Aug 10, 2022 7:03 pm
Aug 10, 2022 12:01 am
Vampires are a cornerstone of horror cinema, arising even before Universal opened Dracula’s coffin in Hollywood’s relative infancy. Since then, we’ve seen vampires of every iteration — the glittery heartthrobs, the ugliest creatures, the prankster roommates, and countless other reinventions. There have always been vampires lurking in shadows, and there will forever be batty wings flapping under the moonlight. Our task here is to highlight the best of the best vampire movies throughout history, covering period highlights as horror movements came and went faster than Drac stepping into the sunlight.
As always, there will be personal favorites that don’t squeak their way onto this list but still deserve recognition. Tom Holland’s Fright Night is a wacky and subtextually queer delight that features grotesque '80s practical effects. Rob Stefaniuk’s Suck is a hard-rocking vampire musical featuring a bevy of rockstar cameos in a fun-filled undead tour. Other movies like The Transfiguration, Byzantium, Blood Red Sky and Blade deserve to be in the conversation when fans discuss their favorite vampire movies, and we’d love to hear some of yours! After reading our selections below, hit the comments with some vampire movies you’d rank as crowning achievements in vampire cinema. But for now, let’s take a bite out of this massive subgenre.
25. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
We’re talking about the 1992 feature starring Kristy Swanson, not the worshiped television show. Before Sarah Michelle Gellar started staking vamps on television, Swanson starred in a '90s horror comedy that favored pep rally humor over sharpened weapons. Swanson’s vibing off the bubblegum-popping cheerleader stereotypes of '90s high school comedies that never let cheer squad captains be more than ditzy love interests, let alone vampire slayers. What it represents for young girls seeing themselves as horror heroes is iconic, and its class-clown act holds up whether Luke Perry tells a levitating David Arquette to go home or Paul Reubens sells the hammiest vampire death ever. Horror’s not only for the boys anymore, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a big step in the right direction as far as the '90s were concerned.
24. Vampyr (1932)
Criterion has dubbed 1932’s Vampyr a horror classic with good reason. Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer implements what little technological advancements benefitted cinema at the time to create a black-and-white vampire mystery that operates in absurdist brush strokes. Most notably, Vampyr heavily uses shadows that maneuver with free will, giving a dreamlike state to supernatural influences. It’s no Nosferatu, but it exemplifies how vampire flicks can differentiate themselves through translucent visual effects and more ghostly disorientation even in days when techniques were limited. You can never stifle ambition, which will always find a way.
23. Bit (2019)
The “Vibe Check” on Brad Michael Elmore’s Bit passes with flying (neon) colors. Nicole Maines stars as a transgender teenage girl who moves to Los Angeles and falls in with a badass crew of vampires (run by cooler-than-everyone Diana Hopper as Duke) who do not allow men in their undead club. Elmore’s indie oozes LA’er attitudes from messaging to sexy nightlife scenes — complete with a needle drop of Starcrawler’s “I Love LA” — and boasts 10 times the style of contemporary vampire flicks with 10 times the budget. It feels authentic in thematic messages, ambitious yet wholly operating within its means, and still has some nice bloodletting for more hardcore horror fans despite execution that might favor younger audiences. A film that’s never shy about what’s on the tin and even holds its feminist message accountable is better for its slick-supportive-seductive ways.
22. Fright Night (2011)
Yes, 2011’s Fright Night remake earns an entry while the beloved 1985 original does not. Why? Because 2011’s Fright Night, starring Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, and Toni Collette, is an upgrade in fierceness and pacing, and separates its performances from the originals enough to exist without competing against its elders. There’s no comparison between Peter Vincents or Jerry Dandriges — Farrell operates like a shark smelling blood and David Tennant is the Midori-drunk Vegas showman dealing with darker demons. The '85 version’s practical effects are superior without argument, but Fright Night (2011) gets more credit everywhere else. It’s dreadfully predatory from the get-go and never relents.
Read our review of Fright Night.
21. Bloodsucking Bastards (2015)
Vampirism can represent numerous metaphors — for example, vampirism as addiction is popular — and in Bloocksucking Bastards, vampires invade office spaces. The horror comedy starring Fran Kranz and Pedro Pascal is about a sales office slowly turning into nocturnal sales agents of doom. The soul-sucking drain of cubicle life becomes quite literal because vampires can be more productive than humans who sleep, take lunch breaks, and so forth. What starts as a spooky Workaholics episode eventually reveals the satirical staying power of a Mike Judge comedy, as Bloodsucking Bastards unleashes undead corporate warfare with supply closet tools used as weapons. For the horror comedy fans in your life who love “Worksploitation” horror (exploitation flicks about day jobs), this is one cold call you should answer.
20. The Lost Boys (1987)
The Lost Boys is a Peter Pan riff with more neck biting and less innocence. It's quintessential '80s horror at a crossroads between bloody eruptions and glitter usage, infamous for its inclusion of "Sexy Sax Man." Kiefer Sutherland's gang of vampiric Santa Carla misfits ride dirt bikes and play mind tricks by making others think they're eating insects, but there's also a mean streak to The Lost Boys. Director Joel Schumacher's vision is as extra as the '80s would allow, and vampire makeup designs aim to stir frights — it's a boardwalk hangout flick with surprisingly gruesome vampire traits that audiences will never forget for its sense of over-the-top style.
19. Norway (2014)
Chances are you don’t even know Yannis Veslemes’ Norway exists — it sat around waiting for U.S. distribution from about 2014 until 2021. Maybe that’s because it’s hard to describe this Eurotrash take on vampirism about a bloodsucker who says he’ll die if he stops dancing. It’s a period piece about 1980s nightclubs and their underbellies that turns vampires into rave-loving party animals who befriend prostitutes and end up entangled in Nazi conspiracies... The music beats as loud as Veslemes’ artistic ambitions since sequences are treated like glitzy music video segments where blood can be any vibrant color. Everything from miniatures to Michel Gondry-esque daydreams thrive. I promise you will never see a groovier, more fleet-of-foot vampire hallucination than Norway.
18. Cronos (1993)
Guillermo del Toro’s debut is as del Toro as they come. Cronos is an alternative vampire movie about a golden insect mechanism, a scarab that grants eternal life, and vampirism in its least traditional forms. You’ll glimpse a baby-faced Ron Perlman acting as a mob goomba, and minimal bloodsucking except for del Toro’s entire impetus for writing the story of Cronos — his lead character licking nosebleed juice off a bathroom floor like an addict. It’s del Toro’s way of encountering the curse of vampirism, which pivots into more curiosity about everlasting life than how someone consumes fresh blood to stay alive. You can see del Toro evolves his passion for humanizing monsters from Cronos onward and channels his rebellious spirit when bucking genre conformity.
17. Blade II (2002)
One or two more slots on this list and Wesley Snipes’ first Blade movie would appear. As is, Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II represents the comic book franchise here as a rare sequel that outshines its original. Del Toro’s flourishes are an upgrade from industrial blood rave aesthetics since landscapes are more colorful, vampires become terrifying creatures, and mercenaries gun their way through monstrosities using high-tech weapons. Blade II benefits from del Toro’s characterization of the macabre and adoration of practical effects, all of which are precursors to later del Toro works like Hellboy and Crimson Peak — without losing a drop of Snipes’ bad-mama-jamma Blade attitude.
16. Stake Land (2010)
The feral intensity of Stake Land can feel like a direct response to Twilight, as this film was released only about two years after the infamous young adult vampire romance. Jim Mickle and co-writer Nick Damici (who also stars) approach vampires with an apocalyptic lens, where survivors now wander infested territories trying to find safe havens like in Zombieland — except trade humor for beastly tension. Damici’s playing a vampire hunter who takes a mentee under his wing, teaching him tricks while navigating vampire hordes who thrash, gnash, and rip at throats. Dystopian wasteland vibes are paramount, and action is relentless, making Stake Land one of the more effective responses to vampires as love interests in a post-Twilight world.
15. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Only Lovers Left Alive is too cool for school as Jim Jarmusch takes on vampirism with a carefree indie rock attitude. Hiddleston fits the role of a reclusive shut-in with the grace of a sedated Joey Ramone, while Swinton’s go-with-the-flow grace is intoxicating. The additions of Mia Wasikowska and Anton Yelchin inject a bit of chaos into bloodsuckers who embrace moody, musical hangout chemistry, while Jarmusch uses his film to equate vampirism to drug addiction and humanity’s intensifying corruption. It’s rebellious, punk-rock, and hipster without the stigmatic pretension, driven by tortured yet enviable performances that even pull off wearing sunglasses at night.
Read our review of Only Lovers Left Alive.
14. 30 Days of Night (2007)
In the conversation of “Best Comic Book Adaptations,” you best not forget David Slade’s 30 Days of Night. Josh Hartnett and Melissa George anchor a cast of Alaskan townsfolk submerged in darkness for 30 days and fending off a roving vampire gang. Danny Huston epitomizes vampires as creatures worth fearing, as primal and animalistic as horror fans have encountered. 30 Days of Night is magnificently monster-forward and never for a second lets audiences catch their breath, hinged on a glorious turning point in horror cinema where attitudes were still bleak as midnight, yet gore-heaviness evolved from mindless to punctual. Hence the graphic nature of 30 Days of Night, where vampire mercilessness is an accent to the already frigidly suspenseful survival scenario.
Read our review of 30 Days of Night.
13. Ganja & Hess (1973)
Bill Gunn’s experimental vampire romance stands out for multiple reasons, first because it’s one of the only Black vampire films — especially in 1973. Duane Jones and Marlene Clark play lovers united by bloodlust once the former turns the latter, as Gunn utilizes essences of the Black experience to convey the imprisonment of vampirism. Sam Waymon’s score provides this ritualistic drum-beating that’s sometimes drowned out by vocal screams of anguish, which becomes a disorienting source of unease, even when providing a soundtrack for lovemaking scenes. Images of nooses, pools of bright red blood being lapped by humans, and this naked approach to showing vampirism as the antithesis of religion all embrace the sins of humanity with such pronounced rawness. Race, horror, and society collide in a time when vampires mainly were whitewashed European interpretations — the importance of representation strikes again.
12. Interview With the Vampire (1994)
Interview With the Vampire is a sexy, hunky, indulgent treat that starts in 1791 Spanish Louisiana and finishes with Guns N’ Roses playing over the end credits. Tom Cruise is a diabolically dapper Lestat, Brad Pitt a dreamily conflicted Louis, Christian Slater a beefcake journalist — the hunkiness of Interview is off the charts even before mentioning Antonio Banderas. Kirsten Dunst brings a supporting turn as a child stuck in a youthful body forever, confirming that the performances across the board are transformative as a vampire family bickers and feeds throughout decades. There are oodles of presence from Louis’ extravagantly decorated plantation to New Orleans penthouses to Paris’ Théâtre des Vampires (the film was received an Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction). Plainly and confidently, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore — flamboyant, unafraid of queer subtext, and excessively ornamental down to minute details.
11. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn is a crime thriller that stealthily turns into a sleazy vampire lockbox midnighter. It’s got everything from Salma Hayek delivering a blistering dance number to overwhelming vampire numbers as Titty Twister strippers tear apart drunk patrons. What starts as an insidiously dark kidnapping scenario quickly becomes a guns-blazing horror brawler with Mexican influences and an exciting approach to monster mania. George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, and more turn to holy water balloons and jackhammer stake machines to exterminate vampires with extreme unholy violence — with an emphasis on practical effects by some of the best in the business.
Read our review of From Dusk Till Dawn.
10. Dracula (1931)
Count Dracula’s debut in Universal’s classic monster run is all about atmosphere, massive stage settings, and the gothic architecture modern vampire films don’t have the nerve to challenge. Bela Lugosi sets the Eastern European template for “I v’ant to suck your blaaahd!” types of Counts to follow, and there’s a reason. Tod Browning’s Dracula is all about rubber bat puppets, painted backgrounds, and minimal technological advancement of the '30s — yet its moods are still infinitely more fascinating than most modern vampire takes. Gothic architecture, cobwebs throughout stone castle basements, and the shadowy black-and-white wash fit Dracula’s hypnotic horrors while Lugosi uses his gaze like a tractor beam. It’s everything we could ask for in a vampire film, especially when selling vampire films beyond drained bodies and sharp teeth (at a brisk 75 minutes).
See more of the best horror movies of all time.
9. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
In 2014, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was handily any filmmaking newcomer's most accomplished horror debut. Ana Lily Amirpour's black-and-white Iranian vampire flick possesses such a colorful personality, with a standout performance from Sheila Vand. Amirpour's style blends skateboarding, indie rock, and homages to classic vampire cinema with a modern bite. Vand's loner seeks romance while stalking denizens of Bad City by night, as Amirpour marries sweet fantasies with cruel fates and spaghetti Western influences. It's a vigilante story, a tale of hopeless romantics, and has a taste for wicked men — all while Amirpour valiantly establishes herself as an eye-catching filmmaker who's since made good on such promises.
Read our review of A Girl Walks Home at Night.
8. The Hunger (1983)
In the pantheon of horny vampire flicks, Tony Scott's The Hunger — starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon — would have 3 AM Cinemax specials hotly bothered. Any vampire movie that starts with Bauhaus's "Bela Lugosi's Dead" earns immediate kudos, and it's all gravy afterward. Deneuve's killer queen promises her lovers eternal life, but as Bowie's 18th-century cellist finds out, said eternity doesn't extend to physical features as he suddenly begins an accelerated aging process. Enter Sarandon's gerontologist, and the love triangle birthed from deception and sealed with bloody kisses as hungers for sustenance or sexual pleasure run rampant. So sultry, so seductive, and so chaotic as only the late Scott brother could deliver.
7. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi spoof vampire films as spectacularly as Rob Reiner's rock n' roll mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap spoofs backstage heavy metal docs. What We Do in the Shadows is a tour through vampire cinema's history with a goofball's sense of humor that's not without exaggerated scenes of sloppy feeding habits. It's not only one of the better vampire films or even horror comedies since its release, but one of the best flat-out comedies since 2014. It's endlessly quotable, knowledgeable about its fanged subjects, and genuinely hilarious. Werewolves, not Swear Wolves!
Read our review of What We Do in the Shadows.
6. Let the Right One In (2008)
Alfredson adapts John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel by toning down horror elements and vampire conventions to stress the relationship between outcast children. 12-year-old Oskar and his neighbor Eli form a compassionate bond when Oskar’s victimization by bullies and Eli’s hidden vampirism force an unlikely connection. Society drives both children into the dark and urges them to survive by their own means, which becomes the crux of this tender and tragic love story that never subdues its nastier realities about vengeance or feeding. Let the Right One In is a tremendous vampiric achievement in terms of 2000s releases and all-timer quality.
Read our review of Let the Right One In.
5. Near Dark (1987)
Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark is an unconventional vampire western that ditches capes for rancher hats. It’s got more in common with The Texas Chain Saw family values than Count Dracula’s Transylvanian heritage and dares introduce blood transfusion as a successful counter to undead transformations. A stacked cast including Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen play vampires who strike fear when feeding on bar patrons, using their pack mentality to survive as nightwalkers prey on the unfortunate. The sunburnt southern vibes and contemporary rawhide grit are a bright atmosphere to this road trippin’ vamp tale, standing apart without sacrificing the viciousness horror fans expect.
Read our review of Near Dark.
4. Afflicted (2013)
With rankings come controversy, and placing Afflicted this high on this will certainly bring questions. Here's the point — Derek Lee and Clif Prowse's Afflicted is a feral evolution into found footage territories that blends the worlds of don't-look-down parkour action and bloodsucking salvation. Lee stars as the "afflicted" friend who's turning into a vampire while Prowse aids in his transformation, as the filmmakers use GoPro perspectives to give a ridealong experience into vampirism. Between Lee's physical performance as he contorts in agony to the high-flying acrobatics as Lee's monster flees from pursuers, Afflicted is one of the most innovative vampire flicks of the 2000s.
Read our review of Afflicted.
3. Nosferatu (1922)
The curl of Count Orlok’s talon-like fingers, his hunchback shadow ascending the staircase... Max Schreck disappears under makeup effects that never glamorize vampire afflictions. Nosferatu remains an O.G. vampire influencer that proves black-and-white, silent cinema can still deliver compelling horror tales. F. W. Murnau adapts an unauthorized iteration of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that is an embarrassment of atmospheric riches as the bushy-eyebrowed Orlok lurks from behind shadows to reveal his jagged, toothy grin. Vampires have rarely been scarier a century later — unlock your inner historian and honor your elders.
2. Thirst (2009)
Park Chan-wook's take on vampires, taboos, romance, and shame is a knockout. Characters all thirst for something, which Chan-wook explores through conventional and alternative vampire experiences. A Catholic priest turns vampire, and a disenchanted wife seeks forbidden everlasting romance in her own grasp of change — what happens next is artfully unhinged as chaos welcomes kidnappings, killings, and contemplations of eternal imprisonment. Chan-wook delivers thoughtful vampire riffage that gets dangerously creative. Ending shots in horror don't get much better than Thirst, either.
1. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Francis Ford Coppola adapts Bram Stoker’s Dracula with supreme decadence as a gothic horror creature feature that's also a sumptuous blockbuster experience. Coppola famously demanded only on-set and in-camera effects could be used, which resulted in an astonishing feast for the eyes, from werewolf costumes to projected arteries pulsating atop Winona Ryder. Gary Oldman’s bellowing command over his adversaries as Count Dracula and Anthony Hopkins’ hilariously blunt take on Van Helsing are triumphant performances — not to forget whatever accent Keanu Reeves attempts for Jonathan Harker or Tom Waits losing his mind as Renfield. Coppola preserves the spectacle nature of Old Hollywood while overblowing every facet of his Dracula production as only the '90s would allow. It doesn’t get better, nor has it ever been better, than Bram Stoker’s Dracula when it comes to vampires in cinema.
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