Vaccine development involves time-consuming and expensive evaluation of candidate vaccines in animal models. As mediators of both innate and adaptive immune responses dendritic cells (DCs) are considered to be highly important for vaccine performance. Here we evaluated how far the response of DCs to a vaccine in vitro is in line with the immune response the vaccine evokes in vivo. To this end, we investigated the response of murine bone marrow-derived DCs to whole inactivated virus (WIV) and subunit (SU) influenza vaccine preparations. These vaccine preparations were chosen because they differ in the immune response they evoke in mice with WIV being superior to SU vaccine through induction of higher virus-neutralizing antibody titers and a more favorable Th1-skewed response phenotype. Stimulation of DCs with WIV, but not SU vaccine, resulted in a cytokine response that was comparable to that of DCs stimulated with live virus. Similarly, the gene expression profiles of DCs treated with WIV or live virus were similar and differed from that of SU vaccine-treated DCs. More specifically, exposure of DCs to WIV resulted in differential expression of genes in known antiviral pathways, whereas SU vaccine did not. The stronger antiviral and more Th1-related response of DCs to WIV as compared to SU vaccine correlates well with the superior immune response found in mice. These results indicate that in vitro stimulation of DCs with novel vaccine candidates combined with the assessment of multiple parameters, including gene signatures, may be a valuable tool for the selection of vaccine candidates.