Anthony Hopkins' Oscar-winning portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter might be the most famous, but he's not the only actor to play the iconic part. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter made his debut in the novel Red Dragon, by Thomas Harris. In both the world of movies and Harris' books, Hannibal began as a supporting character, but became so popular that he gained more and more screen time. Hannibal is the kind of villain that's always interesting, and sometimes even likeable despite his evil acts, which can often be astoundingly heinous.
In the world of films and TV, Hannibal Lecter has appeared onscreen on six different occasions. The first came in Michael Mann's 1986 film Manhunter, although the character didn't gain true prominence until 1991's The Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal would take center stage in 2001's Hannibal, and would also appear in a re-adaptation of Red Dragon in 2003. Hannibal's origin story took shape in 2011's Hannibal Rising, while the most recent incarnation came on TV, via NBC's cult hit Hannibal series from creator Bryan Fuller. Here's all the actors to play the role so far.
Brian Cox - Manhunter
While Manhunter took many liberties with Harris' Red Dragon source material, Hannibal's role in the plot remains basically the same. Manhunter centers on Will Graham (William Petersen), a retired criminal profiler who seeks an incarcerated Lecter's assistance after being recruited to hunt down a new killer known as "The Tooth Fairy" (Tom Noonan). Getting anything useful out of Hannibal (played by acclaimed Scottish actor Brian Cox) proves difficult, as Will is the one who apprehended Lecter in the first place. Cox's Lecter is much more low-key and less charismatic than Anthony Hopkins' version.
Anthony Hopkins - The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, & Red Dragon
One of the greatest suspense thrillers of all time, The Silence of the Lambs adapted Thomas Harris' sequel to Red Dragon, which in many ways boasts a similar setup. FBI rookie Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is tasked by boss Jack Crawford with seeking the help of an incarcerated Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins) in order to track down a killer dubbed "Buffalo Bill" (Ted Levine). The Silence of the Lambs went on to clean up at the Oscars, and make Hopkins' Hannibal a pop culture touchstone. Hopkins would reprise the role for 2001's Hannibal, which saw Julianne Moore take over as Clarice, and return again for Red Dragon, which saw a redo of the Lecter/Graham story with Edward Norton as Will. While Hopkins does well as usual, the fact that he looks much older in Red Dragon than he did in Silence of the Lambs is a bit distracting, since it's essentially a prequel.
Gaspard Ulliel - Hannibal Rising
A French actor and model, Gaspard Ulliel was cast as a young Hannibal in 2011's Hannibal Rising, which reveals the cannibalistic serial killer's backstory. Unfortunately, Hannibal Rising earned scathing reviews, and is almost unanimously considered the worst movie featuring Lecter. Ulliel's Hannibal doesn't at all seem like he would grow up to be the man we saw in the Hopkins films, and also looks and sounds absolutely nothing like Hopkins. Many fans also found the filling in of Hannibal's past to be needless, and that by trying to make Hannibal more sympathetic, it took the character in the wrong direction.
Mads Mikkelsen - Hannibal TV Series
If there's anyone in Anthony Hopkins' league when it comes to playing Hannibal Lecter, most fans would argue it's Mads Mikkelsen, star of NBC's Hannibal TV series. Many Lecter fans were skeptical of a new take on the character, especially one on network TV. Those same fans were taken aback at just how great Bryan Fuller's series turned out, and how spellbinding Mikkelsen proved to be in the role. While Hannibal was never a ratings hit, it lasted for three highly acclaimed seasons, and there are still murmurs of a possible season 4.