20 Fun Facts About “Red Dragon”

Winner of the Big 5 at the Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, and Actress), Silence of the Lambs remains one of the most iconic horror films of all time.  Not only did it achieve Academy recognition (which never happens), but the American Film Institute ranked Hannibal Lector as the #1 movie villain of all time.

However, that movie (and book) was not the first appearance of the iconic character.  He was first featured in Thomas Harris’ 1984 novel “Red Dragon” which was later adapted as a prequel to Silence of the Lambs in 2002.  So in honor of that film’s 20th anniversary, here are 20 fun facts about Red Dragon!

1. Red Dragon remains the second adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel of the same name.  The first was 1986’s Manhunter (directed by Michael Mann), which predated The Silence of the Lambs, and starred Brian Cox as Hannibal.  Manhunter was originally meant to be titled “Red Dragon”, but after Year of the Dragon bombed at the box office in 1985, producers changed the name to avoid people thinking they were connected.

Red Dragon 1
Two very different takes on the same character. Hopkins’ performance remains the most well known and iconic. But Brian Cox gives the character a chillingly calm and reserved tone, as if killing someone is no different to him than just breathing.

2. Dante Spinotti served as cinematographer on both the original Manhunter and Red Dragon.

3. Anthony Hopkins’ goal with this film was to remind audiences that Hannibal is a scary and evil character.  He felt that too many people were fond of the character from Silence of the Lambs, and that it might have a negative impact on impressionable people.

4. To prepare the role of Francis Dolarhyde, Ralph Fiennes gained 15 pounds of muscle.  In addition, he had to sit for 8 hours in makeup to have the back tattoo applied.

Red Dragon 4
It’s an impressive tattoo!

5. Ted Tally (who previously wrote the screenplay for Silence of the Lambs) had declined to screenwrite 2001’s Hannibal, but returned to write Red Dragon.

6. Tally admitted that he was unaware that Frankie Faison would be reprising his role of Nurse Barney.  And had he known, he would have given the character more lines.

7. Nicolas Cage was at one point considered for the role of Francis Dolarhyde.

Red Dragon 7
Cage can certainly play crazy, but his brand of it is a little more over the top and probably wouldn’t have meshed well with the tone of the overall movie.

8. The ill-fated Leeds family house exteriors were filmed at 4160 Country Club Drive, Long Beach, CA; the very same house from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that was the exterior for the Bueller family home.

9. There was initially some debate between director Brett Ratner and Edward Norton about whether or not Will Graham should be afraid when consulting Hannibal for the first time.  Norton felt that a seasoned FBI veteran like Graham would at least be able to hide his fear.  So they settled on him having massive armpit stains to demonstrate how much he was sweating while in there, all while holding his composure.

Red Dragon 9
Will Graham’s dynamic with Hannibal is quite different than that of him and Clarice. With Graham, there’s an almost mutual/professional respect between them, even if Hannibal despises him for being the one to catch him.

10. Michael Jackson made a surprise visit to the Red Dragon set, since he and Brett Ratner were friends going back to Ratner’s days directing music videos.

11. The trick Hannibal used to dial out on the phone without buttons was real and could be done on pre-digital phones.  By clicking the dial tone a certain number of times, you could trick the phone into dialing out.

12. In one scene, Will Graham mentions that when the FBI gave Hannibal sodium amytal (truth serum), he gave the agents a recipe for dip rather than information on the victim.  However some fans have pointed out that given Hannibal’s cannibalistic tendencies, it’s likely that he was telling them about the victim, and that they were part of that recipe.

13. Stunt coordinator Keii Johnston won the Best Fire Stunt award at the 2003 World Stunt Awards for the scene in which Freddie Lounds rolls down the hill in a wheelchair, while on fire.

Red Dragon 13
It’s a spectacular and memorable scene, even more so when you realize it was done via practical stunts rather than CGI.

14. Frank Langella recorded voiceover lines as the titular Red Dragon from the painting, which Francis Dolarhyde hallucinated.  While Brett Ratner really liked Langella’s voice acting, he removed those scenes because he felt it was a bit too over the top.

15. The “Great Red Dragon” paintings were a series of watercolor paintings by William Blake between 1805 and 1810.  They were meant to illustrate Biblical stories.

Red Dragon 15
It’s a frightening depiction of hell itself, especially for the time.

16. Edward Norton claims that he took his entire salary from this movie and used it to finance the Spike Lee directed 25th Hour, which he starred in.

17. In a 2016 interview with “The Wrap”, Anthony Hopkins admitted that he wasn’t a big fan of Red Dragon, and that he probably should have stopped playing the character after Silence of the Lambs.

18. Grossed $209.2 million on a $78 million budget.

19. Much of this film’s plot (and dialogue) was reused in the 2013 TV series Hannibal, which focused heavily on the professional relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal.

Red Dragon 19
The whole series takes a much more detailed look into their dynamic, in a much more sensationalized manner than Red Dragon.

20. While it didn’t receive the numerous Oscar nominations (or wins) that Silence of the Lambs received, Red Dragon received generally positive reviews.  Roger Ebert praised Brett Ratner’s style, as well as Ralph Fiennes’ quiet, intense performance.

Which of these did you already know?  Which ones surprised you?  Let us know in the comments!

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