Spanning 90 years of cinema, Dracula is one of the most iconic characters in horror, as well as pop culture overall.
And over those years, we’ve seen a myriad of performances, ranging from terrifying to sympathetic, to hilarious, to boring. It’s amazing to think that a literary villain from over 120 years ago is still so recognizable today.
But the reason is because so many actors take up the mantle and give us something new and unique with each iteration. So we thought it would be fun to rank (almost) every Dracula performance from movies.
Note: Only Dracula performances will be considered, so sadly Max Schreck’s chilling take of Count Orlok from Nosferatu will not be included.
We know that he’s a decent actor as evidenced by Downfall, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and King Kong (2005), but here, he never truly inhabits the character.
More often than not, it feels like he’s just reading the lines and collecting a paycheck. Perhaps this is due to Dario Argento focusing on style over substance. Which worked for classics like Suspiria, but definitely doesn’t work here.
12. Dominic Purcell – Blade Trinity
Admittedly it’s difficult to be intimidating and scary when walking around in leather pants, and always speaking in an intense whisper (Jack Bauer style), which is why this performance fails miserably.
Although we can’t entirely blame it on Purcell as the costume design wasn’t his choice, and the constant digital alteration of his voice to make him sound monstrous wasn’t his decision either.
In the end, he comes off more like a cartoon character, and not in a fun, entertaining way.
11. Gerard Butler – Dracula 2000
Much like Purcell, Butler here specializes in the intense whisper that’s digitally altered for creepiness, but comes off as cheesy. But the reason Butler gets a slight edge is simply because, he has fewer lines, and visually, he’s much more creepy and intimidating.
10. Adam Sandler – Hotel Transylvania
If you’re able to listen to Sander’s voice, and not immediately think of Eight Crazy Nights, or any of his other cringe-inducing performances, Hotel Transylvania is very entertaining.
To be fair, we do get a decent range from Sandler over three movies, and he proves that he’s more than just a funny voice.
But too often, the performance relies too much on that voice when it honestly doesn’t need to. There’s enough good material there to get by without it.
9. Richard Roxburgh – Van Helsing
Roxburgh is the only Dracula on this list that’s incredibly cheesy, but somehow it works. Van Helsing is admittedly a guilty pleasure, and it’s very much due to Roxburgh’s performance. He’s corny and over the top, but he’s committing 100% and seems like he’s having a blast doing so.
8. Leslie Nielsen – Dracula: Dead and Loving It
Even cheesier than Roxburgh is Leslie Nielsen’s comedic take on Count Dracula, but since the intention is to be funny rather than scary, he scores higher than some might expect.
Nielsen brings his normal deadpan delivery, and while Peter MacNicol’s Renfield steals the movie, Nielsen’s Dracula is a performance to remember.
He’s one of the more sympathetic versions of the character, and we see him wrestle between the morality of wanting to be a loving husband and good person, while also trying to protect his people from invaders.
He’s one of the few Draculas we see that truly “breaks bad” so to speak, and it’s legitimately interesting to watch.
6. Claes Bang – BBC Dracula (2020)
This most recent version from the writers of Doctor Who and Sherlock is a more methodical, charming Dracula than most. He’s witty, determined, and always feels like he’s in a chess game with everyone else.
That, and he also taps into this monster side by turning into a wolf, and wearing someone else’s skin.
The third episode may have been something of a failure, but it change that fact that the first two were a great portrayal of a cold and calculating Dracula we don’t see too much of.
5. Frank Langella – Dracula (1979)
This British production is sadly overlooked and forgotten by many, but it boasts one of the most subtle Dracula portrayals ever put to film. Langella is elegant and charming, always feeling like he’s hiding something beneath the surface.
It’s a bit more theatrical oriented, and perhaps a bit slow-pacing by today’s standards, but it’s a great performance worth checking out. Plus he co-stars with Lawrence Olivier as Van Helsing and Dr. Loomis himself, Donald Pleasance as Dr. Seward.
He’s not sympathetic, nor is he a well-developed character, but he embodies a wickedness and inherent evil.
Regehr gives the strong impression that his Dracula is a sinister one, who is not to be trifled with. Plus he yells a little girl and calls her a “bitch”. Top that!
3. Christopher Lee – Hammer Dracula franchise (1958-1973)
Shifting direction from the already iconic Lugosi performance, Christopher Lee gave us a vampire lord that feels more feral, visceral, and monstrous than we had ever seen before.
His Dracula is in tune with his more animalistic nature. He lives up to the word monster in every way, and for a much less desensitized audience back then, he was terrifying!
2. Bela Lugosi – Dracula (1931)
By the time this film was made, Lugosi had already been playing the titular vampire on stage for some time, and it really shows. In addition to being the first cinematic Dracula, Lugosi brought a hypnotic quality, as if he’s always holding back just how powerful he is.
Others have done more with the character, and taken him in different directions in the decades since, but none are as iconic as this.
There’s a reason that all these years later, when people spoof or do an impression of Dracula, it is Lugosi’s version they reference.
1. Gary Oldman – Bram Stoker’s Dracula
As always, Gary Oldman proves why he’s one of the best actors working today. He’s known for his complete immersion into his roles to the point that he’s unrecognizable as himself. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is no different.
Oldman portrays a Dracula that is terrifying, ruthless, and sadistic, but also sympathetic, and even tragic. He lusts for power, but yearns for the reincarnation of his deceased wife Elisabeta.
Audiences are disgusted by him, but simultaneously sorrowful for him as well. The film itself is brilliant in its unique art house style, its compelling musical score, and its faithfulness to the source novel by Bram Stoker.