There’s something seductive and thrilling about bloodsucking vampires. The idea of an undead creature that feeds on human life source has been around for millennia – and it’s taken to the big screen with effortless gliding elegance.
The Origins of Vampire Cinema
The first vampire film dates back to the silent era of cinema, with the 1922 release of “Nosferatu.” This German production, directed by F.W. Murnau, was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and played a massive role in establishing the vampire as a cinematic figure. The film was a critical and commercial success, and its influence can still be felt in modern vampire movies today.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, several other vampire films were produced, but it wasn’t until the 1931 release of “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi that vampire films truly took off. This film cemented Lugosi’s status as a horror icon and set the standard for vampire movies to come.
As the horror genre began to flourish, vampires became a popular subject for moviegoers. As a result, the 1950s and 1960s saw an explosion in vampire movies, with iconic films like “Horror of Dracula” and “Black Sunday” capturing audiences worldwide. These films often featured gothic settings, elaborate costumes, and melodramatic performances, creating a distinct style that would become synonymous with vampire cinema.
The Evolution of Vampire Tropes in Film
The depiction of vampires experienced a significant shift over time, with filmmakers exploring various facets of the vampire mythos. The brooding, sophisticated vampire king of earlier films was replaced with more unconventional interpretations in many later movies.
These changes became more apparent from the late 20th century to the present day, with prominent movies like “The Lost Boys,” “Blade,” “Let the Right One In,” and “Only Lovers Left Alive” reimagining the vampire archetype and transcending the traditional conventions of the genre. These films often featured complex characters, unique visual styles, and innovative storytelling techniques, pushing the boundaries of what a vampire movie could be.
Another significant development in vampire cinema was the introduction of female vampires as protagonists. Films like “Near Dark” and “The Hunger” featured female vampires as complex, multi-dimensional characters, challenging the traditional portrayal of vampires as male villains or love interests.
Our list of must-watch vampire films include everything from classic gothic horror to unique takes on the genre, including, yep, those sparkly vegetarian ones. They explore themes of mortality, power, and desire…
Of course the list had to include Nosferatu. It’s one of the earliest vampire films and an absolute classic. Made in 1922, Nosferatu is a silent horror film about a vampire Count who terrorizes a small German town. It’s an unofficial adaptation of Dracula, with contributions of its own to vampire lore – namely, that vampires can go out in the sunlight. Nosferatu is somewhat of an inhuman monster really, no sophisticated sensual types here.
Another utter classic of the vampire genre, this is the Dracula that everyone else’s is influenced by. The accent, the hair, the charm, the arched brows, the line delivery – everything. It more closely resembles Bram Stoker’s Dracula (and even more closely the stage adaptation) than Nosferatu, with a charismatic, refined man. Bela Lugosi is an icon because of his performance in this film, but struggled to break out of the typecasting.
Let the Right One In (2008)
A Swedish horror film about two lonely kids who become friends. One of them is an unwanted, bullied pre-teen, and the other is a 12 year-old vampire (they’ve been 12 for a very long time). It’s a unique take on the vampire genre and it’s kind of bleak, but beautiful. Let the Right One in has that gritty, scandinavian noir feel to it, but there’s no detective coming to figure out what happened. If you can’t get enough of the story, there’s an American remake too, as well as a TV series.
Interview with the Vampire (1994)
One of the first iterations of a sympathetic vampire, Interview with the Vampire sees melancholic Louis get turned by the ostentatious Lestat – and boy is he miserable about it. He doesn’t want to be a killer. Made in 1994, it holds up beautifully. Obviously the cast is incredible too, with Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas and more making up top billing. There are some grisly scenes, though a seasoned horror fan won’t find anything to turn the stomach.
The Lost Boys (1987)
The Lost Boys is a horror-comedy about two brothers who move to a new town and discover that it’s inhabited by vampires (and they’re the coolest gang). If you love / are nostalgic for the 80s, this is the vampire film to watch. It has the kid-hero vibe, the fashion (the hair!) and the soundtrack – as well as icons Kiefer Sutherland and Corey Haim. It often favours aesthetics over plot and substance, but it’s pretty slick and funny – perfect if you’re after an entertaining watch.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Only Lovers Left Alive is a slow-paced but beautifully shot film that explores the mundanity of eternal life. It’s a moody romance film about two effortlessly cool vampires who have been in love for centuries – Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. He’s depressed about the state of the world, she comes to rescue him. Her reckless sister arrives too – and things get testy. It’s arty, quietly entertaining and atmospheric. OLLA even features John Hurt as the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe.
What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
What We Do in the Shadows is a hilarious mockumentary about a group of vampire roommates who live together in New Zealand. A deadpan parody, it’s written and directed by Taika Watiti and Jemaine Clement (who also star). It’s absurd, but definitely a breath of fresh air for the genre. It’s been overtaken somewhat by its TV spin off (same concept, different characters and location) but What We Do in the Shadows is still a must-watch.
Near Dark (1987)
Fancy a western spin on a vampire flick? Near Dark is a horror-western about a young man who is turned by a beautiful young woman from a group of nomadic vampires. It’s gritty and violent, and genuinely scary at some points. It didn’t get great reviews at the time, but has since become a cult classic. The cast features three of the Aliens cast too – Bill Paxton (who steals the show as a biker vampire), Jenette Goldstein and Lance Henrikson.
The Hunger (1983)
David Bowie as a vampire? Yes please. A lesbian sex scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon? Come on. The Hunger is a visually stunning story where David Bowie suddenly starts aging rapidly (awful news). They enlist Susan (a medical professional) to help. It’s arty and erotic, beautifully acted by a beautiful cast.
A Marvel film before the all encompassing MCU, Blade is a superhero movie – except the superhero is part vampire, part human. On the surface it’s fun, dumb and highly entertaining, but it also mixes real world issues in with the fantasy of vampirism. Check out this essay (after you’ve watched it) for a great breakdown.
A action-horror film about that classic war between vampires and werewolves. The beautiful Kate Beckinsale plays orphaned vampire and trained killer Selene (clad in latex, of course) who’s trying to save a human doctor from the clutches of the Lycans and (specifically) Michael Sheen. If you’re looking for arty or scary, this is not the film for you. But it’s still a fun and highly entertaining film with a surprisingly great cast.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel makes Dracula a sympathetic character and a love interest. He’s still a monstrous creature, but he’s a charming dandy too. Coppola wanted this movie to feel like an “erotic nightmare” and he nailed it. It’s at once old Hollywood and hilariously gory, epicly romantic and a bit silly. Oldman is somewhat of an icon in the role.
A South Korean film about a priest who becomes a vampire after a failed medical experiment, Thirst definitely errs on the side of horror. Sang-Hyun volunteers to be infected with a virus, but it leaves him with an intense need for blood and sex – not exactly Christian. He’s a hospital visitor, so he can satisfy the blood-lust with little harm, but the sex? How about an affair with a sick man’s wife? Directed by Park Chan-Wook, it’s darkly funny, sexy and disturbing.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
The third film in Hammer horror Dracula series, Dracula: Prince of Darkness sees a group of travelers lured to Dracula’s castle.It’s peak Hammer Horror. Christopher Lee as Dracula barely utters a word – he just hisses – his is a very sinister, animalistic vampire. It’s generally considered the scariest version of Dracula on film. POD is a story of good vs evil that explores the carnal desires that have been repressed by society.
The Addiction (1995)
The clue is in the name with this one. The Addiction draws the comparison between vampirism and drug addiction. It’s shot in black and white, and it follows Kathleen, an innocent philosophy student who becomes a vampire. Genuinely quite original, it’s serious but strange – and even features a cameo from Christopher Walken as an unforgettable vamp. It verges on pretentious (hello, philosophy student) but is balanced by the horror element.
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Vampires and comedy don’t always go together, but when they do, they really do. Shadow of the Vampire is about the making of Nosferatu, but with a twist. The actor playing the vampire is a REAL vampire! Featuring John Malkovich as director FW Murnau who is obsessed with making an authentic vampire film, and Willam Dafoe as a “method actor” who only appears at night.
A Mexican film by Guillermo del Toro (his first, actually!), Cronos is about an antique dealer who discovers an ancient device – it looks like a golden scarab – that grants eternal life but also, very inconveniently, turns him into a vampire. It’s a horror, combined with del Toro’s (now signature) stylistic magical realism.
Fright Night (1985)
A horror-comedy that as funny as it is scary, Fright Night is about a teenager who starts to suspect that his neighbor is a vampire (it’s the screaming that does it). When the police aren’t convinced, Charley recruits a has-been horror actor to help, Van Helsing style. It’s a little cheesy, a little campy, but also genuinely terrifying at times. The 2011 remake is also worth a look!
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Another adaptation of Dracula, but this one is perpetually haunted by Murnau’s Nosferatu. Tonally serious, visually stunning and super eerie, Werner Herzog’s take shows how much of a film lover he is. It’s a bit more bizarre and a bit more explicit than Nosferatu, but no less of a masterpiece. With a chilling performance from Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula, and an ethereal one from Isabelle Adjani – it’s a must watch for any vampire film lover.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night marries vampire mythology with the stylistic elements of an independent arthouse film. It sees a skateboarding vampire prey on bad men who – we think – deserve to die. It’s filmed in black and white and it’s set in Iran, so our protagonist wears a chador that gives major cape vibes. This film has atmospheric visuals and a unique take on the vampire figure, earning it critical acclaim and a devoted following.
Okay – hear me out. Whether you like Twilight or not, it’s a cultural phenomenon. Sure, the main relationship in the story is not healthy (decidedly creepy, actually) and the only actual good guy is Bella’s dad (which is debatable if I’m honest) and Stephanie Meyer made the vampires sparkly and – I could go on – but if you just stick to the first film, it’s a perfectly entertaining guilty pleasure.
Dracula Untold (2014)
A film that was not well liked by the critics when it was released, but over the years has become loved. Dracula Untold is a retelling of the Dracula legend, ie. the origin story of the famous vampire. It gives the monster a sympathetic background – even more so than Coppola’s version. It’s an action-packed film with great visuals and a great performance from Luke Evans as Dracula.
Ganja & Hess (1973)
Ganja & Hess is a cult classic. It’s about an anthropologist who becomes a vampire after being stabbed with a cursed African artifact. Its horror, blaxploitation, and art house all rolled into one. It’s another film that wasn’t well loved on release – but that was down to the racism of US reviewers at the time who quite frankly didn’t really care (the film had received a highly favourable reception at Cannes film festival). Bill Gunn (the writer and director) wrote a searing letter about reviewers’ racism – it’s worth a read on it’s own.
A vampire flick from the guy who directed Interview, Byzantium has a very different feel. It’s elegant and grown up, filled with melancholy. It follows a mother and daughter (of sorts) who are vampires and must flee from a brotherhood of vampires who want to kill them. There’s still violence and blood, but set against a background of isolation and sadness. Saoirse Roman and Gemma Arterton are mesmerising.
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
If you can get past the fact that Tarantino wrote and cast himself as the guy who gets to suck on Salma Hayek’s toes, then you’ll enjoy this fun vampire movie (I’m not sure I can tbh but each to his own). It sees two criminals taking a family hostage, and seeking refuge in a Mexican strip club that is run by vampires. It’s a fun and entertaining film with great performances from George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino.
The vampire genre has produced a wealth of unforgettable films that continue to captivate and terrify audiences. From the early days of cinema to the present day, filmmakers have explored the many facets of vampire mythology, creating a rich and diverse body of work that continues to push the boundaries of storytelling. So whether you prefer your vampires seductive or terrifying, there’s a film out there for everyone.