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Franchise / Hannibal Lecter

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"Good evening, Clarice."

A series of horror-crime novels written by Thomas Harris, which are centered around the exploits of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic and Wicked Cultured Serial Killer. The book series spawned multiple different adaptations in the form of movies and TV shows.

Interestingly, the novels and adaptations were all made in an unusual chronological order, that do not align respectively of each other. There are also four different continuities within this franchise: the original novels, the Manhunter film (with Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecktor), the other films (featuring Anthony Hopkins as Lecter), and the Hannibal TV series (starring Mads Mikkelsen in the titular role).

Hannibal Lecter media:




  • Hannibal (2013-2015)
  • Clarice (2021-) note 

General tropes:

  • Anachronic Order: The books and the movies were released in different orders, but none of them are chronological:
    • Book order: Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Hannibal Rising (2, 3, 4, 1).
    • Movie order: The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Red Dragon, Hannibal Rising (3, 4, 2, 1).
  • Antagonist Title: Hannibal, Red Dragon (an indirect example). Averted with Hannibal Rising, in which Vladis Grutas is the villain.
  • Appropriated Title: The series began with Red Dragon, but it's known as the The Silence of the Lambs series due to the popularity of that film.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Hannibal was retconned into being Lithuanian aristocracy. Although by that point in the franchise he was more of an Anti-Hero.
  • Asshole Victim
    • Hannibal's first kill was a racist Asian-hating punk who insulted Hannibal's Japanese aunt, and was sliced up with her sword by Hannibal soon thereafter.
      • Practically every Hannibal victim in this film fits the trope.
    • In The Silence of the Lambs Dr. Chilton is portrayed as sleazy, underhanded, uncooperative and a publicity hound, and almost costs Catherine Martin her life. At the end of the movie it's clear that Lecter will kill and eat him.
    • Mason Verger was this in Hannibal, even though he didn't actually die at least not then and just wound up crippled.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Averted twice. In both cases the real climax comes when the hero is unexpectedly thrust up against the killer, unprepared and with no backup.
    • In Red Dragon the FBI successfully identify the killer and charge in to take him down, but the killer has already burnt his house down and escaped.
    • In Silence of the Lambs the FBI successfully identify the killer only to end up at the wrong house.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: In the first two books, the POVs for all three serial killers (Dolaryhde, Gumb and Lecter) demonstrate that they have completely alien personalities and outlooks on life. They are not simple Card Carrying Villains so much as they are are living in a terrifying fantasy world of their own creation where nobody else is a real person and their every thought reflects their twisted pathologies. At first, this might seem over the top, but the longer you stay with them the more it becomes flat-out disturbing and outright freaky.
  • Comic-Book Time: The bulk of the material in the first three books covers 12 years: The hunt for Buffalo Bill comes five years after the hunt for the Tooth Fairy and the events of Hannibal take place seven years later, with an epilogue taking place three years after that. Red Dragon and Hannibal were released 18 years apart, with Hannibal taking eleven years to write.
  • Composite Character:
    • In Red Dragon, the novel, Will has caught two serial killers prior to the Tooth Fairy case—Lecter, and another guy who was killing college students. In Manhunter, the other guy is vaguely referenced but "Lecktor" has been locked up for killing college girls.
    • In the film, Benjamin Raspail, a flutist in the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra and a patient of Lecter's who was romantically involved with Jame Gumb, with Klaus, one of Buffalo Bill's victims and whose head is discovered by Clarice. The new film character has Raspail's name and history as a lover of Gumb, but the fate of Klaus of being killed by Gumb.
    • Gumb himself is a composite of three Real Life serial killers. His Wounded Gazelle Gambit is a hallmark of Ted Bundy, his tactic of imprisoning women in his basement is that of Gary Heidnik (though unlike Heidnik, Gumb has no sexual interest in his captives), and his skinning the women in order to make a suit of them was part of Ed Gein's MO.
  • Consulting a Convicted Killer: The character Hannibal Lecter largely defines this trope, as his insight as a brilliant, yet twisted, psychiatrist was valuable to FBI investigators tracking down serial killers in Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. Many other instances of the trope occurring outside of Hannibal Lecter stories pay direct homage to Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of the character in the film adaptation of Lambs.
    • Red Dragon sees Hannibal approached by FBI investigator Will Graham, who had originally captured Hannibal, requesting his assistance in capturing a serial killer known as "The Tooth Fairy". This is actually an Unbuilt Trope. Lecter's suggestions had either been thought of already or didn't help them identify the killer. Hannibal ultimately sends Graham's home address to the Tooth Fairy, which results in Graham being disfigured and descending into alcoholism. Crawford later admitted that consulting Lecter was a terrible idea.
    • In The Silence of the Lambs, FBI trainee Clarice Starling visits Hannibal in his cell on multiple occasions for help with catching another serial killer called "Buffalo Bill". Hannibal ends up giving Clarice cryptic clues in exchange for information about Clarice's unhappy childhood. Hannibal later uses an agreement to disclose Buffalo Bill's real name in exchange for a transfer to another asylum as an opportunity to escape.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • In Silence, Hannibal has painted a view of Florence from the roof of the Duomo as part of his Wicked Cultured personality. One of the first establishing shots in Hannibal is that exact vista in real life.
    • Also, the above-mentioned drawing was the Duomo "seen from the Belvedere". Clarice found Buffalo Bill in Belvedere, Ohio. Could Hannibal have known all along that this was where Bill was living?
    • Lecter also stresses the word Simplicity. Clarice figures out what Bill is doing with the skins when she finds a dress pattern, which includes cuts of cloth identical to those found on the victims. The brand of the pattern is Simplicity. Either this is a coincidence or he knew all along.
    • At the end of Red Dragon Hannibal is informed of a young female FBI agent who wants to question him.
    • Young Hannibal tries on his aunt's samurai mask, evoking his future restraint mask.
    • In Hannibal, Lecter writes a letter to Starling while wearing a custom hand lotion. Aside from the ambergris base, which is a clue planted by Lecter, the other two ingredients were picked to reference the previous movie: Tennessee lavender (Lecter was in Memphis when he escaped) and fleece (lanolin is derived from sheep's wool).
    • In Red Dragon we see Lecter wearing practically everything he wore in Silence: The regular blue jumpsuit, the white shirt and pants (worn during his time in Memphis in Silence, worn during his exercise time in Dragon), the straight jacket and muzzle (worn when he was being transported to Memphis in Silence, worn when they clean his cell in Dragon) and the straight jacket and wire mask (worn when Chilton interrogates him in Silence, worn when Chilton clears out his cell in Dragon).
    • Silence closes with a To Be Continued. After the Copyright notice and MPAA logo, a logo appears with the text "A Luta Continua"—Portuguese for "The Struggle Continues" ("To be continued"). Although three other Jonathan Demme films also have that logo in the closing credits, so it's more likely a Shout-Out.
  • Creepy Souvenir:
    • In Red Dragon it was presumed the "Chesapeake Ripper" was doing this, until Will Graham realized the parts being taken were all used in cooking and realized he was hunting a cannibal.
    • In "Silence'' Buffalo Bill collects parts of the skin of his victims to make a "woman suit".
  • Extra Digits: In the books, Hannibal had six fingers on his left hand. This detail is dropped in the screen adaptations though, presumably because its plot relevance wouldn't justify the technical difficulty it would pose on screen.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly:
    • Mason Verger.
    • Inverted with Dolarhyde. His dark side is what motivates him to work out and because of it he has a perfect physique that his female co-workers fawn over; something he is ignorant of.
  • The Film of the Book: All of the books received one, and Red Dragon got two.
  • FBI Agent: Starling is in training to be one in Silence; she only gets her badge at the end of the story. She's a full-fledged agent in Hannibal.
  • Flanderization: Over the course of the four books, Lecter devolved into a caricature of himself. In Red Dragon he was originally just a very intelligent and cultured man, whose expertise in his chosen field of psychiatry made him a particularly dangerous (and somewhat ironic) insane killer. By the (book) sequel, The Silence of the Lambs, he is quite clearly one of the greatest if not the greatest psychiatrist in the world with also an extensive knowledge of human anatomy and the culinary arts, and by the threequel Hannibal, he's revealed to be a world-class genius in any field he sets his mind to, from Renaissance art to particle physics.
  • Forensic Drama: Lots of attention in Manhunter, Red Dragon, and Silence of the Lambs to how the FBI is using forensics to hunt down the bad guys.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble
    • Lecter and Starling are melancholic, Will Graham is choleric, and Jack Crawford is phlegmatic.
    • The Verger family in Hannibal: Mason is choleric, Margot is phlegmatic, Molson is melancholic.
    • The Nazi looters who eat Lecter's sister: Grutas is choleric, Dortlich is sanguine, Kolnas is phlegmatic, Grentz is melancholic, and Milko is Leukine.
  • Freudian Excuse: Offered repeatedly, with mixed results.
    • Retconning one into Hannibal Lecter's past was not generally viewed as a good move. It was a plausible plot device in Hannibal: it made everything else about Lecter mentioned by others (like Doemling) mesh better and completed the Failure Knight analogy hinted at since the previous book. But extending Lecter's Freudian Excuse into a full story really inflicted severe Badass Decay. However, it's arguable that Lecter has the most hilariously, unintentionally ridiculous Freudian Excuse ever: His sister was eaten by Nazi Cannibals when he was a child. Believe it or not, this Freudian excuse could be based on a Truth in Television. The infamous Ukrainian cannibal Andrei Chikatilo was told growing up that his brother was cannibalized by neighbors during the Holodomor (massive famines caused by Soviet agricultural policy). There is no conclusive proof that the Nazis engaged in cannibalism. But the Imperial Japanese certainly did. They very nearly ate George H.W. Bush.
    • The Freudian Excuse is deployed surprisingly well, however, with Dolarhyde in the first book. Will Graham notes, "As a child, my heart goes out to him. As an adult, he's irredeemable."
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Hannibal Lecter is one of the most iconic fictional cannibals. He makes use of his culinary skills to turn his victims into gourmet meals.
  • Jerkass:
    • Freddy Lounds, who sneaks in and takes pictures of a critically wounded Will Graham (after being stabbed by Lecter) for his paper (the Tattler), and has no qualms about writing pure lies just to sell copies.
    • Paul Krendler. He makes Clarice Starling's life a living hell for not only grandslamming the Buffalo Bill case, but also rejecting his pass at her. Twice. He's also a Corrupt Cop, working for Verger Mason and framing Starling in the process.
    • Frederick Chilton. There's his making sleazy passes at Clarice, frequent taunting of Lecter, illicitly recording Clarice's conversations with Lecter, leaking the FBI's deal with Lecter, and hogging the spotlight as the plan's brainchild, putting both Clarice and Catherine Martin at the mercy of Buffalo Bill in the process.
  • Noodle Incident: Hannibal's Baltimore killing spree is referenced often in the first two books but the specifics are mostly left to our interpretation. We know he killed nine people, we know he killed a hunter, a census taker and Benjamin Raspail, we know he non-lethally attacked Mason Verger, we know he committed the last four murders inside of two weeks and Crawford implied that at least one of the victims was hanged. Most of the victims and the details remain unknown.
  • Paparazzi:
    • Freddy Lounds in Red Dragon, played by Stephen Lang and/or Philip Seymour Hoffman. Tabloids are a big part of the later two books as well, but there are no actual reporters involved.
    • In fact, the media in general is such a colossal Jerkass, it makes Lecter's letters to Starling look downright complimentary (and partially, they are). It also makes her feelings of alienation in Hannibal all the more plausible.
  • Pet the Dog
    • Dolarhyde and Reba. Characters later suggest that The Power of Love almost convinced him to Heel–Face Turn. Too bad "The Dragon" had to intervene.
    • Lecter's relationship with Clarice contains some of this. While some of it is Batman Gambit, he also has some genuine respect and affection for her. His initial favor to her (pointing her toward the severed head of Bill's first victim), is also to make up for a gross discourtesy she suffered at the hands of Miggs.
  • Photographic Memory:
    • Graham.
    • Lecter can draw a cityscape of Florence from memory, at the very least. Lecter uses a mnemonic device known as a memory palace. He is able to visualize his mind as a large building and store his memories in its rooms. It's mentioned that he has a library of books and he can reference and draw from any of them when needed.
  • Picky People Eater: Hannibal Lecter, but only as an extension of his gourmet tendencies when it comes to all his food. For example, he'll often take delicacies such as sweetbreads, kidneys or oyster meat—a tendency which first clues Will Graham in to the notion that his suspect is a cannibal, and ultimately leads to Lecter's capture.
    • In "Hannibal" Agent Starling states that Lecter prefers (when possible) to murder and eat people who exasperate him, the "free-range rude". She also posits that Lecter is more predisposed to eat those whose absence would improve society in some way, such as the meagerly skilled flutist from the "Red Dragon" film.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning
    • In the books, Lecter is described as having maroon (brownish-red) eyes.
    • Lecter appears with bright red eyes in some posters for Hannibal and Hannibal Rising.
  • Red Right Hand: Francis Dolarhyde's harelip, Lecter having maroon eyes and six fingers on one hand in the books.
  • Reminiscing About Your Victims: Mason does this with regards to the youths he molested at camp, and Hannibal does seem rather fond of remembering that postal worker whose liver he ate.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Several throughout the franchise:
    • Buffalo Bill's basement has several. The sewing room has a large black wardrobe filled with the skins of women. The doors are plastered with newspaper clippings.
    • Jack Crawford has a heroic version, as his office features the same Buffalo Bill clippings as well as crime scene photos.
    • Francis Dolarhyde has his huge scrapbook of crazy going back to childhood, with photographs and journal entries. It also features clippings from the time of Lecter's arrest and trial.
    • Dr. Lecter himself isn't shown to have a full Room Full of Crazy but there is one small piece that tips Graham off. In the book it is a diagram of the Wounded Man, which matches the murder of Lecter's sixth victim. In the movie it is a book featuring a human anatomical diagram labelled "sweet breads." It's also mentioned his basement was horrifying enough to make an officer retire.
  • Serial-Killer Killer: Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic serial killer with a sizable bodycount of his own, at times goes after other killers when he's not locked up, including Nazi war criminal Vladis Grutas in Hannibal Rising and disfigured pedophile Mason Verger in Hannibal.
  • Sherlock Scan: Lecter can give you your entire backstory based on a brief conversation. Much like Sherlock himself, he'll do this at the slightest provocation just to prove how clever he is.
  • Small Role, Big Impact:
    • Hannibal's status in Red Dragon. In the book his appearance is limited to twelve pages and a few letters he writes. Despite this his presence affects the entire story. At the beginning of the story Graham is haunted by his previous encounter with Lecter. Graham's visit to Lecter leads to Graham's involvement with the investigation being exposed to the public and thus to Dolarhyde. The only thing Lecter actually does is give Dolarhyde Graham's address, which at first appears to be for nothing but at the end comes back in a big way. Lecter was able to achieve a final victory over his nemesis from behind bars with nothing more than a phone call and a letter. Whether he really succeeds is debatable, depending on if he intended for Graham to be killed or not.
    • Anthony Hopkins holds the record for the shortest amount of screen time to win an Academy Award for Best Actor: he's only in the movie (The Silence of the Lambs) for around 18 minutes.
  • Smug Snake: Dr. Chilton through and through. He grills Graham for information on Lecter, obnoxiously hits on Clarice, takes entirely too much pleasure in shocking visitors with the account of the time Lecter mutilated a nurse who let her guard down.
    • Crystallized by Lecter leaving a rather insulting chemistry formula behind in a toilet just to make his disgust clear.
    • Chilton is made to be an even bigger dick in the book, where it's flat out stated that Hannibal would have given Starling Buffalo Bill "tomorrow". Unfortunately, Chilton interfered and fucked everything up, resulting in the deaths of a couple cops, some paramedics and a tourist during his escape, further risking the life of Catherine Martin and bringing about his own death.
    • Lecter has actually found the best way to deal with Chilton though; he simply doesn't speak to him. The book mentions that Chilton hasn't heard Lecter speak to him in years. This just makes him even more childish in his petty acts of vengeance. Lecter also had a paper published that tore Chilton to shreds.
    • In the third book, we have Paul Krendler, a homophobic, sexist, corrupt Justice Department official who propositions Starling and does everything in his power to mess with her career when he doesn't get what he wants.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: In the original book of Red Dragon, Hannibal Lecter only personally appears for a few pages. Good pages, but still. The poster for the (second) film is mostly a giant picture of his head (His role is expanded enough in the Red Dragon film to justify it).
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!:
    • Hannibal Lecter in the movies, though in the books there are a couple of signs.
    • Red Dragon spends a lot of time dealing with the day-to-day working life of its eponymous Serial Killer, Francis Dollarhyde, the sheer mundane nature of which make his horrific murder sprees all the more unsettling. In a twist, the killer thinks of himself as hideous and disfigured, because of a harelip he had as a child... except that it's barely noticeable after all the surgery he got for it.
    • Buffalo Bill also seems like just a regular guy when outside of his house.
  • Timeshifted Actor:
    • Young Clarice in the flashback to her father's funeral.
    • The younger version of Hannibal Lecter is played by Gaspard Ulliel and Aaran Thomas in Hannibal Rising.
  • Wicked Cultured: Lecter. His pathology is centred around this trope, as he eats (and serves) his victims as exquisite meals, apparently to prove how much better he is than them; or, in Starling's words, "show his disdain for those who exacerbate him" (or, sometimes, to perform a "public service"). Apart from this, and a more general love of fine dining and drink, he enjoys classical music, is a highly talented artist, and has sufficient knowledge of Dante, the Renaissance and its related literature to get a temp job as a library curator at a Florentine museum, and impress the board enough to nearly make it permanent.