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Hannibal Lecter franchise in order: How to watch the movies and TV shows

Hello Clarice: How to watch Hannibal Lecter in release and chronological order

Hannibal Lecter
Image credit: Orion Pictures

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Are you ready to sink your teeth into some exciting films? Thanks to his pragmatic mind, and his thirst for human flesh, Hannibal Lecter is one of the most terrifying serial killers in cinema. Enter the terrifying world of Hannibal, where the appetite for suspense is matched only by the insatiable hunger for unforgettable storytelling. Based on the exciting novels of Thomas Harris, this gripping franchise has carved its way into the hearts of audiences around the globe.

If you’ve ever wanted to dive into Hannibal’s cinematic saga, but weren’t sure where to start, Popverse has you covered. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about watching Hannibal in release and chronological order. In addition, we’ll also break down the differences between the movies and the television shows, and how they fit in with the overall canon.

How to watch Hannibal Lecter in chronological order

Hannibal season 2 still
Image credit: Dino de Laurentiis Company

If you’re looking for a complete timeline of Hannibal Lecter’s life, just follow this watch order. This list chronicles the life and crimes of Hannibal Lecter. Consider it a biographical viewing order. Some of the films and television shows take place in separate continuities. When a project is set in another continuity, we’ve noted it here. For a larger breakdown on Hannibal canon, please refer to the continuity section of this guide.

Hannibal’s early years

This covers Hannibal Lecter’s early days as a serial killer. The Hannibal television series is set in a separate continuity. The 1986 Manhunter film is also set in its own universe. The television show, Manhunter, and Red Dragon are placed together on the timeline as they tell different versions of the same story.

Hannibal unleashed

This covers some of Hannibal’s most iconic crimes, as seen in the Anthony Hopkins films. While Hannibal doesn’t appear in the Clarice television series, we are including it here because it’s set in the same universe.

How to watch Hannibal Lecter in release order

The Silence of the Lambs image
Image credit: Orion Pictures

If you prefer watching Hannibal in release order, here is how to do it. It should be noted that some of these projects take place in different time periods, but things won’t be confusing. The films and television shows give plenty of context that should clear up any questions over their place in the chronology. For more on chronology, see the previous section of the guide. If there are any questions about continuity and canon, please refer to the continuity section of this guide.

What’s the best way to watch Hannibal Lecter’s movies and television shows?

Clarice season 1 still
Image credit: CBS Studios

It depends on what your tastes are. If you’re a fan of true crime and serialization, I would start with the 2013 Hannibal television series. Since it’s set in its own continuity, it’s a great standalone series which serves as a great introduction to the character. By the end of the third season, you’ll have a pretty good sense of how Hannibal Lecter is, and what makes him tick. From there, you can watch Hannibal Rising and then Red Dragon to see an alternate take on his early years. From there, I would watch everything in release order.

Alternatively, Silence of the Lambs is also a strong way to start. The film is a great introduction to Hannibal Lecter. It’s Anthony Hopkins’ first outing as the character, which earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor. If you’re going to meet Hannibal Lecter for the first time, this is the best way to do it. From there, you can watch the Clarice television series, which takes place shortly after Silence of the Lambs. Although Lecter isn’t in it, it’s a great way to keep up with Clarice Starling. Alternatively, you can skip right to the 2001 film Hannibal, which is set a decade later. If that leaves you wanting more Anthony Hopkins, then you can watch Red Dragon. The only thing left after that is Hannibal Rising and the 2013 television series.

To simplify things, here is a watch order covering both of those lists.

For true crime fans

  • Hannibal (3 season televisions series, 2013-2015)
  • Hannibal Rising (2007 film)
  • Red Dragon (2002 film)
  • Manhunter (1986 film)
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991 film)
  • Hannibal (2001 film)
  • Clarice (1 season televisions series, 2021)

Strongest way to start

  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991 film)
  • Clarice (1 season televisions series, 2021)
  • Hannibal (2001 film)
  • Red Dragon (2002 film)
  • Hannibal Rising (2007 film)
  • Hannibal (3 season televisions series, 2013-2015)
  • Manhunter (1986 film)

Do all the Hannibal Lecter movies and television shows take place in the same continuity?

Brian Cox as Hannibal in 1986's Manhunter
Image credit: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Some of the Hannibal Lecter movies and television projects take place in different continuities. Consider it a Hannibal Lecter multiverse. The 1986 film Manhunter is an adaptation of the novel Red Dragon, and it features the first onscreen appearance of Hannibal Lecter (spelled Lecktor in the film). The character was played by Brian Cox. Manhunter is set in its own universe and has no connection to any of the Anthony Hopkins films.

The three Anthony Hopkins films (The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Red Dragon) are all set in the same continuity. The 2007 film Hannibal Rising shares a continuity with the Hopkins films, serving as a prequel to Silence of the Lambs. The 2021 television drama Clarice is meant to share a continuity with the Hopkins films, bridging the gap between Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. Due to rights issues, the Clarice series wasn’t allowed to mention Hannibal Lecter by name, but the character is indirectly referenced a few times.

The 2013 Hannibal television series is a separate entity, taking place in its own continuity. For example, the Hannibal television series tells its own version of the Red Dragon story, which doesn’t entirely match up with the 2002 film.

Is Hannibal Lecter based on a real person?

Red Dragon still
Image credit: Universal Pictures

As disturbing as it seems, Dr. Hannibal Lecter was partially based on a real person. The creator of Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris, based the character on Alfredo Balli Trevino, a murderer he encountered in a Monterrey prison facility. Harris had an extensive conversation with Balli, believing him to be a prison doctor. The staff later informed him that Balli was a convicted murderer. Harris was struck by Balli’s cold and clinical demeanor, and fascinated by the way he was able to pull the wool over his eyes.

Like Lecter, Balli had a medical science background before becoming a murderer. Balli was a surgeon who had murdered his boyfriend. After killing his lover, Balli drained the blood from the body, chopped it up, and hid the remains in a small box. Although never proven, authorities suspected that Balli was behind the disappearance of numerous hitchhikers. Unlike Lecter, there is no evidence that Balli ever ate his victims.

This is where it gets really disturbing. Balli’s prison sentence was commuted in 1981 (after serving only 20 years). After his release, there is evidence that he continued practicing medicine (off the books) in Monterrey. Yikes! Balli died of pancreatic cancer in 2008.

Where can I watch Hannibal Lecter?

Hannibal Rising
Image credit: Dino De Laurentiis Company

Now that you know how to watch Hannibal Lecter, let’s go over WHERE you can watch. The Silence of the Lambs and the 2001 film Hannibal are both available to stream on MGM+. The 2013 television series Hannibal can be streamed on Prime Video. Hannibal Rising is available on Prime Video, via their Freevee channel. The Clarice television series is currently available to stream on the CW’s official website.

As of this writing, Red Dragon and Manhunter aren’t available on any streaming services, but both films can be purchased or rented digitally from a variety of video-on-demand platforms, including Google Play Movies, Apple TV, and more. Please note, some of these films might wind up on different streaming platforms after their licenses expire.

Now you have everything you need to begin watching the Hannibal franchise. Make sure your doors are locked and try not to lose your appetite.

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Joshua Lapin-Bertone avatar
Joshua Lapin-Bertone: Joshua is a pop culture writer specializing in comic book media. His work has appeared on the official DC Comics website, the DC Universe subscription service, HBO Max promotional videos, the Batman Universe fansite, and more. In between traveling around the country to cover various comic conventions, Joshua resides in Florida where he binges superhero television and reads obscure comics from yesteryear.
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