There are few monsters as popular in horror as Count Dracula. From his origins in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, The Prince of Darkness has been subject of nearly 100 films from the early days of silent cinema to the present day, as well as cropping up in TV, animation stage shows and more. So in honor of the Count himself, here’s 10 of the finest Draculas about.
10. Leslie Nielsen in Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)
In 1995, vampire films got the Mel Brooks treatment in Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Leslie Nielsen plays the title role, in a scenery-chewing performance. For a parody, the plot stays surprisingly faithful to the Stoker novel, while poking fun at the many tropes of the vampire genre. Although the film was a critical flop, it still has its moments of vampy fun, and a Nielsen parody flick will never be a totally dull time.
9. Count Duckula (1988 – 1993)
He lives in a forbidding Transylvanian castle, he’s from an aristocratic vampire family, he can’t be seen in mirrors… he’s a lot like Dracula, except he’s a duck. And he’s vegetarian. A Dracula in all but name (and species), Count Duckula is part of a long lineage of bloodthirsty vampire ducks, with new incarnations being brought to life in a special ritual every 100 years. But in the latest ritual, accident-prone Nanny (a 7ft tall hen) accidentally uses tomato ketchup instead of blood, resulting in the latest Count Duckula having a passion for broccoli sandwiches instead of blood. Originally a villain in British cartoon Danger Mouse (1981 – 1992), Duckula got his own spin-off show in 1988. The series follows Duckula‘s attempts to seek adventure outside the gloomy confines of his castle while trying to avoid the clutches of the Van Helsing-like vampire hunter Dr. Von Goosewing. One of the stranger interpretations of the Dracula legend, Duckula has a great sense of surreal, madcap fun, and is well worth a watch.
8. Rudolf Martin in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003)
By season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy Summers has met an abundance of vampires, including ancient master vamps, newly-undead classmates, and her own on/off boyfriend Angel. In the world of Buffy, it was uncertain until his appearance in Sunnydale whether Dracula himself is real or myth. He sets about trying (and partially succeeding) to flatter and seduce the slayer, whilst also putting Xander under his thrall and turning into a modern-day Renfield. Not everyone is charmed by the suave Count though – other vampires see him as a vain attention-seeker who put them in danger by letting Bram Stoker write Dracula, which they see as a cheap celebrity memoir. Buffy, too, eventually wises up, staking Dracula and reminding him that she knows how to defeat him, having “seen his movies.”
7. Count von Count in Sesame Street (1969 – present)
A bit of a cheat for this list, as Sesame Street‘s Count von Count is not technically a Dracula. He does have all the stylings of a classic Universal vampire though, with his Bela Lugosi-like accent, Transylvanian castle and accompaniment of bats. Living up to his name (and appropriately for kids’ TV), the Count is preoccupied with numbers and dancing The Batty Bat rather than feasting on the blood of innocents or seducing visitors to his castle. Count von Count is probably the longest-running vampire character – for nearly five decades he’s been introducing generations of children to the joys of both numeracy and a high gothic aesthetic.
6. Willem Dafoe in Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
A postmodern take on the Dracula myth, Shadow of the Vampire is fictionalized account of the filming of FW Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), and the star, Max Schreck, who may not be all that he seems. Director Murnau has found the perfect actor to play Count Orlok: the gaunt, pale Max Schreck, who is worryingly committed to his character. The other actors and crew are at first impressed by Schreck‘s realistic acting, but after seeing him suck the blood from a cast member’s cut finger and apparently killing and draining a bat, they start to wonder whether they are seeing over-zealous method acting or something more supernatural. Willem Dafoe brings great intensity to the role, and the film has the added bonus of making a rewatch of Nosferatu even more unsettling.
5. Frank Langella in Dracula (1979)
Dracula (1979) leans fully into the Dracula-as-seducer character type. Building on the suave-but-sinister portrayals of Lee and Lugosi, Langella in this film is an outright smoothie, described in the trailer as “the greatest lover who ever lived, died, and lived again.” Langella’s Dracula is softly-spoken, hiding his true nature beneath a well-mannered exterior. Like Lugosi, Langella had experience playing Dracula on stage, in the 1977 Edward Gorey-designed revival of the play on Broadway, and his understanding of the character and his effortless charisma have made this Dracula a fan favorite.
4. Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, director Francis Ford Coppola emphasises the gothic romance aspects of the story, presenting Dracula as a tragic figure, forever searching for his lost love. While he’s a somewhat sympathetic character, there are still moments where Dracula truly menacing, growling and swinging his sword at Harker during dinner. The film is also a showcase for Gary Oldman’s talents, as we see many different sides of the Count, from medieval warrior to decrepit aristocrat, to Victorian dandy. This version of Dracula definitely wins in the fashion stakes – Eiko Ishioka’s Oscar-winning costume design puts him in a range of extraordinary outfits including a long, red cape that trails behind him like a bridal train, and dark red armor styled to look like the muscles of the human body.
3. Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931)
The first Dracula of the talking-age of film, the influence of Lugosi’s portrayal is still felt today. More than any descriptions in Stoker’s novel, it is the elements first popularised in this film that have come to define the character of Dracula. Lugosi was already familiar with Dracula from playing him on Broadway, and the film was largely based on this hit production. Unlike the repulsive character in the novel, or Orlok in Nosferatu, this Count is smart and debonair, with an immaculate cloak, slicked-back hair and a hypnotic, charming presence. Although he came to somewhat regret being typecast because of the role, as Dracula, Lugosi became part of Hollywood legend, and at the request of his wife and son he was buried in his iconic Dracula cloak.
2. Max Schreck in Nosferatu (1922)
Technically not a Dracula, as Max Schreck played the character of Count Orlok in FW Murnau’s film Nosferatu (1922) – the name being changed to avoid copyright challenges from Bram Stoker’s estate. But to all intents and purposes this is the first example of Dracula on screen, and it a genuinely terrifying performance. This Dracula is decidedly inhuman, with sharp, rodent-like incisors and grasping claws. The silent film format and dream-like cinematography lend the character an enigmatic and sinister air. Moments of this film remain iconic and much-imitated – the action of Orlok rising from his coffin being recreated decades later by villains such as Halloween (1978)’s Michael Myers and wrestler The Undertaker.
1. Christopher Lee in Dracula (1958)
The definitive Dracula has to be Christopher Lee, the lead in Hammer Film Productions’ Dracula series. With his imposing physical presence, Lee’s Dracula is intimidating, with a ferocity shown by his blazing red eyes and blood-smeared fangs, but Lee also brought a haughty, aristocratic charm to Dracula’s character. These films captured the contradictions of the vampire’s character: menacing and charming; powerful yet fallible. Real-life friend Peter Cushing played Van Helsing in many of the Lee’s Dracula films, and the on-screen chemistry between the two helped make these movies so enduring. Playing the role in seven Hammer films from the 50s to the 70s, Lee made the role his own, and Lee’s performances have shaped popular perception of Dracula to this day.
Who’s your favorite Dracula? Did we leave any good ones off of this list? Let us know on Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and at The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook. For much more Dracula, plus all the best horror discussion online, stay tuned to Nightmare on Film Street.