Hannibal Lecter – Who plays it better?

By June 19, 2014 Films, Opinions, TV Shows

Hannibal Lecter

Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins or Mads Mikkelsen?

Hannibal Lecter. It is a name synonymous with grace and brutality and he is probably one of the most famous, iconic, fictional serial killers of all time. Hannibal Lecter first appeared in the books written by Thomas Harris, an American born author. Thomas Harris penned Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising. From the outset people loved the character of Hannibal Lecter and it wasn’t long before we got to see him on the Big Screen.

The first film adaptation of one of Harris’ books came in 1986. Red Dragon was turned into a film called Manhunter. The role of Hannibal Lecter (spelled Lecktor for the film) was played by Brian Cox. The next adaptation came with the award winning “The Silence of the Lambs,” in 1991. The role of Hannibal Lecter in this film was played by Anthony Hopkins. It was this performance that turned Hannibal Lecter into a cult icon. Hopkins performance as Lecter won him an academy award and rightly so. Hopkins went on to star in Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon (2002). Hannibal Rising was also adapted into a film and it focused on a young Hannibal, and he was played by Gaspard Ulleil, however both the novel and the film received negative critical reviews.

After this there was a relative Hannibal drought until 2012 when Hannibal, the TV series was adapted. The role of Hannibal was now to be played by Mads Mikkelsen and so far the series has received rave reviews and is currently on its second season.

So with all of these actors playing the one role, this brings up the question: Who plays Hannibal Lecter better? Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins or Mads Mikkelsen?

Brian Cox

Brian Cox

Manhunter 1986

The first man to play Hannibal Lecter in 1986, we really like Brian Cox’s take on the famous killer. Cox said that he based his portrayal of the character on the infamous Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel. His Hannibal portrayal is intelligent, but lacking somewhat in the sophisticated grace. Yes he has a certain grace about him but in our honest opinion he didn’t quite nail the threatening grace of Hannibal. However for a first portrayal, Brian Cox did a stellar job and he would be the one that had set the standard.

Anthony Hopkins

Anthony Hopkins

The Silence of the Lambs 1991
Hannibal (2001) Red Dragon (2002)

Anthony Hopkins was the second man to take up the mantle of Hannibal Lecter and what a job he did! he did so well, he won an academy award and he reprised the role 2 more time after The Silence of the Lambs. But what is it we love so much about how Hopkins portrayed Lecter? We believe that Hopkins was able to grasp what Brian Cox was only able to achieve fleetingly in Manhunter. Threatening grace. Yes Hopkins Lecter was intelligent and sophisticated but he was also very menacing and had this presence about him that was imposing for the audience. They could feel it in their bones that this character was someone not to be messed with. Our favourite performance of Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter will always be in The Silence of the Lambs but his second reprisal of the role in Hannibal was also something to be marvelled at and it was equally as gross and brutal. Do we need to say any more about that scene where Hannibal gives Krendel his last meal?

Mads Mikkelsen

Mads Mikkelsen

Hannibal TV Series 2012 - present

When it was announced that there was going to be a TV series made of the Thomas Harris books, naturally people started to wonder about who would play Hannibal. The person would have some pretty big shoes to fill, especially coming after the stellar performance of Anthony Hopkins. When it was discovered that Mads Mikkelsen would take up the role there were some doubts about the choice but when we got to see him as Hannibal, Mads was able to erase all doubts we had about him being Hannibal. Mikkelsen has the unique opportunity to explore the character of Hannibal that Hopkins never did, this is what TV series allow. Over so many episodes characters can be developed as much as is needed. Mikkelsen went in knowing that he didn’t just want to rehash Anthony Hopkins performance and made Hannibal into something of his own. He has the intelligent, threatening grace that Hopkins was able to put forward but he has also brought something of an allure to the role. You find yourself throughout the show, questions why you feel so strongly about Hannibal, even though you know he is a serial killer. In a certain episode in season 1 when Hannibal’s life comes under threat you find yourself panicking for him and then stopping yourself because you know he’s just as evil as the guy trying to kill him. Over all Mads is doing a fantastic job in the role of Hannibal.


So who do we prefer? It’s hard to say really. When it comes to the films, Hopkins wins all the time. But when it comes to a TV Series, could Hopkins have done what Mads Mikkelsen is doing? Possibly yes, but would he have wanted to play the role for seasons and seasons? Hopkins and Mikkelsen are two very different actors and have brought two very different elements to the character of Hannibal, but who do we prefer?

We’re going to have to say that Hopkins has our favouritism but Mikkelsen is not far behind!


We finished watching season 1 of Hannibal last night and holy crap that was so effin’ AWESOME! The finale was brilliant and full of suspense and the episode with the girl who couldn’t see the faces and believed she was dead…chilled us to the bone! We won’t go into any spoilers here because we know some of you guys out there have yet to watch it, but seriously, watch it!

Will the finale of season 1 in our minds we have now decided that Mads Mikkelsen has now gone into the lead as the best Hannibal Lecter. Yes Anthony Hopkins won an academy award for his, but there is just something about Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal that is so…menacing. You’ll see what we mean when you watch the series. We’re stomping straight on to season 2 now so bring it on!

Don’t get us wrong we still love Anthony Hopkins…but Mads Mikkelsen has this weird, dark allure about him!


  • Derek Eynon says:

    Yes mads by a country mile

  • Seanan says:

    I do not think any one plays the character any worse or any better, they are just different aspects. I always thought of Hannibal as being a very multilayered character with a very dynamic personality. I have seen all four actors, but I am leaving Gaspard Ulliel who played the young Hannibal out because only one person has played him, so that leaves the three adult Hannibal. Each actor brought their own version to the character and they were all brilliant. I have always been amazed at how different actors can bring out something new in a character that has been played a few times and it is nice to compare and contrast, but to say that one is better than the other is unfair to the actors involved. Yes, you may like one more than the others but what I like is that emphasis is placed on certain traits and characteristics and it gives a new perspective of that particular character. I think they all have done a brilliant job of the character and I really cannot choose among them which one is my favorite.

  • Hannibal" the cannibal" Lecter says:

    I think mads looks like a manekin, and like hopkins better, it just feels more powerful

  • calibann says:

    If you read the books its Brian cox. Hopkins is way over the top. In the book red dragon , lecter is only in it for a few fleeting moments and this is reflected in the movie man hunter. When the film was remade using its original title, in an attempt to cash in from the success of silence of the lambs and Hannibal movies, they tried to make lecter a major character which he is not in the book. His portrayal is way over the top just as it was portrayed in the previous two films starring Hopkins. People will now only accept the Hopkins version as these are the most famous, however these are not the most authentic to the books. With this in mind silence of the lambs is still a good film. Man hunter is good but is now dated. Red dragon the movie is OK but goes in for to much of the Hollywood hype trying to live off the glory from silence of the lambs. Hannibal, what can I say but the movie is a steaming pile of shit. Best advice is read the books then make the comparison.

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