One of the most frightening and influential characters in the entirety of Western literature, the eponymous count of Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror masterpiece has become a global icon, taking the role of villain, anti-hero, or protagonist in a near innumerable number of works across a myriad of mediums.
Though the granddaddy of all vampires has featured in many filmic adaptations over the years, there are a handful of performances that stand fangs and shoulders above the rest. Here are the Top Five Count Dracula performances of all time.
5. Frank Langella in Dracula (1979)
After receiving a Tony nomination for his role as the count in the Broadway revival Dracula, Langella was asked to reprise his role for John Badham directed film. Though he had qualms about donning the cape and fangs for the big screen, Langella took the role when he was told he’d star opposite Laurence Olivier’s Van Helsing. Though only performing modestly at the box-office and garnering mixed reviews, Langella’s performance, in which he tempered the count’s innate monstrosity with a tormented romantic side, was universally praised.
4. Max Schreck in Nosferatu (1922)
Schreck’s masterful performance as the grotesque Count Orlok—the studio couldn’t secure the rights for Bram Stoker’s novel—still scares audiences to this day, despite the film being nearly a century old. His rigid movements, terror-inducing eyes, and general ghoulishness have sustained F.W. Murnau’s German Expressionist masterpiece, keeping it fresh even after all these years.
3. Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Though many actors have tried to imbue Dracula with a quantum of humanity, Gary Oldman is the first actor to make him a sympathetic character. Oldman plays the count as widower tortured by his immortality. By rending away any campiness in the character, Oldman helped to revitalize the character and make him simultaneously terrifying and pitiful in Francis Ford Coppola’s big budget flick.
2. Christopher Lee in Horror of Dracula (1958)
Part of the “Hammer Horror” series, Horror of Dracula was the gory, low-budget genre film that could. Christopher Lee didn’t only look and sound the part with a six-foot frame and cut-glass aristocratic accent, his terrifying mania and animalist rage set him apart from the classic gentile count.
1. Bella Lugosi in Dracula (1931)
The man who will forever be known as THE Count Dracula, Bella Lugosi set the standard with his performance in 1931’s Dracula. Everything from his look, to his accent, to his perfectly polished mannerisms have been incorporated in to Dracula identity. This is the performance you think of when you think Dracula.