Welcome to Beat the Algorithm — a recurring column dedicated to providing you with relevant and diverse streaming recommendations based on your favorite movies. Today, we’re recommending movies to watch if you like Michael Mann’s Manhunter.
As 1986’s Manhunter begins, we see retired FBI profiler Will Graham (William Petersen) beckoned away from his Florida beach house and back into the service. His goal, ostensibly, is to investigate a new serial killer, dubbed internally as Tooth Fairy. But before that, he must face notorious cannibalistic murderer Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox). In his pseudo retirement, Will’s lost the scent for psychos. Maybe, he hopes, a visit to the good doctor will re-activate his uncanny ability to think, feel, and dreamlike the killers he hunts.
There’s a pretty good chance that if you mention Hannibal Lecter in casual conversation — something we all do, right? — the point of reference for most people is either going to be Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs or NBC’s Hannibal. And while we mean no disrespect to Sir Anthony Hopkins or Mads Mikkelsen, we can’t help but feel that this leaves the average person with a major gap in their film knowledge.
Indeed, perhaps because the infamous psychiatrist was not yet a household name among audiences, Cox’s take on the character is, though memorable, still just a brief aspect of what Manhunter has to offer. The focus of the story is with Will, his unusual and highly involved methods of investigation, and his dual devotions as a skilled profiler and a family man. In this way, the film is able to build on a rich tradition of mystery and horror movies, while also delivering something entirely unique.
And though, of course, other adaptations of Harris’s novels can allow one to further appreciate Mann’s singular take on these characters, we can’t help but feel that there are countless other films that will also enrich the viewing. And so without further ado, here are the twelve streaming picks we recommend for those haunted by Manhunter.
There may be fifty-five years separating Manhunter from Fritz Lang’s M, but the two films share an uncannily similar thesis: to catch a criminal, sometimes you have to think like a criminal. For Will Graham, that means extending his malleable empathy to twisted, violent psyches. For the seedier inhabitants of Berlin’s underbelly, that means transforming themselves into a shadow-police force to rid the streets of a monster. A slimy predator in the shape of a man (Peter Lorre) stalks their streets, preying on the innocent, and raising the hackles of every Berliner … on either side of the law. A harrowing masterwork and a blueprint for the cinematic psychological thriller we know today, M is an untouchable gauntlet throw. If you haven’t had the pleasure, know that this is far from historical homework. Taut, paranoid, and brimming with procedural frenzy, M’s blade has yet to dull, all these years later.
Available on HBO Max, The Criterion Channel, Kanopy, Classix, Plex.
Deep Red (1975)
Murder mysteries have a gravitational pull; a hypnotic quality that can drag you deep into the thick of procedural collisions, dangling clues, and potential suspects. And Manhunter, as well as its genre bedfellows, owe an immense debt to giallo films; to the leather-gloved Italian crime thrillers defined by their stylish gait, twisting plots, and sadistic killers. And when it comes to top-tier gialli, nothing holds a candle to Dario Argento’s masterwork, Deep Red, the platonic ideal of the genre. Sure, we’d all like to think we’d be the ultra-observant Will Graham, a consummate, if understandably reluctant, bloodhound. But more realistically, we’re Marcus Daly (David Hemmings), a civilian in the wrong place and the right time, whose curiosity compels him to tug on loose, and gore-soaked threads. After witnessing a brutal murder on his way home from a bar, Marcus falls straight down a rabbit hole, determined to identify the killer.
Available on AMC+ Amazon Channel, Hoopla, Vudu Free, Tubi, Shudder, Shudder Amazon Channel, Darkmatter TV, Flix Fling, ARROW, Plex
Fun fact: before living legend Brian Cox was cast as Hannibal Lecter, William Friedkin was in contention for the role. Mann apparently told his fellow director: “I see you exactly as Hannibal Lecter. You don’t appear to be psychotic, but you are.” You know, what you say to a friend. Anyway, the point is that if you vibe with Mann, you’ll probably vibe with his psychotic buddy. And when it comes to Friedkin’s take on serial killers, Cruising is a true masterwork. Starring Al Pacino as a cop sent undercover to investigate a series of murders targetting gay men in New York’s leather scene. Highly controversial and frequently protested during its production and release, Cruising is — for better or worse — bold as hell. Would we expect anything less from Friedkin?
Available to stream on the Criterion Channel.
Blood Simple (1984)
We have a saying around these parts: that there are certain movies you can bounce a penny off of like a taut sheet. No wrinkles, no creases, just tight, economic storytelling. There isn’t a cop in sight in the Coen Brothers’ debut feature, but its procedural heartbeat and unraveling pace make it an essential genre-thriller watch, albeit with a decidedly darker sense of humor. Where Manhunter tells of highly competent cops and criminals engaged in deadly, mental lockstep, the cast of Blood Simple shares three brain cells and a bucketload of bad luck, god bless’em. When the hot-blooded owner of a roadside Texas dive bar (Dan Hedaya) learns that his wife (Frances McDormand) is having an affair with one of his employees (John Getz) he hires a drawling hitman (M. Emmet Walsh) to have them killed. Shenanigans ensue. If you want to explore the opposite side of Michael Mann’s career-defining obsession with competency, there is no finer film than Blood Simple.
Available on HBO Max, The Criterion Channel.
Body Double (1984)
When it comes to demented thrillers, there were a handful of Brian De Palma films that could have wound up on this list. But there’s something special about Body Double. The neo-noir, extra-slimy riff on Rear Window sees struggling actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) dabble in voyeurism while house sitting in the Hollywood Hills. Naturally, all is not what it seems and after witnessing a completely unforgettable murder, Jake ends up falling in way too deep. The game of cat and mouse makes the film intriguing, but what really endears this film to De Palma devotees is how unabashedly trashy it is. Body Double goes off the schlocky deep end and will leave you grinning ear to ear. Or it won’t, in which case we’re guessing you clicked on this article by accident because you actually hate good movies.
Available to stream on the Criterion Channel.
8 Million Ways to Die (1986)
Do you like movies from the 80s? If you like Manhunter, we’re willing to bet the answer to that is yes. And if you like movies from the 80s, well, buckle up because we are here to offer the most 80s movie of all time. 8 Million Ways to Die has got it all: an unwieldy, alcoholic cop played by Jeff Bridges, Rosanna Arquette as a kidnapped call girl, and a hefty amount of cocaine. The plot twists every which way and we wholeheartedly do not recommend trying to “figure out” what is “happening” in the “narrative.” This is a film you just need to vibe with, in a neon-soaked, grimey haze. Do that, and it will reward you plenty.
Available to stream on Tubi.