Zombies on Film: 5 Favorite Types of the Undead

Published 2 years ago by This is a list post.

World War Z Movie Zombie Types Mindless hordes of the undead and 'blockbuster' don't often meet, but with this summer's World War Z, the zombie horde is getting bigger than ever, with an A-list star in Brad Pitt to boot. From what we've seen of the trailers, this brand of undead will be bringing something new to the genre; but lest anyone assume that every zombie is the same, now's a good time as any to examine what past writers and directors have added to the mix. Smart, dumb, angry and awesome, here is our list of the Top 5 Zombie Types in Film.

Rage Virus

Movie Zombie Types 28 Days Later Appeared In: 28 Days Later (2002), 28 Weeks Later (2007) Characteristics: Increased strength and endurance, uncontrollable rage, and loss of higher brain function. Initially engineered out of a desire to pacify populations and reduce anger, scientists at Cambridge University accidentally caused the virus in question to mutate, and drive infected subjects to be overcome with murderous anger. The aptly-named Rage Virus is so potent, a single drop of infected blood or body fluid - usually transmitted through bites, vomiting, or arterial spray - can turn a subject within seconds. Blood vessels throughout the body rupture, and the rage takes over. Some dispute 'zombie' being applied to director Danny Boyle's Rage-infected, but given the symptoms (and the original film rejuvenating the zombie genre) we'll allow it.

The Swarm

Movie Zombie Types World War Z Appeared In: World War Z (2013) Characteristics: Insectoid swarm behavior, sprinting to spread infection. Like the original Max Brooks novel, the film never names the exact cause of the viral outbreak. And while the filmmakers refuse to use the word 'zombie,' the title makes the point clear: these are zombies, and on a scale never before seen on film. Director Marc Forster has taken some liberties with the source material, ramping up the speed and ingenuity of the infected; with bites causing infection within 12 seconds, the swarm mentality that soon develops when one infected is introduced to a crowd was evident from the first trailer. The brief glimpses of zombies pouring over defenses and through narrow streets like a human tsunami, and constructing towers of flesh like ants made the movie's zombies one of our favorite takes on the genre before even being released.

Smart, Still Deadly

Movie Zombie Types 28 Smart Crazies Appeared In: The Crazies (2010), Land of the Dead (2005) Characteristics: Homicidal aggression, with some higher brain function and social skills intact. As terrifying as it is to imagine a pack of reanimated corpses slowly marching in a quest for flesh, there's something far more chilling about the same infection taking hold quietly - it's easy to know who to trust when the monster's flesh is rotting off its bones. Whether it's George A. Romero's Land of the Dead (2005), where the seemingly mindless zombies begin to form a new social heirarchy, or Romero's The Crazies (1973), granting everyday citizens of small town America the same unwitting need to kill, brains are what take zombies from chilling to downright terrifying. Some might argue that the ability to think, reason, or strategize is something that, by definition, a zombie could never possess, but films like these address the same unanswerable question: what happens to the brain when the body is zombified?


Movie Zombie Types Resident Evil Appeared In: Resident Evil (2002) and ensuing sequels Characteristics: Psychotic rage, loss of higher brain activity, and overriding need to fuel cellular energy through consumption of flesh. The product of the shadowy and morally ambiguous Umbrella Corporation, the Tyrant virus (or 'T-Virus') was designed to be the perfect biological weapon. But as the Resident Evil series of films has shown, it's a bit hard to contain once it gets out. After introduced to a subject - via air, water, or bodily fluid - the T-Virus takes over cells one by one, replicating itself along the way. Overriding cellular mitosis means only enough energy is produced to perform basic functions - walking, clawing and eating - so alive or dead, the infected human is reduced to a walking mouth within hours. We don't know where the drive to wrap one's head in canvas or seek out giant blades originates, but the T-Virus' ability to alter DNA other than humans - dogs and bees, for instance - makes it one of the more memorable (and enduring) varieties of zombie outbreak audiences have encountered.

Romero's Originals

Movie Zombie Types Romero Dawn of the Dead

Appeared In: The Night of the Living Dead (1968) and ensuing sequels. Characteristics: Increased endurance, loss of higher brain function, shambling gate and undying need to feed. It was director George A. Romero's idea of 'zombie' that both popularized the term in the horror genre, and laid out the basic rules. The mindless, shambling, reanimated corpses didn't reach mainstream success until Romero's follow-up Dawn of the Dead (1978), but have acted as the rubric ever since. Romero never explained what caused the zombie outbreak, but all it takes is a single bite to turn a breathing human into a zombie-in-waiting. The bite slowly kills the victim, who then reanimates after death. Endless supplies of energy and an overpowering need to feed are the hallmarks of Romero's zombie, even if the slow stalkers aren't too hard to avoid. Why did Romero's social commentary on consumerism, the military, and post-Vietnam era society have such a lasting impact? Well, considering that every person becomes a zombie after death - even natural - this kind of outbreak isn't one you survive; from the moment it strikes, everyone will eventually become the enemy.


World War Z Movie Zombie Types That concludes our list of most memorable variants on the classic zombie formula. Given the lack of brain activity among those who fall under the title, you'd think the discussion of what qualifies and what doesn't would be less volatile. There are sure to be some entries on our list that hardcore fans would argue deserve their own sub-genre (viral-outbreakies?) but as long as audiences long for a brainless horde of former humans bent on their destruction, there are sure to be films to satisfy them. World War Z may just be the start of a new zombie franchise, so time will tell where it ranks among the genre's greatest. _________ World War Z is in theaters now. Be sure to read our review. Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.
TAGS: Resident Evil, world war z


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  1. I prefer “shamblers”. “Runners” tips the scale too much in the zombies’ favor unless there are only single “runners”, not a horde of them.

  2. No Dawn of the Dead or Shaun of the Dead?

    The Shaun of the Dead zombie rules makes the most sense.

  3. I like a walker/runner zombie combo. The fresh ones are runners and the more decayed they get the slower they become.

    • Definitely. I’m pretty sure fans and filmmakers ended up fleshing (pun intended) out a way of having both fit into one type of infection. But I’ll take it.

    • This is a valid spin.

      For me, I’ve always felt that since rigor mortis sets in about 2 hours after death, that’s the maximum time zombies can stay fast. Then once rigor mortis passes (which is after a few days), the structure decay, injuries etc prevents further “speed”.

      Zombies, however, should be inhumanely strong. Pain is something that keeps us from lifting heavy objects, running through walls, glass windows etc but since zombies don’t feel pain, they should be much stronger than humans and normal barriers like doors should not stop them.

      • I disagree with the strength aspect of your post.
        Firstly, your muscles can only lift so much without the inclusion of chemicals or hormones to enhance performance, such as adrenaline and the like. Being dead, one can assume that their bodies are no longer producing such hormones. Pain really isn’t that big of a factor.
        Secondly, I would go so far as to say that zombies would be weaker than normal humans ,due to decomposition and muscle decay.
        Thirdly, I’ve never seen a zombie stop to drink. They often appear dessicated. Water is integral in muscle composition. Dehydration seriously depletes muscle performance. Though whether or not zombies drink is speculative, I just mention this as I’ve never seen it, this point may be moot, but I stand by the rest.

        • Yeah, the only way to work around that is if the fluids in the muscles and nerve fibers become “rubberized” some how, so fluid loss is not a factor. The other problem though, is how a virus continues to propagate from a corpse: viruses require living cells to reproduce!

      • When a person lifts heavy objects, our muscles break down and rebuilds, causing the muscles to grow larger. When a zombies breaks down, they do not rebuild because of them being dead.

        Also, zombies (those who lost their higher brain function) do not know how to use leverage to move something, they just mindlessly “paw” at it.

        So while I COMPLETELY agree with your first point about rigor mortis, I do not think that the undead would be super human strong. I think they would be only as strong as they were at the point of death, but quickly after infection, the longer the zombie is infected (assuming there is no cure) the slower and weaker they become.

        BTW, I think this list is missing something, Deadites. I know that they could easily be considered demons, but some of them had their heads cut off and are still active, and at that point, they would be dead (but with an un-damaged brain, the only thing that kills zombies). I also feel that the list forgets the voodoo zombie, not dead, just brain washed and drugged.

        • Like speed, the strength aspect would only last as long as the muscles/tendons have not degraded.

          I think people underestimate the pain sensory absence relative to strength. Your muscles are able to do more but you stop when you feel pain, if you don’t feel that pain, you don’t know to stop and will continue to lift/push/pull/etc. Sure, you’ll probably tear skin, muscle, ligaments and tendons but for that initial feeding frenzy, a fresh zombie would be very strong.

          • BigNerd I understand that zombies don’t feel pain but I think they’re trying to say that it’s not the pain that stops them from moving quickly, it’s their inability to do so. They literally can’t move quickly because their muscles don’t rebuild anymore: they’re dead.

            So I think the “accurate” zombie would start with the obvious rigor mortis beginning a few hours after death and ending after a few days. During rigor mortis the infected individual will have this window of speed and agility he or she had before his or her death. Then, after a few days when rigor mortis becomes inapplicable, they gradually start moving slower due to the deteriorating (inability to rebuild) of their muscles.

            • @Dan:

              I think you misunderstand me. My pain example was in regards to strength (although there is a correlation between pain and continual running).

              The absence of pain will allow zombies to do things beyond the normal threshold of humans.

              As for speed, I did say that it should be limited to the time before rigor mortis sets in, but rigor mortis shouldn’t affect brute strength which should last until the muscles/tendons/ligaments tear.

        • We do feel intense pain when reaching our mechanical stress limits. When we go past those, muscles and tendons get torn! A zombie wouldn’t feel pain, so he’d surpass his limits and do great damage to himself. That would make it appear he had superhuman strength, but ordinary people have pushed the limit when put in a real bind.

  4. I remember growing up playing Resident Evil games, you learn to outrun the zombies to save ammo. With the Gamecube remake, they introduced the “Crimson Heads”; these things BOLT after you!

    I know it’s not a movie…but reading about the walkers/runners made me think of it.

  5. Having worked in retail many years, we call all the “mall walkers” who shamble about shopping malls before they are opened for window-shopping and exercise, “Mall Zombies”! (Thanx, “Dawn of the Dead”, for the inspiration for this thought!).

  6. What is our fasination with Zombies? It’s like we cannot look away from them and have to see what happens. Like Vampires there will always be numerous definitions of what they can and can’t do. I’m waiting for that Zombie movie where they suddenly get smarter…

    • Watch Land of the Dead. It has ‘Big Daddy’ who eventually leads a group of zombies to the human settlements.

    • Why? They’ll just vote ’em into Congress.

    • Obviously zombies getting smarting would be biologically impossible, but a parody following that idea would be pretty cool haha.

  7. Just got back from seeing WORLD WAR Z and in my opinion this was one of the best movies I have ever seen, not just this summer, but ever. There was so much suspense and actual substance to the characters and details that I was blown away. Definitely a 10 out of 10. GODDDDDDD IT WAS AMAZING!!!!!

    • I have my doubts…

      • I did too, but it blew me away. There is plenty of “zombie” action and suspense. I honestly didn’t have one thing bad to say when it was over.

        • Same sentiments here, man. It was soo good. In the theater I was watching (in India), people gave it a standing ovation.

          • It’s in my Netflix list. Might be fun.

            • Definitely waiting for DVD… Huge zombie fan but can’t get pass the CGI zombies n rated pg13

              • The CGI is bearable and the rating does make the movie suffer from a bit of sugarcoated carnage, but overall the movie’s great!

  8. I like the sheep zombies from black sheep.

    • One of my favorite movies. It was a cool concept..

  9. Yeah…28 Days Later is definitely not a zombie movie. Still awesome though.

  10. 28 Days, The Crazies, REC and others like these are not zombie movies. Zombies, post Romero, must be reanimated corpses that crave human flesh. Fast, slow, crawling, it doesn’t matter to me, as long as the rule is kept. So, to aid in my frustration, I came up with a word. Pzumbi. The ‘p’ is silent and the ‘u’ sounds like ‘yum’. It’s a shortened version of ‘pseudo zombie’. I haven’t seen WWZ yet. But now that I have my word, and a nice new label to use, I can enjoy ’28’movies and not be annoyed. Get the word out. No pun intended.

  11. No love for the Return of the living dead series? you should be ashamed! Hacked apart the parts keep coming! What is scarier than that? “Get that dang screwdriver out a`mu head”

  12. umm, I just want to point out that I saw World War Z, and they DO in fact call them zombies. They say, “The Z word” several times. sooo, I don’t know if you saw the same movie…

    • No man in WWZ they are Zeeeeembies not Zack or even the Zombies.

  13. Max Brooks did explain his zombie virus in the Zombie Survival Guide. Also he based his zombies on Romero style zombies so this movie got it soo wrong. Thanks Hollywood for making another bad adaptation.

  14. Come on now, no “Return of the Living Dead?” Those guys introduced the whole “brain eating” concept and were driven by maddening pain to feed. They could also run, were impervious to head shots(only cremation could kill them), and they possessed full human intelligence! Those guys were the scariest zombies ever!

    • I have to second all the previous posts pointing out the lack of representation for “Return of the Living Dead.” How, on a list of favorite zombies, are you going to leave out tarman and the iconic “BRAAAAIIIINNNNSSSS.” ? C’mon people. Trioxin gas FTW!

  15. How about the conflicted zombie, like r in Warm Bodies or the soldier in Day of the Dead?

  16. Rage zombie is the best!

  17. I don’t know if anyone’s suggested this or not but who would have bagged on the movie less if it wasn’t called World War Z? I think that’s what bugged me: it was too unrelated to the book to be good enough as a stand alone attempt at an original take on the genre. Obviously a few details from the book like the nicknames for the zombies would have to be altered or excluded.