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Not just Nic Cage - remembering some of the most unexpected actors to play Dracula

Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, Christopher Lee, and ... well, not who you'd expect.

By Matthew Jackson
Nicolas Cage in Renfield (2023)

Moviegoers can now finally experience what it's like when Nicolas Cage plays Count Dracula in Renfield, the horror-comedy from director Chris McKay that's been grabbing headlines for months on the strength of Cage's involvement. In taking up the mantle of the Count, Cage has joined a distinguished fraternity of actors stretching back decades, one that includes Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman and many more.

RELATED: Revisit the weirdest Dracula movies ever made

The "many more" is what we're concerning ourselves with most today, because for every extremely well-known Dracula who feels like perfect casting, there's another Dracula who's a far less obvious choice. In decades of film and television, the Count has been played by actors you might never expect, and some of them managed to put a pretty compelling spin on things. So, from an early Universal Horror entry to a modern animated hit, here are the most unexpected Dracula casting choices ever.

Lon Chaney Jr. (Son of Dracula)

Though Bela Lugosi is Universal's most famous Dracula, he's not the only actor to take up the cape in the studio's original horror Golden Age. John Carradine got there eventually, of course, but in this U.S.-set story, the role of Dracula falls to Lon Chaney Jr. Now, you might know that name because Lon Chaney Jr. is best-known as a different Universal Monster: The Wolf Man. In those films, Chaney's straightforward, almost blue collar style works because The Wolf Man is a regular guy who becomes a monster. As Dracula, though, it just feels like a weird mismatch, even if there are a few really fun horror flourishes peppered through this movie.

Al Lewis (The Munsters)

Yes, Grandpa Munster is a version of Dracula. Sam Dracula, in fact, though his daughter often just refers to him as "The Count." We know it from his look, the stories he tells, and the way other characters refer to him, but that doesn't make the performance any less weird. Lewis, whose charm and zest for the role permeates his entire run with the character, is most definitely not a Transylvanian nobleman. He's more like that old guy on the street who asks you to play checkers sometimes, but somehow the character works, even if it is a left-field choice.

Jack Palance (Dan Curtis' Dracula)

We generally associate Dracula with European actors of one nation or another, but more than a few Americans have gotten in on the action over the years, and some of them have done very well for themselves. Jack Palance, that guy who famously did push-ups on the stage at the Academy Awards that one time, doesn't necessarily seem like the kind of American performer who could take on the Count. But Palance did just that for this 1974 made-for-TV adaptation written by Richard Matheson, and he does a solid job with it. Still, if you know Jack Palance for literally any other role, and then you watch this, it's going to feel jarring.

Judd Hirsch (The Halloween That Almost Wasn't)

Like Jack Palance, Judd Hirsch is another one of those actors that you just can't picture playing Dracula, but fortunately for him he got to don the Count's cape in something a bit lighter. In the 1979 TV special The Halloween That Almost Wasn't, Hirsch plays a version of Dracula who's doing his best to save Halloween at all costs, and rallying a bunch of his monster buddies to make sure it happens. He's a different choice, to be sure, but it works in the context of this particular bit of TV fun.

George Hamilton (Love at First Bite)

George Hamilton is an actor with a decades-long career and a reputation for ... well, for making sure his skin is always as tan as possible. Not exactly the guy you'd go running to if you were looking for a Dracula, which made his casting in the comedy Love at First Bite rather unexpected. Still, Hamilton throws himself into the role of a Dracula who's in love with an America supermodel, and he makes the character his own with debonair flair and a knack for one-liners.

Miles O'Keeffe (Waxwork)

If you're a sci-fi movie and TV fan, you might know Miles O'Keeffe best for a send-up of his work, thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000 mocking his performance as Ator the barbarian in Cave Dwellers. But turn on the 1988 horror film Waxwork, and you'll see O'Keeffe in all his strong-jawed, long-haired glory as Count Dracula himself. Yes, it's a little bit of a strange choice, but hey, it was the '80s, and he can definitely fill out a cape. Plus, his death at the end of the movie is perhaps the funniest way Dracula has ever gone out on the big screen.

Leslie Nielsen (Dracula: Dead and Loving It)

Sometimes making an unexpected Dracula casting choice is exactly the point, which is why Mel Brooks picked comedy legend Leslie Nielsen to take on the Count for his spoof of pretty much every Dracula movie up to that point. And of course, Nielsen nails it, getting the presence of the Count right while never letting up on the rapid-fire jokes and the emphasis on physical comedy.

Roger Daltrey (Vampirella)

Yes, that Roger Daltrey. The lead singer of The Who took on a rock star version of the legendary Count, who goes by "Vlad" in this adaptation of the comic book character of the same name. It's a direct-to-video take on Vampirella from the '90s, and it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect from that pedigree. Still, it's just wild to see Roger Daltrey of all people playing Dracula, and singing a song in character for extra fun.

Adam Sandler (Hotel Transylvania)

When it comes to animated versions of Dracula, you've got the Mad Monster Party? path and the Sesame Street path (which is puppetry, but still), and most other portrayals don't stray too far from those voices and personas. But with Hotel Transylvania, we got to hear what Dracula sounded like when interpreted through Adam Sandler's particular take on an Eastern European vampire, and the results were both refreshing and ridiculously entertaining. "Adam Sandler as Dracula" doesn't sound like a sentence that makes sense outside of Saturday Night Live, but with these movies, it worked like a charm.

Tricia Helfer (Van Helsing)

When it comes to unexpected takes on Dracula, one quick way to make something old new again is to get genderbent with it, which is exactly what happened with SYFY's supernatural drama Van Helsing. In that series, Battlestar Galactica alum Tricia Helfer took on the Dracula mantle, lending her presence to a Countess version of the legendary vampire who was often known as simply "The Dark One," and whose ambitions for power took her all the way to the White House. It's a swap that paid off for the show, and for Helfer, who luxuriated in the role. 

Renfield is in theaters now and you can buy tickets here

Craving more vampire action? You'll find a host of horror films on Peacock.