VIDEO: From Adam Sandler to Bela Lugosi, 13 Actors Who Brought Dracula to Life
Hotel Transylvania 2 topped the box office last week, and that meant yet another victory for one of cinema’s biggest-ever stars: Count Dracula.
The animated sequel has Adam Sandler once again voicing the most famous vampire in pop culture history, but it’s just the most recent iteration of the character Bram Stoker created in his 1897 horror novel. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Dracula is the most-portrayed character ever in the history of cinema. (Take that, Sherlock Holmes.)
Starting with his first official appearance in a film in 1931 – played by Bela Lugosi, who’d forever be associated with the role – Dracula has been played by some well-known actors who have each tried to put their own spin on the famed bloodsucker. He’s a list of some of the most famous.
1. Max Shreck in Nosferatu (1922)
No, Lugosi is not technically the first actor to play Dracula onscreen, but because the producers of this German silent film didn’t obtain the rights to the novel Dracula, the character became Count Orlok. Stoker’s estate sued the filmmakers anyway, but Nosferatu has since become a horror classic, thanks in great part to Schreck’s performance as the ghastly, pseudo-Dracula character. Just watch the clip. Almost a hundred years later, it’s still unnerving to watch Schreck onscreen.
2. Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931)
Lugosi’s performance as Dracula helped define a lot of what we today think of as traditional vampire traits: a debonair demeanor, a stern but handsome face and, of course, that accent. Lugosi, who himself was born in Transylvania, starred in a stage production of Dracula before the movie and would go on to reprise the role in less serious contexts such as Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
3. Carlos Villaréas in Dracula (1931)
Lugosi might be the one forever associated with the role, but it’s worth noting that Spanish actor Carlos Villaréas played Dracula in a Spanish-language adaptation of the novel that was filmed on the same set as the Lugosi version – at the same time, after production on the English version finished for the day. This October, both 1931 Dracula films are screening as part of a double feature presented by Turner Classic Movies.
4. John Carradine in House of Dracula (1945)
The patriarch to the Carradine family of Hollywood actors, John Carradine played Dracula as a gaunt and otherworldly creature instead of re-creating Lugosi’s darkly beguiling version of the character. Carradine would reprise the role several times, including the 1966 head-scratcher Billy the Kid Versus Dracula.
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5. Christopher Lee in Dracula (1958)
Lee had an impressive filmography – 278 credits, and roles as varied as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings movies and the Bond villain Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun – but he played Dracula in 11 different features. Especially in the original, Lee performs the role with relish, alternating between charming and terrifying in the blink of an eye. Lee would later claim he reprised the role only under protest, telling John Landis in his book Monsters in Movies that the president of Hammer Films would guilt him into appearing in subsequent movies by pointing out how many studio employees he’d put out of work by refusing yet another go-around as the Count.
6. Udo Kier in Blood for Dracula (1974)
After producing Fresh for Frankenstein in 1973, Andy Warhol followed it up with this sequel, which features Kier as a version of Dracula on the prowl for nubile virgins but unable to find any in the oversexed part of Italy to which he’s traveled. Kier camps it up as Dracula, and overall the movie aims to be more funny and sexy than outright scary.
7. Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Wenor Herzog’s remake of the original Nosferatu calls the character Dracula, not Count Orlok, but retains the nightmarish look of Max Shreck’s original. He’s no tall, dark and handsome aristocrat here but a bald, big-eyed, fanged nightmare. Thanks in part to Kinski’s portrayal of Dracula as lonely and tortured by his immortality, this version manages to be touching and beautiful in addition to being scary.
8. George Hamilton in Love at First Bite (1979)
Hamilton plays the Count as handsome and charming but also clueless as he attempts to navigate life in late-’70s N.Y.C. The tagline “Your favorite pain in the neck is about to bite your funny bone!” might make us groan now, but the Love at First Bite isn’t a bad film – and at the time was a new take on a story that had been told far too seriously for too long. Plus, it’s one of the few versions where Dracula gets the girl in the end.
9. Frank Langella in Dracula (1979)
Clearly 1979 was a big year for Dracula, but Langella similarly brings something extra special to his version of Dracula, whom he plays as a quasi-romantic hero. It should also be noted that one of Langella’s most underrated roles was in Masters of the Universe, in which he (similarly) played Skeletor with more flair than the role deserved.
10. Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
One of the most famous adaptations to tie Dracula’s story into that of Vlad the Impaler, the real-life historical figure that helped inspire Stoker to create the character, this Academy Award-winning film features Gary Oldman as the Count. He nails the performance both when the character looks like a half-dead geezer and when he looks like a handsome seducer. In fact, he succeeded with what might have been the most demanding version of the character ever committed to the silver screen.
11. Leslie Nielsen in Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)
It’s Mel Brooks directing Leslie Nielsen as the Count. That sentence right there should be enough to tell you everything about this film – and whether it’s up your alley.
12. Dominic Purcell in Blade: Trinity (2004)
Before comic book movies were everywhere, Wesley Snipes was fighting vampires in the adaptations of the Marvel comics series of the same name. And in the third edition, Blade takes on Drake (a.k.a. Dracula), played by Purcell as as a hunky, muscular martial artist capable of ninja-like acrobatic attacks – because, you know, comic book movie.
13. Adam Sandler in Hotel Transylvania (2012)
The first Hotel Transylvania became a hit because it wasn’t actually a vampire movie. It was a family movie, and mapping paternal concern onto one of cinema’s greatest supernatural villains worked, against all odds. Back in the days of Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, had anyone predicted that Sandler would one day be voicing the softer side of Dracula in a hit movie and a sequel, they would’ve been scoffed at, and yet
Honorable mention: Morgan Freeman on The Electric Company
This list focused on cinematic portrayals of Dracula – yes, we remember that one episode of Buffy too – but if we had to include just one TV portrayal of the Count that’s especially worth pointing out in the “Yeah, this happened,” sense, the actor who deserves it is Freeman, who portrayed Dracula on the educational series The Electric Company. And he sings. Like a vampire. It’s funny. Why aren’t there more singing Draculas, anyway?