Nosferatu (its original title in German being Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens) was originally filmed in 1922 by F.W. Murnau. He had wanted to film a version of Bram Stoker's Dracula, but his studio was unable to obtain the rights to the story. Murnau decided to film his own version of the story, and the result is a movie that bears many similarities to Stoker's original tale. Thus, "Dracula" became "Nosferatu" (the Old European word for "vampire") and the names of the characters changed, with Count Dracula being changed to Count Orlok. The role of the vampire was played by Max Schreck.
Stoker's estate sued for copyright infringement and won. The court ordered all existing prints of Nosferatu to be destroyed, but a number of pirated copies of the film had already been distributed around the world. These prints were then copied over the years, resulting in Nosferatu gaining a reputation as one of the greatest movie depictions of the vampire legend.
Murnau's Nosferatu is in the public domain, and copies of the movie are widely available on video -- usually as poorly transferred, faded, scratched video copies that are largely scorned by video enthusiasts. However, pristine restored editions of the film have also been made available, and are also readily accessible to the public.
In 1979, Werner Herzog directed a remake of Nosferatu. Filmed on a shoestring budget (as was common for German films during the 1970s), Herzog's Nosferatu was a critical success, considered by many to be a faithful homage to Murnau's original film.
In 2000, a Hollywood movie called Shadow of the Vampire told a fictional story of the making of the silent version of Nosferatu. Starring John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe, it was a fantasy-horror story of a film director (Murnau, played by Malkovich) who created an utterly realistic vampire movie by hiring a real vampire (played by Dafoe) to play the role of the vampire.
See also Nosferatu (White Wolf)