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Draculas, Ranked

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos: Columbia Pictures, Embassy Pictures, Universal Pictures, Vulture

Nicolas Cage may be the most recent to don the fangs, in Renfield, but he joins a long line of actors who have taken on the iconic role of Count Dracula. Created by Bram Stoker in his 1897 gothic novel, the eponymous Dracula has survived continual reinventions on stage and screen. Though each adaptation takes liberties with Stoker’s characters — Dracula’s victims Lucy and Mina often swap places, and the extensive cast of love interests and allies is usually simplified — most of the count’s attributes have stayed the same. The quintessential vampire is instantly recognizable not just from his jet-black widow’s peak, association with bats, and black-and-red cape, but also from his well-mannered nature and unique powers of hypnosis and seduction.

When playing Dracula, an actor has to decide where the mask is — something he has in common with an actor playing Batman, fittingly. Is Dracula a man moonlighting as a monster, or is he a monster who must pretend to be a man? Every adaptation of the novel has to wrestle with that dichotomy. What makes a Dracula performance great is how convincingly an actor can navigate this line while bringing the undead to life and avoiding plastic-fang hysterics.

We’ve put together a high-stakes assembly of some of Dracula’s good, bad, and just okay screen appearances. And we’re not considering the acting only: We look at how each performer developed the count as a character in his own right, how their interpretation keeps this classic story fresh, and what they added to the Dracula lore. I bid you … welcome … to this list.

29. Thomas Doherty, The Invitation (2022)

Ready or Not meets Get Out meets Harry & Meghan. When American Evie visits her long-lost high-society relatives in England, she discovers they’re a vampire coven led by the completely unsuspiciously named Lord De Ville. Doherty does all but twirl his mustache in this spectacularly unsubtle and unappealing performance, and it doesn’t help that the character is saddled with corny dialogue and no problem-solving skills. Even with a piercing stare, he’s wholly unconvincing as both a romantic lead and an evil mastermind.

29. Rutger Hauer, Dracula III: Legacy (2005)

It’s a full hour before Hauer shows up in this direct-to-DVD wonder — we’re guessing the legendary actor agreed to be on set for just one afternoon. While Hauer was the biggest name to play Dracula in this series, which began with Dracula 2000 (more on that below), nothing about his performance feels particularly vampiric. In his few minutes of screen time, Hauer evokes emotions like “wanting a paycheck” and “tired of being there.” It’s an uninspired, blunt portrayal for an uninspired, blunt movie, but this is unfortunate given how masterfully Hauer captured quiet menace throughout his career in movies like The Hitcher and Blade Runner.

28. Gerard Butler, Dracula 2000 (2000)

For the unfamiliar, Butler’s audition tape, in which he sports a wig that makes him look exactly like Pete Burns in the “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” music video, is available online. If you’ve watched the tape, you’ve seen the only decent thing to come out of this attempt to bring Dracula into a nü-metal-tinged Y2K. In a humorless, stilted performance that plays to none of Butler’s strengths as a gifted physical actor, the reveal that he is not just Dracula but also Judas Iscariot is a baffling twist that makes this relentlessly somber performance only more ridiculous.

27. Luke Evans, Dracula Untold (2014)

This iteration was yet another attempt to breathe life into the old Universal monsters, and it gives Dracula a trauma plot as a former child soldier and Transylvanian prince who seeks out the unholy power of the vampire to protect his people. Despite a few gnarly images of impalement, Evans’s Dracula is too overloaded with sad-boy backstory to have any bite, and the movie’s attempt at a tragic-hero plot falls flat. He’s easily overshadowed by Ottoman warlord Dominic Monaghan, who sports eyeliner as ostentatious as his attempt at a Turkish accent.

26. Lon Chaney Jr., Son of Dracula (1943)

In the confusingly titled Son of Dracula, the count has left Transylvania to seduce an occult-obsessed southern belle, disguising himself unironically as Count Alucard. While this cheeky moniker has since become a part of Dracula lore (notably as the name of Dracula’s son in the Castlevania video-game series), in Son of Dracula it’s played as a dramatic reveal that just shows the low level of craft we’re dealing with. Chaney had bona fide character-acting chops, having famously played the Wolf Man, but his Dracula is as wooden as his coffin.

25. Dominic Purcell, Blade: Trinity (2004)

Dracula is admittedly the least compelling part of the unfairly maligned Blade: Trinity. This threequel literalizes the absurdity of the franchise to near-mockumentary levels, with an early quippy performance from Ryan Reynolds and the conspicuous absence of Wesley Snipes, who was reportedly so difficult on set that his iconic title role was played mostly by stand-ins here. Ultimately, the third and final Blade is too stuffed with far more satisfying villains (Parker Posey as a girlboss-y glamourpuss vampire lord) and supporting characters (Patton Oswalt and Natasha Lyonne as members of a vigilante vampire-hunting squad) to need a big bad like Dracula, though we appreciate his complicated reckoning with the extinction of his species and his affection for the daywalker.

24. Udo Kier, Blood for Dracula (1974)

Vibrantly intense art-house character actor Udo Kier has appeared in a bunch of vampire movies, making him a natural fit for the count’s cape. Unfortunately, this clunky, awkwardly shot B-movie from the Warhol Factory is hardly a showcase for his talents. He’s one of the stronger actors in this parade of soft-core sex, fumbled lines, and showers of vomited blood, but there’s not much nuance in his performance as an aristocratic brat who can stomach only the finest virgin blood.

23. Leslie Nielsen, Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)

Mel Brooks’s last directorial effort is definitely not one of his best-loved comedies, though it has a couple of silly moments — Nielsen strolling in with Gary Oldman’s pompadour from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, then revealing it to be a rather ostentatious hat definitely deserves a chuckle. Unfortunately, this movie really has only one gag, which gets old fast: What if Dracula were clumsy?

22. Richard Roxburgh, Van Helsing (2004)

More foppish than frightening, Roxburgh co-starred with Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing in this widely panned aughts action thriller from The Mummy director Stephen Sommers. Roxburgh’s Dracula — pardon, Count Vladislaus Dragulia, as he declares — spends most of his time plotting and whining, and the film’s overreliance on clunky CGI to provide the scares totally defangs the actor. He gets his share of solid comic moments, though, with truly melodramatic line reads and borderline sniveling wails.

21. John Carradine, House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966)

Dapper and stiff, Carradine’s Dracula is neither intimidating nor threatening, just intense. We’ll give some credit to Carradine’s unceasing gaze, which is effectively used to demonstrate Dracula’s quasi-psychic abilities, but there’s not much the actor has to bring to the character that hadn’t been done better before. While the first two films are fairly standard horror flicks, Carradine said the schlockfest Billy the Kid vs. Dracula was the only movie he ever regretted making — a sizable achievement, as he appeared in over 350.

20. Jack Palance, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1974)

Best known for his tough-guy roles, Palance makes for a relatively uncharismatic Dracula in this adaptation from Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis. Palance’s count leaves Transylvania for London after seeing a photograph of Jonathan Harker’s friend Lucy, who is identical to Dracula’s deceased wife, whom we see in gauzy flashbacks. Palance is more brutish than sinister, and his rigidity makes it hard to buy his lovesick motivation.

19. Adam Sandler, Hotel Transylvania series (2012–22)

Adam Sandler’s Dracula is a helicopter dad and monster hotelier who is devastated when his 118-year-old daughter falls in love with a human. It’s a solid premise — one part Fawlty Towers, one part West Side Story — which makes it all the more unfortunate that it’s pretty thin on the jokes. Sandler makes a decent Dracula and has great chemistry with the rest of the cast, but there’s something toothless about the entire endeavor. Maybe it’s the clichéd script; maybe it’s the oh-so-2012 inclusion of “Sexy and I Know It.”

18. Frank Langella, Dracula (1979)

This lush adaptation with a score by John Williams is one of the most overtly erotic, featuring Langella as a dashing playboy Dracula who seduces Harker’s fiancée. Although he’s refined and elegant, he doesn’t come off as particularly bright or powerful, and his death scene is easily the most humiliating on this list: Attacked by Van Helsing on his own ship, he gets tied up in the rigging and dragged feetfirst up a mast into the burning sun. Perhaps he blends in more in his native Transylvania because it’s unclear how this witless iteration has survived for several lifetimes.

17. Duncan Regehr, The Monster Squad (1987)

Regehr’s Dracula takes clear inspiration from Bela Lugosi in this underrated tribute to the Universal horror classics. The count is the main antagonist, though not a particularly capable one, and he gets some much-needed help from the rest of the Universal monsters crew. Fittingly for a children’s comedy (albeit one that hinges on characters being virgins), the centuries-old vampire resembles a Scooby-Doo villain in his utter inability to outsmart a group of latchkey kids.

16. Nicolas Cage, Renfield (2023)

The latest iteration of the Dracula story is a gory horror-comedy that promotes Renfield, his oft-sidelined servant, to action-hero protagonist. Cage handles the comic tone well, bringing a frightening unpredictability to his malice and a giddy sliminess to his charm, and his Dracula is clearly inspired by the performances of the many Counts who have preceded him. Unfortunately, the good aspects of Cage’s Dracula are smothered by, well, Cage himself. The actor is so fully embracing his memetic persona as an over-the-top ham that it just feels like Cage playing more Cage, and a redux of the overwrought bloodsucker he played in the criminally underseen Vampire’s Kiss (1988).

15. Graham McTavish, Castlevania  (2017–21)

In the Netflix animated show based on the enormously popular video-game series, Dracula has sworn revenge on mankind after his wife is accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. McTavish gives an utterly entrancing vocal performance, bringing a weary, measured gravitas to a character who might otherwise be a one-dimensional, revenge-seeking final boss.

14. Carlos Villarías, Drácula (1931)

A dual production made at the same time, on the same sets, as Tod Browning’s iconic 1931 film, this Spanish-language version is quite different in its portrayal of Dracula. Villarías brings far more vaudeville to the role, with exaggerated pantomimes and long, melodramatic pauses. It’s fun to watch, but his overdrawn expressions and theatrical acting just don’t carry the same menacing weight as Lugosi’s performance.

13. Louis Jourdan, Count Dracula (1977)

This BBC TV movie is a faithful adaptation of the book, and Jourdan plays a Dracula who teems with ghoulish sophistication as a refined intellectual with an aptitude for language and etymology. Known for his suave leading roles, Jourdan depicts vampirism as a mark of haughty aristocracy rather than an outright curse. If there’s such a thing as a vampire supremacist, it may be this count.

12. Claes Bang, Dracula (2020)

Goofy, sexy, and overtly satanic, Bang’s Dracula is straight out of the “cool TV villain” playbook — fitting for a show that made Dracula a dating-app-ready bisexual. (Is it any surprise that this show was created by the Sherlock team?) His taste for carnage is heightened by the visceral body horror, and the gruesome nature of his powers (such as his skin-peeling transformations) is a welcome element.

11. Christian Camargo, Penny Dreadful (2016)

Dracula has a day job in the third season of Penny Dreadful: The count’s alter ego is a zoologist and textbook gaslighter with bookish charm and awkward flirtatiousness. He’s the most boyfriend-y of the Draculas on this list, which makes his menace only more terrifying.

10. Willem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

A meta twist on the Dracula story, Shadow of the Vampire is a fictionalized depiction of  the making of the 1922 film Nosferatu starring Dafoe as actor Max Schreck. Here, Schreck is actually a vampire, hired by megalomaniacal director F.W. Murnau. Dafoe is delightfully impish as he toys with Murnau’s ambitions, and his petulant curiosity keeps this dark comedy from becoming excessively grim.

9. Allen Swift, Mad Monster Party? (1967)

One of the lesser-known Rankin-Bass stop-motion collaborations, Mad Monster Party? uses Dracula as a minor yet unforgettable character. A member of the professional monster organization run by Baron von Frankenstein, the count hopes to be next in line for the job despite being easily distracted and outsmarted. Even by the high standards of Rankin-Bass, Dracula’s design is impeccable. His batty levity is elevated by his svelte silhouette, wise-cracking dialogue, and whimsical puppet physicality.

8. Rudolf Martin, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2000)

It’s too bad he’s just a monster of the week because Martin’s youthful, hypnotic Dracula makes a worthy antagonist to the slayer — and the two have far more chemistry than Buffy and her season-five paramour, Riley. This Dracula is dramatically different from Buffy’s other vampires; he has no snarl-toothed demonic form, he can morph into a bat, and he has hypnotic powers. It’s a welcome, if brief, change to see the show embrace the vampiric lore it typically scoffs at.

7. Zhang Wei-Qiang, Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary (2002)

This black-and-white silent ballet film embraces Dracula as a story of anti-immigrant anxiety, positioning sexual liberation and jealousy as central conflicts. Dancer Zhang portrays the title character with a sensual elegance, and his refined movements bring both easy sophistication and potent strength. Notably, he’s one of the few Draculas without the ubiquitous accent, as there is no spoken dialogue. This is a dramatically different, deeply sympathetic Dracula that embraces ballet’s penchant for gothic tragedy.

6. Gary Oldman, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Dracula is probably the most beautiful on this list. The imposingly gothic atmosphere overwhelms much of the cast, but Oldman delivers an obvious standout performance — a smoldering, Byronic portrayal that still captures Dracula’s eeriness. It helps that this is the most fashion-forward count, with his stylish 1890s-by-way-of-the-1990s wardrobe and dramatic color palette. Oldman undergoes a complete transformation as Dracula and embodies every second of it, entering as a chalk-faced old bat swanning around his decrepit castle and later turning up as London’s most desirable bachelor. (Or should that be batchelor?)

5. Christopher Lee, Horror of Dracula (1958), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), Count Dracula (1970), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Scars of Dracula (1970), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), Dracula and Son (1976)

With his easy affability and regal stature, Lee is a perfect fit for the count, and his portrayal across nearly two decades of films helped define the character’s status in pop culture. Though Lugosi’s Dracula certainly has a flair for the romantic, Lee’s is explicitly sexual and carnal, and the image of his bloodied fangs left a powerful impression on future portrayals. Lee was a true master of debonair resting face, but it didn’t hinder him from fully embodying a teeth-bared, bloodshot-eyed terrifier. He became a superstar after Dracula and helped bring Hammer Film Productions into a golden age of massively popular and influential horror films.

4. Max Schreck, Nosferatu (1922)

A defining Dracula movie in all but name, Nosferatu is one of the most important and influential films ever made, thanks in part to Schreck’s terrifying Count Orlok. The film was intended to be an adaptation of Dracula, but the production company had to change the name (Jackie Jormp-Jomp style) when it couldn’t secure the rights to the novel. With his teetering build, bat-shaped ears, and curling nails, Orlok remains a potently unsettling villain a hundred years later. There have been few depictions of Dracula as a true weirdo — a guy who lurks in the corner and makes unsolicited comments about the beauty of Harker’s wife’s neck — but Schreck’s portrayal of Dracula as a wealthy foreign invader is essential to the cinematic history of the count.

3. William Marshall, Blacula (1972), Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

Dismissed at the time as just another blaxploitation thriller, Blacula is an ultrastylish funk classic. As the African prince Mamuwalde, Marshall brings a new depth and sensibility to the character as a tortured hero at odds with contemporary living. Though Marshall isn’t technically playing Dracula here — Mamuwalde was turned by the original count as a racist joke and given the vampire equivalent of a slave name — his ability to swing from monstrously frightening to incredibly charismatic makes this a deserving contender for one of the best interpretations.

2. Klaus Kinski, Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Kinski has his work cut out for him in Werner Herzog’s remake of Nosferatu, but he’s up to the challenge. He is fantastically eerie as the count, building on Schreck’s marvelous portrayal while bringing his own sense of grotesque tragedy to the character. In a movie filled with constant, miserable death, Kinski makes you believe Dracula’s lost humanity is the true victim.

1. Bela Lugosi, Dracula (1931), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Call us purists. Although Dracula was adapted into an immensely popular stage play in the 1920s, it was Lugosi who made the character several times more famous than the story. Anyone who has ever played a vampire has had to contend with Lugosi’s towering shadow. His accent and slow speech patterns are possibly the most famous vocal performance of all time, replicated so often that they’re as much a part of vampire lore as the garlic and crosses. Lugosi’s ominous presence marries Dracula’s animal aggression to his sophisticated mental prowess. This can be seen in simply his famous hand positions — like Schreck, Lugosi communicates with stiff, curled hands, but without Orlok’s clawlike nails, his gestures resemble those of a puppeteer in complete control of his surroundings. The production pushes his performance even further, as director Browning follows Dracula’s gliding, subtly batlike gait and lights his bulging stare to make the whites of his eyes gleam. Both horrifyingly monstrous and devastatingly human, this count mesmerizes the audience as much as he does his prey. Lugosi’s association with Dracula would become a curse of its own for his career, but we have him to thank for nearly a century of spine-tingling vampire films.

Draculas, Ranked