Long before zombies were the go-to for horror movie threats, vampires ruled the roost. In fact, vampire movies were reeled off with such regularity that they became as oversaturated as our reanimated friends are today. The past two decades haven’t seen that many of the best vampire movies being released, or at least in comparison to the heady days of Hammer.
It’s strange, because vampires are one of the most adaptable monsters you could put to celluloid. Whether they’re depicted as bloodthirsty aristocrats or out-and-out beasts, there’s a lot you can do with some bloodsuckers.
Sadly, as most of the cinema-going public witnessed for half a decade, you can also make them sparkle. Much in the same way as Michael Jackson’s Thriller had castrated the fear factor of zombies in the eighties, Twilight’s version of vampires meant that it’s been hard to take them seriously lately.
With the bad taste of bad movies slowly being washed out of our mouths, it might be time for something of a vampire movie renaissance. And with all of our excessively long lists, we have the films to evidence just that. The below isn’t in any order and we’ve tried to keep it to one movie per franchise, just to keep things interesting.
Below you’ll find a selection of the best vampire movies, some old, some new, but all definitely better than Twilight.
You can’t mention the best vampire movies without recognising where they all began. In today’s cinematic climate of CGI that cost the same as the GDP of a small Caribbean island, Nosferatu may not hold up all that well. It may actually make you titter at how dated it is.
However, for featuring a vampire design that’s been aped and tweaked for almost a century, as well as for serving as the inspiration for the basis of the most legendary vampire of them all, Nosferatu should be experienced at least once.
If you can’t imagine being able to put up with the rough edges of a movie that’s older than your great-grandparents, Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre is a surprisingly excellent remake.
2. Thirst (2009)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Released at the perfect time to act as an antidote to Twilight, Thirst is a bloody masterpiece from the mind behind Oldboy. Park Chan-wook knows how to frame a scene unlike anyone else working today, which is evidenced by Thirst looking like a moving oil painting.
Just as big on style as it is gore, Thirst is the tale of two new vampires who fall down the rabbithole of vampirism and away from their human values. It’s a love story, but it’s also a parable of religion and how low people will sink when they have power that corrupts them. One of the best vampire movies and also one of the most underrated.
3. The Lost Boys (1987)
Director: Joel Schumacher
A movie so blatantly set in the eighties that it should be shown to aliens to learn all they need to know about the decade, The Lost Boys is a gaudy but hellishly enjoyable trip down to Santa Carla.
It lacks the nuance of some of the more “thoughtful” vampire movies on this list, but it’s only when people are strange that they can really appreciate it for what it is. Did that reference work? I’m not so sure.
When a teenage boy with a bad attitude is turned into a vampire, he must try and find a solution before he is completely turned to “the dark side”. The vampire gang in The Lost Boys are an irredeemable bunch of bastards with brilliant prosthetics; surely one of the best vampire designs put to film. Despite all of this, it’s the wonderfully offbeat grandfather who steals the whole thing.
4. Martin (1978)
Director: George A. Romero
You may know him as the King of Zombies, but George A. Romero was far more than just that. He made his name off of popularising the brainless shufflers with his iconic Dead trilogy, but Romero was just as comfortable dipping his toes in other morbid affairs. Martin is the prime example of that.
Martin isn’t what you would call a conventional vampire movie as there are no bat transformations in sight. Rather, it’s about what happens when a bad person becomes a vampire, or at least believes themselves to be. It’s never set in stone whether Martin has joined the undead or not or is just fantasising, which makes the movie that much more twisty and turny.
5. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Billed as the first Iranian vampire Western (which isn’t hard to believe), A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is much more than its black and white aesthetic may let on. Produced on a micro-budget, Ana Lily Amirpour’s has a surprising amount of unsettling imagery and confrontational themes.
Dripping with style and substance, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night flips the script on the damsel in distress trope: its women have all the power here while the men are addicts, criminals, or just downright limp. It’s not a mile a minute vampire movie, but its meticulous pacing is bound to eventually please the patient.
6. 30 Days of Night (2007)
Director: David Slade
Released just before Twilight would ruin the perception of vampires for the next few years, David Slade’s 30 Days of Night showed them at their most brutal in years. The vampires in 30 Days are calculated, cold, and completely aware of their own evil nature. It’s as chilling as the Alaskan setting.
When a freezing winter blows over a small town, vampires strike when humans are at their most vulnerable. What follows is thirty days of tension as the survivors stalk around the town and avoid capture with Josh Hartnett putting in on of his last memorable big screen appearances. Don’t sleep on this one.
Curiously, Slade would go on to direct The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.
7. Stake Land (2010)
Director: Jim Mickle
An underrated post-apocalyptic movie that we often sing the praises of here at Cultured Vultures, Stake Land is a road trip through a world controlled by vampires. We join Mister and Martin as they try to eke out survival where the vampires are as varied as they are bloodthirsty.
Perhaps more in-line with their zombie cousins than the typically sophisticated portrayal of bloodsuckers, the vampires in Stake Land are vicious, primal beasts that certainly don’t glisten. It’s not the most refined of movies, but it certainly cuts a brutally beautiful vision of desolation. There’s a scene set in a barn that might leave you breathless.
Its sequel isn’t great but certainly worth a watch if you want more of the same.
8. What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Directors: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement
A definite outlier in this list of the best vampire movies, What We Do In The Shadows is, in a word, daft. As one of the better horror comedies of recent times, What We Do provides a decidedly sillier spin on the traditional depiction of vampires.
With Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi at the helm, What We Do offers laughs a minute as painfully uncool vampires try to adjust to modern life. When they sire a young vampire, they must try to teach him their ways while he teaches them his.
It’s a quote factory of a movie that you can watch over and over again, but remember: we’re Werewolves, not Swear-Wolves. You can check out more quotes by watching the TV series as well.
9. Blade II (2002)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Despite underwhelming with the critics at release, Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II was a hit with fans and arguably the best in the trilogy — there’s no arguing with it being better than Trinity, that’s for sure.
You can squabble about this or the first one being the better Blade film, though Blade II gets the nod here as its CGI holds up slightly better and the fight choreography remains on point. The showdown in the sewers is still superb.
While it may have some seriously ropey CGI these days, Wesley Snipes is still a badass with a thumping electro beat behind his bloodlust for about 90% of the movie. The design for the mutant vampires is great and reminiscent of Predator’s mouth-gaping monstrosity, but make no mistake: you’re here to watch Snipes at his best.
10. Let The Right One In (2008)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
A Swedish horror that was so good that even its American remake was also warmly received, Let The Right One In is one of the simplest but most effective vampire movies you’re ever likely to watch. It’s a straightforward tale about growing up tied up in a whole bunch of viscera.
When a bullied young boy becomes friends with a mysterious new girl in town, they develop a bond despite the girl’s affinity for blood. He reminds her of her youth (she is far older than she looks) and begins to finally live out the childhood years she missed out on. If such tender fare isn’t for you, you have a brilliant pool scene to look forward to.
11. Interview With the Vampire (1994)
Director: Neil Jordan
A film beloved by many, and not just because Brad Pitt looks like something created in a science experiment by Tumblr users. Interview With the Vampire, as you might have figured, revolves around a vampire, Louis, talking to a reporter in the modern day about this life as a vampire.
What follows is a tale of loneliness and revenge with Louis constantly at odds with the vampire who sired him, Lestat. They both have different approaches to vampirism with Louis refusing to go down the dark roads that Lestat so gleefully prances through.
Featuring a star-making performance from Kirsten Dunst, Interview With the Vampire is a classic and easily one of the best vampire movies.
12. From Dusk till Dawn (1996)
Director: Robert Rodriguez
George Clooney really should play the bad guy more often, or at the least the anti-hero. In From Dusk till Dawn, when he was still known to many as being a dashing but complex doctor on ER, he revels in the anti-hero as the smart brother in a notorious criminal duo.
When the Gecko brothers abduct a family to cross the Mexican border, they stop off at the Titty Twister: a bar that quickly becomes apparent as the nest of vampires. When Tarantino’s indulgent script lets up for a second, From Dusk becomes a breathless and pulp-y joy. You’re not meant to take it seriously, if the penis gun didn’t already convince you.
There’s also a TV adaptation, but it caught up with the movie and then dragged itself out for far too long.
13. The Hunger (1983)
Director: Tony Scott
David Bowie was as inconsistent with his acting performances as he was with his character changes. Luckily for fans of vampire movies, Bowie was pitch perfect (even if his screen time was limited) as the hyper-stylistic John, who’s the forgotten third party in a love triangle.
When John begins to age rapidly despite his vampiric blood, he seeks out the help of a doctor, which sets the rest of the movie down new and unexpected paths. With a neat twist on vampire lore and a style that is quintessentially eighties, The Hunger shows Bowie at arguably his best, as well as an early sign of the talent that the late Tony Scott possessed.
14. Near Dark (1987)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
A vampire movie not too dissimilar to the still-dark-yet-not-as-dark and more popular The Lost Boys, Near Dark centres around a young man turning into a vampire after being bitten by one of the members of a psychotic group.
What follows is a bloodsoaked “modern” Western with some unforgettable practical effects and a hard edge that you don’t see much of at the box office these days. While it may not have been a commercial success, Near Dark has become a cult classic in recent years and features an iconic performance from the late, great Bill Paxton.
15. Fright Night (2011)
Director: Craig Gillespie
Yes, the remake makes the cut here over the original for our picks for the best vampire movies. The reason is simple: while the eighties version has its gaudy charm, the 2011 vision is a far tighter experience with a great cast, which includes Colin Farrell hamming it up as the villain.
Featuring sharp writing and some genuine tension, Fright Night revolves around a teenager’s suspicions of his neighbour. When the truth comes out, a game of cat and mouse unfolds with David Tennant turning in one of his better post-Who performances. The late Anton Yelchin is as typically consistent as he was throughout his career, though Imogen Poots carries Fright Night with her charisma.
16. Vampire’s Kiss (1988)
Director: Robert Bierman
If there’s any movie on this list that you could swap out for another, it’s probably Vampire’s Kiss. By no means a masterpiece, this black comedy has arguably reached cult status thanks to the wonderfully overblown performance from Nicolas Cage as a mentally unwell man who believes he’s turning into a vampire.
The meme factory revels in his role as a man on the edge, who sinks deep into a dark hole that he can’t crawl out of. For featuring an interesting and more comedic spin on the hook of the aforementioned Martin, Vampire’s Kiss is worth seeking out. Just don’t go into expecting Cage to be chill at any point.
17. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Arguably the definitive Dracula movie that couldn’t even be brought down by Keanu Reeves’ narcoleptic performance, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a vampire movie dripping in style and atmosphere. That’s to be expected of a Francis Ford Coppola movie, who arguably hasn’t directed a better movie since its release.
Gary Oldman’s performance as the immortal legend, however, is probably the strongest weapon in the movie’s arsenal, showing a depth of emotion beyond the fangs and the centuries of decadence. Maybe it’s for the best if you mute any of Reeves’ lines, though, or just do your own dub over the top.
18. Night Watch (2004)
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Timur Bekmambetov’s Night Watch feels, oddly, despite it being the the highest-grossing Russian release ever, like it released at the wrong time. With modern cinemas packed with fantasy movies and audiences crying out for something bombastic while also different, Night Watch would make even more of a killing now than it did back in 2004.
Night Watch follows Anton, who discovers that he is an Other in modern day Russia and then gets drafted to the titular Night Watch with an apocalypse lurking. It’s certainly an ambitious movie packed with a lot of information from centuries-long wars to digest, but it’s also just shamelessly entertaining. A sequel, Day Watch, followed in 2006 with a third movie on hiatus ever since.
19. Cronos (1993)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Before he was making fish-men do naughty things to meek women and winning awards for it, Guillermo del Toro’s illustrious career began in 1993 with Cronos. Following an elderly man’s descent into vampirism after he is “bitten” by an ancient mechanism, Chronos showed the visionary director’s gothic brilliance before he became a household name.
Chronos’ unique hook comes from its protagonist — it’s almost always a young, sexy person who becomes a vampire, not a religious older person. This allows an interesting angle where we see what kind of strain it causes on a long-term marriage and younger family, as well as how Gris’ transformation clashes with his faith.
As with a lot of del Toro’s work, don’t expect it to be wrapped up with a pretty bow.
20. Dracula (1931)
Director: Tod Browning
We couldn’t really discuss the greatest vampire films of all time without acknowledging where it began for a lot of people. To a certain generation, Dracula on the big screen will always conjure to mind Bela Lugosi’s most famous role, his iconic portrayal laying the foundation for every subsequent imitator.
As you might expect for a movie nearing 100 years old, 1931’s Dracula doesn’t offer a lot of scares, but its gothic, decrepit set design and ambition for its time is hard to deny. It’s all topped of by Lugoi’s peerless performance, a character so entwined with him as a person that it fed into his later tragedies. Lugosi definitely suffered for his art.