Unnecessary Debates: Who’s the better Cannibalistic Sociopath?

We are a society fascinated by the obscene.  This is not news by any means.  The twisted, the gruesome, the spectacle of horror taps into a very specific part of the human mind.  Shows like Dexter had a rabid fan base.  Law & Order: SVU is on it’s 109th season and now likes to troll the news.  A huge percentage of the population likes to be horrified, to dive into the darker corners of the imagination through the safety of a screen.  The other percentage is lying.
No character has better represented this odd human condition more so than Hannibal Lecter.  Born of the brilliant Thomas Harris’ novels, from page, to screen, to smaller screen, Dr. Lecter has touched on some of our more confusing, conflicting innermost thoughts – is it okay to enjoy a villain so thoroughly?
Well, we’ve already answered the question ourselves.  While we’ve come to love Loki (ahem, just read our blog), have seen iterations of the Joker from campy to gritty, and for some reason kept dumping out Saw movies (I don’t even know, was the same guy pulling the strings in all of them?) – no one keeps coming back to the table like Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Like a demented Hamlet, several actors have stepped into the role.  The incredible Brian Cox set the tone in Manhunter (1986).  (Sir) Anthony Hopkins made the bad doctor his iconic role in Silence of the Lambs (1991) and the following sequels.  Most recently, Mads Mikkelsen has taken the hungry doctor’s mantle on Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal on NBC.  Gaspard Ulliel played Lecter too.  Moving on.
There must be an answer.  Let’s go to the tape and break this down by totally non-arbitrary scientific reasoning.

Who whetted our appetites for consumption best?   


Actor Credentials: 

Brian Cox brings a certain presence to any role, forged by his absurd list of movies, shows and plays he has appeared in.  He is an accomplished Shakespearean actor known for playing King Lear, has battled with Jason Bourne and won dozens of awards for his performance in the Criterion film, Super Troopers.  The Scotsman is versatile.  I may have exaggerated on one of those points.Anthony Hopkins brings an equally impressive resume.  The Welsh actor has been Hitchcock and both Wolf- and Beowulf-men.  He unfortunately met Joe Black.  He is the allfather Odin.  He’s also technically SIR Anthony Hopkins, as he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1993.Mads Mikkelsen has quite the career in his own right.  While the two actors above have several decades of performances on the Dane, Mads has been in some highly acclaimed and beloved films.  He was in the astounding Vahalla Rising, was an excellent addition to the Bond-villain pantheon, as the blood-crying but not quite in control Le Chiffre in Casino Royale and had award-worthy performances in 2007’s After the Wedding and more recently in 2012’s The Hunt (psst – it’s on Netflix).

Gaspard Ulliel is an actor/model from France.  I shall jump the gun and let you know he loses this category.

Decision:  Truly, this is a tough one.  It’s easier to pick the loser here, as I did above.  Mads Mikkelsen is on his way to a fine career, but he cannot match his elders.  The race boils down to two actors I have an immense amount of respect for.  Cox and Hopkins duke it out, both worthy of this round with laundry lists of performances. Only one is in Madame Tussauds and only one can rightfully be addressed as ‘Sir’.

Round goes to Sir Phillip Anthony Hopkins (by a manicured wax figure hair)


Connection to Source Material

TRICK CATEGORY.  Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a character based on the character from Thomas Harris’ novel, Red Dragon and his subsequent sequels Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and the 2006 Hannibal Rising.  Here’s the trick – while the book sequels’/corresponding movies may have their flaws and detractors, they were written as part of the larger story, an extension.  They may have been capitalizing on successes of past film adaptations, no doubt, but were at least meant as extensions of the crazy story.

That is not what Hannibal Rising was in either literary or movie form.  That’s the one with Gaspard Ulliel, actor/model, and was Hannibal’s origin story.  Because that’s what we wanted – a sympathetic backstory.  Here’s a wonderfully incredulous book review from 2006 when the book came out.  The book was clearly written for the movie.  The motivations behind the writing may very well have been Harris’ nervousness on being in control of any prequel.  Who knows.  It was weird.  And Gaspard Ulliel is… no.  But, the connection is undeniably explicit.  The TV series draws immense praise as a wonderful adaptation of the source material – I agree – but the real fun will be as it progresses into the… ok no spoilers, go watch that show, it’s remarkable.

Decision: Ulliel backs into a win.  Threw him a bone.  He has a silly name and is French.  These other actors would eat him alive. <rimshot>

Round goes to Gaspard Ulliel (even a blind cannibal finds a toe, or something)

Best Hair:


Good look here, accented by some serious eyebrows.  A solid   6/10 – 7/10 including eyebrows
Crazy hair to match the crazy eyes.  Solid and fitting for his version of the character – 7/10


One well-coiffed man.  His stylish take makes his Doctor all the creepier (more on that later) – 9.5/10
Fall Out Hannibal.  No. Nein. I award you no points sir.  Good day.  I SAID GOOD DAY –  0/10
In fact, we’re going negative:   (-2)/10
(Look, I’m sure Gaspard is a nice guy and had little to do with that choice but… c’mon)



Decision: Mads wins.  Impeccably dressed with impeccable hair, this was an easy one.  Though he may have to adapt to some new attire eventually…

Round goes to Mikkelsen (the man’s got style)

Best Smile




Not really a smile, but still unsettling (does he smile in this movie?  I don’t think so.)…


Yup, that’s very disturbing…


… Nope, there it is. Nightmare juice.  I even found one that moves to fully disturb you.  Winner winner ‘chicken’ dinner.  Excuse me while I change me pants.  

Decision: I distinctly remember the first time I watched Silence of the Lambs.  Hopkins’ smile/teeth chatter thing is to this day one of the creepiest things floating around in my head.  Don’t look at that picture too long, you’ll start shuddering. 

Round goes to Hopkins (in a landslide.)  I’m creeping myself out thinking about him smiling saying “faaaaavaaaaa beans.”

Most Likely to Succeed

Okay, I sort of used this category to continue our ‘Cannibal High’ yearbook theme.
No need to banter – it’s a tie.  They all sort of succeed, in their stories.  And between the books, movies and TV show, Hannibal one seriously profitable cannibal (click here for some box office proof.  The movies made a bit o’ change).
Decision: Tie

Round goes to the viewer, because Hannibal lives on.

Overall Menace


This is a tricky category.  Excluding Ulliel’s Hannibal Rising because it turned the monster into a confused emo puppy, the other three actors have very, very different types of traits that make them utterly terrifying.  There may be contention in this category because much will boil down to personal choice – heck, maybe Hannibal Wentz scares you because you’re scared of that type of music.  Take your argument elsewhere.

Brian Cox has the steely, gruff psychotic doctor that is scary with a sort of brutal intensity.  His Hannibal is the one you’d probably be most uneasy about if you ran into him on the street.

Sir Hopkins’ version of the hungry hungry doctor is a bit more off-kilter. He can be the doctor with a charming brilliance and eloquence, while describing his brutality with a childlike glee.  The creepy .gif above speaks volumes on why his lines can be disturbing in many ways.
But for me, the others are slightly cartoonish.  This is partly a function of where they are, in the Lecter chronology, during their films.  In Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, Mads Mikkelsen plays the charming doctor with a cool, intelligent smartness about him – right down to his natty attire.  The medium of TV helps this, as does the brilliance of Bryan Fuller and his crew, by capturing Mikkelsen’s Hannibal’s madness behind his polished facade – and setting it to some truly inspired music (worthy of a post itself by other, more qualified individuals: one of my favorite AV Club posts of all time).  There are many shots that play on his ‘shark eyes’ (a term I think I borrowed from Fuller).  Hannibal’s cold, analytical stare assesses without feeling and Mad Mikkelsen does wonders – you can almost see the sadistic gears turning.  His Dr. Lecter is one of a slow burn, a pot coming to a boil.  And it terrifies to the point of glee.  Just go check out Tumblr.
Decision: Mikkelsen, whose calm, measured and proper Dr. Lecter (whose mania is starkly met with beautiful food porn) routinely wigs me out.  Again, this is helped by the medium of serialized television.  The storytelling coupled with Mikkelsen’s performance leads to the viewer peeling back layers to peer into Hannibal’s madness – while he charms his way through the rest of the characters.
Round goes to Mikkelsen (this .gif speaks wonders)

Lingering Psychological Effects 

While Hannibal Rising may have left some viewers traumatized they spent money to watch that movie in theaters (it had a big opening weekend), the angsty, love-lorn, vengeance seeking people-eater had not fully honed his craft.

Cox was one-and-done, but made an indelible mark on the franchise for sure.  In his film, he had already wrecked havoc on Will Grahams life, and the agent goes back to what is surely an un-peaceful retirement.

Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is a sociopath in addition to his his being a psychopathic cannibal – taking his effects far beyond just eating people.  Again, I do not want to spoil the plot for those who have not seen the show.  Suffice to say yes, he eats people, yes, but he also manipulates them in such extreme ways, with such extreme and measured coolness, you will find yourself questioning the motives of everyone around you.  It’s messed up.  This additional aspect of his madness helped him win the category above, you see.

So we arrive at Sir Anthony Hopkins.  I’ve mentioned that I never quite got over seeing his whole smile/sucking in air thing, it’s absurdly weird and disturbing in and out of context.  His Hannibal had more movies to mess with Clarice Starling (and in Hannibal, the 1999 novel, it gets really, really messed up).  He ruins Edward Norton.  He emotional wrecks both Jodie Foster and Julianne Moore.

However, this argument boils down to one scene.  One scene messing with not only the character’s, but the viewer’s brainspace.

He makes Ray Liotta eat his own brain.  Yikes.

Decision: It is ridiculous, yes.  It is disturbing.  Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Lecter provides the most demented scene of the franchise… but just give Bryan Fuller some time. 

Round goes to Sir Anthony Hopkins, with a side of fava beans

THE WINNER: Sir Anthony Hopkins.

(For now.  Mads is on the rise, and the show has a plan)

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About Author: Will McMahon

Will has eclectic movie, television and music tastes. He likes Batman, horror movies and Mark Ruffalo. Has seen every episode of 'The O.C.' at least twice, so take him with a large grain of salt. Accomplished beard grower. Bad movie enthusiast. Lyrical genius. Some have said he is a real-life version of Nick Miller from 'New Girl.' No word on whether or not this is a compliment.