I wanted to go ahead and put together a list of some of the greatest classic films about The Count which are highly rated and worth viewing.
Not an easy task! Any Dracula movies list is going to be a difficult endeavour because it’s a character which has most been the subject of a film in the history of cinema! A whopping 272 times!
For this list, I wanted to stay focused on early offerings about the Count as well as on those movies that have received favourable critical and audience reception. I will therefore be including movies from the 1920’s to the 1990’s with a brief look towards the 2000’s.
Please feel free to leave any comments, suggestions or favorite movies I might have overlooked at bottom.
The first movie ever made about Dracula was German silent film, “Nosferatu” from 1922, although there was much controversy around this film when it was released.
Based firmly on Bram Stoker’s novel written in 1897 but with names changed due to the filmmaker not possessing the rights to the film and therefore having no permission by Stoker’s estate to make this movie version.
A court hearing ruled that all copies be destroyed…One copy survived and this became a true horror classic!
Next up was the Lugosi masterpiece from 1931. “Dracula“, directed by Tod Browning was the first “official” version and was a huge success. It catapulted Hungarian born Bela Lugosi to international stardom but only after relentless petitioning to play the role.
Sadly, he never quite lived up to this initial success but is nonetheless immortalized here and will forever more be considered the ultimate, definitive portrayer of the legendary Count.
At the same time as this English speaking version was being filmed, Universal Studio’s was also filming a Spanish language version! It is a superb rendition and many feel that this is indeed superior to the English version.
The film definitely does have some major technical qualities over the Tod Browning version. A more sophisticated use of camera work, more elaborate special effects and a subtle music score throughout.
But the essential charisma in lead actor, Carlos Villarias just isn’t there and therefor the film doesn’t seem to have the same power.
Although “Mark of the Vampire” (1935) doesn’t feature “Dracula” as such, it stars Bela Lugosi in his iconic vampire role/costume of cape and collar looking every bit as menacing and Dracula-like as his original performance.
“Dracula’s Daughter” from 1936 is an excellent piece and is an official sequel to the original Dracula (1931).
The only appearance of the famous Count however is at the beginning which picks up immediately where the first film finished and has the original Van Helsing, Edward Van Sloan lurking close by, having just driven the wooden stake through Dracula’s heart (an obvious mannequin made up to resemble Lugosi).
“Son of Dracula” from 1943 stars Lon Chaney Jr. as “Count Alucard” (Dracula spelt backwards). A curious offering in that it places events within the deep south of New Orleans. Chaney Jr. seems a strange choice to play Dracula, though being the “son of” explains things a little. I guess it’s just another take on the many portrayals over the years.
The film has lots of atmosphere in and around N’ Orleans swamp lands and actress Louise Allbritton gives a very dark and morbid performance. It also has some pretty good special effects and a great musical score.
“House of Frankenstein” (1944) Is mentioned here because of the Count’s appearance along with The Wolf Man and Frankenstein. John Carradine plays Dracula as a kind of evil aristocrat complete with top hat and bow tie. His appearance though is a relatively brief side plot to the movie.
“Return of the Vampire” is another film which does not specifically feature the character “Dracula” but who’s villain is none other than Bela Lugosi again in a familiar role and up to his usual ways! Another strong classic albeit with a helpful, talking werewolf (!).
“House of Dracula” from 1945 is a follow up to House of Frankenstein. This time giving more screen time to the title’s main character. Carradine does another decent job as Drac. His second of three appearances.
“Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948) is extremely significant in that was Bela Lugosi’s only other time playing his infamous Count aside from the original 1931 film. A fine movie and a joy to see a respectful homage paid to the original Universal Monsters.
1958 saw two new takes on the Dracula legend. “The Return of Dracula” starred Francis Lederer as the Count who murders an American family’s cousin visiting from Europe then assumes his identity. Craggy faced Lederer makes a dark, mysterious impression.
Also in 1958 came Hammer Studio’s first rate modern color interpretation of Bram Stokers’ original story…“The Horror of Dracula”.
Staring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as legendary rivals, Dracula and Van Helsing.
This first film in a series from Hammer is a dazzling update for the time. Exquisite color and cinematography is used to great effect. Both Lee and Cushing are perfect on screen together.
Christopher Lee became the definitive Dracula in the eyes of many. He plays a swift and domineering Count, much different to Lugosi’s more fluid, languid interpretation.
The next film by Hammer in the Dracula genre is “Brides of Dracula” (1960). Although a very good film, the Count is not specifically portrayed but instead, a vampire disciple of his. Dracula’s name is mentioned at the beginning of the film and by Van Helsing. Again played by Peter Cushing.
“Dracula: Prince of Darkness” (1966) was filmed as the actual sequel to 1958’s classic, “Horror of Dracula”. It begins with a recap of what went down in the previous film. Christopher Lee is back but refused to speak his lines which he did not have any respect for. The result is a Dracula without any dialogue, who snarls and hisses at his enemies and prey.
In my opinion this is used to great effect and makes him to be more like some kind of elemental force. A supernatural “creature”. A quality production.
“Dracula Has Risen from the Grave” (1968) was next in the Hammer series, again with Lee as Dracula. Production standards, story and choice of actors were not as positive as the previous offerings.
“Count Dracula” in 1970 also starred Lee but was not a Hammer film. Jesse Franco directed and made a film of somewhat low budget but one with strong atmosphere and staunch acting by Lee, Herbert Lom and Klaus Kinsky. It is also the most faithful adaptation of the novel.
The next Hammer offering was “Scars of Dracula” in 1970. A rather sadistic and murderous depiction of our Count by Christopher Lee. Good story, sets and acting by Dennis Waterman and Patrick Traughton (Dr. Who).
“Taste the Blood of Dracula” was next the same year. Again with Christopher Lee, followed by;
“Dracula A.D.” (1972) Peter Cushing was back to join Christopher Lee in what had become a very familiar theme. Maybe that’s why this one was set in modern London.
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1973) starred Jack Palance as Drac. A made for T.V production, it makes good use of it’s set limitations. This film was the first to introduce the story of the reincarnation of Dracula’s past love. Palance is commanding though a little too restrained.
“Blood for Dracula” (1973) is a stylistic but gory cult classic produced by non other than Andy Warhol!
“Satanic Rites of Dracula” was the 8th and last film in Hammer’s Dracula series. Lee and Cushing were united for one last escapade.
In 1977 came the made for television “Count Dracula” (Britain) starring Louis Jordan. It is a very close adaptation of the novel though suffers from the low, made-for-T.V. budget. Jourdan gradually convinces and is quite menacing. His laughter, downright sinister. The scenes at Dracula’s castle are the highlight.
The next version came in 1979 and starred Frank Langella, Lawrence Olivier and Donald Pleasence. With the subtitle of “Dracula, A Love Story”, it’s a highly stylized, lavish production but more romance than frightful horror. Langella is charismatic as the Count.
In the same year came “Nosferatu The Vampyre”. A remake of the original and first ever production of the Dracula theme, “Nosferatu” (1922). This dream-like and artful remake stars Klaus Kinsky as The Count and was directed by Werner Hertzog. It’s plague analogy is extremely potent. A slow and stunning piece.
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” from 1992 is to many the greatest adaptation put to screen. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins and Keanu Reeves.
A big budget ensured some magnificent scenes and sequences. And there is a deep tragic love story which gives the movie such affecting substance.
No Dracula movies list would quite be complete without mention of this work…An incredibly powerful film.
“Shadow of the Vampire” (2000) is a solid and inventive piece in that it puts forward the question of what if, when filming his 1922 classic, “Nosferatu”, filmmaker, F.W. Murnau had indeed filmed a real vampire! Willem Defoe is excellent as Max Schreck/Nosferatu.
Thanks very much for reading. Please let me know what you think in the comment section below. If you have any questions or suggestions, I will be only too happy to respond as quickly as I can.