The film had a difficult and occasionally troubling pre-production history. When the novel was published in 1999, The Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme, screenwriter Ted Tally, and actress Jodie Foster all declined to be involved in its adaptation. Ridley Scott became attached as director after the success of Gladiator (2000), and eventually signed onto the project after reading the script pitched by Dino De Laurentiis, who produced Manhunter (1986), based on the 1981 Harris novel Red Dragon. After the departure of Foster and screenwriter Tally, Julianne Moore took on Foster's role while David Mamet and Steven Zaillian wrote the screenplay.
Ten years after tracking down serial killer Jame Gumb, FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling is unjustly blamed for a botched drug raid. She is later contacted by Mason Verger, the only surviving victim of the serial killer Hannibal Lecter. A wealthy child molester, Verger was paralyzed and brutally disfigured by Lecter during a therapy session. He has been pursuing an elaborate scheme to capture, torture, and kill Lecter ever since. Using his wealth and political influence, Verger has Starling reassigned to Lecter's case, hoping her involvement will draw Lecter out.
After learning of Starling's public disgrace, Lecter sends her a taunting letter. Starling detects a strange fragrance from the letter. A perfume expert later identifies a skin cream whose ingredients are only available to a few shops in the world. She contacts the police departments of the cities where the shops are located, requesting surveillance tapes. In Florence, one of said cities, Chief Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi is investigating the disappearance of a library curator. Pazzi questions Lecter, who is masquerading as Dr. Fell, the assistant curator and caretaker.
Upon recognizing Dr. Fell in the surveillance tape, Pazzi accesses the ViCAP database of wanted fugitives. He then learns of Verger's US$3 million personal bounty on Lecter. Blinded by greed, Pazzi ignores Starling's warnings and attempts to capture Lecter alone. He recruits a pickpocket to obtain Lecter's fingerprint to show Verger as proof. The pickpocket, mortally wounded by Lecter, manages to get the print and gives it to Pazzi. Lecter baits Pazzi into an isolated room of the Palazzo Vecchio, ties him up, then disembowels and hangs him. Lecter then heads back to the United States.
Verger bribes Justice Department official Paul Krendler to accuse Starling of withholding a note from Lecter, leading to her suspension. Lecter lures Starling to Union Station. Verger's men, having trailed Starling, capture and bring Lecter to Verger. Verger intends to feed Lecter alive to a herd of wild boars bred specifically for this purpose. After her superiors refuse to act, Starling infiltrates Verger's estate. After neutralizing the two guards and freeing Lecter, she is shot by a third guard who was in hiding. Lecter picks up an unconscious Starling just before the boars break through the doors. Verger orders his physician Cordell Doemling to shoot Lecter, but, with Lecter's suggestion, Cordell shoves his hated boss into the pen. Lecter carries Starling and watches the boars eat Verger alive.
Lecter takes Starling to Krendler's secluded lake house and treats her wounds. When Krendler arrives for the Fourth of July, Lecter subdues and drugs him. Starling, disoriented by morphine and dressed in a black velvet evening gown, awakens to find Krendler seated at the table set for an elegant dinner. Weakened by the drugs, she looks on in horror as Lecter removes part of Krendler's prefrontal cortex, sautés it, and feeds it to him.
After the meal, Starling tries to attack Lecter, but he overpowers her. She handcuffs his wrist to hers. Hearing the police closing in, Lecter threatens to sever her cuffed hand to escape. Lecter is later seen on a flight with his own boxed lunch, his arm in a sling. As he prepares to eat his meal, including what is assumed to be part of a cooked brain, a young boy seated next to him asks to try some of his food. Initially reluctant, Lecter then assents.
In 1994, a Rolling Stone magazine interviewer asked The Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme about a possible sequel. Demme responded that Thomas Harris, author of The Silence of the Lambs, had been working on the follow-up for "seven or eight years". Demme had an idea even at that time that it would not be a straight follow-up. Harris had told Demme: "I imagine Doctor Lecter going somewhere in Europe... strolling round the streets of Florence or Munich, gazing in the windows of watchmakers..." Demme stated his intention to be involved in the film adaptation of Hannibal in 1998, less than a year before the novel was published.
Dino De Laurentiis produced Michael Mann's film Manhunter in 1986, based on Harris's 1981 novel Red Dragon, featuring the first appearance of Hannibal Lecter, played by Brian Cox. De Laurentiis did not like Mann's film: "Manhunter was no good... it was not Red Dragon," he said. De Laurentiis and his wife Martha (also his co-producer) had no direct involvement in The Silence of the Lambs, a decision De Laurentiis came to regret. They did, however, own the rights to the Lecter character and reportedly allowed Orion Pictures, which produced The Silence of the Lambs, to use the character of Lecter for free, not wishing to be "greedy". When The Silence of the Lambs became a commercial and critical success in 1991, winning five Academy Awards, both Dino and Martha De Laurentiis found themselves sitting on a valuable asset and eager for a follow-up novel they could adapt. After a lengthy wait, De Laurentiis finally received a call from Harris telling him he had finished the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs and De Laurentiis purchased the rights for a record $10 million.
In April 1999, Los Angeles Times reported that the budget for an adaptation of Hannibal could cost as much as $100 million. It speculated that both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins would receive $15 million each to reprise their roles and "$5 million to $19 million for director Jonathan Demme." The newspaper further reported: although The Silence of the Lambs cost only $22 million, this would not deter the studio from going ahead with Hannibal. Mort Janklow, Harris's agent at the time, told Los Angeles Times that Foster, Hopkins, and Demme would soon receive manuscripts of the novel, claiming it would make an unbelievable film.
The novel sold out of its initial 1.6 million print run in the summer of 1999. Hannibal went on to sell millions of copies following its release.
Demme informed the producers of Hannibal that he would pass on directing the film. It has been claimed Demme turned down the project because he found the material "lurid" and was averse to the novel's "gore". De Laurentiis said of Demme's decision to decline: "When the pope dies, we create a new pope. Good luck to Jonathan Demme. Good-bye." He has since added that Demme felt he could not make a sequel as good as The Silence of the Lambs.
De Laurentiis visited Ridley Scott on the set of Gladiator and suggested to Ridley he read the novel he had bought the rights to. Scott was in the third week before principal photography was due to finish on Gladiator. Gladiator became a commercial and critical success, earning 12 Academy Award nominations. De Laurentiis asked Scott if he would like to direct the film version of Hannibal. Scott misunderstood which Hannibal he meant, thinking De Laurentiis was speaking of the general and historical figure from Carthage who nearly brought down the Roman Empire back around 200 B.C., so he replied: "Basically, Dino, I'm doing a Roman epic right now. I don't wanna do elephants coming over the Alps next, old boy." Scott read the manuscript in four sittings within a week, believing it to be a "symphony", and expressed his desire to do it. Scott further explains how he got involved: "I was shooting Gladiator in Malta and one day, for the hell of it, I went for a walk for half a mile down the road to the Malta Film Studio to see my old buddy Dino. I had not seen him since I'd worked on a version of Dune. This was pre-Blade Runner. Dino had pursued me to direct Dune and another film. He's always enthusiastic and aggressive and came after me when I did both Blade Runner and Alien, but I couldn't do the films. Anyway, we had an espresso together and a few days later, he called me to ask if he could visit the Gladiator set. He arrived with a manuscript of Hannibal, about a month before it was published in book form. He said: 'Let's make this one.' I haven't read anything so fast since The Godfather. It was so rich in all kind of ways."
Although Scott had accepted the job Demme had rejected, he said: "My first question was: 'What about Jonathan?' and they said: 'The original team said it's too violent.' I said, 'Okay. I'll do it.'" Scott did, himself, have some uncertainty with the source material. In particular, he had difficulties with the ending of the novel, in which Lecter and Starling become lovers: "I couldn't take that quantum leap emotionally on behalf of Starling. Certainly, on behalf of Hannibal—I'm sure that's been in the back of his mind for a number of years. But for Starling, no. I think one of the attractions about Starling to Hannibal is what a straight arrow she is." He also "didn't buy the book from the opera scene onwards, which became like a vampire movie." He asked Harris if he was "married to his ending". Harris said he was not, so Scott changed it.
Ted Tally, the screenwriter for The Silence of the Lambs, was another key member of the original team to decline involvement in Hannibal (he won an Academy Award for his Silence adaptation). Tally, like Demme, had problems with the novel's "excesses".
Steven Zaillian (writer of Schindler's List) was offered the chance to write the adaptation after Tally passed, but he also declined. He explained that "I was busy. And I wasn't sure I was interested. You can almost never win when you do a sequel." David Mamet was the first screenwriter to produce a draft, which, according to Ridley Scott and the producers, needed major revisions. Stacey Snider, co-chairman of Universal Pictures (a co-production deal was struck between Universal and MGM) said on the rejection of Mamet's screenplay: "There's no way David was going to read 15 pages of our notes and then be available to work on the script day-to-day." Mamet was preparing to direct his own film. Zaillian, who had already passed, reconsidered and became involved in the project, saying: "It's hard to say no to Dino once and it's almost impossible to say no to him twice." A script review at ScreenwritersUtopia.com describes the Mamet draft as "stunningly bad" but found Zaillian's rewrite to be "gripping entertainment".
This question (regarding the script development) was put to Ridley Scott by Total Film magazine: "There were lots of rewrites on Hannibal—what was the main problem with the original material?" Scott replied: "That's inaccurate, because there were very few rewrites once I brought in Steve Zaillian. If you were to ask who were the best three screenwriters in the business, Steve Zaillian would be one of them. We discussed Hannibal endlessly." Asked if he had read Mamet's draft, he said: "Yes. He is very fast, very efficient, but he was off doing a film. 'Hannibal' was green lit and his first draft only took about a month. But I was scared that he would not be able to give me enough attention, because that draft needed a lot of work. So I moved on basically." Scott has said there were writing and "structural problems" as to what they would do with parts of the film. One of Zaillian's key objectives was to revise the script by David Mamet until it pleased all parties, meaning the "love" story would need to be done by suggestion instead of by "assault". Scott worked through the script with Zaillian for 28 days making him "sweat through it with him and discuss every inch of the way with him." After 25 days Scott suddenly realized that Zaillian was "exorcising the 600 pages of the book. He was distilling through discussion what he was gonna finally do...Frankly I could have just made it."
It was unclear if Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling) and Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter) would reprise their respective roles for which they won Academy Awards in The Silence of the Lambs (best actress/actor). It became apparent that the producers and the studio could do without one of the original "stars" (and would go on to find a replacement). The withdrawal of both Foster and Hopkins could possibly have been terminal for the project, however. De Laurentiis confirmed this after the film's release: "First and foremost, I knew we had no movie without Anthony Hopkins."
Regarding her involvement in a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Foster confirmed to Larry King in 1997 that she "would definitely be part of it." She told Entertainment Weekly magazine in 1997 that "Anthony Hopkins always talks about it. I mean, everybody wants to do it. Every time I see him, it's like: 'When is it going to happen? When is it going to happen?'" De Laurentiis thought Foster would decline once she read the book, even believing the final film was better for it. Hopkins also had doubts Foster would be involved, saying he had a "hunch" she would not be. Foster did turn it down, confirming this in late December 1999. This would cause problems for the studio, Universal and partner MGM. "The studio is just back from the holiday and is regrouping based on the news, and has no cohesive game plan at the moment," said Kevin Misher, Universal's President of Production. Misher added that, "It was one of those moments when you sit down and think, 'Can Clarice be looked upon as James Bond for instance? A character who is replaceable?' Or was Jodie Foster Clarice Starling, and the audience will not accept anyone else?" Foster said in December 1999 that the characterization of Starling in Hannibal had "negative attributes" and "betrayed" the original character. Foster's spokeswoman said the actress declined because Claire Danes had become available for Foster's own project, Flora Plum. Salary demands may also have played a part in Foster's non-participation. De Laurentiis said, "I call the agent of Judy [sic] Foster. He say to me 'I have instruction. She no want to read the script if you no give her an offer of $20m and 15% of the gross.' And I say, 'Give my love to Judy [sic] Foster, goodbye.'" Entertainment Weekly described the project as becoming "a bloody mess, hemorrhaging talent and money" despite Hopkins being on-board. Foster talked about Hannibal in an interview with Total Film in late 2005. She said: "The official reason I didn't do Hannibal is I was doing another movie, Flora Plum. So I get to say, in a nice dignified way, that I wasn't available when that movie was being shot... Clarice meant so much to Jonathan and I, she really did, and I know it sounds kind of strange to say but there was no way that either of us could really trample on her."
When it became clear that Foster would skip Hannibal, the production team considered several different actresses, including Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie, Gillian Anderson, Hilary Swank, Ashley Judd, Helen Hunt and Julianne Moore. Hopkins asked his agent if he had any "power" over casting. He informed De Laurentiis that he knew Moore, with whom he had worked on Surviving Picasso, and thought her a "terrific actress". Although Hopkins' agent told him he had no contractual influence on casting, Scott thought it correct to discuss who would be Hopkins' "leading lady". Scott said he was "really surprised to find that [he] had five of the top actresses in Hollywood wanting it." Moore would eventually secure the part. Scott said his decision was swayed in favor of Moore because: "She is a true chameleon. She can be a lunatic in Magnolia, a vamp in An Ideal Husband, a porn star in Boogie Nights and a romantic in The End of the Affair." "Julianne Moore, once Jodie decided to pass, was always top of my list," said Scott on his female lead. Moore talked about stepping into a role made famous by another actress: "The new Clarice would be very different. Of course people are going to compare my interpretation with that of Jodie Foster's... but this film is going to be very different."
Hopkins was generally expected to reprise his Academy Award-winning role. Hopkins did say in June 1999 that he would only be interested if the script was "really good". Hopkins says on the making-of feature on DVD that he couldn’t make up his mind to commit. "I was kind of surprised by this book, Hannibal. I thought it was really overreaching and so bizarre. So I couldn’t make up my mind about it all. Some of it I found intriguing, some I was a little doubtful about." When the producers confirmed that they were going to film Harris' novel, Hopkins told them yes, but added: "It needs some condensing." The Hollywood Reporter would confirm that Hopkins had agreed to reprise his role in late December 1999, saying he had approved the latest draft of the script by Steven Zaillian. Hopkins said he had no difficulty moving back into "Lecter's mind". "I just learned the lines and showed up and walked around as Hannibal Lecter. I thought, 'Do I repeat that same performance, or do I vary it?' Ten years had passed so I changed a bit." In the book, Lecter uses bandages to disguise himself as a plastic surgery patient. This was left out of the film because Scott and Hopkins agreed to leave the face alone. Hopkins explains why: "It's as if he's making a statement—'catch me if you can'. With his big hat, he's so obvious that nobody thinks he's Hannibal Lecter. I've always thought he's a very elegant man, a Renaissance man." In the film, Lecter is first seen in Florence "as the classical Lecter, lecturing and being smooth", according to Hopkins. When the film moves to the U.S., Hopkins changed his appearance by building up muscle and cropping his hair short "to make him like a mercenary, that he would be so fit and so strong that he could just snap somebody in two if they got... in his way".
The part of Mason Verger, one of Lecter's two surviving victims, was originally offered to Christopher Reeve based on his work as a wheelchair-bound police officer in Above Suspicion (1995). Not having read the novel, Reeve showed initial interest in the role, but ultimately declined upon realizing that Verger was a quadriplegic, facially-disfigured child rapist. The part was later accepted by secondary choice Gary Oldman. Co-producer Martha De Laurentiis claimed they had a "funny situation" with Oldman wanting a prominent "credit". She said: "Now how can you have a prominent credit with Hannibal? The characters are Hannibal and Clarice Starling. So we really couldn't work something out (at first)." Oldman was apparently "out" of the film for a while, but then came back in, asking to go "unbilled". Oldman would become transformed and "unrecognizable as himself" to play the part of Verger. He would have no lips, cheeks or eyelids. Make-up artist Greg Cannom said: "It's really disgusting... I've been showing people pictures [of Oldman as Verger], and they all just say 'Oh my God,' and walk away, which makes me very happy." Oldman said that having his name completely removed from the billing and credits allowed him to "do it anonymously" under the heavy make-up. In home-release versions of the film, Oldman's name is included in the closing credits.
Other stars subsequently cast included Ray Liotta as U.S. Justice Department official Paul Krendler (the character had appeared in The Silence of the Lambs, but original actor Ron Vawter had died in the interim) and Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini as Detective Rinaldo Pazzi. Francesca Neri played Pazzi's wife, Allegra. Frankie Faison reprised his role as orderly Barney Matthews.
Scott recruited key production crew whom he had worked with previously. Production designer Norris Spencer had worked on Thelma & Louise, Black Rain and 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Cinematographer John Mathieson, editor Pietro Scalia and composer Hans Zimmer had all worked on Scott's previous film Gladiator.
Hannibal was filmed in 83 working days over 16 weeks. The film began production on 8 May 2000 in Florence. The film visited key locations in Florence and various locations around the United States. Martha De Laurentiis said the film has almost a hundred locations and that it was a "constant pain of moving and dressing sets. But the locations were beautiful. Who could complain about being allowed to shoot in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence? Or President James Madison's farm in Montpelier or the amazing Biltmore Estate in Asheville?" Eighty million dollars and a year and a half in production were spent before Scott got his first look at Hannibal in the editing room.The whole second act of Hannibal takes place in Florence. Ridley Scott had never filmed there before, but described it as "quite an experience...It was kind of organized chaos... We were there at the height of tourist season." Within Florence, the production would visit various locations such as the Palazzo Capponi (as Dr. Fell's workplace), the Ponte Vecchio, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella and the Cathedral.
After leaving Italy on 5 June 2000, the production moved to Washington, D.C. Filming took place over six days at Union Station. The unusual sight of a carousel would appear in the transportation hub and shopping plaza at Ridley Scott's request.
Filming would last for seven weeks in Richmond, Virginia for the shootout in a crowded fish market (shot at Richmond Farmer's Market) early in the film. Julianne Moore underwent Federal Bureau of Investigation training at the Bureau's headquarters before filming.
A barn in Orange, Virginia, situated on the estate of President James Madison, was used to house 15 "performing hogs". The 15 Russian boars used in the shoot were from a selection of around 6,000 that the animal wranglers observed.
Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, the biggest privately owned estate in the U.S., was chosen to signify the huge personal wealth of Mason Verger.
Make-up artist Greg Cannom was pleased to be involved in Hannibal as it offered him the chance to produce "incredible and original make-ups". For Mason Verger, the make-up team would initially produce 20 different heads which looked like zombies and did not reflect the vision Scott had of the character; Scott wanted Verger to look real with hideous scarring, and not something from the "House of Wax". Scott himself would actually call up the help of expert doctors in an effort to get the look of the character as realistic as possible. Scott showed the make-up team pictures of foetal things, which he thought touching; he wanted to make Mason Verger more touching than monstrous, as he thought of Verger as being someone who hadn’t lost his sense of humour...almost sympathetic. Oldman would spend six hours a day in make-up to prepare for the role.
For one of the film's final and infamous scenes, an exact duplicate was created of the character Paul Krendler, played by Ray Liotta, a scene which blended make-up, puppet work and CGI in a way which Scott called "seamless".
The main titles were designed by Nick Livesey, a graduate of the Royal College of Art who worked for one of Scott's production companies in London. The sequence, shot in Florence by Livesey himself was intended as the film's second promotional trailer. The studio thought it not "quite right", but it remained on Scott's mind and would eventually end up as the main title sequence. Livesey would gather footage of pigeons in an empty square in Florence early one morning which, in the final cut, would morph into the face of Hannibal Lecter. Scott believed it a good idea, as it fundamentally asked the question: 'Where is Hannibal Lecter?' Scott explains: "And of course this story tells it, with pigeons in the cobblestones of somewhere, where you wonder where that is...and there he is[...] his face appears." The titles are said to have been influenced by the film Seven.
Ridley Scott worked very closely with composer Hans Zimmer, during post-production on Hannibal. Scott believes the music to a film is as important as dialogue—"It is the final adjustment to the screenplay, being able to also adjust the performance of the actors in fact." Zimmer and Scott sat in during the editing process with editor Pietro Scalia to discuss scenes in the film and "not music". Zimmer used a symphony orchestra for the opera sequence, but would mostly use what he described as a "very odd orchestra...only cellos and basses all playing at the extreme ends of their range." This was done to emphasise the character of Hannibal Lecter. He explains: "Anthony's character is for me somebody at the extreme range of whatever is humanly imaginable somehow." Zimmer also did not want the score to sound like a "modern day orchestra". The character Mason Verger had his own "theme", which become more "perverted" as the film progressed, according to Zimmer. Dante's sonnet was put to music by Zimmer and Patrick Cassidy for the opera scene in Florence. Tracksounds.com wrote positively of Zimmer's score. "Zimmer truly crafts a score worthy of most fans' full attention...the classical elements, and yes, even the monologue combine to make this an intense listening experience." In a poll by British Classic FM listeners to find the greatest film soundtrack of all time, Hannibal ranked at No. 59. Strauss's The Blue Danube is also played at several points in the film.
Scott has said he believes the underlying emotion of Hannibal is "affection". "In some instances, you might even wonder or certainly from one direction—is it more than affection? It is dark, because the story is of course essentially dark, but it's kind of romantic at the same time." Scott openly admits to a "romantic thematic" running though the film. He told CNN that: "Hannibal was quite a different target, essentially a study between two individuals. Funny enough, it's rather romantic and also quite humorous, but also there's some quite bad behaviour as well." During the opera scene in Florence, Lecter attends an operatic adaptation of one of Dante's sonnets, and meets with Detective Pazzi and his wife, Allegra. She asks Lecter, "Do you believe a man could become so obsessed by a woman after a single encounter?" Lecter replies: "Yes, I believe he could... but would she see through the bars of his plight and ache for him?" This scene, in the film, is one which Scott claims most people "missed" the meaning of. It was in reference to Starling—to their encounter in The Silence of the Lambs. The New York Times, in its review of the film, said Hannibal, "toys" with the idea of "love that dare not speak its name". Composer Hans Zimmer believes there to be "many" messages and subtext in each scene of the film. He said, "I can score this movie truly as a Freudian archetypal beauty and the beast fairy tale, as a horror movie, as the most elegant piece, on corruption in the American police force, as the loneliest woman on earth, the beauty in renaissance..." Zimmer ultimately believes it to be a dark love story, centering on two people who should never be together—a modern day Romeo and Juliet. During the film's post-production, Scott, Zimmer and the editor passionately argued about what a single shot meant, where a tear slides down Starling's cheek during a confrontation with Lecter. They could not agree if it was a tear of "anguish", "loneliness" or "disgust". Scott told the New York Post that, the affair of the heart between Lecter and Starling is "metaphorical". Rolling Stone magazine even said in their review, "Scott offers a sly parody of relationships—think 'When Hannibal met Sally'."
Ridley Scott has said that he believes Lecter, in his own way, to be "pure"—one of the key motivating factors for the character is the search for "retribution and punishment".
"There is something very moral about Lecter in this film," said Scott in his audio commentary. "The behaviour of Hannibal is never insane—[I] didn't want to use that excuse. Is he insane? No, I think he's as sane as you or I. He just likes it." Scott did say, however, "In our normal terms, he's truly evil." Scott also brings up the notion of absolution in reference to Lecter towards the film's end. Verger has one overriding objective in life: to capture Lecter and subject him to a slow, painful death.
Part of the story involves the character Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), a Florentine policeman who learns "Dr. Fell"'s true identity and realizes that this knowledge could make him rich. His escalating abandonment of morality allows him to countenance and facilitate the death of a gypsy pickpocket, egged on by the desire to have the best for his much younger wife. There is a moment in the film when Pazzi becomes corrupted, despite being what Scott describes as "very thoughtful". Paul Krendler also succumbs to greed and corruption. Starling does not, however, and perseveres to the end, even refusing to release Lecter when she believes he is about to cut off her hand in order to free himself.
The first trailer appeared in theaters and was made available via the official website in early May 2000, over nine months before the film's release. As the film had only just begun production, footage was used from The Silence of the Lambs. A second trailer, which featured footage from the new film, was released in late November 2000. In marketing the film, Hopkins' portrayal of Hannibal Lecter was chosen as the unique selling point of Hannibal. "Mr Hopkins is the draw here", said Elvis Mitchell in a 2001 The New York Times article. A poster released in the UK to promote Hannibal, featuring Lecter with a "skin mask" covering the right side of his face, was quickly removed from circulation as it was deemed "too shocking and disturbing for the public."
Upon its release, Hannibal was met with significant media attention, with the film's stars and director making several appearances on television, in newspapers and in magazines. In an article for CBS News, Jill Serjeant stated that "the long-awaited sequel to the grisly 1991 thriller Silence of the Lambs is cooking up the hottest Internet and media buzz since the 1999 Star Wars 'prequel'." Stars Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore made the covers of a number of magazines, including Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, Premiere and Empire.
Hannibal is available as a one-disc and two-disc DVD. The two disc DVD contains an array of special features including: Commentary by director Ridley Scott, deleted and alternate scenes, five production featurettes and a "marketing gallery" which contains trailers, production stills and unused poster concepts.
A special "steel-book" edition of Hannibal was released in 2007. There are no significant changes made to the DVD itself; only the package artwork was changed.
The film was originally released as part of The Hannibal Lecter Collection on Blu-ray in 2009. It has most recently been re-released as a stand-alone release in 2011.
Hannibal grossed $58 million (U.S.) in its opening weekend (from 3,230 screens). At the time (February 2001), this was the third-biggest debut ever—only 1997'sThe Lost World: Jurassic Park and 1999's Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace grossed more in an opening weekend. As of October 2012, it ranks 90th all time. It was also, when it was released, the biggest-opening box office for an R-rated film ever. Final domestic box office gross (U.S.) reached $165,092,268, with a worldwide gross of $351,692,268. The film spent three weeks at number one in the U.S. box office chart, and four weeks at number one in the UK Hannibal was the tenth highest-grossing film of the year worldwide, in a year which also saw the blockbuster releases of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Hannibal also made over $87,000,000 in U.S. video rentals following release in August 2001.
The reviews for Hannibal were mixed. Time magazine wrote: "A banquet of creepy, gory or grotesque incidents is on display in Hannibal. But this superior sequel has romance in its dark heart." Empire magazine gave it two out of five stars, calling it "laughable to just plain boring, Hannibal is toothless to the end." David Thomson, writing in the British Film Institute magazine Sight & Sound, praised the film. "It works. It's smart, good-looking, sexy, fun...dirty, naughty and knowing." Thomson does make clear, however, he is a great fan of director Ridley Scott's work. He adds: "It is, literally, that Hannibal Lecter has become such a household joke that he can't be dreadful again. It seems clear that Anthony Hopkins and Scott saw that, and planned accordingly. That's how the movie was saved." Variety magazine in its review said "Hannibal is not as good as Lambs... ultimately more shallow and crass at its heart than its predecessor, Hannibal is nevertheless tantalizing, engrossing and occasionally startling."
A negative review in The Guardian claimed that what was wrong with the film was carried over from the book: "The result is an inflated, good-looking bore of a movie. The Silence of the Lambs was a marvelous thing. This, by contrast is barely okey-dokey." Roger Ebert gave the film a "Thumbs down" rating on the television program At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper and gave the film a 2.5 out of 4 stars rating in his print review, which he began with the following: "Ridley Scott's Hannibal is a carnival geek show. We must give it credit for the courage of its depravity; if it proves nothing else, it proves that if a man cutting off his face and feeding it to his dogs doesn't get the NC-17 rating for violence, nothing ever will." Hannibal has an overall Metacritic rating of 57 out of 100 from 36 reviews and a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 39%, with an average rating of 5.1 out of 10 from 163 reviews.
According to Variety magazine, the script for Hannibal was: "quite faithful to the Harris blueprint; fans of the tome may regret the perhaps necessary excision of some characters, most notably Mason Verger's muscle-bound macho sister Margot, as well as the considerable fascinating academic detail, but will basically feel the book has been respected (yes, even the climactic dinner party is served up almost intact, with the only surprise twists saved for its wake)." Time Out noted: "The weight-watchers script sensibly dispenses with several characters to serve a brew that's enjoyably spicy but low on substance. So much story is squeezed into 131 minutes that little time's left for analysis or characterization." Producer Dino De Laurentiis was asked why some characters, notably Jack Crawford, were left out of the film: "I think if you get a book which is 600 pages, you have to reduce it to a script of 100 pages. In two hours of film, you cannot possibly include all the characters. We set ourselves a limit, and cut characters which weren't so vital."
In the book, Mason Verger runs an orphanage, from which he calls children to verbally abuse as a substitute for his no longer being able to molest them. He also has a sister, Margot, whom he had raped when they were children and who is a lesbian. When she disclosed her sexual orientation to her family, their father disowned her. As she is sterile due to steroid abuse, Verger exerts some control over her by promising her a semen sample with which to impregnate her lover, who could then inherit the Verger fortune. Also, in the novel, Verger literally has no face and has to be kept in a sterile room at all times to keep bacteria from affecting exposed muscle and tissues. At the book's end, Margot and Starling both help Lecter escape during a shootout between Starling and Verger's guards. Margot, at Lecter's advice, stimulates her brother to ejaculate with a rectally inserted cattle prod, and then kills him by ramming his pet Moray eel down his throat.
The book's controversial ending has Lecter presenting Starling with the exhumed bones of her father, which he "brings to life" by hypnotizing Starling, allowing her to say goodbye. This forges an odd alliance between Starling and Lecter, culminating in their becoming lovers and escaping to Argentina. At the novel's end, Barney sees them at the Teatro Colón of Buenos Aires.
Also gone from the film are the flashbacks to Lecter's childhood, in which he sees his younger sister, Mischa, eaten by German deserters in 1944. These flashbacks formed the basis for the 2007 film Hannibal Rising (written concurrently with the 2006 novel of the same name) which portrays Lecter as a young man.
Hopkins was asked in an interview on the subject of whether or not he believed the idea of Starling and Lecter heading off into the sunset as lovers (as happens in the book). "Yes, I did. Other people found that preposterous. I suppose there's a moral issue there. I think it would have been a very interesting thing though. I think it would have been very interesting had she gone off, because I suspected that there was that romance, attachment there, that obsession with her. I guessed that a long time ago, at the last phone call to Clarice, at the end of SotL, she said, 'Dr. Lecter, Dr. Lecter...'."
In 2013, there was a news story from Italy where a gangster fed his rival alive to pigs. Many media stories compared this to a similar scene in Hannibal.
The film was followed by two films and a TV series, all prequels based on novels by Thomas Harris.Red Dragon (2002)
Hannibal Rising (2007)
Hannibal (TV series) (2013–2015)