The irony of F. W. Murnau's 1922 Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens is that, even though Bram Stoker denied him the rights to produce Dracula, his version of the film follows the original story more closely; and his Count Orlok (Max Schreck) is more accurate than any other interpretation of Dracula. American adaptations focus too much on all the vampiric bloodsucking and add overly eroticized elements to make the novel more "entertaining" on the big screen ("Phantom").
The character of Nosferatu is much more similar to Stoker's Dracula than the romanticized versions created by other directors. Nosferatu is not the vampire character that popular culture recognizes; the one that kids like to emulate for Halloween. The name is derived from the Greek word "nosophoros," which means "disease bearing," not "vampire" or "undead" or anything like you might think. It references the plague and appropriately connects Nosferatu's rat-like demeanor and appearance. He is like a plague in that--though he himself is a living corpse, or undead--his victims do not become like him. He attacks them and they simply die, as if struck by disease ("Origins).
Dracula, as we know him is personified well by actors like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt: charming and seductive. Not horrifying and murderous, but he is a "lovesick soul" who forces his own curse of immortality upon others--especially women ("Phantom"). This version of the vampire is handsome and alluring, not like Nosferatu, who is creepy and animal-like. The physical differences between Dracula and Nosferatu really are the most significant reasons for why each is perceived the way he is. Nosferatu is more of an obvious monster type and is recognized as such immediately after meeting him; he has jagged teeth and fingernails like claws, and stalks around as a zombie would. But Dracula, on the other hand, is attractive and "normal" looking, maneuvering and interacting with people in society, and no one ever gets suspicious.
These two versions of the same vampire character are so strikingly different that some believe they are not versions at all but meant to be two separate breeds, if you will. Really the only difference that matters is which you personally prefer in terms of the cinema; some are diehard fans of the original Nosferatu, while others are enamored by the more modern and intriguing Dracula.
center>"Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)" IMDb 23 Apr. 2006 (http://22.214.171.124/search?q=cache:cY5hT1jsXR8J:boards.imdb.com/title/tt0079641/. +how+nosferatu+becomes+Dracula&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1&client=firefox-a..)
"Nosferatu + Origins of the Name." Wikipedia 23 Apr. 2006 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nosferatu#About_the_film).