Manhunter is a 1986 American crime thriller film based on Thomas Harris' 1981 novel, "Red Dragon", directed by Michael Mann and starring William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang and Tom Noonan.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

Will Graham (William Petersen) is a former FBI criminal profiler who has retired because of a mental breakdown after being attacked by a cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox) whom he captured.

Graham is approached at his Florida home by his former FBI superior Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina), who is seeking help with a new serial killer case. Promising his wife (Kim Greist) that he will do nothing more than examine evidence and not risk physical harm, Graham agrees to visit the most recent crime scene in Atlanta, where he tries to enter the mindset of the killer, now dubbed the "Tooth Fairy" by the police for the bite-marks left on his victims.

Having found the killer's fingerprints, Graham meets with Crawford. They are accosted by tabloid journalist Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang), with whom Graham has a bitter history; Lounds' paper had run photographs of Graham taken secretly while he was hospitalized.

Graham pays a visit to Lecktor, a former psychiatrist, in his cell and asks for his insight into the killer's motivations. After a tense conversation, Lecktor agrees to look at the case file. A little later, Lecktor contrives and manages to obtain Graham's home address by deceit during his phone privileges.

Graham travels to the first crime scene in Birmingham, Alabama, where he is contacted by Crawford, who tells him of Lounds' tabloid story on the case. Crawford also patches Graham through to Frederick Chilton (Benjamin Hendrickson), Lecktor's warden, who has found a note in Lecktor's personal effects.

Reading it, they realize it is from the Tooth Fairy, expressing admiration for Lecktor—and an interest in Graham. Crawford brings Graham to the FBI Academy at Quantico, where a missing section of the note is analyzed to determine what Lecktor has removed. It is found to be an instruction to communicate through the personals section of the National Tattler, Lounds' newspaper.

The FBI intends to plant a fake advertisement to replace Lecktor's, but they realize that without the proper book code the Tooth Fairy will know it is fake; therefore, they let the advertisement run as it is, and Graham organizes an interview with Lounds, during which he gives a false and derogatory profile of the Tooth Fairy to incite him. After a sting operation fails to catch the killer, Lounds is kidnapped by the Tooth Fairy (Tom Noonan).

Waking in the killer's home, he is shown a slideshow of William Blake's The Great Red Dragon paintings, along with the Tooth Fairy's past victims and slides of a family the killer identifies as his next targets. Lounds is forced to tape-record a statement before being set on fire in a wheelchair and killed, his flaming body rolled into the parking garage of the National Tattler as a warning.

Graham is told by Crawford that they have cracked Lecktor's coded message to the Tooth Fairy—it is Graham's home address with an instruction to kill the family (ending with "Save yourself. Kill them all," revealing that Lecktor believes Graham would find the Tooth Fairy). Graham rushes home to find his family safe but terrified.

After the FBI moves Graham's family to a safe house, he tries to explain to his son Kevin why he had retired previously.

At his job in a St. Louis film lab, Francis Dollarhyde (aka The Tooth Fairy) approaches a blind co-worker, Reba McClane (Joan Allen), and ends up offering her a lift. They go to Dollarhyde's home where Reba is oblivious to the fact that Dollarhyde is watching home-movie footage of his planned next victim. She kisses him and they make love. Dollarhyde is confused by this newfound relationship, though it helps suppress his bloodlust.

Just as Graham comes to realize how much the Tooth Fairy's desire for acceptance factors into the murders, Dollarhyde watches as Reba is escorted home by another co-worker. Mistakenly believing them to be kissing, Dollarhyde murders the man and abducts Reba. When she calls him Francis, he tells her: "Francis is gone. Forever."

Desperately trying to figure out a connection between the murdered families, Graham realizes that someone must have seen their home movies. He and Crawford deduce where the films were processed.

They identify the lab in St. Louis and fly there immediately. Dollarhyde has been casing the victims' homes through home movies, enabling him to prepare for the break-ins in extreme detail. Graham determines which employees that match their profile information have seen these films and obtains Dollarhyde's home address, to which he and Crawford travel with a police escort.

At Dollarhyde's home, Reba is terrified as he contemplates what to do with her. As he struggles to kill Reba with a piece of broken mirror glass, police teams assemble around the house.

Seeing that Dollarhyde has someone inside with him, Graham lunges through a window. He is quickly subdued by Dollarhyde, who retrieves a shotgun and uses it to wound Crawford and kill two police officers.

Wounded in the firefight, Dollarhyde returns to the kitchen to shoot Graham, but misses because of his injuries and is killed himself when Graham returns fire. Graham, Reba and Crawford are tended to by paramedics before Graham returns home and retires permanently.


  • William Petersen as Will Graham
  • Tom Noonan as Francis "The Tooth Fairy" Dollarhyde
  • Dennis Farina as Jack Crawford
  • Kim Griest as Molly Graham
  • Brian Cox as Dr. Hannibal Lecktor
  • Joan Allen as Reba McClane
  • Stephen Lang as Freddy Lounds


The film was originally going to be called Red Dragon, but Michael Mann, who called the new title "inferior", said that producer Dino De Laurentiis made the change after Michael Cimino's film "Year of the Dragon" produced by De Laurentiis, bombed at the box office in 1985.

William Petersen has commented that another reason for the change was to avoid any suggestion that it might be a karate movie. He later recalled, "At the time, Bruce Lee was knocking out Dragon movies, and Dino, in his wisdom, decided people would think it was a kung-fu movie", he later recalled.

Brian Cox, who played jailed killer Hannibal Lecktor, has also expressed disdain for the film's title, calling it "bland" and "cheesy".

William Petersen worked with the Chicago Police Department Violent Crimes Unit and the FBI Violent Crimes Unit in preparation for the role of Will Graham, talking to the officers and reading some of their crime files.

He spoke to the investigators on the Richard Ramirez case about how they coped with the effects these disturbing cases had on them and how they learned to "compartmentalize" their working and personal lives. "Of course you don’t really turn it off", he recalled. "At the end of the day, even if you’re just a regular policeman, it takes a toll".

During the three years he spent working on the script, Michael Mann also spent time with the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, where he claimed to have met people very like the character of Will Graham. This level of research led Brent E. Turvey to describe the film as "one of the most competent blends of cutting-edge forensic science and criminal profiling at the time".

Mann also spent several years corresponding with imprisoned murderer Dennis Wayne Wallace. Wallace had been motivated by his obsession for a woman he barely knew and believed that Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" was "their song". This connection inspired Mann to include the song in the film.

Tom Noonan, who played killer Francis Dollarhyde, initially researched other serial killers to study for the role, but was repulsed by it. He then decided to play the character with the sense that he felt he was doing right by his victims, not harming them. "I wanted to feel this guy was doing the best he could", Noonan explained, "that he was doing this out of love".

Noonan credits his casting to improvisation during his audition, recalling that he was reading lines alongside a young woman.

During a reading of the scene featuring the torture of Freddy Lounds, Noonan noticed that the woman began to seem frightened, and deliberately tried to scare her more. He believed that this is what secured the role for him.

Joan Allen, who played Dollarhyde's blind love interest, Reba McClane recalls meeting with representatives of the New York Institute for the Blind in preparation for her role & spent time walking around New York wearing a mask over her eyes to get accustomed to walking as though she were blind.

John Lithgow, Mandy Patinkin, William Friedkin and Brian Dennehy were all considered for the role of Hannibal Lecktor, but Brian Cox was cast after being recommended to Mann by Dennehy.

Cox based his portrayal on Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel, who (he said) "didn't have a sense of right and wrong". He has also suggested that his selection was due to his nationality, claiming that characters who are "a little bit nasty" are best played by Europeans. Mann kept the role of Lecktor very short, believing that it was "such a charismatic character that [he] wanted the audience almost not to get enough of him".

For the role of Will Graham, De Laurentiis had expressed interest in Richard Gere, Mel Gibson and Paul Newman, but Mann, having seen footage of William Petersen's role in To Live and Die in L.A., championed him for the part.

Petersen has claimed in an interview that one of the film's scenes forced the crew to adopt a guerrilla filmmaking approach.

The scene in which Petersen's character Will Graham falls asleep while studying crime scene photographs during a flight required the use of an airplane during shooting. Michael Mann had been unable to gain permission to use a plane for the scene and booked tickets for the crew on a flight from Chicago to Florida. Once on board, the crew used their equipment, checked in as hand luggage, to shoot the scene quickly, while keeping the plane's passengers and crew mollified with Manhunter crew jackets.

Cinematographer Dante Spinotti made strong use of color tints in the film, using a cool "romantic blue" tone to denote the scenes featuring Will Graham and his wife, and a more subversive green hue with elements of purple or magenta as a cue for the unsettling scenes in the film, mostly involving Dollarhyde.

Petersen has stated that Mann wanted to create a visual aura to bring the audience into the film, so that the story would work on an interior and emotional level. Mann also made use of multiple frame rates in filming the climactic shootout: different cameras recording the scene at 24, 36, 72 and 90 frames per second, giving the final scene what Spinotti has called an "off tempo", "staccato" feel.

During principal photography, Noonan asked that no one playing his victims and pursuers be allowed to see him while those he did speak to should address him by his character's name, Francis.

The first time that Noonan met Petersen was when Petersen jumped through a large window during the filming of the climactic fight scene. Noonan admits that, because of his request, the atmosphere on set became so tense that people actually became afraid of him. He had also begun body-building to prepare for the role and felt that his size intimidated the crew when filming began, as the first scene to be shot was his character's interrogation and murder of another.

Noonan claims that this led him to take separate flights and stay in separate hotels from the rest of the cast and while on the film's sets, he would remain in his trailer alone in the dark to prepare himself, sometimes joined by a silent Mann.

Petersen recalled filming the climactic shoot-out scene at the end of principal photography, when most of the crew had already left the production because of time constraints.

With no special effects crew to provide the blood spatter for the gunshots, Petersen described how the remaining crew would blow ketchup across the set through hoses when such effects were needed.

Joan Allen also related that Mann would simulate the impacts of bullets in Dollarhyde's kitchen by throwing glass jars across the surfaces so they would shatter where he needed them to; one of these broken jars left a shard of glass embedded in Petersen's thigh during filming.

The pool of blood forming around Noonan's character at the end of this scene was intended to allude to the "Red Dragon" tattoos worn by the character in the novel. This shot left Noonan lying in the corn syrup stage blood for so long that he became stuck to the floor.

Spinotti has commented on how Mann's use of mise en scène when framing shots evokes "the emotional situation in the film at that particular time", noting the director's focus on the particular shape or color of elements of the set.

He has also drawn attention to the scene in which Graham visits Lecktor in his cell, pointing out the constant position of the cell bars within the frame, even as the shots cut back and forth between the two characters. "There is nothing in Manhunter ... which is just a nice shot", says Spinotti. "[It] is all focused into conveying that particular atmosphere; whether it's happiness, or delusion, or disillusion".

This "manipulation of focus and editing" has become a visual hallmark of the film.

Despite having initially filmed the scenes involving Francis Dollarhyde with an elaborate tattoo across Noonan's chest, Mann and Spinotti felt that the finished result seemed out of place and that it "trivialize[d] the struggle" the character faced.

Mann cut the scenes in which the character appeared bare-chested and he quickly re-shot additional footage to replace what had been removed. Spinotti noted that in doing so, scenes which he felt had been captured with a "beautiful" aesthetic were lost, as the production did not have the time to recreate the original lighting conditions.

Petersen had difficulty ridding himself of the Will Graham character after principal photography wrapped. While rehearsing for a play in Chicago, he felt the old character "always coming out" instead of his new role.

To try and rid himself of the character, Petersen went to a barbershop where he had them shave his beard, cut his hair and dye it blond so that he could look into the mirror and see a different person. At first he felt it was due to the rigorous shooting schedule for Manhunter, but later realized that the character "had creeped in".


Box OfficeEdit

"Manhunter" debuted at #7 at the box office, grossing $2,204,400 during its opening weekend, coming in behind films The Fly, Armed and Dangerous, Aliens, The Karate Kid, Part II, Nothing in Common, Top Gun and Ruthless People.

Domestically, the film grossed $8,620,929.

Critical ReceptionEdit

The movie was given a mixed reception by critics.

On Rotten Tomatoes, it was given a rating of 94% based on 33 reviews and on Metacritic, it was given a Metascore of 78 based on 10 reviews.

The movie was seen as too stylish, owing largely to Mann's 1980s trademark use of pastel colors, art-deco architecture and glass brick.

A common criticism in the initial reviews was that the film overemphasized the music and stylistic visuals.

William Petersen's skill as a lead actor was also called into question.

Particularly critical of the film's stylistic approach was the New York Times, which called attention to Mann's "taste for overkill", branding his stylized approach as "hokey" and little more than "gimmicks".

Chicago Tribune writer Dave Kehr remarked that Mann "believes in style so much that he has very little belief left over for the characters or situations of his film, which suffers accordingly", adding that the film's focus on style serves to "drain any notion of credibility" from its plot.

Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times was critical of the film's visuals and soundtrack, comparing it unfavourably with Miami Vice and describing it as a "chic, well-cast wasteland" that "delivers very little".

The film's stylistic similarity to Miami Vice was also pointed out by Film Threat's Dave Beuscher, who felt it was the chief reason for the film's poor box office results.

Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Steve Winn derided the film, claiming its lack of a strong lead role caused it to "fall apart like the shattered mirrors that figure in the crimes".

Time was more favorable in its review, praising the "intelligent camerabatics" and "bold, controlled color scheme".

Leonard Maltin gave the film three stars, calling it "gripping all the way through and surprisingly nonexploitive", although adding that "the holes start to show through" if looked for "too carefully".

Modern appreciation of the film has seen its standing among critics improve. called Mann's original the best of the Lecter series and Slate magazine described it as "mesmerizing", positing that it directly inspired television series such as "Millennium" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation", though calling attention to its "Miami-Vice-like overreliance on synthesized sludge".

The Independent called it "the most aestheticised film of the 1980s" and noted its "chilly integrity".

British television channel and production company Film4 called it "the most refined screen adaptation of Harris' books", although they found the film's contemporary soundtrack "dated".

Sky Movies echoed this sentiment, summing up their review by saying "although it still remains a classic, the film has dated slightly."

Retrospective reviews tend to be less critical of the stylized visuals: the BBC's Ali Barclay called the film "a truly suspenseful, stylish thriller", awarding it four out of five stars and Nathan Ditum described it in Total Film as "complex, disturbing and super-stylish", adding that the 2002 remake could not compete with it.

Empire editor Mark Dinning gave the film five stars out of five, praising the "subtlety" of the acting and the "neon angst" of the visuals.

Television channel Bravo named Dollarhyde's interrogation of Freddy Lounds as one of its 30 Even Scarier Movie Moments in 2007 and Noonan's portrayal of Dollarhyde was praised by Simon Abrams of UGO Networks as "a highlight of his career".

Despite the low gross on its initial release, "Manhunter" has grown in popularity in recent years and has been mentioned in several books and lists of cult films.

These reappraisals often cite the success of Silence of the Lambs and its sequels as the reason for the increased interest in "Manhunter", while still favoring the earlier film over its successors.


1987 Cognac Festival du Film Policier

  • Critics Award: Michael Mann (won)

1987 Edgar Allan Poe Awards

  • Best Motion Picture: Michael Mann (nominated)

Theatrical TrailerEdit

Manhunter Trailer

Manhunter Trailer

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