These days you’d be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t already have a survival plan for the impending zombie apocalypse. It’s as if the question is no longer if it will happen, but when. And as the debate rages on between you and your friends over guns vs. blades as your primary weapon of defense, we’ll settle the argument once and for all and say both.
For a while there, it seemed like people couldn’t get enough of the undead flesh-eaters, and it’s this kind of thinking that keeps audiences coming back for more. With season seven of The Walking Dead back on the air, some of us are finding that one hour of zombies a week is simply not enough. We’re guessing we’re not alone. So if you’re going to watch a zombie movie, why not watch one of the best?
Here are Rotten Tomatoes’ 15 Highest Rated Zombie Movies Ever.
15. Planet Terror (77%)
The first film in the double feature jointly known as Grindhouse, Planet Terror is a riff on zombie exploitation films from decades passed. The movie unabashedly puts style over substance and has a bloody good time rehashing the tale of accidental warriors fending off flesh-eaters into the night. To emulate the experience of watching a grindhouse film, Planet Terror‘s presentation is grainy and generously scratched. There’s even a “missing reel” that forgoes the predictability of a second act to fast-forward viewers back into the action.
In true B-movie fashion, Robert Rodriguez didn’t just write and direct Planet Terror; he also served as cinematographer, editor, producer, and even composed the film’s score. Rose McGowan plays Texas go-go dancer Cherry Darling, who meets up with her mysterious ex-boyfriend, El Wray, played by Freddy Rodriguez. When zombies make a meal out of Cherry’s right leg, El Wray gifts her a prosthetic in the form of an M4 Carbine with a grenade launcher attachment– perfect for dispatching zombies.
14. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (79%)
This 1974 Spanish-Italien horror film was released internationally under any one of a whopping fifteen different titles– including The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue and Don’t Open the Window. The American trailer for the film even served as inspiration for director Edgar Wright’s faux trailer for the film Don’t, which was sandwiched between Planet Terror and Death Proof in the aforementioned Grindhouse.
Unlike many American zombie films that are all guts right out of the gate, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie lets the suspense mount between its bouts of bloody violence. Set in the English countryside, the film follows two hippies who are implicated in a series of murders and harassed by a local police officer. However, a gang of flesh-hungry zombies are the true culprits, brought back from the dead by an experimental pesticide. Director Jorge Grau artfully captures his zombies wandering through a grey landscape in a film that is already overflowing with atmosphere.
13. Zombie Honeymoon (82%)
The promise of “till death do us part” goes out the window when two newlyweds encounter a zombie on their month-long honeymoon. When Denise witnesses a sea-weed covered zombie stumble onto the beach, she tries to warn her husband, Danny. But it’s already too late. After he dies and comes back to life, Denise discovers that Danny is no longer the man she married. The vegetarian begins to crave meat, then human flesh. Danny’s looks also go downhill as his skin begins to decompose, and Denise is left cleaning up after her husband’s new cannibalistic tendencies.
This lesser-known 2004 film blends two genres that don’t often go together: horror and romance. While this may sound like a full blown satire, Zombie Honeymoon surprisingly keeps the camp at a minimum and instead takes its ridiculous premise seriously. Many movies have spotlighted how relationships can go downhill after marriage. But not many of them incorporate zombies.
12. Day of the Dead (82%)
The third film in George A. Romero’s Dead series, Day of the Dead follows a small group of soldiers living in an underground bunker who are attempting to reverse the zombie animation process. Richard Liberty plays Dr. Logan, a scientist who believes that zombies can be domesticated. Logan tries to remind the undead of their past lives, while rewarding their “civil behavior” with fresh meat from the group’s fallen soldiers. Meanwhile, Lori Cardille plays Dr. Sarah Bowman– the voice of reason in an increasingly hostile bunch. Cardille’s strong willed character shattered audiences’ expectations about leading woman, similarly to how Romero portrayed African American males in his previous films.
Even though the film didn’t enjoy the same popularity as Romero’s first two zombie flicks, the director has cited Day of the Dead as his personal favorite. The director painstakingly worked on multiple story revisions for the film, as his budget was chopped in half– from $7 million to 3.5– when Romero refused to limit the amount of gore to obtain an R rating.
11. Night of the Comet (83%)
It’s been 65 million years since the Earth passed through the tail end of a comet, and everyone gathers outside to watch. If they had only done a little math they would’ve discovered that the last passage coincided with the extinction of the dinosaurs. Subsequently, everyone is either zombie-fied or turned into red dust. The only survivors are those that happened to be protected by steel-lined shelters, such as a shed, projection booth, and radio station.
The first horror-comedy on the list (but certainly not the last!), Night of the Comet is a 1984 cult classic that high-lighted women warding off zombies, as opposed to just macho men. The film is unmistakably ’80s, and features a quirky cast of teenagers and an extensive synth-pop soundtrack. The character of Samantha Belmont, a 16-year-old smart-aleck who wields an Uzi while dressed as a cheerleader, even served as the primary inspiration for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
10. 28 Days Later (87%)
Danny Boyle put us in the hot seat alongside Jamal Malik in Slumdog Millionaire. He had us cutting off our arm with Aron Ralston in 127 Hours. And he had us wandering through a post-apocalyptic London in his 2002 zombie film 28 Days Later. With his full-on sensory assault style of filmmaking, Boyle is an absolute master of making his audiences sweat.
In 28 Day Later we awake from a coma alongside Jim (Cillian Murphy), who staggers from his hospital bed to find London totally deserted. Jim learns that a “rage” virus has swept the country and he, along with three fellow survivors, must fight the infected on their way to a military blockade. But after they arrive the survivors discover that their human counterparts can be just as savage as the zombies at gate.
Sprinting zombies aside, the shots of an evacuated London are already enough to give you the heebie-jeebies. As sections of the city could only be shut down for minutes at a time, Boyle shot the film largely using digital cameras. The choice may have been made for ease in maneuverability, but the graininess of the footage made 28 Days Later feel more like a documentary than a work of fiction.
9. Dead Alive (88%)
Almost a decade before The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson directed this blood-soaked horror-comedy that could not have been more different than his hobbit-filled fantasy epic. And when we say “blood-soaked” we’re not exaggerating. Dead Alive (also known as Braindead) is often considered the bloodiest movie of all time, measured by the sheer amount of fake blood used during production. Over 80 gallons were used in the final scene alone, which involved Lionel, played by Timothy Bolme, charging into a hoard of undead while holding a running lawnmower. Up to five gallons of fake blood could be pumped out of the lawnmower per second, which helped simulate the pulverization of the undead flesh-eaters. If you think the visualization sounds stomach-churning, just wait until you hear the blood-squelching sound effects.
8. Zombieland (89%)
If there are more zombies in the world, there are less people standing in line at the amusement park. That’s just a fact. Which is exactly the kind of thinking you can expect from the the survivors of this horror-comedy as they make their way across The United States of Zombieland en route to Pacific Playland.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Columbus, a geeky college kid who finds it difficult to woo fellow traveler Wichita (Emma Stone), while remaining true to his zombie survival guide. But Zombieland really belongs to Woody Harrelson, who plays Tallahassee– a gun-toting, Twinkie-loving, zombie-killing connoisseur. In fact, the only person who can steal a scene from Harrelson is Bill Murray, who makes a cameo appearance playing… Bill Murray. After its release, Zombieland became the highest-grossing zombie movie in just 17 days, only to be bested by World War Z four years later.
7. Return of the Living Dead (91%)
Smack dab in the middle of the ’80s, audiences were treated to a new bread of zombie in Return of the Living Dead. When a toxic gas is unleashed from a medical supply warehouse, it sets off a chain of events that results in the dead rising up from their graves. An eclectic group of survives try to fend off the hoards, but discover that decapitation doesn’t work, and burning them only exacerbates matters. Another difference from Romero’s zombies: these corpses don’t go in for just any kind of raw flesh, they need “BRAINS!”
Often a favorite amongst zombie aficionados, Return of the Living Dead is brimming with impressive effects, outrageous humor, and a killer punk rock soundtrack. And unlike other movies that simply pick one style of zombie and stick to it, the zombies in Return of the Living Dead range anywhere from fresh cadavers to walking skeletons, all presented in gruesome detail.
6. Shaun of the Dead (92%)
If you’ve been dodging responsibility your entire life, there’s always the option to wait for the whole zombie apocalypse thing to blow over by enjoying a couple of pints at your favorite pub.
While its title implies parody, Shaun of the Dead is arguably the greatest horror homage we’ve ever seen. Simon Pegg plays Shaun, a noncommittal man who decides to turn his life around during the onset of the zombie apocalypse. Shaun leads a group of survivors, including his estranged mum, his oafish flat mate (Nick Frost), and his ex-girlfriend, to the Winchester– a “secure” pub where Shaun orchestrates a standoff against the walking dead.
The comedic stylings of Pegg and Frost go together better than hops and barley, and the duo can be seen in the other two installments of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. All three films are director by Edgar Wright, who does a superb job of packing Shaun of the Dead with enough subtle horror references and comedic callbacks to make this movie endlessly re-watchable.
5. Dawn of the Dead (92%)
A sort-of-sequel to George A. Romero’s zombie debut, Dawn of the Dead grew in scope and contained far more gore than its predecessor. This 1978 film also enjoyed more success than Night of the Living Dead. It grossed a whopping $55 million on a $1.5 million budget.
Dawn of the Dead focuses on four survivors holed up in an indoor shopping mall as the walking dead continue to (slowly) take over the world. The film was in part a satire of late ’70s consumer culture, and it portrayed the zombies as mindless shoppers endlessly wandering through the mall. Dawn was shot on location at the Monroeville Mall, where the cast and crew would film nightly from 11PM to 7AM.
With all the weekly atrocities on The Walking Dead, it may be hard to believe that Dawn of the Dead originally received an X rating in the United States for its excessive flesh-eating and bright red blood. Thankfully, Romero rejected the rating and released his zombie epic the same way the flesh-eaters like their meat– raw and uncut.
4. Re-Animator (94%)
Loosely based on the short story by H.P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator follows two medical students as they experiment with a serum that brings corpses back from the dead. Jeffery Combs plays Herbert West, the brilliant, albeit mad, med student who invents the reagent that’s meant to prolong life. However, the bodies he brings back turn into crazed zombies that show little sign of the humans they once were. Bruce Abbott plays Dan Cain, Herbert’s roommate, who is initially impressed with the serum until one too many experiments go awry and a re-animated/decapitated corpse does unspeakable things to his girlfriend.
The idea for the film came when director Stuart Gordon was talking with his friends about the overabundance of vampire films being released. They longed for another Frankenstein-type film, and decided to adapted Lovecraft’s Herbert West-Reanimator short story. Gordon conceived the story as a play, then as a TV series, before finally settling on a feature film. Re-Animator made back its budget at the box office and has since become a cult favorite for anyone who enjoys their zombie films with jokes that bite.
3. The Evil Dead (95%)
This cabin in the woods classic takes the battle between good and evil to outrageous heights when five friends vacationing in the woods mistakenly unleash malevolent forces. Ash (Bruce Campbell) must fight for his life against his friends who are transforming into demonic-zombie hybrids, also known as Deadites.
Easily one of the lowest budgeted films on this list, production of The Evil Dead involved director Sam Raimi and a barebones cast and crew traveling into the woods, only to emerge bruised, bloodied, and largely unbathed 12 weeks later with the makings of a future cult film. Apparently, filming conditions became so poor that the filmmakers resorted to burning the cabin’s furniture toward the end of the shoot just to stay warm. They may have finished filming, but Bruce Campbell’s battle against the undead army of Deadites rages on today in Ash Vs. Evil Dead, which is currently in its second season on Starz.
2. Night of the Living Dead (96%)
Every other film on this list owes a debt to Night of the Living Dead, which truly redefined what we’ve come to think of as the modern zombie– even if the movie never says the actual word. Before its release, “zombie” referred to someone enslaved by a Voodoo witch doctor, whereas Romero made his zombies’ origins largely unknown (though radioactive contamination from Venus is strongly suggested). Romero’s living dead also craved human flesh, and could only be killed by destroying their brain or setting them aflame.
Night of the Living Dead spawned five sequels and two remakes, and the film is credited with redefining the entire horror genre. Despite a measly budget, controversial violence, and an African American leading man– highly unusual for 1968– the film was a massive success. Before Night, horror movies were synonymous with movie matinees, popular amongst kids and adolescents. But Romero’s bleak, almost nihilistic vision in which the hero survives the zombie attacks only to be killed by a redneck posse took the genre away from the fantastical, and held a mirror up to the real horrors of humanity.
1. Evil Dead 2 (98%)
If you thought you’d seen the end of Ash fighting evil Deadites than you thought wrong. Evil Dead 2 is indeed the highest rated zombie movie on Rotten Tomatoes, scoring 53 “Fresh” reviews against just 1 “Rotten.” The critic censuses is that the sequel is scarier, funnier, and all-around better than its predecessor. And that’s saying a lot for film that ostensibly lifts its story from the original!
While the series slowly shifted from horror to comedy, Evil Dead 2 finds itself in the Goldilocks zone. This is perfectly showcased in one scene where Ash literally battles his own demonically possessed hand. When the demon hand reaches for a meat cleaver to kill Ash, Ash impales the evil hand with a dagger without thinking twice. Since nearly half of these entries are horror-comedies, it’s apparent that audiences often enjoy their zombie films with a heavy side of laughter, and Evil Dead 2 is the perfect blend of outrageous humor and blood-splattering horror.
Did all of your zombie favorites make the list? Let us know what films aren’t getting the respect they deserve in the comments.
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