What is it that draws audiences to vampire films? Maybe it’s the tragedy of a monster who needs to slay people in order to live forever. Or maybe it’s just an escapist fantasy of a creature that’s powerful, charismatic and immortal – a sort of supernatural James Bond, if you will.
Zombies and witches are all fine and good, but vampire is king when it comes to horror movies. Therefore, we’re taking a look at some of the most original, most iconic and most interesting blood suckers out there with the Screen Rant’s list of the 15 Best Vampire Movies Of All Time.
15. Cronos (1993)
The first feature film of Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, Cronos, is a haunting and unusual take on the vampire trope. In it, an old antiquarian, Jesús Gris (Federico Luppi), accidentally discovers an ornate 16th century mechanism. This “Cronos” device attaches itself to his body, restoring his youth, but also makes him crave blood. Meanwhile, a dying businessman sends out his ruthless nephew Angel (Ron Perlman) to find and retrieve the device at any cost. A silent witness to this dark story is antiquarian’s granddaughter, Aurora (Tamara Shanath).
Cronos may be del Toro’s first film, but many of his later movies can be traced back to it. We get to see, in their imperfect forms, the strange devices and creepy insects from Hellboy and Mimic. There’s an innocent child protagonist trapped in the grim reality, like the characters in Pan’s Labyrinth and Devil’s Backbone. And then there’s Ron Perlman who, after Cronos, went on to work with del Toro in Blade II, Pacific Rim and two Hellboy movies.
14. Martin (1977)
Martin is a horror film about a mass murderer (played by John Amplas) who targets women and drinks their blood after sedating them with narcotics. Martin claims to be a vampire. His grand-uncle Tateh Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) believes him. But Martin also denies the existence of any kind of supernatural powers. As he begins an affair with a local housewife Mrs. Santini (Elyane Nadeau), Martin has visions of being chased by a village mob. Are these real memories or mere figments of his deeply disturbed imagination?
George A. Romero may be best known for his zombie horror films, but he considers Martin to be his finest work. Filmed in 1977 for mere $80,000, Martin remains well-received by the critics. This film marked the first time Romero worked with actor and special effects guru Tom Savini. This fruitful collaboration continued in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead in 1978 and in Day of the Dead in 1985.
13. Near Dark (1987)
Co-written and directed by the Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark is a Western horror film about young Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) who gets turned into a vampire by a mysterious and beautiful Mae (Jenny Wright). He joins her family of nomads led by Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen), but remains reluctant about murdering people. The vampires grow impatient with Caleb, especially sociopathic Severen (Bill Paxton). It’s only after the vampires show an interest in Caleb’s younger sister, Sarah (Marcie Leeds), that he finally decides to confront them.
Kathryn Bigelow wanted to film a revisionist Western film. Unable to get sufficient funding, she and Eric Red decided to mix their unconventional modern-day Western with another genre ready for revision – vampire horror. Unfortunately, their film Near Dark was a box office failure. It was only later that it slowly reached the status of a cult classic.
12. Fright Night (1985)
Being a fan of old horror movies, young Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) quickly realizes that their next-door neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire hiding in plain sight. But Charley can’t make anyone believe him. When Jerry threatens him, Charley contacts Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), who used to play vampire hunters in B-movies and now hosts Charley’s favorite horror series on local TV.
Released in 1985, Fright Night is a horror comedy written and directed Tom Holland. Filmed for $7 million, Fright Night managed to become the second most profitable horror film of that year, just after the sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street. Fright Night II followed in 1988 and a remake – starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell and David Tennant – came out in 2011. Tom Holland (not to be confused with the latest Spider-Man actor, also called Tom Holland) went on to direct Child’s Play in 1988 and a Stephen King adaptation Thinner in 1996.
11. The Lost Boys (1987)
In the horror comedy The Lost Boys, vampires are the ultimate teenagers. To paraphrase the film’s tagline: they sleep all day, party all night and never grow old. Small wonder that teenager Michael (Jason Patric) its drawn to a gang of vampire bikers led by charismatic David (Kiefer Sutherland). It’s up to his younger brother Sam (Corey Haim) and his friends the Frog brothers (played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) to save Michael from being turned into a vampire.
Executive producer Richard Donner was scheduled to direct The Lost Boys, but as he moved on to direct Lethal Weapon, Joel Schumacher took his place. Released in 1987, the film did fairly well at the box office, despite mixed reviews. The Lost Boys is still fondly remembered by an entire generation of kids growing up watching horror movies on VHS.
10. Thirst (2009)
When the director of 2003 Korean revenge thriller Oldboy makes a vampire horror film, people take notice. Thirst follows Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho), a Catholic priest who, despite being popular with his parish, suffers from a crisis of faith while also being in love with his friend’s wife Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin). After he volunteers to test a new vaccine, he is accidentally turned into a vampire. At first, Sang-hyun struggles to get human blood without murdering anyone. But as he begins an affair with Tae-ju, it doesn’t take long for things to go spectacularly, horribly wrong.
In 2009 Park Chan-wook wrote, produced and directed Thirst, adapting it very from a 19th century naturalist novel Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola. Filmed as a mix of drama, horror and noir crime film, Thirst was very well received by the critics and won the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
9. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
In almost any other film, the girl from the title would be a victim. But in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, she is a vampire. Played with eerie and sinuous grace by Sheila Vand, the vampire stalks the deserted streets of the unnamed Middle-Eastern city dressed in chador, hunting and killing bad men. She crosses ways with hard-working Arash (Arash Marandi), who tries to take care of his drug addict father Hossein (Marshall Manesh). Arash slowly succumbs to a life of crime, which just might seal his fate next time he meets the vampire.
Made in California but filmed in Farsi and dubbed the “first Iranian vampire film” by the press, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is the directorial debut of Iranian-American film maker Ana Lily Amirpour. Shot in beautiful black and white cinematography, this moody and stylish film treasures its style over its story. But as its very title can attest, it isn’t completely devoid of humor.
8. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Nosferatu the Vampyre plays out not so much as a horror film, but as an eerie nightmare in which ghastly Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski) moves from Romania to the German town of Wismar, leaving dead bodies in his wake. As Dracula begins to stalk ethereally beautiful Lucy Harker (Isabelle Adjani), her husband Jonathan (Bruno Ganz) tries to escape from the Dracula’s Transylvanian castle.
Celebrated filmmaker Werner Herzog considers the 1922 silent horror Nosferatu by F.W. Murnau to be the greatest German film ever made. In the late 1970s he decided to remake it as a more faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in a way that Murnau never could due to copyrights held by Stoker’s widow. Herzog even went so far to recreate a number of iconic shots from the 1922 film. Released in 1979 under the title Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, the film did fairly well at the German box office. Since then, its reputation has only grown.
7. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a melancholic vampire hiding in his decrepit mansion in Detroit, surrounded with his inventions and musical instruments. After spending centuries inspiring musicians and scientists, he is tired and disappointed in mankind and considers committing a suicide. His immortal wife Eve (Tilda Swinton) flies in from Tangier to lift his spirits, but it’s only after her troublesome younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives from Los Angeles that the immortal couple snaps from their ennui.
Released in 2013, Only Lovers Left Alive is a supernatural drama by Jim Jarmusch. The film may seem elegiac at first, but it is in fact a mature look at the vampire couple whose love towards each other and the world around weathered centuries. Only Lovers Left Alive is sentimental without being sappy, and melancholic without being depressing. But more than anything, it is deeply human.
6. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Filmed as a fake documentary film, What We Do in the Shadows follows the hilariously mundane everyday life of four vampire roommates: Vladislav (Jermaine Clement), Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Petyr (Ben Fransham). When their would-be victim Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) gets turned into a vampire, he starts to teach them about modern life. However, he also carelessly reveals their secrets to outsiders, bringing the vampires into a conflict with a local group of werewolves.
What We Do in the Shadows is a 2014 New Zealand horror comedy. It was written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who already collaborated in 2007 on a romantic comedy Eagle vs. Shark. Clement is well-known as one half of the comedy duo Flight of the Conchords along with Bret McKenzie, with whom he appeared in the HBO comedy series of the same name.
5. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
One of the best things about From Dusk Till Dawn – aside of Salma Hayek’s Santánico Pandemonium dance – is the effortless way it changes its genre midway through. Written by Quentin Tarantino, From Dusk Till Dawn starts off as a violent crime film about bank robbers Seth and Richie Gecko (played by George Clooney and Tarantino himself), who, on the run to Mexico, kidnap the family of pastor Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel). They stop by the isolated strip joint to meet their contact, only to realize that all of the bar’s patrons are vampires.
Director Robert Rodriguez makes From Dusk Till Dawn gloriously over-the-top. His vampires are hideous monstrosities and their deaths are enjoyably gory. Special effects artist Tom Savini, known for his work on George A. Romero’s horrors, appears in a minor role. Danny Trejo plays a character who promptly gets killed, as his characters often do. Cheech Marin – of Cheech & Chong fame – makes an appearance in three different roles. B-movie horrors don’t get much more entertaining than this.
4. Horror of Dracula (1958)
Christopher Lee’s Count Dracula appears in the 1958 Hammer horror film Horror of Dracula for only about ten minutes, but that’s enough for him to own the entire film. With his deep voice and imposing appearance, his is the only Dracula to ever come close to the one played by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 version of the film. Dracula’s opponent Dr. Van Helsing is here played with steely gaze and quiet manner by the veteran actor Peter Cushing, a real life friend of Lee’s.
British production company Hammer Films dominated the horror film market throughout the 1960s. Filmed in glorious Technicolor, their horror films were usually opulent and stylish, which belied their low budget. Directed by Terrence Fisher, Horror of Dracula was an international success, leading to eight sequels. Christopher Lee appeared in six of them and embarked on a life-long career of playing movie villains.
3. Dracula (1931)
Even people who never saw the 1931 version of Dracula know of Bela Lugosi’s performance as the titular villain. It’s easy to make fun of his thick Hungarian accent and exaggerated manners, but there’s a certain charisma to Lugosi’s Dracula, who truly seems like a man out of time and place. For better or worse, this particular version of the infamous vampire count has been immortalized in our pop culture.
Dracula was directed by Tod Browning, a veteran Hollywood filmmaker even in those early days of Hollywood. Browning was heavily inspired by German Expressionist cinema of the 1920s. Critically acclaimed and commercially successful, Dracula helped usher in the first great era of the Hollywood horror films, leading to such Universal Horror classics as Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Black Cat and The Wolf Man. Browning used his newly gained clout to film his passion project – a horror film about a carnival sideshow starring performers with real deformities. The resulting Freaks proved so shocking, it pretty much ended his career.
2. Let the Right One In (2008)
Dark, sweet and deeply unsettling, Let the Right One In is a disturbing coming-of-age story following 11-year old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), whose parents recently divorced and who is regularly bullied in school. One night he meets mysterious Eli (Lina Leandersson), who just moved in the neighborhood. But Eli is a vampire whose old servant Håkan (Per Ragnar) commits grisly murders to feed her human blood.
Let the Right One In (originally titled Låt den rätte komma in) is the Swedish horror drama directed by Tomas Alfredson in 2008. The film is based on the 2004 novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also adapted it into a screenplay. The film was awarded at numerous film festivals and received praises from the US reviewers. In 2010, Hammer Films released an American remake under the title Let Me In. It was directed by Matt Reeves (who previously worked on Cloverfield) and featured Chloë Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee in lead roles.
1. Nosferatu (1922)
We’re so used to seeing the vampire as a charismatic predator that the monster in F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu seems silly and repulsing. With his bulging eyes and ferret-like teeth, there’s nothing appealing about Max Schreck’s count Orlok. He’s a parasite who wields dark magic to spread death and misery.
Originally titled Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, the movie changes names and locations, but there’s no doubt that it is an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. Stoker’s widow wasn’t fooled, either. She successfully sued the studio and demanded that all copies of Nosferatu be destroyed. Luckily, some of them survived and today, Nosferatu can be watched online for free. It’s worth mentioning that in 2000, E. Elias Merhige made an interesting meta-horror movie about filming of Nosferatu called Shadow of the Vampire. In it, F. W. Murnau (John Malkovich) hires a real vampire (Willem Dafoe) for his film, with predictably disastrous consequences.
Can you think of any other vampire movies that deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments!