'80s "Hannibal" thriller has violence, language, trauma.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Manhunter is a gripping 1980s crime thriller about a dangerous serial killer. The movie is the first to be based on Thomas Harris' books about Dr. Hannibal Lecter (in this movie the name is changed to "Lecktor"), a character later played by Anthony Hopkins in films including The Silence of the Lambs. When FBI agent Will Graham (William Petersen) is coaxed out of retirement to help catch a serial killer, he asks the imprisoned cannibalistic murderer Dr. Lecktor (Brian Cox), a former psychiatrist, for help with the case. Although there are violent scenes, violence is alluded to more than it is shown. Will's work requires him to discuss graphic murders in detail and there are some crime scenes photos that show grisly killings. There are some on-screen deaths, though. A character is set on fire and others are shot, while another is cut with a sharp object. There are also threats of violence and minor scuffles. Will has a couple of intimate encounters with his wife, but no graphic nudity or sex is shown. There is some homophobic language and a few instances of "f--k." While characters only drink in moderation, many of them smoke cigarettes, including, because of the era, indoors and at work.
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What's the Story?
MANHUNTER follows the pursuit of a serial killer -- nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy" (Tom Noonan) -- by Will Graham (William Petersen), a determined FBI agent. In order to help his case, Will turns to another serial killer that he helped imprison ... Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox).
Is It Any Good?
Adapted from Thomas Harris' book Red Dragon, this crime thriller is perhaps most famous for being the first on-screen portrayal of "Hannibal the Cannibal." Manhunter is the cinematic debut for the imprisoned former psychiatrist turned serial killer who occasionally makes himself available to seemingly help FBI agents with their investigations. Here he's known as Dr. Lecktor, an earlier spelling of his surname to the one that would make him more famous after Anthony Hopkins' Oscar-winning portrayal of "Hannibal Lecter" in another Harris adaptation, The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins returned to the character three times, including a remake of this story in 2002's Red Dragon.
This twist in cinematic history has threatened to overshadow a fine supporting turn from Cox as Lektor, who musters more physicality than Hopkins while summoning the same intimidating sense of unease. Petersen has more to do as the traumatized but determined Will, including rattling through some lengthy monologues about putting himself in the mind of a serial killer, which could've been adapted from the original novel with a bit more subtlety. Likewise, director Michael Mann's trademark love of woozy synth scores is occasionally distracting. But Manhunter still manages to be a tense, interesting psychological thriller. Mental health issues are notoriously difficult to portray on-screen, and its fearless approach to dealing with both post-traumatic stress and deranged criminal minds help it linger long after this story of damaged souls has reached its ending.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the violence in Manhunter. Was it necessary to tell the story? Was any of it gratuitous? Does exposure to violent movies make kids more aggressive?
Have you seen any of the other movies in which Dr. Lecktor/Hannibal Lecter feature? How did this performance compare? What makes some characters iconic and compelling to movie audiences?
Talk about the strong language used. Did it seem necessary or excessive? What did it contribute to the movie?
- In theaters: August 15, 1986
- On DVD or streaming: January 30, 2001
- Cast: William Petersen, Brian Cox, Tom Noonan
- Director: Michael Mann
- Studio: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- Last updated: December 9, 2022
Our Editors Recommend
The Silence of the Lambs
Thriller that made the serial killer a superstar.
Great, but too scary and violent for most teens.
Graphic Hannibal Lecter retread is compelling and dark.
For kids who love thrills
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