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Michael Mann's 1986 Hannibal Lecter Film Deserves Your Attention

Michael Mann has made quite a name for himself throughout his storied career by directing action-packed, edge-of-your-seat thrillers. From "Thief" to "Collateral," Mann helmed some of the most iconic white-knuckle movies in the whole genre. Mann got his start on television, showrunning the 1980s series "Miami Vice," which he adapted into a movie in 20006 (via IMDb). He is probably best known for his 1995 crime epic, "Heat," in which the LAPD closes in on criminals who've unwittingly leave a clue behind at their latest heist.

A rare breed of criminal, the savage cannibal Doctor Hannibal Lecter has appeared in several incarnations across various media. First birthed in the novels of Thomas Harris, Lecter became a household name after 1991's Academy Award-winning thriller "The Silence of the Lambs," in which Anthony Hopkins brought him to life. Hopkins later played the character in a sequel and a prequel. A somewhat forgotten other prequel and a beloved TV show, neither featuring Hopkins, would carry on the Lecter name.

However, "The Silence of the Lambs" didn't mark the first appearance of the Lecter character on screen. Michael Mann introduced the character in his 1986 procedural thriller, "Manhunter," which spelled the character's name Lecktor and cast "Succession" actor Brian Cox in the role. In a similar fashion to "Lambs," Lecktor is not the story's main focus. Rather, he only aids the authorities, also from behind bars, in helping find the killer who is the film's antagonist. While "Manhunter" actually kicked off the "Hannibal" franchise, many fans don't think the movie is talked about enough. In fact, they feel it deserves much more attention.

Reddit users think Manhunter flew way too under the radar

"Manhunter" follows FBI profiler Will Graham, played by "CSI" actor William Petersen, who comes out of retirement to try to locate the serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy. To do so, he must enlist the help of the criminal, Dr. Hannibal Lektor, whom he put away after he nearly killed him. Dr. Lecktor helps Graham decipher what The Tooth Fairy's motives are and what his next steps might be.

Film fans may clock right away that the description sounds like 2002's "Red Dragon," which did feature Anthony Hopkins as Lecter, but that film is more or less a remake of "Manhunter." Lecter's role is expanded for "Red Dragon." Brian Cox only briefly appears as Lecktor in "Manhunter," as that film's main focuses are The Tooth Fairy's deeds and Graham coming to terms with his past demons.

Unlike "Red Dragon," however, the online film community loves "Manhunter" and hopes to bring more attention to it. Reddit threads defend the film, with users gushing about the stylish, unfairly-forgotten 80s gem. "It's like the original, authentic template of all the post-'Drive,' synthwave, aesthetic, vaporwave worship swirling around now-a-days," one user commented. "I'm a pretty geeky film guy and am surprised this film has never made it onto my radar and isn't discussed more. If you're looking for a mid-80s neo-noir thriller drenched in synth, sunsets, and violence then give this bad boy a rent ASAP."

It's interesting that the Redditor mentions the film never being on their radar despite being a big movie fan. "Manhunter" just doesn't have that word-of-mouth, so people who'd love Mann's feature are only still finding out about it now.

Reddit users compared Brian Cox's Lecktor to Anthony Hopkins' Lecter

Another Reddit user compared Brian Cox's Lecktor performance with Anthony Hopkins' Lecter, saying, "He actually seemed like a real person compared to the Anthony Hopkins sort of [caricature] of a villain. Hopkins smashes you over the head with 'hey this is a bad guy' wherein Cox makes him seem like you can see how he got away with roaming in society for so long."

In a different thread that calls "Manhunter" a "masterpiece," users debated whether Hopkins or Cox was the best Hannibal. Opinion appears to be split 50/50, with one user saying, "I think Cox as [Lecktor] is better than Hopkins. Maybe it's because I saw 'Manhunter' first but I found him far more intimidating and brooding." One user put it very diplomatically, noting, "I think approaching any of them as 'best' Lecter can be unfair as they all did their own thing and they are all different enough not to be drawing comparisons at doing the same thing." 

"Manhunter" has gone on to become a cult classic in large part due to the aforementioned threads getting the word out about the film, but it still has some work to do to cross over into the mainstream and become a full-blown classic. Fans of "CSI" should check out the film to see the prototype for Petersen's role as Grissom, while "Silence of the Lambs" aficionados should take a look to see the first screen incarnation of Hannibal Lecktor. With enough momentum, "Manhunter" could rank on the same level as such other classic procedural thrillers as "Seven" or "Zodiac."