- Vampire characters in pop culture have evolved beyond the brooding stereotype of Dracula, with some embracing their humanity and others defying expectations.
- Memorable vampires like Viago, Rosalie Hale, and Abby have captivated audiences by subverting traditional vampire tropes and offering unique storylines and characteristics.
- From comedic vampires in “What We Do In The Shadows” to morally complex characters like Raphael Santiago in “Shadowhunters,” vampire portrayals continue to diversify and captivate audiences across various mediums.
When most people think of vampires, Dracula is likely the first one that comes to mind, but there are a lot of other vampire characters in pop culture. The tale of the Transylvanian count wasn’t an immediate commercial success but became popular after the turn of the century. Since Dracula made his way to the silver screen, there have been other memorable vampires added to the cultural zeitgeist, some inspired by him and some that have been intentionally designed as his opposite.
Though Dracula might have been the blueprint most writers liked to base their vampires on for a long time, they’ve come a long way in modern movies and literature. Some of the most popular vampires today aren’t those living in dark castles or kidnapping people. Instead, they’re vampires who long to embrace their humanity again. Vampire mythology gets reinvented with series like The Vampire Diaries or The Twilight Saga as more writers explore them. In every medium, vampires have continued to saturate the culture, from Nosferatu to Sesame Street. But which are the best and most popular vampire characters besides Dracula?
Viago (What We Do In The Shadows)
The role of Viago in the 2013 movie What We Do In The Shadows is the one responsible for introducing a lot of movie audiences to Taika Waititi. Audiences loved the vampire character primarily because he wasn’t the usual dark and brooding vampire. Instead, Viago was funny.
As someone who has lived for more than 300 years, Viago has very specific things about humanity he enjoys, like RuPaul’s Drag Race. He’s got a zest for life and has carried a torch for the same human woman for over 60 years. That’s impressive since other media will see vampires want to turn their human love interests into vampires immediately or end up going through a lot of human love interests instead.
Rosalie Hale (The Twilight Saga)
Bella and Edward might be the main characters in The Twilight Saga, but they definitely aren’t the only (or most interesting) vampires in the franchise. Rosalie Hale is one of the more compelling in Twilight.
She initially seems like an angry, and even shallow person, concerned with appearance and keeping her family separate from Bella. In reality, she’s fiercely loyal, someone who has learned from the mistakes of her past, and a vampire who would rather be experiencing a human life that was cut short. She’s not the typical vampire so often portrayed in media, and that makes her a fan favorite in the saga.
Abby (Let Me In)
Let Me In is the American remake of the Swedish horror film Let The Right One In. In the movie, Chloe Grace Moretz is Abby, who appears to be a 12-year-old girl but is really a vampire many decades old. She’s just trying to survive in New Mexico when she befriends Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Owen.
Abby is such a great pop culture vampire because there really aren’t that many vampires stuck at such a young age. Most are portrayed as teenagers or older. For such a young actress to play a vampire and be able to balance the wisdom of her vampire age with the impetuous nature of a child is astounding. Moretz and Smit-McPhee both earned praise for their work in the film from various critics’ circles and film festivals, but Moretz especially stands out.
Santanico Pandemonium (From Dusk ‘Til Dawn)
Selma Hayak originated the role of this vampire princess who lured men to their deaths as an exotic dancer, but Eiza Gonzales really made the vampire character her own when From Dusk Till Dawn was adapted for television. Santanico’s real name in the series is Kisa, and she only becomes a vampire when she is ritually sacrificed to a pit of snakes for not performing her duties at a religious temple in an ancient Mesoamerican nation.
Kisa becomes a survivor. She bides her time, serving the very man who turned her into a vampire for a thousand years before developing the perfect plan to get rid of him. She can be cold and violent because of the life she’s been forced to leave, but she’s also willing to adapt, accepting a rule about not killing civilian humans when she teams up with the Gecko brothers. Kisa becomes more than just the archetypal black widow who seduces and kills men thanks to her expanded story in the show.
Count Von Count (Sesame Street)
Even children’s programming has vampire characters. Sesame Street is one of the most beloved children’s shows of all time. While Elmo, Big Bird, and Cookie Monster might get the bigger spotlight, Count Von Count is also deserving of the spotlight once in a while.
This purple vampire is responsible for helping generations of kids learn to count. He’s certainly not the typical vampire in pop culture, but he’s earned his place in history – and been the subject of many internet memes. Any time election results have to be recounted, there’s likely a meme in use with the Count involved.
Lazlo (What We Do In The Shadows)
One of the main members of the What We Do In The Shadows ensemble, Lazlo (Matt Berry) is certainly an entertaining vampire. In fact, all the vampires in the movie and series are. They aren’t the brooding and dark vampires that aspire to be like Dracula. What We Do In The Shadows is a comedy that allows the audience to see vampires in a new way.
Of course, that being said, Lazlo is a vampire of contradictions. He has an extreme loyalty to his wife and friends, but he’s also someone who is going to allow another vampire to die if he’s inconvenienced by them. He’s also someone who cares enough about his human companions to take the blame for their actions to the vampire counsel, but he doesn’t care enough about humans to let those he doesn’t know escape being used for food. Lazlo has creative hobbies, like creating topiaries of female body parts, be he’s also confessed to being Jack the Ripper. He makes for a fascinating vampire to watch.
Morbius (Marvel Comics)
While most vampires in pop culture clearly get their inspiration (and mythology) from Dracula, Morbius is a little different. He’s based in science fiction instead of the supernatural. Spider-Man villain Morbius’ vampire-like abilities are the result of an experiment, not a bite.
Over the years, the vampire character has become less of a villain and more of a sympathetic antihero. He actually spends a lot of his stories fighting crime, but also trying to figure out how to “cure” his vampirism, something other vampires don’t really get the chance to do in their own mythologies. He’s remained popular since 1971, and got his own live-action movie, showing he’s got staying power.
Juliet van Heusen (Wizards of Waverly Place)
Not all the vampire characters in popular culture are at the center of dark and brooding stories. Some of them are part of children’s programming, providing new takes on the mythology for the audience, which is exactly what Wizards Of Waverly Place does when it introduces Juliet.
Meant to be Romeo & Juliet inspired, the series introduces both vampires and werewolves and gives the Russo siblings love interests from the warring factions. Juliet is a sweetheart compared to most other pop culture vampires, though some of her storylines in Wizards Of Waverly Place don’t actually make sense. She gives a fresh take on vampire lore that is kid-friendly.
Underworld also explores the dynamics between werewolves and vampires, something a lot of supernatural franchises have come to do in the years since both creatures emerged in literature.
The difference here is that vampires aren’t the villains. Most vampire stories might feature one or two good guys, but they often make up the bulk of the villains. That’s not the case for Selene. She’s the hero of her story, just trying to do the right thing, but ends up stuck in the middle of an ancient war. While not every chapter of the movie franchise is beloved, Selena makes for an intriguing heroine as she struggles to maintain a delicate balance in her world.
Katherine Pierce (The Vampire Diaries)
When it comes to The Vampire Diaries, the story is largely Elena’s. She’s the human-turned-vampire that the audience is supposed to invest in. When her vampire doppelgänger Katherine is introduced, however, the audience has a whole new character to be fascinated by.
Katherine is actually a lot like Twilight’s Rosalie in that she’s introduced in a very specific way, only for the audience to find out that there’s a lot more to her story later. Though she’s the series’ main antagonist for much of the run, she really just wants the chance to live out the life she was robbed of. It’s easy to empathize with Katherine, no matter how many bad deeds she commits, because she just wants the chance to live without being on the run.
Raphael Santiago (Shadowhunters)
There have been two different adaptations of novels that make up The Mortal Instruments. Shadowhunters, the TV series, strays farther from the source material than the movie, but it also delves farther into the mythology surrounding the various Downworlders in the series, like Raphael and his fellow vampires.
Though vampires are initially painted as villains, Raphael becomes an ally of the titular characters, protecting the vampires in his clan while still helping to stop the more dangerous villains of the series. Raphael’s relationship with Isabelle in Shadowhunters also provides an interesting take on the relationship between vampires and humans as she becomes addicted to his venom, and he just wants to help her. It’s never romantic, and he never wants to turn her, which is a change from other modern media.
Jubilee (Marvel Comics)
Though Jubilee was everywhere associated with the X-Men in the 1990s, it was years later that she was transformed into a vampire in Marvel Comics. Not every X-Men fan loved her “firework” abilities as a mutant, but her vampire story made a lot of fans wonder what was next for her.
She’s not someone who crosses vampires accidentally, but instead, is used as bait to lure the X-Men into a trap. Unfortunately, Jubilee’s bite does turn her into a vampire for a long time. During that time, she bonds with X-23 as a protégé of Wolverine and eventually becomes a teacher for a new generation of mutants. Becoming a vampire gave writers a fresh perspective on her character, and adding her to the long list of mutant teachers is an inspired choice.
Alice Cullen (The Twilight Saga)
Vampire characters have a lot of different abilities in different stories. Most often, there are superior senses, strength, and reflexes. Sometimes, there’s turning into a bat. For The Twilight Saga, the abilities are extensions of their human personalities. Alice has visions of the future. It makes her unique in pop culture since that is one skill usually reserved for portrayals of witches instead.
Alice also doesn’t have a dark or brooding bone in her body. She’s a bubbly optimist, which makes her incredibly fun to watch considering how dark Alice’s backstory is. Alice is the type of character the audience wishes they could be friends with – whether she’s a vampire or not.
Damon Salvatore (The Vampire Diaries)
When Damon makes his Vampire Diaries debut, he appears to be a wildcard. He’s not entirely interested in blending in with humans, appears to not care who he hurts, and is just out to have a good time with his vampire abilities. Of course, that’s not entirely true, and he becomes one of the most layered and interesting characters over the course of the series.
Like Katherine, the more the audience learns about Damon, the more they become interested in him. It’s hard to imagine that the audience forgives the person who routinely uses his vampire compulsion to get his way in his first few appearances, putting Elena and everyone she cares about in danger. He easily becomes one of the most beloved characters of the series once he opens up emotionally and the audience gets to see who he really is.
Carmilla Karnstein (Carmilla)
The webseries Carmilla tells its story through a vlogging format. While its story is much shorter than most of the others that audiences consume about vampires, it definitely stands up against plenty of TV series as a classic. That’s largely in part thanks to the love story of Carmilla and Laura.
Though Carmilla is hundreds of years old, she’s still beholden to the vampire who adopted her after she was turned. That results in her having to bring sacrifices to her “mother” on a regular basis. Carmilla’s story sees her finally stand up to her as she falls in love with her roommate, Laura, who is supposed to be one of those sacrifices. While most vampire stories feature romance as secondary to the action, Carmilla does the opposite, making her one of the most popular vampires in modern stories.
Bill Compton (True Blood)
When True Blood premiered in 2008, it was right in the midst of another vampire craze. Americans wanted a mysterious and sexy vampire, and they got it in the form of Bill Compton, played by British actor Stephen Moyer. Compton, who’d lived and died in the Antebellum South and who wanted nothing more than to be treated no differently than humans, stole the heart of Sookie Stackhouse.
Fans loved how he gave Sookie a respite from her telepathy abilities and how their romance was classic but his treatment of her was modern. Despite Bill’s genteel nature, he never let people forget he was a vampire, a fact that became especially frightening in the series’ fifth and sixth seasons.
Barnabas Collins (Dark Shadows)
The Dark Shadows series satisfied the needs of vampire fans in the late sixties, especially with the iconic vampire, Barnabas Collins. Though he could be manipulative and aloof, Barnabas was also a charismatic vampire who was overall liked by those around him.
Played initially by Jonathan Frid, Barnabas’s arc from being just a blood-thirsty vampire to being a blood-thirsty vampire who cared about and saved his family is part of what made him such a memorable character. Despite his evolution, Barnabas is still considered a villain; in 2013, TV Guide added him to their list of the nastiest villains of all time.
Spike (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
When most people think of the vampires of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, their first thought is usually Angel. Though Buffy’s first love was a great character whose evolution throughout the series is great to watch, it is Spike who stands out as a more memorable character. Spike, also known as William the Bloody, was a fearsome vampire who had killed several vampire slayers before he even set foot into Sunnydale.
Throughout the show, Spike’s changing loyalty makes him an unpredictable yet intriguing character. One minute he’s setting traps to kill Buffy and the next minute he’s in love with her. Spike sacrificed himself multiple times for Buffy and the Scooby Gang, and though he was under-appreciated, Buffy always relied on Spike for help.
Marceline The Vampire Queen (Adventure Time)
Adventure Time was a cartoon beloved by adults and kids alike. Though the show’s main focus is the duo, Jake and Finn, Marceline the Vampire Queen is one of the show’s best characters. Not only is she a positive role model for kids — she’s a strong, funny female who plays bass and isn’t a damsel in distress — but she adds a lot of humor and spunk to the show.
Additionally, her storyline often shows the struggle one might have with being themselves and taking the steps to finally love and appreciate oneself.
Jerry Dandridge (Fright Night)
Played by Chris Sarandon, Jerry is the epitome of the tall, dark, and handsome vampire in Fright Night. He moves to Rancho Corvalis and just wants to do his own thing, but begins terrorizing his neighbor, Charley after he realizes Jerry is a vampire.
Jerry’s vampiric abilities harken back to the old school views of vampires; he cannot enter a home unless he’s invited, he can hypnotize people, and he’s able to turn into a bat. Though the audience knows that Charley will likely win the fight, Jerry is such a formidable and cunning villain that there are a few moments where it seems like Jerry might succeed.