Nosferatu brought the director Murnau reinforced into the public eye, especially since his film Der brennende Acker (The Burning Soil) was released a few days later. The press reported extensively on Nosferatu and its premiere. With the laudatory votes, there was also occasional criticism that the technical perfection and clarity of the images did not fit the horror theme. The Filmkurier of 6 March 1922 said that the vampire appeared too corporeal and brightly lit to appear genuinely scary. Hans Wollenberg described the film in photo-Stage No. 11 of 11 March 1922 as a "sensation" and praised Murnau's nature shots as "mood-creating elements." In the Vossische newspaper of 7 March 1922, Nosferatu was praised for its visual style.
This was the only Prana Film; the company declared bankruptcy after Stoker's estate, acting for his widow, Florence Stoker, sued for copyright infringement and won. The court ordered all existing prints of Nosferatu burned, but one purported copy of the film had already been distributed around the world. These prints were duplicated over the years, kept alive by a cult following, making it an example of an early cult film.
The movie has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a "Certified Fresh" label and holds a 97% "fresh" rating based on 60 reviews. It was ranked twenty-first in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010. In 1997, critic Roger Ebert added Nosferatu to his list of The Great Movies, writing:
Here is the story of Dracula before it was buried alive in clichés, jokes, TV skits, cartoons and more than 30 other films. The film is in awe of its material. It seems to really believe in vampires.[...]
Is Murnau's "Nosferatu" scary in the modern sense? Not for me. I admire it more for its artistry and ideas, its atmosphere and images, than for its ability to manipulate my emotions like a skillful modern horror film. It knows none of the later tricks of the trade, like sudden threats that pop in from the side of the screen. But "Nosferatu" remains effective: It doesn’t scare us, but it haunts us.