A Field Guide to 24 Cinematic Draculas

A Field Guide to 24 Cinematic Draculas

Those recent on-set photos of Nicolas Cage’s flashy interpretation of Count Dracula for Renfield were glorious — and made us think back on previous portrayals of the world’s most celebrated vampire, which run the gamut from eerie and scary to campy and ridiculous. Here are 24 memorable big-screen takes on Bram Stoker’s iconic character, presented in mostly chronological order.

First up, just to get him out of the way because he’s so obvious: Bela Lugosi, star of Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula. The first entry in the Universal Classic Monsters series (Frankenstein followed later in 1931), Dracula popularised the character in pop culture and continues to be hugely influential to the vampire genre. He never drinks… wine!

Max Schreck, Nosferatu

Technically, F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent film follows the saga of “Count Orlok,” but even though the main character’s name and certain other details have been changed, Bram Stoker’s story shines through on the screen… so much so that the author’s heirs ended up suing over the similarities. Orkok/Dracula is played to memorably creepy effect by Max Schreck — so creepy, in fact, the 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire posited that Schreck (portrayed by Willem Dafoe) was an actual vampire, a conceit that proved surprisingly easy to believe.

Carlos Villarías, Dracula

Viva VHS! (Image: Universal)
Viva VHS! (Image: Universal)

Filmed on the same sets as Browning’s Dracula — after filming on that movie was done for the day — this Spanish-language version of Stoker’s classic was thought lost for decades. Eventually it resurfaced and became available to curious horror fans in the early 1990s thanks to a VHS release, leading to inevitable comparisons between the two films in general and the two Draculas in particular. Lugosi’s often given the edge, but the fact that both films exist in what feel like parallel universes is still a fascinating nugget of film history. And it won’t ever be lost again: In 2015, it was named to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

John Carradine, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula

The career of John Carradine spanned six decades across a variety of genres, but horror fans know him best for the enormous array of cult and B-movies that sprinkle his filmography (just a tiny sampling: The Howling, The Sentinel, House of the Long Shadows, The House of Seven Corpses, and Dr. Terror’s Gallery of Horrors). Before he pivoted fully into eccentric character actor mode, however, he played Count Dracula (aka “Baron Latos”) in a pair of Universal’s monster-mash pictures: 1944’s House of Frankenstein and 1945’s House of Dracula. The first film is about a mad scientist (Boris Karloff) who decides to revive not just Dracula, but also Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.). It doesn’t end well. In the second film, Dracula pulls a Morbius and tries to find a cure for his vampirism, and there are more shenanigans with the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s monster — but again, it ends badly. Gotta stay out of the sunlight, buddy! Carradine returned to the role a few more times later in his career, including a (sadly forgettable) visit to the Wild West in 1966’s Billy the Kid Versus Dracula.

Christopher Lee, Hammer Horror films

No list of Draculas would be complete without the great Christopher Lee — outstanding in everything (and handily stealing scenes in the huge Lord of the Rings and Star Wars franchises), but especially memorable in the Hammer Horror films that helped make him a movie star. Dracula (also known as Horror of Dracula, 1958) was his first turn as the caped fiend, and also features his frequent co-star Peter Cushing as Drac’s nemesis Van Helsing. Lee played the vampire again in 1966’s Dracula Prince of Darkness, 1968’s Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, and multiple times in the 1970s, up until his seventh and final turn in 1973’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula.

Allen Swift, Mad Monster Party?

This kitschy 1967 Rankin/Bass stop-motion puppet musical extravaganza starred the vocal talents of Boris Karloff as “Baron Boris von Frankenstein,” but he had many notable assists, including Phyllis Diller as “the Monster’s Mate” and the versatile Allen Swift (best-known for his work on Underdog) as a whole raft of characters, including humans who sound a lot like Jimmy Stewart and Peter Lorre, as well as the Werewolf, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and, of course, Count Dracula. Swift also played the Count in Rankin/Bass’ similarly goofy 1972 made-for-TV follow-up, Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters.

Charles Macauley, Blacula

Dracula’s not the lead character in William Crain’s 1972 blaxploitation classic, but he does play a key part: namely, he’s the reason Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) becomes the vampire known as Blacula. In related news, this particular Dracula is a racist arsehole.

Paul Naschy, Count Dracula’s Great Love

“Behind each kiss hides a horror of terrifying realism!” Throughout his long career, Paul Naschy — the “Spanish Lon Chaney” — frequently directed his own films, and though he’s not behind the camera on Count Dracula’s Great Love, he did co-write it. This luridly entertaining tale sees Count Dracula masquerading as a doctor who offers hospitality toward a group of young women when their coach breaks down near his hulking manse… while, of course, secretly plotting to suck their blood and also use some of that blood to resurrect his beloved daughter. Naschy most often played a werewolf over the years, but he has no trouble commanding the screen in vampire mode here.

Jack Palance, Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Yeah, yeah, this 1974 release is actually a made-for-TV movie, but it was written by Richard Matheson, who penned all your favourite Twilight Zone episodes, and directed by Dan Curtis, the architect of gothic soap Dark Shadows. Best of all, it stars the singularly theatrical Jack Palance as you-know-who.

Udo Kier, Blood for Dracula

In desperate need of virgin blood, Count Dracula (cult actor Udo Kier) leaves Transylvania, where there’s a virgin shortage, and heads to Italy, which is teetering on the brink of the Mussolini era and apparently has a better supply of the right kind of red stuff. Andy Warhol associate Paul Morrissey directs and fellow Warholian Joe Dallesandro co-stars in Blood for Dracula, which began filming immediately after Morrissey, Dallesandro, and Kier completed work on Flesh for Frankenstein. If you need to feed your own urges for camp and violence, look no further for a double feature.

John Forbes-Robinson, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires

Yes, it’s a Hammer Horror film with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, and it has John Forbes-Robinson stepping in for Christopher Lee as Dracula. But before you dismiss Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires for being second-tier, consider that it was co-produced by Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers Studio — and therefore features all the outrageously cool, sublimely ridiculous martial arts brawls that association implies.

Klaus Kinski, Nosferatu the Vampyr

Several decades before dazzling the Star Wars galaxy with his instantly meme-able dealings with Baby Yoda, Werner Herzog directed his “best fiend” Klaus Kinski in the 1979 semi-remake of fellow German Murnau’s 1922 film (here, however, the main character is actually named Count Dracula). It’s a stunning, strangely lovely film, and Kinski’s uncanny performance is one of its most striking highlights.

George Hamilton, Love at First Bite

The goofy title aside, here’s how you know this 1979 film — which is very of its era, complete with disco scenes — is a spoof: it casts George Hamilton, an actor famous for his signature suntan, as the most infamous creature of the night on record.

Frank Langella, Dracula

John Badham (Saturday Night Fever) directed this horror romance that leans decidedly into the “romance” part of that subgenre, starring the great Frank Langella as a particularly swoon-worthy version of the Count. The supporting cast is also swoon-worthy, at least in terms of acting talent, with Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing and Donald Pleasence (Halloween) as Jack Seward; there’s also a score by the legendary John Williams.

Duncan Regehr, The Monster Squad

Everyone remembers the Wolfman line, and while Fred Dekker’s 1987 cult classic is mostly a fun romp about a group of young horror fans fighting back against the silver-screen terrors infiltrating their neighbourhood, the Dracula character — who is the main antagonist — is legit unsettling, like might actually kill a kid unsettling.

Gary Oldman, Bram Stoker’s Dracula

In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola released this lavish take on Stoker’s novel and it’s still one of the first versions people think of nowadays — in large part thanks to Gary Oldman’s very committed performance as both “sexy Victorian dandy” and “terrifying ancient monster.” The intricate costumes and production design also still make an impact, as does Keanu Reeves’ wondrously stilted performance as Jonathan Harker.

Leslie Nielsen, Dracula: Dead and Loving It

Mel Brooks directed this one, which (taken with the title, much like Love at First Bite) is your neon sign that Dracula: Dead and Loving it is a parody, along with the fact that it stars Leslie “Naked Gun” Nielsen. Brooks also co-stars as Van Helsing, and Peter MacNicol makes a particularly icky Renfield — but unfortunately this 1995 entry isn’t quite among the greatest hits (take your pick: The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, Spaceballs…) from the comedy legend.

Gerard Bulter, Dracula 2000

GERARD BUTLER. He’s practically his own genre at this point, his name above the credits acting as either an invitation or a warning depending on what kind of movie experience you happen to be seeking. If you’re in the mood to laugh your fangs off, step right up to Dracula 2000, which somehow was a) billed as “presented by Wes Craven,” and b) roped Christopher Plummer in to co-star, along with other respectable types like Jeri Ryan and Nathan Fillion. Oh! Also, Dracula’s secret identity is revealed to be… Biblical villain Judas Iscariot, giving us (at last!) an explanation as to why Dracula hates crosses so dang much. What a delight.

Zhang Wei-Qiang, Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary

This made-for-Canadian-TV silent dance film from experimental filmmaker Guy Maddin eventually racked up so much critical acclaim after its 2002 release it got a theatrical run — bringing wider attention to a gorgeously surreal and unique take on the Dracula story, as performed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Richard Roxburgh, Van Helsing

With new Van Helsing-centric movie in the works, thanks to Universal’s bottomless appetite for keeping its signature monsters hard at work, there’s no better time to try and recall what actually happens in this 2004 action-extravaganza starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale (who by that point had already starred in the first of several Underworld movies). The movie’s silly, but at least Richard Roxburgh’s performance — which you could call vampy and mean it in multiple senses of the word — is of the knowingly over-the-top variety.

Dominic Purcell, Blade: Trinity

Only a diehard Ryan Reynolds fan would claim Blade: Trinity as their favourite Blade movie, but it does pit Wesley Snipes’ human-vampire antihero against a newly resurrected, pumped-up Dracula (Legends of Tomorrow’s Dominic Purcell) — who goes by “Drake” — as they both get drawn into a blood war of sorts, with vampires plotting to enslave and harvest humans, and slayers working to perfect a weapon that’ll eliminate bloodsuckers once and for all. For an alpha vampire with a CG-enhanced visage that was absolutely nothing Bram Stoker ever imagined for his creation, Drake turns out to be an OK dude, far more reasonable than his minions (Parker Posey in high camp mode forever, though).

Adam Sandler, Hotel Transylvania

We’re focusing on the big-screen here, but if we weren’t, we’d say the superlative animated Dracula is the one voiced by Graham McTavish on Netflix’s Castlevania. However, Adam Sandler as Monster Dad of a Teen Monster Girl (voiced by Selena Gomez) is charming enough — enough to propel Hotel Transylvania into a full-on franchise, that is, with a fourth instalment (the first not to feature Sandler as Dracula) arriving on Amazon Prime earlier this year.

Thomas Kretschmann, Dracula 3D

Italian horror legend Dario Argento has made some wonderful films, including some we’d consider masterpieces. His most recent theatrical release — 2012’s Dracula 3D, starring Rutger Hauer and the guy who played Baron Wolfgang von Strucker in multiple Marvel Avengers movies — is not one of them.

Luke Evans, Dracula Untold

Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, The Hobbit) stars in this 2014 action-horror-historical fantasy flick that aims to, as the title suggests, deliver a version of the Dracula origin story that’s never been told before. Here, our man Vlad is bitten by a mysterious, cave-dwelling creature (Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance) amid a fierce war with the Ottoman Empire, and ends up using his newfound vampire powers to create an army of the undead and save Europe from invasion. Despite that creative interpretation of Dracula’s life story, Dracula Untold is mostly memorable as a footnote in Universal’s Dark Universe, which was scrapped after Tom Cruise’s Mummy movie bombed in 2017. And really, Evans is the last big-screen Dracula we’ve seen in a while — there’ve been some notables on the small screen, including Tricia Helfer on Syfy’s Van Helsing and Claes Bang on the BBC/Netflix series Dracula but it’s high time for some, ahem, fresh blood. Bring on Count Cage!