Hannibal Lecter has been brought to the screen more than once, and both Anthony Hopkins’ and Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayals have been adored by fans and loved by critics. While the Hannibal movies (mainly Silence of the Lambs) were the thrilling original interpretations of the novels by Thomas Harris, Bryan Fuller’s TV show Hannibal also brought the story to life in new and exciting ways.
We’ve put together a list comparing the two interpretations to see which versions are better in different areas. Both versions of the Hannibal Lecter story pushed the limits of the horror genre and both actors brought something unique and skilled to their take on the character.
8 DIVERSITY: NBC HANNIBAL
While Silence of the Lambs did a great job of telling a feminist story given the time period, and was much more feminist than many horror films of the time, the more modern NBC Hannibal is a much more diverse take. The cast included more people of color and women, and there were many LGBT characters featured in the show.
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There was definitely aconcerted effort to show a more diverse cast, and characters that were originally male in the books, such as Alan Bloom, were changed to be women in the television show’s take. Silence of the Lambs may have done a decent job with diversity at the time, but it was overall a very white, male, straight story, similar to the books. Bryan Fuller took the tale in a new direction that’s more modern and included more representation.
7 ROMANCE: NBC HANNIBAL
Silence of the Lambs and NBC’s Hannibal both include elements of romance. This element is much stronger in the television show, however, and a little less creepy. Because of the TV format, the relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal is able to be explored more deeply. While the relationship between Clarice and Hannibal might be intriguing, the gender dynamics in that relationship make it a little harder to get on board for. The queer elements of the relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal in the television show definitely pushed at boundaries and drew many people in. At the end of the day, while Hannibal had amazing murder tableaus and elegant dinners, what the show is really known for is how it explored the relationship between these two men.
6 GROUNDBREAKING: HANNIBAL MOVIES
Both on-screen versions of the Hannibal story have been groundbreaking in their own way. Fuller’s Hannibal was definitely considered to be a fresh take on a homoerotic love story. Beyond that, it was also known for being exceptionally well-crafted television that stood out even among a lot of spectacular, high-quality TV. But, in this category, the Anthony Hopkins version wins out. Silence of the Lambs was stunning for its time and a pivotal moment in the horror genre. As the original, it became such a pop culture phenomenon, and it definitely broke a lot of new ground. As such, it had to win here, even though a case could be made for Fuller’s Hannibal, too.
5 ELEGANCE: MADS MIKKELSEN
Hannibal Lecter is a complex man of many tastes. He might be a cannibal serial killer, but he also enjoys great wine and delicious, fine food. While these elements are briefly highlighted in Silence of the Lambs, Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is all about elegance. The meals he serves are intricate and over the top, and he is a man all about elegance and class. Mikkelsen’s interpretation of the character brings these elements to the forefront, and it's part of the characters allure as well as horror.
4 CREEPY FACTOR: ANTHONY HOPKINS
Anthony Hopkins' interpretation of Hannibal Lecter was brilliantly done, and it was creepy as hell. While both versions of Hannibal have a creepy factor in different ways, Hopkins' version is definitely the one that puts viewers more on their guard. Hopkins’ Hannibal is also more sexual in how he speaks and has a bit of a creep vibe in that sense, too. While you’d likely feel creeped out by both version of Hannibal if you ever encountered them, Anthony Hopkins' interpretation definitely brings this side of the Hannibal Lecter character more to the forefront.
3 SEX APPEAL: MADS MIKKELSEN
Mikkelsen’s interpretation of the character is all about sex appeal which is hard not to have considering the intriguing, strange beauty of Mikkelsen himself. In Fuller’s Hannibal, Hannibal has romantic relationships with many characters, such as Alana Bloom and Bedelia, and is clearly able to use his good looks and charisma to his advantage in this way.
In many ways, this inherent sex appeal makes the character even scarier as there is something about him that is alluring even as it’s also off-putting.
2 SCARIER: ANTHONY HOPKINS
While both versions of Hannibal had their moments of being pretty scary, Hopkins' Hannibal really takes the day in this category. Maybe it’s because this Hannibal is shown to us after he’s been caught and put in prison, but Hopkins' version isn’t putting on as much of a person suit and is inherently more wild and freaky.
There is something upsetting about all of his interactions, and Hopkins brings fear and horror to life in a very effective and visceral way. Mikkelsen’s version can put people a little more at ease at first whereas Hopkins Hannibal really capitalizes on those horror elements.
1 MURDER: BOTH
Both the television show and the movies feature Hannibal actually murdering people. The scene in the elevator when Hannibal escapes in Silence of the Lambs will always be an iconic movie moment. Because that moment is so hard to top, Hopkins and Mikkelsen had to tie in this category. However, since the television show was so much longer, there were many more opportunities to see Hannibal in action. Mads Mikkelsen is a very physical actor, and seeing him fight Jack Crawford and kill Abigail Hobbs were horrifying and captivating moments on the show. Also, NBC’s Hannibal allowed viewers to see those murder tableaux that were both extremely gross and somehow beautiful at the same time.