There’s a reason that Dracula is one of the oldest, most enduring characters in both literature and film. In terms of horror, he’s the most iconic and well-recognized character to ever terrorize the silver screen.
But over countless adaptations over the decades, one movie stands out not only as the best adaptation of the source novel, but as the most interesting, poignant, and compelling Dracula movie ever made. What makes Bram Stoker’s Dracula rise above the rest? Let’s sink our teeth into it and find out!
Getting the Novel Right
The countless adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel have borrowed pieces here and there, but for the most part, they do their own thing. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, this movie deserves credit for trying to tell the exact story that Bram Stoker was way back in 1897.
And while this alone doesn’t merit enough to be considered the best Dracula movie, the story itself does. Bram Stoker’s Dracula not only includes a fascinating ensemble of characters, but it also features Dracula’s “Vlad the Impaler” origin, which many versions overlook. It sort of reconciles Dracula the mythical historical figure and Dracula the literary character into one.
It also leans heavily on the book’s epistolary nature, which helps us to understand the several protagonists, all while keeping Dracula shredded in mystery. This style is incredibly hard for a movie to pull off (unless it’s an anthology), but Francis Ford Coppola really knew what he was doing!
The Best Dracula
There’s no way for this not to be controversial, so let’s just come out and say it: Gary Oldman is definitively the best Dracula. No, it doesn’t take anything away from Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, nor does it mean they were anything but amazing.
Lugosi’s performance was both hypnotic and enduring, as his is the one most commonly referenced, even 89 years later. Then, against all odds, Lee gave audiences a fearsome and monstrous performance that leaned into the character’s animalist nature.
The simple fact is Gary Oldman did both of these things…and so much more. We see him as Vlad the Impaler in the 15th century, the old and decrepit Count Dracula whom Jonathan Harker first meets, the suave and sophisticated “prince” whom Mina falls for, and even the beastlike hunter who combines both the elegance and raw savagery that Dracula is known for.
He’s portrayed as sympathetic, but not so much so that we forget he’s the villain of the story. Rather than portray him as entirely redeemable and sympathetic like Twilight, or completely devoid of humanity and evil like Fright Night, Oldman’s Dracula is a three dimensional blending of the two. This results in an overall more developed, well-rounded, and interesting character and villain.
(Almost) Perfect Casting
In addition to Oldman, it’s a really impress ensemble cast including Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Richard E. Grant, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits and Monica Bellucci.
Each character feels unique and complete enough that they could be the main character in their own story. This is where relying heavily on the source material comes in handy, because Bram Stoker himself did a great job of developing his characters.
And yes, we do have to address the elephant in the room. Keanu Reeves is a really talent actor when he’s playing to his strengths in movies like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Speed, Point Break, The Matrix, Constantine, and John Wick.
But as we saw in The Devil’s Advocate also, he really struggles when forced to adopt an accent. His emotions and depth are all real and well portrayed, but it is hard to get past that accent.
So perhaps it was a mistake to not cast an English actor, or maybe Coppola should have just let him give up on the accent halfway through like they did with Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
In many ways, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is unlike most other horror films, as well as most other films in general. It combines old school filmmaking techniques, like showing travel by map, but also goes full arthouse with his quasi-futuristic costume on Vlad in the opening scene. Its overall score and production design are hauntingly beautiful.
At the time, Francis Ford Coppola’s production company Zoetrope was on the verge of bankruptcy and this movie was quite a gamble that wound up really paying off. The film managed to gross $215 million on a $40 million budget.
It was released at the perfect time, as something like it would never be possible today. Mid-budget films like this have very much fallen by the wayside. It would either have been an over-budgeted tent-pole film directed to the lowest common denominator like 2017’s The Mummy.
Or it would have to be a low budget indie film that never could have afforded the star power it did, or all the practical effects it had. The point is, for a movie to be as creative as this one was, it sadly can’t get the budge it requires.
Dracula may have been around since the beginning of film itself, and we certainly haven’t seen the last movie that will feature him. But it will be very difficult for any of them to come close in terms of quality and creativity to the 1992 classic Bram Stoker’s Dracula!
What do you think of Bram Stoker’s Dracula? If it’s not your favorite Dracula movie, what is? Let us know in the comments!