Best of the Undead: the 25 Finest Vampire Films

by ksj870 | created - 18 Oct 2012 | updated - 12 Nov 2014 | Public

Of all the classic movie monsters, vampires are perhaps the most darkly charismatic, and there seems to be no end to the public's desire for movies featuring these creatures of the night. The public is fickle, though, and today vampires are as likely to be portrayed as tragic heroes as they are dangerous predators. Though some interpretations of the sympathetic vampire (as especially popularized by Interview With the Vampire and Twilight) are well done, it is the classic version of the undead--ruthless, seductive, and hopelessly evil--that is generally the most powerful. Below are listed what I consider to be the elite of the vampire films. Unsurprisingly, Dracula reigns supreme.

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1. Count Dracula (1977 TV Movie)

150 min | Horror

The vampire count leaves his Transylvanian home to wreak havoc across the world.

Director: Philip Saville | Stars: Louis Jourdan, Frank Finlay, Susan Penhaligon, Judi Bowker

Votes: 994

I know this is a controversial choice to put at the top of the list, but this is a production with a long list of superlative qualities. To start with, it is the most faithful of all adaptations of the source novel, although inevitably there are after all some significant deviations. Even so, the production never strays far from the original masterpice. Louis Jourdan delivers a very unique interpretation of Dracula which emphasizes the vampire lord's cold, Machiavellian ruthlessnes and superhuman arrogance. Jourdan's portrayal is perhaps the most genuinely frightening version of Dracula outside of Nosferatu. Acting all round is superb, including the definitive portrayal of Mina courtesy of the lovely Judie Bowker and a fabulous turn by Frank Finlay as Van Helsing. Critics will scoff at this adaptation's TV-grade production values and slow pace, but despite its budgetary constraints COUNT DRACULA maintains a beautiful, haunting Gothic atmosphere that transcends its weaknesses thanks to its literate script, solid performances, and fidelity to Bram Stoker's original vision.

2. Horror of Dracula (1958)

Not Rated | 82 min | Horror

Jonathan Harker begets the ire of Count Dracula after he accepts a job at the vampire's castle under false pretenses.

Director: Terence Fisher | Stars: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling

Votes: 17,432

Hammer Films specialized in Gothic horror films that were as classy as they were terrifying, and though Hammer produced a host of excellent movies the best of them all is Horror of Dracula. Christopher Lee's portrayal of the Lord of Vampires may not necessarily be better than those of Bela Lugosi or Max Schreck, but Lee dared to take the part as immortalized by those other great actors and made it very much his own. Urbane, coldly aristrocratic, and superhumanly malevolent, Lee's Dracula keeps his insatiable hunger under an iron discipline until the moment to strike is at hand--and only then explodes like a red-eyed cobra upon his prey. But fine as Lee's performance is, Peter Cushing is just as good as Van Helsing, his implacable foe. Cushing plays Van Helsing as a zealous crusader, a man of science and faith alike who will not--cannot!--rest until the world is rid of Dracula and his evil. The battle of wills between the two titans is cinema magic. The rest of the cast is outstanding as well, and includes the lush, Gothic sets that would become Hammer trademarks, and moreover features several of the luscious female starlets that Hammer productions are still fondly remembered for. A true Gothic masterpiece.

3. Nosferatu (1922)

Not Rated | 81 min | Fantasy, Horror

Vampire Count Orlok expresses interest in a new residence and real estate agent Hutter's wife.

Director: F.W. Murnau | Stars: Max Schreck, Alexander Granach, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder

Votes: 76,447

No one, having once seen Max Schreck's performance as the ghoulish Orlok, can easily forget it. Schreck's vampire is no gothic playboy, but rather a monstrous, ratlike goblin of the shadows whose bite brings death and leaves the plague in his wake. One of the most renowned of all silent films, and the basis for the popular film Shadow of the Vampire, Nosferatu's production is itself the stuff of legend. The first adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Nosferatu was found to be in violation of copyright and all copies were ordered to be destroyed. Fortunately for movie lovers, a number of prints survived and Nosferatu continues to haunt viewers today. Directed by F.W. Murnau with the intensity of a lucid nightmare, boasting some of the most haunting shots in the history of horror cinema and culminating in a heartbreaking and powerful climax, Nosferatu is a classic in every sense of the word.

4. The Brides of Dracula (1960)

Unrated | 85 min | Horror

Vampire hunter Van Helsing returns to Transylvania to destroy handsome bloodsucker Baron Meinster, who has designs on beautiful young schoolteacher Marianne.

Director: Terence Fisher | Stars: Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur, Freda Jackson

Votes: 5,495

Despite the misleading title, Dracula isn't anywhere in this film. Instead, the villain is the Baron Meinster, a young man cursed with vampirism and kept imprisoned by his domineering mother lest he ravage the countryside. Inevitably, Meinster escapes, and the bloodletting begins. While Christopher Lee's Dracula doesn't appear in this, Hammer's first sequel to Horror of Dracula, Peter Cushing does reprise his earlier performance as Van Helsing. Cushing plays the role to the hilt, solidifying his version of the character as the definitive cinematic portrayal. Though rather slow at times, Brides of Dracula succeeds in establishing a rich, dreamlike mood that slowly builds to a unique, frantic climax in a burning windmill. Required viewing for all Hammer afficianados and vampire fans in general.

5. Dracula (1931)

Not Rated | 75 min | Fantasy, Horror

The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina.

Director: Tod Browning | Stars: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye

Votes: 38,344

It's a certainty that when most people think of Dracula, the image that first comes to mind is that of Bela Lugosi. Lugosi's portrayal of the undead Count is truly uncanny, and when the Hungarian actor opens his ruthless smile and gravely intones, "I am...Dracula," there is no doubt that he speaks the truth. Lugosi's towering performance so dominates the viewer that the rest of the film is perhaps too easy to undervalue. Director Tod Browning creates a film that virtually drips with an eerie atmosphere of dread, and while Lugosi's starring role is impossible to overstate, it is, incredibly, at least equalled by Dwight Frye's turn as the tortured, damned Renfield. Reduced to madness by his dark lord, Renfield's inner struggle is amazing to behold, and adds more than a touch of spiritual pathos to the fairy tale-like plot. The story undeniably slows to a crawl following the imaginative prologue, a few plot strands are left inexplicably dangling, and some of the comic relief falls like a lead balloon, but despite its weaknesses this remains one of the most glorious films in the horror canon.

6. Vampyr (1932)

Not Rated | 75 min | Fantasy, Horror

A drifter obsessed with the supernatural stumbles upon an inn where a severely ill adolescent girl is slowly becoming a vampire.

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer | Stars: Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Sybille Schmitz

Votes: 12,779

A mesmerizing, dream-like experience that defies conventional narrative but succeeds as a weirdly evocative cinematic nightmare. The richly symbolic plot seems impenetrable at times, but improves dramatically with repeated viewings. Evokes the true evil of vampires as the ravagers of souls they surely must be. Totally unique among not only vampire films, but movies in general.

7. Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974)

R | 91 min | Adventure, Horror, Mystery

A master swordsman and former soldier and his hunchbacked assistant hunt vampires.

Director: Brian Clemens | Stars: Horst Janson, John Carson, Shane Briant, Caroline Munro

Votes: 3,405

By the 1970s, Hammer was looking for a fresh approach to vampire cinema and a way to put a fresh spin on its long-running series of Dracula films. And whatever else it may be, Captain Kronos is certainly different. Kronos, the eponymous hero of our film, is an enigmatic, world-weary soldier from an unnamed army who roams the world in search of vampires to vanquish. A combination of swashbuckler adventure, Western, and Gothic horror story, Captain Kronos blends several genres to great success. Featuring an unconventional but particularly fearsome vampire along with several great performances and sure direction, Captain Kronos may be the most underrated vampire movie ever made. And it would be a crime to write a review of this fine movie without praising Caroline Munro as Kronos's romantic interest. Hammer employed an incredible stable of lovely and talented actresses over the years, but Caroline Munro was one of the most beautiful and talented of them all. Munro's role as a downtrodden gypsy girl whom Kronos first rescues and then accepts into his train is one of the movie's special highlights, and every time she steps in front of the camera she lights up the scene. Exciting, imaginative, and great entertainment, this is one of Hammer's unheralded classics.

8. Let Me In (I) (2010)

R | 116 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

79 Metascore

A bullied young boy befriends a young female vampire who lives in secrecy with her guardian.

Director: Matt Reeves | Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Grace Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Cara Buono

Votes: 102,274 | Gross: $12.13M

An American remake of the acclaimed international hit, Let the Right One In, in many ways the remake surpasses its inspiration. The tale of a vampire-girl and the young, repressed and neglected boy who becomes infatuated with her, Let Me In is as moving as it is terrifying and tragic. A morality tale that deals with the human quest for love and the need for hope--even if it is a false hope--Let Me In is a world removed from most other genre films that deal with the "sympathetic vampire" in its willingness to take on issues of real morality and the reality of good and evil, even allowing for the way human perceptions don't always clearly discern the two.

9. Son of Dracula (1943)

Approved | 80 min | Fantasy, Horror

Count Alucard finds his way from Budapest to the swamps of the Deep South; his four nemeses are a medical doctor, a university professor, a jilted fiancé and the woman he loves.

Director: Robert Siodmak | Stars: Lon Chaney Jr., Robert Paige, Louise Allbritton, Evelyn Ankers

Votes: 3,665

Following Dracula's Daughter, Universal produced this, the first vampire film to bring Dracula to America. An ambitious and quite complex plot brimming with ideas explores not only another take on the Dracula legend, but also deals with the lure of evil, the price of forbidden knowledge and the danger of the occult, and the lengths men and women in love will go to for one another. Lon Chaney, Jr., is often harshly maligned for his version of Dracula, which admittedly is very different from that of Bela Lugosi, but in fact his Dracula is a strong, potent villain. Son of Dracula is filled with memorable images, including alligator-filled marshes from which Dracula emerges with an imperious arrogance to claim his bride and a fiery climax.

10. The Return of the Vampire (1943)

Not Rated | 69 min | Drama, Horror

When an errant bomb unearths the coffin of a vampire during the London Blitz, a gravedigger unknowingly reanimates the monster by removing the stake from his heart

Director: Lew Landers | Stars: Bela Lugosi, Frieda Inescort, Nina Foch, Roland Varno

Votes: 1,530

This is NOT a sequel to Bela Lugosi's 1931 Dracula--but it should have been! Lugosi once more plays an undead Count with evil designs, and if anything his performance this time around is even more frightening than it was in Dracula. A werewolf stands in for Renfield, and while there's no matching the gravitas of Dwight Frye's performance in the 1931 film this is still a fine movie with several engrossing dramatic threads, creepy atmospherics, and a talented cast. Direction is solid and there are some neat camera shots. Nina Foch is exceptionally beautiful and endearing as the innocent girl who captures the vampire's eye.

11. Dracula's Daughter (1936)

Approved | 71 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Hungarian countess Marya Zaleska seeks the aid of a noted psychiatrist, hoping to free herself of a mysterious evil influence.

Director: Lambert Hillyer | Stars: Otto Kruger, Gloria Holden, Marguerite Churchill, Edward Van Sloan

Votes: 4,546

Universal's first sequel to Bela Lugosi's Dracula, Dracula's Daughter may not be the equal of its predecessor but all the same is a fine all-round film. Gloria Holden delivers a remarkable distaff impersonation of Lugosi, and this is one time the exploration of the vampire as tragic figure actually works. Holden's character longs to be free of her father's curse and fights to live a normal life, but destiny has other plans. Unfairly overlooked, this is a very good film and a worthy sequel to its immortal forebear.

12. Salem's Lot (1979 TV Movie)

PG | 187 min | Horror

A novelist and a young horror fan attempt to save a small New England town which has been invaded by vampires.

Director: Tobe Hooper | Stars: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia

Votes: 17,137

Originally a two-part TV production, Salem's Lot compares favorably to most big-budget horror movies. David Soul plays a writer tormented by visions from his childhood who returns to his hometown to craft a new novel, only to find that the horrors from his youth have been surpassed by a new terror that has come to the sleepy New England town of Salem's Lot. Though the movie is based on a Stephen King novel, I'd advise no one to hold that against the film, which is well-directed by Tobe Hooper and maintains a superb tone of encroaching terror throughout. The cast is outstanding, and includes Bonnie Bedelia as David Soul's girlfriend and James Mason as a mysterious outsider who brings a dire secret to Salem's Lot with him. And while there may never be another movie vampire as terrifying as Max Schreck's Nosferatu, Salem's Lot's ghastly master vampire, Barlow, isn't far behind. Intelligent scripting, fine acting, and masterful direction make this a first-class production that inspires real vampiric dread.

13. Lifeforce (1985)

R | 116 min | Action, Horror, Mystery

A race of space vampires arrive in London and infect the populace.

Director: Tobe Hooper | Stars: Steve Railsback, Mathilda May, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay

Votes: 18,113 | Gross: $11.60M

Tobe Hooper's extravagant sci-fi/horror opus is often overlooked and frankly very underrated. Lifeforce is a fast-moving epic that brings space vampires to earth, and while these alien creatures are in some ways far removed from the more traditional vamps Hooper works with in Salem's Lot, the vital essence of vampire legend remains very much the same. Fine special effects, a simply magnificent musical score, and the ravishing Mathilda May as an alluring female vampire make this one of the genre's most underappreciated gems.

14. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

Unrated | 90 min | Horror

Dracula is resurrected, preying on four unsuspecting visitors to his castle.

Director: Terence Fisher | Stars: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews

Votes: 7,508 | Gross: $0.80M

It took a while for Hammer to get Christopher Lee back on set for a follow-up to Horror of Dracula, but the wait was worth it. A superb resurrection sequence brings the Count back to life and he wastes no time in finding new victims. Featuring one of the best staking sequences ever (courtesy of a vamped-up Barbara Shelley) and an exciting climax, the film's only genuine weakness is the absence of Peter Cushing/Van Helsing. Still one of the best vampire films yet produced.

15. Vampires (1998)

R | 108 min | Action, Horror, Thriller

42 Metascore

Recovering from an ambush that killed his entire team, a vengeful vampire slayer must retrieve an ancient Catholic relic that, should it be acquired by vampires, will allow them to walk in sunlight.

Director: John Carpenter | Stars: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith

Votes: 46,594 | Gross: $20.24M

Probably John Carptenter's second-best film (Halloween, of course, being the best), Vampires features one of the scariest post-Nosferatu master vampires, an arrogant lord of the undead who seeks a black cross that will make him virtually invincible. Perhaps more of an action movie than a horror film, Vampires still includes a number of suspenseful and even eerie moments, and the final showdown between our hero, Jack Crow, and the master vampire is awesome.

16. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

G | 92 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

When Castle Dracula is exorcised by the Monsignor, it accidentally brings the Count back from the dead. Dracula follows the Monsignor back to his hometown, preying on the holy man's beautiful niece and her friends.

Director: Freddie Francis | Stars: Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson, Barbara Ewing

Votes: 5,295

Not the best of Hammer's many fine vampire films, but almost certainly the most ambitious. The script is full of interesting ideas that touch upon religion, lack of faith, redemption, courage, innocence, and the reality of absolute good and absolute evil. Christopher Lee is as always magnificent as Dracula, but the rest of the cast is outstanding as well, and far from being filler the supporting characters represent important archetypes that represent the various themes being played out in the artfully constructed plot. Veronica Carlson is especially wonderful as the object of Dracula's unholy lust, and it's hard to imagine any actress has ever brought the same caliber of virginal beauty to the role of Dracula's bride. Flawed by a slow pace and the simple fact that there isn't room in the picture for all the ideas to work themselves out to the full, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave is still a must-see for all fans of Hammer vampires.

17. Underworld (2003)

R | 121 min | Action, Fantasy, Thriller

42 Metascore

Selene, a vampire warrior, is entrenched in a conflict between vampires and werewolves, while falling in love with Michael, a human who is sought by werewolves for unknown reasons.

Director: Len Wiseman | Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly, Michael Sheen

Votes: 230,782 | Gross: $51.97M

A dark, highly stylized film about the brutal war between vampires and werewolves that has been going on undetected by humans for centuries. Rich in atmosphere and packed with incredible energy and excellent special effects, Underworld is a unique blend of action, sci-fi and a little horror. Kate Beckinsale, as the gorgeous vampire death dealer Selene, is the cinematic epitome of 'dangerous curves.'

18. The Lost Boys (1987)

R | 97 min | Comedy, Horror

63 Metascore

After moving to a new town, two brothers discover that the area is a haven for vampires.

Director: Joel Schumacher | Stars: Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Dianne Wiest, Barnard Hughes

Votes: 104,644 | Gross: $32.22M

Sometimes a bit too cool for its own good, The Lost Boys nails the trials and trevails of teenage life far more accurately than its exaggerated plotline might first lead one to believe. Notable for a fine soundtrack and a (usually) fine mix of comedy and thrills. Several excellent performances, especially Kiefer Sutherland as the ultimate Lost Boy. Jami Gertz is also terrific as the irresistible Star.

19. Vampire Circus (1972)

PG | 84 min | Horror

As the plague sweeps the countryside, a quarantined village is visited by a mysterious traveling circus. Soon, young children begin to disappear, and the locals suspect the circus troupe might be hiding a horrifying secret.

Director: Robert Young | Stars: Adrienne Corri, Thorley Walters, Anthony Higgins, John Moulder-Brown

Votes: 2,884

Another Hammer production, this one takes a somewhat different perspective on the vampire legend with fine results...think Something Wicked This Way Comes with the undead and you'll have an idea what to expect from this neglected gem.

20. Scars of Dracula (1970)

R | 96 min | Horror

A young man, Paul Carlson, is on a trip and spends the night at count Dracula's castle. Needless to say, he is murdered. After some time has passed, the young man's brother Simon comes to ... See full summary »

Director: Roy Ward Baker | Stars: Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, Christopher Matthews

Votes: 4,050

Another masterful perforance from Christopher Lee highlights this creepy Hammer thriller. Bloodier and more violent than previous Hammer vampire films, Scars has some great atmosphere and the tension is continually escalated as Dracula claims one victim after another. The angelic Jenny Hanley shines as his ultimate prey.

21. The Forsaken (2001)

R | 90 min | Horror, Thriller

35 Metascore

A young man gets embroiled in a war against vampires.

Director: J.S. Cardone | Stars: Kerr Smith, Brendan Fehr, Izabella Miko, Johnathon Schaech

Votes: 7,689 | Gross: $7.29M

Combining elements of the Lost Boys with road thrillers like The Hitcher, this film keeps the suspense mounting as we follow a traveler named Sean and his very weird new friend, Nick, through the desert as they are tracked by merciless vampires.

22. Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)

R | 91 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Three distinguished English gentlemen accidentally resurrect Count Dracula, killing a disciple of his in process. The Count seeks to avenge his dead servant, by making the trio die in the hands of their own children.

Director: Peter Sasdy | Stars: Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Gwen Watford, Linda Hayden

Votes: 4,283

Another masterpiece from Hammer, though this one tampers with the existing Dracula formula a bit. Christopher Lee doesn't have as much screen time as one might expect, though naturally he dominates every scene he's in, and the plot is heavily invested with more character-driven drama than usual. Great cinematography, perhaps the most creatively shot of all Hammer's vampire films. Linda Hayden does a magnificent turn as the latest young innocent to draw the Count's nefarious attentions. The climax, unfortunately, is somewhat underwhelming, but overall this is still a fine movie.

23. 30 Days of Night (2007)

R | 113 min | Horror, Thriller

53 Metascore

After an Alaskan town is plunged into darkness for a month, it is attacked by a bloodthirsty gang of vampires.

Director: David Slade | Stars: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster

Votes: 150,593 | Gross: $39.57M

These vampires definitely don't sparkle! Brutal, if at times excessively gory story of vampire terror in an isolated Alaskan town. Credibly acted with a moving climax. The novelization by Tim Lebbel is actually even better than the film.

24. Count Dracula (1970)

PG | 98 min | Horror

Jess Franco's version of the Bram Stoker classic has Count Dracula as an old man who grows younger whenever he dines on the blood of young maidens.

Director: Jesús Franco | Stars: Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski, Maria Rohm

Votes: 2,149

At the time it was released, this was probably the most faithful film adaptation of Stoker's novel, for all that it nonetheless takes considerable liberties with the book once it moves beyond the first act. Looks a lot like a Hammer film, and it even stars the great Christopher Lee in the title role, though it lacks some of the energy and style of Hammer's best productions. Moves a bit too leisurely at times, but still a finely mounted film with Lee in fine form and a number of elegant and beautiful female co-stars. Not the definitive Dracula, but all the same a worthy effort.

25. The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

R | 87 min | Horror

In London in the 1970s, Scotland Yard police investigators think they have uncovered a case of vampirism. They call in an expert vampire researcher named Van Helsing (a descendant of the ... See full summary »

Director: Alan Gibson | Stars: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Coles, William Franklyn

Votes: 4,255

Another excellent film from Hammer starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Often harshly criticised for its somewhat anachronistic plot, which combines elements of science fiction and espionage thrillers with the usual Hammer formula, but IMO the combination works quite well and produces some unexpected but enjoyable twists.