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(Credit: Hammer Films)

From F.W. Murnau to Francis Ford Coppola: The 10 best 'Dracula' movies of all time

“I am longing to be with you, and by the sea, where we can talk together freely and build our castles in the air.”

Described as “the most blood-curdling novel of the paralysed century”, Bram Stoker’s gothic horror novel Dracula is his masterpiece. With a deadly vampiric Count Dracula lusting for blood cooped up in his Transylvanian castle finally making his way to England to find a way to drink Jonathan Harker’s wife’s blood. The novel brims with various thematic tropes that appeal to gothic horror enthusiasts. From exploring the anxiety stemming from encountering the Other to the debate between science and superstition as well as the intermingling of sexuality, isolation, love and immortality with the classic good versus evil debate in its backdrop, the novel is packed with powerful elements that made it a sensational read. 

After its initial publication in 1897, this epistolary novel had nearly 101 pages removed from the beginning which leaves us to ponder over whether the elements were that harrowing. Bram Stoker had initially not intended the novel to be a work of fiction and wanted to usher in the fear regarding the unknown evils of the world. Vampirism has been the topic of interest for centuries and naturally, various mythologies and folklores piqued Stoker’s interest. While there have been various speculations and conspiracies about how and when Stoker derived inspiration to write such a sensationalist and gory novel, the author alleged that a vivid nightmare about some blood-sucking creatures, following an extravagant meal of dressed crab in 1890s London served as one of his main inspirations to write Dracula. Arthur Conan Doyle was so impressed by Stoker’s masterpiece that he sent him a kind letter appreciating his work, saying: “I write to tell you how very much I have enjoyed reading Dracula. I think it is the very best story of diablerie which I have read for many years.”

The story of Count Dracula has regularly been immortalised and, even though the novel gained immense popularity posthumously, it has managed to cement Bram Stoker’s name in the echelons of literature for time immemorial. The story has trickled down to theatres, TV shows and film adaptations where the creators have tried to work on the crux using creative liberty, gifting us scary Draculas, raging Draculas or incredibly handsome and romantic Draculas.

The animated feature Hotel Transylvania has a perfectly harmless-looking Drac with gelled black hair and large cartoon eyes which makes him look more adorable than menacing. Due to the immense mythification of supernatural entities such as vampires, Dracula serves as a prominent inspiration to various works of art that tend to immortalise Stoker’s contribution to the gothic genre.

Dracula was originally published on May 26, 1897, with red letters, bound in yellow cloth. Even 124 years after its publication, this literary masterpiece continues to incite interest in young minds, causing them to research more on vampirism and other gothic elements in the novel. We would appreciate it if you could look beyond Edward Cullen’s pathetic attempts at being the next Dracula when we have had the honour of witnessing great portrayals of the anguished yet vicious Count by the likes of Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman and more; thus, we have listed out the 10 best Dracula film adaptations that you can watch to quench your thirst, hopefully not for blood. 

Let’s get started! 

10 best Dracula movies of all time:

10. Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige, 2000)

This mockumentary provides a fictional narrative to the filmmaking process of the 1922 classic Nosferatu. As a spoof film, it concentrates mainly on the director and the protagonist played by Max Schreck who is roped in to play the titular Nosferatu. As a character actor, Schreck works hard to bring the character of Nosferatu to life and the director, Murnau, goes to great lengths to achieve his exact vision. Soon bizarre happenings and mysterious disappearances and deaths occur amidst a tumultuous relationship between Schreck and Murnau.  

As a satirical dark comedy, it creates a fictional harrowing mystery surrounding the production of the horror classic with Munrau casting a real-life vampire, things go haywire. The film is actually a twisted product of Munrau’s quote to Alfred Hitchcock: “If it isn’t in the frame, it doesn’t exist”. as he ended up casting a real vampire leading to various consequences. Willem Dafoe, who played Max Schreck portrayed his character as a tragic protagonist with the correct amount of melancholy. 

“I feed like an old man pees- sometimes all at once, sometimes drop by drop.”

9. Dracula (John Badham, 1979)

With the handsome and suave Frank Langella portraying Count Dracula, the 1979 version is by far the most romantic one of all time. With wonderful picturesque shots panning British castles and seasides, the film is a refreshing change from its predecessors in its aesthetic and artistic style. Langella is different from his predecessors as well and is more of a seductive debonair than a sinister pestilent. He is not too fierce and is painfully romantic; Langella uses his strength to his advantage making his portrayal stand out from the rest by being more sultry and attractive. 

The story, transposed and reordered, sees the Count journeying towards England to find himself an immortal wife for betrothal. However, his shop gets wrecked and he lands on the English coast where he encounters Mina Van Helsing. Mina’s friend Lucy Seward and her family try to be warm and friendly but the Count ends up betraying them by first killing Mina and then attempting to enchant Lucy into becoming his bride. If you are looking for a devilishly handsome and romantic Dracula to appease your aristocratic Edward Cullen fantasies, the 1979 version might just be the one for you. 

“Listen to them – the children of the night. What sad music they make!”

8. The Return of Dracula (Paul Landres, 1958) 

Since it was released in the same year as Horror of Dracula, this low-budget film was overshadowed by its colourful contemporary. Although lesser-known, it still remains one of the most underrated yet well-made Dracula films. The monochromatic colour scheme helps convey the simplistic horror palette of the 1950s. The film has certain flaws, including a script too simple for its own good and jarring effects. However, given the constricting budget, it is a well-executed horror film. Landres does a great job of using monochromatic imagery to his own advantage and uses a good background score. Austrian-Hungarian actor Francis Lederer plays the role of the legendary Count Dracula. 

The film seamlessly transposes the 19th-century Gothic legend into a small American town in the 1950s which is impeccable. The Count murders a European passenger onboard a train and assumes his identity as Bellac Gordal to travel to a small Californian town. He stays at the real Bellac’s cousins’ place and unfurls his plans of vicious pestilence. While Lederer is no match for the effortless Bela Lugosi, he lays forth an impressive rendition of the sinister Count who preys on the innocence and naivete of the Mayberry family. He is creepy and vile and makes the film immensely enjoyable despite its liability to topple its competitor in gaining audience favour.  

“There is only one reality, Rachel. Death. I have come to bring you Death.”

7. Nosferatu The Vampyre (Wener Herzog, 1979)

Unlike the original 1922 flick which inspired the director to direct a film on the same topic, the film used Count Dracula instead of resorting to any other alias. Herzog, who was smitten by the original, creates a perfect ode to the silent German Expressionist films. The dialogue is mellow with a wonderful storyline. The imagery is slow and steady and uses the motifs of crucifixes, coffins and rats with impeccable dexterity. Klaus Kinski played Count Dracula in a menacingly slow and hypnotic manner. Herzog confirmed that Kinski, however, was a difficult person to deal with the onset and the innumerable rats used in the film were more well-behaved than he was. 

The film reflects the nearly human conflict in the mind of the vampire as he follows Jonathan Harker, attracted to the latter’s wife Lucy. He brings with him an atrocious plague and subsequent death. Kinski, who had previously portrayed the character of Renfield in the 1970 film Count Dracula, had to spend nearly four hours every day to get into the makeup of his character as fresh latex ears were attached to his skin every day. Notorious for his violent temper tantrums, Kinski however shared a cordial relationship with his makeup artist Reiko Kruk with whom he displayed unimaginable patience. Kinski brings out a sense of morbid pathos to his character as the doomed Cout who cannot age nor can he die. 

“Time is an abyss… profound as a thousand nights… Centuries come and go… To be unable to grow old is terrible… Death is not the worst… Can you imagine enduring centuries, experiencing each day the same futilities.” 

6. Dracula (Tod Browning, Karl Freund, 1931)

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula is nothing short of iconic. Not only did his performance leave behind a legendary villain in modern horror films but also continued inspiring generations with his piercing gaze and superior demeanour. The overall infusion of suspense and sexuality in the film is heightened by the creepy Count and the equally unsettling backdrop. The epilogue of the film was censored as the studio did not want to risk claims of them encouraging supernatural beliefs and practices. The death groans of Dracula were cut as well yet restored in the later versions.    

Dracula never bats his eye which was perfected by the incredible Lugosi whose menacing and harrowing stare added to the overall terror in the film. Lugosi, fresh off his theatre success, was eager to play Dracula on film. The plot is nearly the same where the solicitor Renfield, ignoring the pleas of the local village, travels to the remote Transylvanian castle belonging to the hypnotic Count Dracula. The Count sleeps in his coffin during the day yet prowls for potential victims at night.  

“To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious.”

5. Horror of Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1958)

The more successful version of the Dracula legend in 1958, the title of the film in the United States was changed to Horror of Dracula to prevent a mixup with the 1931 version starring Bela Lugosi. The film was revolutionary in its own sense due to the unimaginable gore included in the film whose colour print made it appear even more realistic. Scenes like staking Lucy through her heart which sees sputtering blood were not common in films and was not very well-received by the viewers, the film is filled with graphic imagery of violence and gore. It is the wayward son, going astray from the novel by introducing Lucy as one of the captive characters in Dracula’s castle whom Jonathan Harker encounters, Harker is a vampire hunter and a friend of the legendary Van Helsing. 

Christopher Lee as the tall and ominous Dracula appears very sinister with his sneers, hisses and growls. He has very few dialogues yet has a commanding on-screen presence which is enough to send chills down the viewers’ spines. He has wonderful and palpably tense chemistry with Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing who is intense and powerful. The film ends on a dramatic note with an epic showdown which is the perfect ending to a brilliant film with terrific imagery, incredible cinematography, pragmatic casting and more. Despite the despairing special effects, the film is a must-watch for all graphic horror aficionados. 

“I am Dracula and I welcome you to my house. I must apologize for not being here to greet you personally, but I trust you’ve found everything you needed.”

4. Hotel Transylvania (Genndy Tartakovsky, 2012)

If you want to fall in love with monsters like Frankenstein, and especially Count “Drac” Dracula, watch this adorable animated flick. The first of the trilogy, with a fourth film hopefully on the cards, the film focuses on the overprotective Count Dracula who has transformed his Transylvanian castle into a hotel which is a perfect vacationing spot for the supernatural entities. They are all afraid of humans following the incident that tore Dracula’s family apart. When his darling daughter Mavis turns 118, she wants to explore the human village much to Drac’s despair. Soon, a human named Jonathan (Johnny) ends up at the castle and Mavis falls in love with him. 

With incredible voiceovers from a talented ensemble including Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James and more, the film is a refreshing take on the legend of Count Dracula and provides a steady commentary on prejudices. It shows a tender, loving father and his tendency to protect his daughter from the atrocities of the human world. The film makes one question “Who is the actual monster”. It is a wonderful family flick and over the next two films, Drac’s opinion of humans keep changing as Mavis and Johnny’s relationship keeps evolving. 

“I’ve never said that in my life. ‘Bleh, bleh-bleh.’ I don’t know where that comes from!”

3. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992)

In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola directed an extravagant film that was a faithful adaptation of the original text material. Gary Oldman as the Count, with his ridiculously long nails and haggard appearance and puffy hair, is peculiar and standoffish. Despite his somewhat comical appearance, he brings in a sense of weird creepiness in his performance. His perseverance manifests as his incredible performance as he had even worked with a singing coach to lower his voice by an octave to make himself sound even more dangerous as the vicious, lovelorn Count. While Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker was definitely a questionable casting choice given his obnoxious English accent, Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder etc. fit their roles well. Despite his differences with Ryder, Oldman was astute as the Count. 

The film portrays the most celebrated vampire in literary history, Count Dracula’s tryst with the aeons of time when he lives as an undead man after losing his beloved to come across his wife’s lookalike named Mina who is betrothed to a solicitor named Jonathan Harker. Dracula vows to woo his long-lost love and does not shy away from bloodying his hands to do so. This classic operatic saga of love and gothic horror remains a testament to the Count’s undying love – the vile and claustrophobic towering figure of Dracula overwhelms the scenes even when he is not present. 

“I’ve crossed oceans of time to find you.”

2. Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (Guy Maddin, 2002)

The film seems like a fever dream while being a ballet ode to the silent expressionist films while acidic colours in between monochromatic shots add a jarring effect. No dialogue is heard and via pantomime, dance and necessary subtitles, the story unfolds about the sinister immigrant Count Dracula who preys on unsuspecting young English women. Although it was originally a television feature, the amazing critical response prompted a theatrical release. 

Maddin successfully proves that silent films are far more sultry and poetic, deftly dealing with problems pertaining to the anxiety of sexuality in males including rivalry, jealousy, obsession as well as ethnic anxieties. The usage of Dracula as the immigrant adds a sense of Otherness which is accentuated by the actor being the Chinese-Canadian Zhang Wei-Qiang who heightens the anxiety and dread by a phenomenal degree with his sheer brilliance.  A frustrating and exhilarating piece of art, Maddin’s work remains unparalleled. 

1. Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)

While it was not a direct Dracula adaptation and had changed names due to copyright reasons, Nosferatu is a pioneering silent horror film imbued in German Expressionism. It is the unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The film is set in the fictional Geran town of Wisborg in 1838 when a real estate employee Thomas Hutter is sent to visit his new client Count Orlok in Transylvania. Count Orlok’s exceeding interest in Hutter’s wife as well as the sinister horror that lays hidden beneath the exterior of loneliness and affluence makes the film a captivating and eerie experience.  

The film faced a ban in Sweden for nearly 50 years due to the excess horror and violence. According to Werner Herzog, the director of Nosferatu the Vampyre, this was the greatest German film ever made and also inspired him to direct the 1979 film. Although Bram Stoker’s widow Florence Stoker had won the lawsuit and ended up destroying most of the original prints, some of the second generation reels thankfully remained as a testament to Max Schreck’s phenomenal performance as the vile Nosferatu. The entire film is ominously claustrophobic and the striking visual imagery, as well as the loathsome villain, adds to the nightmarish atmospheric tension and manages to freak audiences out even today, nearly a century since its release. 

“Your wife has such a beautiful neck.”

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