What Twilight has done to resurrect the popularity of vampires, the hit TV series The Walking Dead is doing for zombies. A post-apocalyptic world where the dead have risen to hunt and devour the living is hip again. Zombies have come a long way since Bela Lugosi’s 1932 White Zombie and the clumsy, shuffling creatures first created by the “Godfather of all Zombies,” George A. Romero. The slow, “you couldn’t even catch my grandma” monsters have been replaced by lightning-quick, dead guys on speed. Could it be the hormones in meat? GM frankenfoods? Call it the rise of the modern zombie.
The definition of zombies has also expanded to incorporate unfortunate victims of viruses turning into vicious, raging killers. In the past, a movie zombie was usually a corpse coming back to life for whatever reason. The rules are flexible for vampires, and so they should be for zombies, despite what purists may think. But unlike vampires, these films are about the human survivors, not the monsters, who, let’s face it, are never going to develop personalities or invoke our sympathy. There may also be some loose metaphors about the state of humanity thrown in, the brainless consumerism of “mall zombies” for example. That said, here are the top 10 zombie movies.
10. Day of The Dead (1985)
Zombie movies are never magnets for good acting, and there are no Oscar performances in George A. Romero’s third movie Day of the Dead. But it’s not about the acting, it’s about the action, story and thrills. This has plenty of all three and so it makes our list. The movie takes place in an underground bunker, where a group of military officers and scientists are holed up while the world above gets overrun by zombies. Can zombies be domesticated? Scientists think so, but as things degenerate and even the humans turn on each other, it just goes to prove that some people don’t respond to treatment and are beyond help. A very watchable movie with some good scenes.
9. Army of Darkness (1992)
Here I’ll take a few liberties with the zombie definition. Many will agree that this movie fits the genre. These are “walking dead” creatures after all, and maybe zombies were a different breed back in the Middle Ages. It’s the third installment in the Evil Dead trilogy and deserves a spot on this list purely for its entertainment value. B-movie legend Bruce Campbell plays a discount store employee who is accidentally transported to 1300 AD where he has to battle an army of the dead. One particular scene is ingrained in my memory, a nervous skeleton yelling, “Let’s get the hell out of here!” in an effeminate British accent. Great comedy-horror/adventure flick.
8. Re-Animator (1985)
Another different spin on the zombie theme is the movie adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, Herbert West—Re-animator. A brilliant medical student and his girlfriend experiment with a fluid that brings dead tissue back to life. So in this scenario, a handful of mad scientists are responsible for creating the undead, who inevitably turn on the living. Gore and humor abound in this strange but enjoyable movie. During my college welcome week I joined the “Graveyard Experience Society” along with my roommate. Our first event involved watching Re-animator, then visiting a graveyard at exactly midnight. What an education!
7. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
A remake of George A. Romero’s classic movie of the same title, set in a Midwestern shopping mall inundated by the undead. Although it doesn’t have the punch and class of the original, and lacks the same level of political and social satire, it’s good horror, with plenty of gore and action. This movie does no injustice to Romero’s piece of art. The story is slightly different, the zombies move faster and the violence is more gruesome to suit modern tastes, which makes it scarier than its predecessor. It’s a standalone movie, for once a remake well worth watching and so it makes our list.
6. I Am Legend (2007)
An interesting and entertaining movie starring Will Smith as scientist Robert Neville, New York City’s sole survivor of a deadly virus. The zombies here are the mutant victims of a man-made plague, while Smith and his faithful dog, Samantha, are immune to infection. This is one of the few zombie movies in which animals are also featured as undead monsters. The presence of a dog is endearing and keeps the worried animal lovers among us glued to the screen. As well as some great action and special effects, the poignant loneliness of Neville’s predicament and his scant hope of developing a cure are gripping elements.
5. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
This movie is the sequel to Danny Boyle’s grisly British horror flick, 28 Days Later, and a continuation of the story, following the survivors of a deadly virus that turns humans into vicious monsters. Some would argue it’s a better movie than its predecessor. But 28 Weeks Later stays at No. 5, as it is, after all, a sequel, and therefore did not have the advantage of being groundbreaking. Robert Carlyle (perhaps better known for his work in the Full Monty and Trainspotting) does an excellent job as Don, whose wife turns out to be a carrier of the virus but immune to the effects. After he gives her a kiss, all hell breaks loose. Interestingly enough, Carlyle turned down a role in the first movie.
4. 28 Days Later (2002)
This is a gripping, well-written movie, directed by Danny Boyle. The grim, desolate wasteland Boyle creates in the opening scene is disturbing in itself, not to mention the murderous monsters we are about to encounter. This is the most frightening movie on the list, but has not reached cult status, and that’s why it stays at No. 4. A critical and commercial success, 28 Days Later takes place in a deserted London, decimated by a deadly virus, and so it offers a new take on the zombie movie. Reminiscent of the character in the horror classic The Day of the Triffids, a man wakes up in a hospital bed to face a post-apocalyptic world. Humans have turned into vicious monsters intent on killing the living. And this time they’re fast. Very fast. Unlike many zombie movies that did not make the list, this movie never degenerates into silliness, and the zombies are truly terrifying. Both 28 Days Later and its sequel did much to revive the zombie film genre.
3. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
A classic blend of horror and comedy, Shaun of the Dead should appear on every best zombie movie list. This is a hilarious horror spoof from the UK that offers some creepy moments, but mostly you’ll be screaming with laughter. Just like the classic Romero films it emulates, the social metaphor is clear. In the beginning Londoners shuffle along the streets, going about their mindless routines, their lives an endless repetition, so much so that the transformation into their zombie state is hardly noticeable. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost work beautifully together. There are countless funny scenes, most notably the two quibbling over which LPs they can sacrifice to throw at the zombie in their yard, whom Pegg addresses by name (the zombie’s still wearing a name tag). This is comedy, horror, love story, and social commentary rolled into one highly entertaining film, and just like any classic, it’s enjoyable to rewatch.
2. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
“When there’s no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth,” is the memorable tagline from the second zombie offering from George A. Romero. Despite being a little campy, with mediocre acting and not enough characters, Dawn of the Dead is still a classic, claiming the No. 2 spot for its originality and vision. There are plenty of scary bits with comic relief thrown in, and it’s never short on metaphor. The bulk of the movie takes place in a shopping mall, a place that seems to attract a mob of zombies. Forget the Black Friday rush, these guys never leave. The four survivors camping out in the upper floors theorize that since this place had such an influence on them in life they’re inevitably drawn back — this time not for bargains, but for human flesh. They’ve become the ultimate consumers. And if dealing with the undead is not enough, the survivors have to contend with some very human foes, a mob of vicious bikers. There’s always something.
1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was originally released in black and white, but there is a color version available. Either way this is timeless, classic horror as well as the best zombie movie of all time, primarily because it created the modern zombie genre. It’s also a good flick, not the most scary or gory by far, but certainly full of atmosphere and suspense. The opening graveyard scene and the young man scaring his sister with the words: “They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” is unforgettable, as is the twist near the very end. The zombies are slow-moving creatures and easy to evade; you could check your Facebook page before they catch up. But when they attack en masse and start to bite, it’s all over. Considering the movie was released in 1968, the social commentary is obvious. The leading role is played by black actor Duane Jones, a bold decision for director Romero at the time. Jones’ acting carries the movie, he blows the white people away (figuratively speaking) and unlike the infamous Star Trek red shirts, he isn’t the first to die.
As a child, Alison Hill used to stay up long past her bedtime to watch scary movies, and she’s been a fan ever since. She has written two horror novels. Are you a zombie fan? Do you agree with this list? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.