All Actors Who Played Hannibal Lecter, Ranked

Don't let these actors have you over for dinner.

by J.R. Waugh
Hannibal Lecter Actors
Image: Orion Pictures

Hannibal Lecter is the most iconic serial killer to appear on the big screen. He is known for killing and eating his victims, preparing their flesh into elegant dishes, and eating them or feeding them to unwitting guests. Despite his modus operandi being among the most disturbing and grotesque, fans have rooted for his sophisticated charm and memorable portrayals by multiple actors. But the best actors to take on the murderous psychiatrist’s role is a subject frequently debated, so who is the best Hannibal Lecter?

Who Are the Best Hannibal Lecter Actors?

Hannibal Lecter has been portrayed at numerous ages and stages of his life by multiple talented actors. Some of the best actors to take on this role truly owned it, citing fascinating influences while injecting their style to sell the viewers on their performance. However, some were less than memorable, either due to an unfitting actor or poor scripts to work with. Here are the actors who have portrayed Hannibal Lecter, ranked from worst to least:

5. Aaran Thomas (Hannibal Rising)

Image: Dino De Laurentiis Company

So this one is slightly low-hanging fruit because it was always going to be difficult for an innocent-looking child to convince audiences he would grow up to be the world’s most macabre foodie. But having a convincing, serious portrayal by a child actor is often highly difficult to achieve. It’s nothing against him as an actor and everything against the movie that was made, but we’re still struggling to find out who asked for Hannibal’s origin story.

4. Brian Cox (Manhunter)

Image: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Technically this isn’t Hannibal Lecter. It’s Hannibal Lecktor, for reasons. But Cox’s subdued portrayal of Hannibal Lecter was quite entertaining, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody who has seen his work on Succession. While the movie never captivated audiences in huge numbers when it was released, the Hannibal franchise certainly boosted its popularity and critics appraised it as a worthy film in its own right.

3. Gaspard Ulliel (Hannibal Rising)

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Ulliel had the monumental task of playing Hannibal Lecter at the start of his murderous journey in his early 20s. While the movie was regarded as the worst in the franchise, people should acknowledge that Ulliel’s performance was among the stronger aspects. The sad part is that this won’t be properly acknowledged, with him having tragically passed away last year.

Ulliel’s Lecter had a wicked evil smile and interestingly embodied the character, and despite the series’ author writing the film’s screenplay, you could tell it was more of a writing problem than an acting problem. For reference, just listen to some of the movie’s dialogue.

2. Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Red Dragon)

Image: Orion Pictures

One of the most iconic film portrayals of all time, Anthony Hopkins was not only regarded as one of the best Hannibal Lecter actors but one of the most outstanding performances of the ’90s in film. He was powerful and menacing, chewing up the entire scenery like one of his victims, and his dialogue with Edward Norton’s Will Graham and Jodie Foster/Julianne Moore’s Clarice Starling were absolute highlights. What other actor could occupy only 16 minutes of screen time and take home Oscar gold?

1. Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal TV Series)

Image: Dino de Laurentiis Company

NBC’s Hannibal Lecter was practically transcendent. He was more than a formidable serial killer, a patient psychiatrist, and a gourmand with insane style. The audience knew from the start that he was a terrifying villain, but he was portrayed so expertly by Mikkelsen that they demanded to see more of him. This Hannibal was seductive, dangerous, and artistically attuned while able to speak to everyone’s cultural sensibilities, drawing them in, for better or for worse. TV’s Hannibal Lecter was Satan, and for not nearly long enough, he had us all in his clutches.

Hannibal Lecter has become one of the greatest examples of an antihero who truly won us over in a big way. It’s resulted in Oscar-winning productions and brilliantly artistic screen adaptations, with the case of Red Dragon being adapted thrice. It’s also important to note future projects of people who have worked on this series. But take note of the weight of these performances, and how much it’s done for the careers of these actors, along with the task one must consider when trying to live up to previous portrayals.

- This article was updated on January 27th, 2023