Red Dragon (2002 film)

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Red Dragon
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBrett Ratner
Screenplay byTed Tally
Based onRed Dragon
by Thomas Harris
Produced by
CinematographyDante Spinotti
Edited byMark Helfrich
Music byDanny Elfman
Distributed byUniversal Pictures[1]
Release date
  • October 4, 2002 (2002-10-04)
Running time
124 minutes[2]
Budget$78 million[3]
Box office$209.2 million[3]

Red Dragon is a 2002 psychological thriller film based on the 1981 novel by Thomas Harris. It was directed by Brett Ratner and written by Ted Tally. It is the third film of the Dino De Laurentiis Company production, last produced by Universal Pictures, and last starred by actor Anthony Hopkins. It follows The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Hannibal (2001) as a prequel, being followed by Hannibal Rising (2007). The film sees FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) enlisting the help of serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to catch another killer, Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes). Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, and Philip Seymour Hoffman also star.

It is considered the fourth of the five released films regarding Hannibal Lecter. The novel was previously adapted into the film Manhunter (1986). Both films feature the same cinematographer, Dante Spinotti. After turning down the Silence of the Lambs sequel, Hannibal (2001), The Silence of the Lambs screenwriter Ted Tally returned to write Red Dragon. It was released on October 4, 2002 to generally positive reviews from critics, who deemed it to be an improvement over Hannibal, but inferior to The Silence of the Lambs. It was a box office success, earning $209 million worldwide against a $78 million budget.

An origin story, titled Hannibal Rising was released in 2007.


In 1980, FBI agent Will Graham visits forensic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter to discuss a case. Graham has been working with Lecter on a psychological profile of a serial killer; Graham is certain the killer is a cannibal. Realizing Graham is close to discovering he is the killer, Lecter stabs him, but Graham subdues him before falling unconscious. Lecter is imprisoned in an institution for the criminally insane, and Graham, traumatized, retires to Florida with his family.

Several years later, another serial killer nicknamed the Tooth Fairy has killed two families – the Jacobis and the Leeds – during full moons. With another full moon approaching, special agent Jack Crawford persuades Graham to help develop the killer's profile. Graham concludes that he must consult Lecter.

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, ca. 1803–1805 Brooklyn Museum

The Tooth Fairy is Francis Dolarhyde, who kills as directed by his alternate personality, which he calls the Great Red Dragon, after the William Blake painting The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, which he has tattooed on his back. He believes that each victim brings him closer to becoming the Dragon. His psychopathology originates from his childhood abuse by his grandmother.

A letter from the Tooth Fairy is discovered in Lecter's cell, expressing admiration for Lecter and suggesting that Lecter reply through the personals section of the National Tattler, which he does with Graham's home address, forcing Graham's wife, Molly, and son, Josh, to relocate. To lure out the Tooth Fairy, Graham gives an interview to Freddy Lounds, a tabloid reporter for the National Tattler, disparaging the killer as an impotent homosexual and that Lecter was only feigning interest in him. Enraged, Dolarhyde kidnaps Lounds, glues him to a wheelchair, forces him to recant his allegations on tape, and sets him on fire, killing him.

At his job in a St. Louis photo lab, Dolarhyde begins a relationship with his blind co-worker Reba McClane. However, his alternate personality demands that he kill her. Desperate to stop the Dragon's control over him, Dolarhyde goes to the Brooklyn Museum, tears apart the Blake painting, and eats it. Graham realizes that the Tooth Fairy knew the layout of his victims' houses from their home videos. He deduces that he works for the company that edits home movies and transfers them to video. He visits the company and is spotted by Dolarhyde. Panicked, Dolarhyde goes to Reba's house, where he kills her co-worker Ralph, takes her to his house, and sets it ablaze. Unable to kill her, he apparently shoots himself and Reba escapes.

After an autopsy, it is revealed that Dolarhyde used Ralph's body to stage his death. Dolarhyde infiltrates Graham's home in Florida and takes Josh hostage. To save Josh, Graham insults him, reminding Dolarhyde of his grandmother's abuse and provoking him to attack him. Both are wounded in a shootout, which ends when Molly kills Dolarhyde.

Graham survives and receives a letter from Lecter praising his work and bidding him well. Lecter's jailer, Dr. Frederick Chilton, tells him that he has a visitor, a young woman from the FBI.



The 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs, starring Anthony Hopkins as Lecter, was a critical and commercial success, winning five Academy Awards. Hopkins was the only major member of the Silence of the Lambs team to return for the 2001 sequel, Hannibal; it was also a commercial success, but received less positive reviews.[4] Both films were adapted from novels by Thomas Harris.[4]

Husband-and-wife producers Dino and Martha De Laurentiis decided to produce a film based on the 1981 novel Red Dragon, the first Hannibal Lecter novel, as a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs.[5] Dino said that people thought he was "crazy" for adapting the book, as it had been previously adapted as Manhunter (1986), with Brian Cox as Lecter.[4] Both Manhunter and Red Dragon had the same cinematographer, Dante Spinotti,[5] and both featured Frankie Faison.

Hopkins hesitated to sign on, worried that three Lecter films might be too much. Screenwriter Ted Tally, who wrote The Silence of the Lambs but not Hannibal, had turned down many offers to write more serial killer stories. He said he liked the idea of Hopkins' Lecter films forming a trilogy: "If it ends here, it will end gracefully. I would hate to see this become Hannibal Lecter XIII."[4] To satisfy expectations, Tally added Lecter scenes not in the novel, describing it as a "commercial reality". He had the support of Harris, who sent Tally dialogue and ideas for scenes.[4] Edward Norton and Ralph Fiennes admired The Silence of the Lambs but had not enjoyed Hannibal. The cast were persuaded to join by Tally's screenplay; Fiennes felt it worked "only on suspense", without overt violence.[4]

Norton and Ratner disagreed on the scene in which Graham approaches the incarcerated Lecter for the first time. Ratner wanted Norton to incorporate a gesture or look to indicate Graham's fear, but Norton felt the audience would not need this if it were filmed correctly. They compromised by showing Graham's sweat stains when he removes his jacket in the next scene.[4] Whereas Fiennes wanted to avoid overplaying his serial killer character, Hopkins aimed to play Lecter with more "danger and rage" than before.[4] Fiennes spent 90 minutes of each day for months building his physique, and wore a prosthetic to give him a cleft palate. The tattoo on his back took around eight hours to apply.[4]


Red Dragon: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was composed by Danny Elfman, and produced by Mark Helfrich and Brett Ratner. Decca Records released it on September 24, 2002, in the United States and Canada.[6]


Box office[edit]

Red Dragon was released on October 4, 2002, and opened in 3,357 theaters in the United States, grossing $13,478,355 on its opening day and $36,540,945 on its opening weekend, ranking #1 ahead of Sweet Home Alabama with a per theater average of $10,885.[7][8] It went on to achieve the highest October opening weekend, beating Meet the Parents.[9] This record was surpassed by Scary Movie 3 the following year.[10] On its second weekend, it remained #1 and grossed $17,655,750 – $5,250 per theater.[11][12] By its third weekend it dropped down to #3 and made $8,763,545 – $2,649 per theater.[13]

In the UK, Red Dragon collected $4.6 million during its opening weekend, ranking in first place at the box office above Lilo & Stitch.[14]

Red Dragon grossed $93,149,898 in the United States and Canada and $116,046,400 in other territories. In total, the film has grossed $209,196,298 worldwide.[3]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 69% based on 191 reviews, with an average rating of 6.40/10. The site's consensus said the film is "competently made, but everything is a bit too familiar".[15] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 60 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[16] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.[17]

Richard Corliss of Time gave the film a positive review, stating: "This darkly seductive, flawlessly acted piece is worlds removed from most horror films. Here monsters have their grandeur, heroes their gravity. And when they collide, a dance of death ensues between two souls doomed to understand each other."[18] Todd McCarthy of Variety also gave the film a positive review, saying that the "audiences will be excused for any feelings of déjà vu the new film might inspire. That won't prevent them from watching it in rapt, anxious silence, however, as the gruesome crimes, twisted psychology and deterministic dread that lie at the heart of Harris' work are laid out with care and skill."[19]

Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3.5 out of four, praising Brett Ratner's directing and the film's atmosphere. He stated: "To my surprise, Ratner does a sure, stylish job, appreciating the droll humor of Lecter's predicament, creating a depraved new villain in the Tooth Fairy (Ralph Fiennes), and using the quiet, intense skills of Norton to create a character whose old fears feed into his new ones. There is also humor, of the uneasy he-can't-get-away-with-this variety, in the character of a nosy scandal-sheet reporter (Philip Seymour Hoffman)."[20] David Sterritt of the Christian Science Monitor gave the film a positive review, stated that "the most refreshing aspect of Red Dragon is its reliance on old-fashioned acting instead of computer-aided gizmos. Hopkins overdoes his role at times—his vocal tones are almost campy—but his piercing eyes are as menacing as ever, and Ralph Fiennes is scarily good as his fellow lunatic."[21]

David Grove of Film Threat, who gave the film four stars out of five, said: "Is Red Dragon a better film than Manhunter? I don't know. I think it stands on its own, but I wonder how much people who are intimately familiar with Manhunter will be shocked by it, although the ending is altogether different and much more realized, I think".[22] Rick Kisonak, who also wrote for Film Threat, also gave the film a positive review, but he gave it three stars out of five, saying: "The only downside to this delectable third course? The regrettable likelihood that Lecter fans will have to make do without dessert."[23]

Edward Guthmann of San Francisco Chronicle, gave the film a mixed review, saying that "in Hollywood, where integrity is rapidly consumed and careers defined by market value, there's trash and there's trash with a pedigree."[24] Stephanie Zacharek, for Salon, also gave the film a mixed review, stating: "If you buy the overprocessed headcheese of the serial killer as refined genius, you'll love Red Dragon. Or maybe not. Even Hannibal Lecter devotees may lose patience with this picture's grandiose, self-serious ponderousness—that's Lecterese for, 'It's kind of boring in patches, actually.'"[25] William Arnold of Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who gave the film a mixed review, said that the film "basically lives up to the old adage that the final work in a trilogy is invariably the weakest."[26] Michael Atkinson of The Village Voice gave the film a negative review; he stated: "Red Dragon's formula is so risible and rote by now that the natural reaction to scenes of peril, torture, and suffering is flippant laughter."[27]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on VHS and DVD on April 1, 2003.[28][29] It was released in two extras-packed DVD editions, a single-disc package and two-disc "Director's Edition". The single-disc package includes deleted scenes, director's commentary by Brett Ratner, Interview with FBI profiler John E. Douglas, Four featurettes: "The Hannibal Lecter Story," "The Making of Red Dragon," "The Art of Criminal Profiling" and "The Making of a Killer". The Director's Edition includes Ratner's video diary, featurette "The Red Dragon Tattoo", screen and film tests, and storyboard-to-final-feature comparisons.[28]

On October 24, 2023, Kino Lorber released a 4K Blu-ray featuring a HDR/Dolby Vision Master from a 4K scan of the 35mm original camera negative.[30] It includes all previously released special features on the Blu-ray.


Red Dragon was nominated for 13 awards, and won several, including Empire Award for Best British Actress (Emily Watson)[31] and Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film – Young Actor Age Ten or Younger (Tyler Patrick Jones).[32]

Date Award Category Recipient Result
May 18, 2003 Saturn Awards[33] Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Ralph Fiennes Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Emily Watson Nominated
February 5, 2003 Empire Awards[31] Best British Actress Nominated
February 13, 2003 London Film Critics Circle Awards[34] British Supporting Actress of the Year Won
August 2, 2003 Teen Choice Awards[35] Choice Movie – Horror/Thriller Nominated
March 29, 2003 Young Artist Awards[32] Best Performance in a Feature Film – Young Actor Age Ten or Younger Tyler Patrick Jones Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Red Dragon at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ "Red Dragon (15)". British Board of Film Classification. September 26, 2002. Archived from the original on October 5, 2016. Retrieved October 5, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c "Red Dragon (2002)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Archived from the original on February 25, 2021. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Oldenburg, Ann (October 3, 2002). "Marquee names serve up another helping of Hannibal". USA Today. Archived from the original on March 15, 2021. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  5. ^ a b French, Philip (October 12, 2002). "Film of the week: Red Dragon". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Archived from the original on April 18, 2021. Retrieved November 13, 2020.
  6. ^ "Red Dragon [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]". AllMusic. All Media Guide. Archived from the original on July 18, 2012. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  7. ^ "Daily Box Office for Friday, October 4, 2002". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Archived from the original on November 7, 2017. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  8. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for October 4-6, 2002". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Archived from the original on January 4, 2018. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  9. ^ "Red Dragon breaks Oct opening record with $37.5m". Archived from the original on September 18, 2022. Retrieved October 9, 2022.
  10. ^ Karger, Dave (October 27, 2003). "Scary Movie 3 breaks a box office record". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved October 7, 2022.
  11. ^ "'Fugitive' retains No. 1 box office top spot". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. October 14, 2002. p. 51. Archived from the original on May 20, 2023. Retrieved May 20, 2023 – via Open access icon
  12. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for October 11-13, 2002". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Archived from the original on November 12, 2018. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  13. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for October 18-20, 2002". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Archived from the original on January 18, 2018. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  14. ^ "Box office gets red hot as Dragon flies to the top". Archived from the original on December 31, 2022. Retrieved December 31, 2022.
  15. ^ "Red Dragon". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on May 21, 2019. Retrieved February 14, 2021.
  16. ^ "Red Dragon". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on February 24, 2021. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  17. ^ "RED DRAGON (2002) A-". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  18. ^ Corliss, Richard (September 30, 2002). "Here Be Monsters". Time. Time Inc. Archived from the original on November 15, 2005. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  19. ^ McCarthy, Todd (September 26, 2002). "Red Dragon". Variety. Archived from the original on July 20, 2023. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  20. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 4, 2002). "Red Dragon". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on February 27, 2021. Retrieved January 22, 2021 – via
  21. ^ Sterritt, David (October 4, 2002). "The doctor is in: Hannibal returns in 'Lambs' prequel". Christian Science Monitor. Archived from the original on December 22, 2019. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  22. ^ Grove, David (October 4, 2002). "Red Dragon". Film Threat. Archived from the original on November 7, 2017. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  23. ^ Kisonak, Rick (October 8, 2002). "Red Dragon". Film Threat. Archived from the original on July 31, 2012. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  24. ^ Guthmann, Edward (October 4, 2002). "'Dragon' has no bite / All-star cast fails to make 'Silence of the Lambs' prequel appetizing". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on April 16, 2014. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  25. ^ Zacharek, Stephanie (October 4, 2002). "Red Dragon". Salon. Archived from the original on April 16, 2014. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  26. ^ Arnold, William (October 3, 2002). "Lecter series has run its course, but Hopkins is still delicious". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Archived from the original on October 25, 2014. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  27. ^ Atkinson, Michael (October 1, 2002). "Monsters, Inc". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on November 12, 2012. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  28. ^ a b Rivero, Enrique (January 22, 2003). "Red Dragon to Bow on Video April 1". Archived from the original on March 4, 2003. Retrieved September 27, 2019.
  29. ^ Rivero, Enrique (March 31, 2003). "Red Dragon Helmer Plays Big Part on DVD". Archived from the original on April 13, 2003. Retrieved September 27, 2019.
  30. ^ Salmons, Tim (November 20, 2023). "Red Dragon (4K UHD Review)". The Digital Bits. Retrieved December 29, 2023.
  31. ^ a b "Best British Actress". Bauer Consumer Media. 2003. Archived from the original on October 21, 2012. Retrieved October 1, 2021.
  32. ^ a b "24th Annual Young Artist Awards". Archived from the original on December 4, 2016. Retrieved December 29, 2023.
  33. ^ Phillips, Jevon (March 7, 2003). "'Towers,' 'Report' top Saturn nominees". Variety. Retrieved December 29, 2023.
  34. ^ Gaydos, Steven (January 5, 2003). "'All,' 'Road' drive London crix noms". Variety. Retrieved December 29, 2023.
  35. ^ "2003 Teen Choice Awards Nominees". Billboard. June 18, 2003. Retrieved December 29, 2023.

External links[edit]