Few horror movie subgenres have found as big a following as the zombie film. Something about the public’s fascination with death and the fantasy of starting the world anew in a post-apocalyptic wasteland has made zombie stories universally adored. The highest rated drama series on TV is a zombie show. Brad Pitt made a zombie movie in 2013 that grossed over $500 million at the worldwide box office.
As with any genre, there are plenty of terrible zombie movies. But if the undead are used for sociopolitical commentary and the film is replete with all the frights and thrills that it can be and the audience cares about the characters, then it can result in a real masterpiece. So, before a virus turns us into flesh-eating monsters, here are the 10 Best Zombie Movies Of All Time.
Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the writers behind the Deadpool movies, spent years developing ideas and concepts and gags for their zombie comedy before finally writing the screenplay. It was developed as a TV series before being turned into a movie, which meant that it was jam-packed with world-building.
100 episodes’ worth of material was squeezed into an hour and a half and it resulted in the highest grossing zombie movie in the United States (at the time). Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Emma Stone lead a terrific cast. A sequel, Zombieland: Double Tap, is set for release later this year, which will mark the 10th anniversary of the original movie.
9 Night of the Creeps
Fred Dekker’s gleefully satirical homage to B-movies isn’t just a zombie movie, but it does feature an invasion of the undead. Essentially, Dekker took every hacky or clichéd situation he’d seen in zombie movies, alien invasion movies, and slasher movies, and then crammed them into a delightfully absurd and hilarious screenplay that he wrote in less than a week.
The characters’ names are all taken from legendary horror directors – Carpenter, Romero, Raimi, Cameron, Cronenberg, Landis. This may be the greatest cinematic homage ever made – a postmodern joy. It is the quintessential cult film. It was made to be a cult film.
8 28 Days Later
Director Danny Boyle denies that this is a zombie film, but it is, so it gets a mention. Cillian Murphy wakes up weeks after he went under the knife for what was supposed to be a routine surgery and finds the streets empty and ravaged. It doesn’t take him long to realize a virus has spread that turned people into zombies and only a few survivors remain.
It’s been a “survival of the fittest” type situation, with only the strongest and most competent people making it this far, but Cillian Murphy’s Jim isn’t necessarily a good survivor – he just happened to be unconscious for the first month of the apocalypse. So, he’s our ticket into the post-apocalyptic world as an audience. It’s a fish-out-of-water story, which is a great way to jump right in and catch the audience up.
Director and writer Stuart Gordon saw all the Dracula-esque movies that came around in the ‘80s to modernize the vampire genre and make it cool – Fright Night, The Lost Boys etc. – and decided to do the same for the Frankenstein story. The end result was this weird, gory, messed-up Lovecraftian tale of reanimated severed heads and sexual abuse.
One of the movie’s greatest assets is its musical score, composed by the great Richard Band in the style of Bernard Herrmann’s unnerving score for Psycho. Whether you think Re-Animator is any good or not, you can’t deny that it’s a dark, twisted, and very unique piece of work.
6 Train to Busan
This South Korean zombie flick presents itself less as a horror film and more like an action movie. The zombies don’t dawdle like Romero-era flesh-eaters do – they can sprint and jump, which makes them even scarier. Either way, it’s an intense and visceral moviegoing experience as a father and his estranged daughter find themselves caught in the middle of a zombie uprising while taking a train across the country.
The passengers all turn against each other and the movie becomes a study of class. There are also themes of guilt as certain characters realize they were directly involved in the accidental release of the virus.
5 Night of the Living Dead
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was the first ever modern zombie film, so it can be forgiven for not being perfect. It certainly succeeds at being one of the most innovative and groundbreaking horror films ever made.
The dead rise from their graves and start eating and infecting the living, so an eclectic bunch of survivors end up locking themselves away in someone’s farm, only to find that the living might make for even worse enemies to them than the undead. This is a formula that’s been repeated by countless movies and TV shows since. How many films can that be said for?
A mistake that a lot of zombie movies make is trying to show the zombie apocalypse on an epic scale. The filmmakers bite off more than they can chew (so to speak) as they attempt to depict a virus spreading across an entire country – or the world! – turning people into flesh-eating mutants. But found-footage tale REC keeps things refreshingly intimate and realistic.
A TV journalist and her camera crew find themselves quarantined in an apartment building as a zombie virus slowly spreads among the small cast of characters. The sprinting undead mixed with the shaky camera movements make this a petrifying work of horror cinema.
The closest thing ever made to a zombie movie for kids that captures the terror and fun of zombie movies for adults, ParaNorman is a stop-motion horror comedy adventure produced by the good people at Laika. Laika may not be as big as Pixar or DreamWorks yet, but it is quietly becoming one of the most inventive voices in animation.
With stars like Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann and Casey Affleck in the voice cast, the movie can be enjoyed by adults as well as kids. It’s fun for the whole family! That’s not something that can be said of many zombie movies.
2 Shaun of the Dead
The first installment of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright’s Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy might also be the strongest. It certainly has the tightest script, which doesn’t waste a single line – either developing the plot or developing the characters, and always very funny – and uses every literary device in the book, including one inspired foreshadowing scene that lays out the whole plot of the movie early on.
Shaun of the Dead isn’t a spoof of the zombie genre – it’s a zombie movie that affectionately homages every trope of the zombie genre and also happens to be hilarious. But it’s also an emotional ride with a genuine investment in its characters and their relationships.
1 Dawn of the Dead
George A. Romero defined the modern zombie with his 1968 masterpiece Night of the Living Dead, but it wouldn’t be until a decade later, in 1978, that he perfected the zombie movie with the sequel Dawn of the Dead. Whereas the first movie had commented on racism, this one tackled consumerism in a satirical fashion. The survivors end up holing up in a shopping mall that is quickly swarmed with the undead.
Romero’s point is that we’re already mindless zombies flocking to the mall. It’s more relevant than ever today with everyone plugged into AirPods and iPads and cell phones. But this would all be meaningless if it wasn’t frightening, tightly plotted, engaging, and filled with characters you care about – luckily, it succeeds on all counts.