Filmmakers have been making movies about vampires almost since the inception of motion pictures, and our public fascination with these creatures of the night has not yet dimmed. Throughout the decades we’ve seen vampire stories ranging from psychological dramas to comedies to all-out monstrous terrors, using these bloodsucking characters as metaphors for everything from wealth to sin to drug addiction to sexual taboos. Along the way, some truly great movies have come along. Here are our picks for the 25 greatest vampire films of all time (in chronological order).
1. NOSFERATU (1922)
F.W. Murnau’s legendary silent classic is famously a Dracula adaptation with the serial numbers filed off, but what’s lasted about this gorgeous nightmare of a movie is not its reliance on the Dracula structure. Even if you’ve never seen it you know the image of Max Schreck as the needle-fingered, wide-eyed vampire Count Orlok, and Murnau never misses an opportunity to maximize the raw power of Schreck’s performance. Even now, nearly a century after it was made, the image of Schreck simply walking into a dark bedroom at night is enough to leave you chilled.
2. DRACULA (1931)
There’s a reason you can ask almost anyone to do a Dracula impression and you’ll still usually hear Bela Lugosi‘s accented, almost otherworldly cadence, and it’s not just because a Sesame Street character picked it up and ran with it. While some viewers have come to prefer other versions of the Count—including the Spanish-language Dracula shot alongside the Lugosi version—the pure, spooky aura of Tod Browning’s original Universal Pictures adaptation still casts a strange spell. The eerie, scoreless silence; the subtle touches of spookiness lurking around the main plot; and Lugosi’s earnest power all still work all these decades later.
3. VAMPYR (1932)
Carl Theodore Dreyer’s moody masterpiece might move a little slowly for modern audiences, but if you let its shadowy world creep into your psyche just a little bit, it’ll never leave again. Shot with minimal dialogue and often nonprofessional actors (the star is the guy who funded the movie), Dreyer makes excellent use of mood-setting visuals to convey an overall tone of dread. From shots of clouds moving behind weathervanes to the way the light hits a skull to the simple, slow turning of a key in a lock, Dreyer’s film creates an atmosphere that’s very similar to a nightmare that you don’t quite understand until you’ve woken up.
4. DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936)
In the opening minutes of Dracula’s Daughter, the title character literally sets the body of her father on fire. It’s a bold statement, especially considering how much the Count would come back to Universal Pictures in later years, and the first of many daring moves in this subtly progressive sequel. Gloria Holden is mesmeric in the title role as a woman trying to free herself from her father’s curse; the lesbian overtones of the story are surprisingly progressive for their time; and the film has a lot of rather compelling things to say about being part of such a horrific legacy.
5. HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)
Tod Browning’s Dracula is a moody, quiet, understated exercise in otherworldly terror, which is why Hammer Studios’s first attempt to bring the bloodsucking Count to life runs in almost entirely the opposite direction. Horror of Dracula, the first of several films to star Christopher Lee in the title role and Peter Cushing as his nemesis, Van Helsing, is hot in all the ways that Lugosi’s Dracula is chilling. Vibrant, sexy, and led by two iconic performances, it remains a bloody good time, and inspired more than a few solid sequels.
6. LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971)
The delicate dance of ambiguous horror can backfire on a filmmaker if the audience is eager to see genuine monsters onscreen, but John Hancock’s film about a woman who retreats to a secluded country home after a traumatic event—only to find that something horrific might already be there—is an example of ambiguity going as well as it possibly can. With notes of The Turn of the Screw and Carmilla woven into its psychological terror, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is a film that manages to make you question everything while still ultimately delivering the horror goods. The scene in which the townspeople reveal the wounds on their necks remains one of the most unnerving moments in all of 1970s horror.
7. BLACULA (1972)
If you haven’t seen Blacula, you might be forgiven for thinking that the film is a joke based on its title alone, but it’s in that very concept that the first note of brilliance comes from this exploitation classic. See, “Blacula” is a joke. It’s a cruel joke told at the expense of the title character, who’s made a vampire after refusing to allow slave trading to be done in association with his proud African nation. In that way, the film is much about an African leader reclaiming his personal and national pride in modern America as it is about a bloodsucking, seductive monster, and star William Marshall makes sure you walk away feeling both.
8. THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE (1972)
If Dracula is the most-adapted vampire story ever, then the second most-adapted is Carmilla, Sheridan Le Fanu’s tale of a lesbian vampire preying on a young woman. Of all the various adaptations, though, Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride stands out as the most impactful and the most haunting. Thanks to wonderful leading performances from Maribel Martín and Alexandra Bastedo, and a series of unforgettable image choices, Aranda’s film captures both the alluring, dreamlike power of the story and the bloody eroticism of some of the best ’70s horror films.
9. GANJA & HESS (1973)
Ganja & Hess is a film that takes its time, building its own pace and thematic weight brick by brick until it’s finally ready to unleash the full horror of its story. At its core, Bill Gunn’s film uses vampirism as an addiction metaphor, telling the story of the title characters—played by the incredible Marlene Clark and Duane Jones, who is best known for his role as Ben in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead—with patient, concentrated emotional energy. It’s a film capable of being so laid back at times that you almost forget the horror is about to hit, then when it does it’s an unforgettable explosion of brutality, sin, and raw acting power.
10. NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979)
The image of Max Schreck as the pale, pointy-eared monster known as Count Orlok was an indelible piece of pop culture for decades before Werner Herzog decided it was worth picking up again for his own purposes, and against all odds Herzog managed to produce a second all-out classic using Schreck and director F.W. Murnau’s core cinematic concepts and pushing them just a bit further. This Nosferatu is a little sexier, a little more subtle, and propelled by magnificent performances from Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, and Bruno Ganz. Plus it’s got pitch-perfect Herzog dialogue, including lines like “Time is an abyss profound as a thousand nights.”
11. THE HUNGER (1983)
The Hunger is one of the sexiest, most stylish vampire films ever made. It’s so distinct in its costuming, pacing, and cinematography that there’s a temptation to place style over substance when talking about Tony Scott’s dark romance. But look beyond the beautiful visuals and you’ll see that Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon are actually weaving a devastatingly beautiful tale of fading love, regret, and loss. It’s a story about an eternally young woman who would rather hide her past away than confront it, and it’s that thematic core that takes the film from sexy supernatural drama to all-out horror in the final minutes.
12. FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)
Just as the Hammer Dracula films took everything pop culture had learned about vampires from the 1920s onward and poured it into films made for a new audience, Fright Night took everything pop culture had learned about vampires since the Hammer era and poured it into one endlessly entertaining movie about the vampire next door. It’s basically a film about a kid who has grown up watching all of those vampire movies on television, only to find that a creature from one of them has walked off the screen and into his life. It’s got all the things you want from a classic period vampire flick—a little comedy, a little seduction, some amazing creature effects, even a washed up vampire hunter character—but it puts them all in the house next door to great effect. It also has Chris Sarandon, and honestly what more do you need?
13. THE LOST BOYS (1987)
Lots of vampire stories focus on the monster entering an otherwise peaceful community and slowly consuming. The Lost Boys, directed with wit and visual power by the late Joel Schumacher, flips that convention to instead tell the story of a family who moves to a seemingly peaceful beach town, only to find that the monsters are actually sort of running the place. The result is a film that’s funny, fierce, and a perfect metaphor for the often horrifying challenges of adolescence. Plus, it’s the film that features the internet’s favorite saxophone player.
14. NEAR DARK (1987)
The legend of the vampire is so cemented in popular culture that it can function as a kind of shorthand for just about any viewer, which means some of the best films in the subgenre are the ones that take it as a given that you know the basic rules, then go out of their way to reinvent them. Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark is a masterclass in vampiric reinvention. You know the basic idea, the movie knows you know, and so you’re plunged immediately into a dark Western dreamscape where a lonely young man is pulled into a world of hyperviolent predation lurking just beneath the sleepy surface of the land he thought he knew. Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen give all-time great performances, and the film still packs some of the most memorable visuals any vampire movie has ever delivered.
15. VAMPIRE’S KISS (1989)
Many of the greatest vampire stories ever told lean heavily on the metaphor of aristocracy as vampirism, of the upper class literally and figuratively sucking the life out lower classes. So it’s no surprise that in the 1980s someone had the idea to take that metaphor and apply to rich single white dudes living the executive life in New York City. Vampire’s Kiss, led by Nicolas Cage in one of the all-time great scenery-chewing Cage performances, is about both the sneering apathy of the wealthy in 1980s America and about the scourge of toxic masculinity in office spaces across the country, all with a black comedy twist. And if that doesn’t do it for you, it’s got Cage reciting the alphabet like a lunatic.
16. BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992)
The last Dracula adaptation on this list is one that hoped to take the familiar pop cultural aura of Bram Stoker’s story and twist it in ways no one had ever seen on the big screen before, and the result is what might be the least subtle Dracula adaptation ever made—we mean that in a very good way. Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the Count (played with relentless intensity by Gary Oldman) is soaked through with the kind of voracious appetites the legendary vampire himself would appreciate. This film is hungry for sex, hungry for stylized violence, hungry for lavish costumes, hungry for practical effects, for accents, for melodrama, for all of it. It’s a film that invites you to drink deep, and the result is something unforgettable.
17. CRONOS (1993)
Guillermo del Toro’s feature directorial debut is already packed with many of his eventual hallmarks. The story of an antiques dealer who stumbles upon a mysterious device that induces vampirism, it’s packed with memorable visual choices, a beautiful design for the central McGuffin, and of course, aching sympathy and even love for the central monster. In del Toro’s hands, the legend of the vampire becomes a powerful, singular meditation on faith, love, and mortality that only he could deliver.
18. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994)
The first film adaptation of Anne Rice’s legendary Vampire Chronicles novels remains a classic thanks to Neil Jordan’s sumptuous direction and blistering lead performances from Tom Cruise (who Rice famously thought was miscast until she saw the film), Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, and Antonio Banderas. Rice’s stories often focus on the existential dread not of the humans surrounding the vampire, but of the vampire itself, living as an outsider in a world they once thought they understood. Jordan’s film is thick with the emotional and thematic weight of that metaphor, but he and Cruise also ensure that the narrative around it never stops being a blast to watch.
19. THE ADDICTION (1995)
Abel Ferrara’s black-and-white film about a graduate student who becomes a vampire is a masterclass in how to absolutely pack 90 minutes of genre filmmaking with meaning while never letting go of the horror. Lili Taylor is stunning in the lead role, holding our eyes as Ferrara builds out the metaphors of the titular addiction, the philosophical underpinnings of each decision that drives the plot, and the slow-burn build to a literal blood feast at the end. It’s a gritty, visceral gem of a film with a crystal clear understanding of what it wants to do with the vampire myth.
20. BLADE (1998)
Blade is a film that begins with a shower system in an underground club raining blood down on dozens of dancing bodies, and that’s pretty much all it needs to make this list. Seriously, though, Stephen Norrington’s big-screen version of the Marvel Comics character of the same name, played with undeniable swagger by Wesley Snipes, is a supernatural action film that also manages to get vampires right. They could be disposable monsters for Blade to swipe at. Instead, they become a diverse array of characters who are often frightening, sometimes sympathetic, and always compelling.
21. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)
“What if you were the one who got to be close to a vampire?” was done before Let The Right One In, but it was never done so beautifully before Tomas Alfredson’s film about a lonely boy and his budding friendship with a strange new neighbor. From the way the camera sits, often distantly, to watch a child on a playground alone to the way the film is able to pivot from emotionally devastating scenes of isolation to sudden explosions of violence, it’s a masterclass in tone, pacing, and feeling that’s often as heartwarming as it is harrowing.
22. THIRST (2009)
No one on Earth shoots violence quite like Park Chan-wook, which means no one has ever made a vampire film quite as brutal and unpredictable as Thirst. But, as with all of his films, the violence is only part of the story. With the thematic weight of sin at the heart of this story of a priest who indulges in an affair around the same time as he’s indulging his thirst for blood, Chan-wook anchors the film in the beautiful performances given by Song Kang-ho and Kim Ok-bin (credited here as Kim Ok-vin) to deliver a tragic, often strangely funny, tale of love gone wrong. The final act of this film is one of the most powerful and brutal of any vampire story you’re ever likely to see.
23. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013)
Leave it to Jim Jarmusch to deliver one of the most straightforwardly gorgeous, deceptively simple takes on vampirism as loneliness, even when it’s the story of who you get to share that loneliness with. Starring the relentlessly bewitching duo of Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, with unforgettable work by the great John Hurt thrown in for good measure, Only Lovers Left Alive works as an intimate, perfectly focused study of eternal love amid a changing world that’s passed you by.
24. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014)
The prevalence of vampire stories across pop culture means that spoofs were always inevitable, and the popularity of mockumentaries means that someone was probably bound to do one like this eventually. What sets What We Do in the Shadows apart, and takes it beyond its goofy premise into the realm of classics, is the sense of sincerity that hovers over the whole thing. The film doesn’t attempt to poke holes in vampire tropes we love, and it earnestly avoids any sense of “Isn’t this stupid?” mean-spiritedness. There’s something so genuine about the whole thing, and that makes everything from the performances to the plot work so much better as not just a good comedy, but a good vampire movie, full stop. (We’d be remiss not to make mention of its TV series spinoff, which follows a different group of vampires living in New York.)
25. A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)
Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an unnerving, sensuous dream of light and shadow, anchored by a spellbinding performance from Sheila Vand in the title role. Rather than attempt to anchor her film to a clear sense of time and place, Amirpour’s tale of a lonely vampire prowling a fictional city instead exists in its own, unmoored bubble, like a vampire who’s forgotten how old they are or how far they’ve wondered. The result is a film that’s as magical as it is unsettling—a fairy tale with fangs.