also seemingly partners with Lecter on occasions, rescuing him from the nefarious Mason Verger and helping Lecter destroy patient records.
A fight breaks out between Crawford and Lecter as Crawford attempts to arrest him. He wounds Crawford and stabs Graham, stating that he knew of his betrayal. Leaving the two men wounded, he escapes on a plane to Italy.
Lecter has fled to Italy along with his psychiatrist, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier. Du Maurier discusses with Lecter his relationship with Graham. They conclude that in order for him to forgive Graham, he has to eat him. After a long turn of events in Italy, Graham and Crawford are able to pursue Lecter, and eventually Lecter willingly surrenders to the authorities to spite Graham.
Three years later, a serial killer known as “the Tooth Fairy” emerges. Francis Dolarhyde (the Tooth Fairy) communicates with Hannibal via newspaper clippings. Graham and Crawford carry out a sting operation, enlisting the help of Freddie Lounds by publishing an article where Graham spews insults on him.
Dolarhyde eventually kidnaps his co-worker Reba McClane and drives her to his house. Not wanting to harm McClane, he stages his suicide and sets his house on fire. Graham and Crawford put up a plan using Lecter as bait.
As the plan is carried out, Dolrhyde kills all the police personnel in Lecter’s convoy. As they are attacked by Dolarhyde, Graham and Lecter work together to overpower and kill him. After a brief discussion on their friendship. Graham embraces Lecter and pulls them both over the cliff to ambiguous fates.