It’s hard to explain why we love zombie movies so much. It’s more than the fear or the gore. It’s more than the camp or the B-movie nostalgia. There’s just something fundamentally exciting, almost poetic, about the idea of the undead chasing down living humans and eating them alive. And more importantly, there’s something both haunting and mesmerizing about the prospect of the 7 billion member human race consuming itself because of a virus or supernatural hex. Though perhaps this fascination shouldn’t be too surprising–another gloriously morbid manifestation of a consumer society turned stark raving mad.
Ahead of this summer’s World War Z zombie extravaganza, we now present to you the finale of the Best Zombie Movies Ever Made – Part 1. There will be disagreement, there will be rancor, but most importantly, there will be blood and brains. Put on your goggles–here they are: the top 20 zombie movies of all time:
Michael Jackson teamed up with Jack London, (director of American Werewolf in London) to create the most elaborate music video ever made. The video’s budget was a whopping $800,000 and the result was Thriller: a 14 minute hip-grinding homage to horror cinema, featuring dancing zombies and mind blowing undead makeup by Academy Award winner Rick Baker. Add horror actor Vincent Price as narrator and one of the catchiest pop songs in history–no mere mortal could resist it. Thriller is the ultimate document of the 1980s…a time when the only craze bigger than horror movies was the music video.
19) Wild Zero
This Japanese punk rock zombie film was destined for B movie greatness. I honestly loved every single second of this movie, from its outrageous dialogue to its over the top bad special effects. Just imagine a combination of Rock N Roll High School mixed with Dawn of the Dead sprinkled with Plan 9 from Outer Space. This film simply cannot be described with words alone; you have to experience it for yourself.
18) Wake Wood
Indebted to Robin Hardy’s horror classic, The Wicker Man, Wake Wood adds an interesting spin on the zombie genre. After a couple loses their only daughter in a horrible accident, desperation leads them to a cult who can bring her back from the dead. Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan. Wake Wood is tremendously unsettling atmospheric creeper that relies more on filling viewers with a sense of dread as opposed to in your face scares. It’s subtly eerie and the acting is top notch. It’s also one of the best supernatural zombie thrillers in existence.
The German film Rammbock is a mini-masterpiece of horror cinema. At a mere one hour in length, Rammbock gets right under your skin and leaves you floored. It tells the story of a young man who decides to visit his ex-girlfriend in an attempt to win her back when a horrific zombie outbreak occurs. Now trapped in a vacant flat in the middle of the zombie apocalypse, all he can think about is tracking down his ex-girlfriend. Rammbock is not only effectively creepy but it’s also a zombie movie with heart. It uses the zombie apocalypse as a metaphor for love, loss, and betrayal. You’ll also notice some visual similarities between this movie and Rear Window, in terms of how the characters interact with each other in the apartment complex. One thing’s for sure …it will leave you wanting more.
16) Cemetery man
The one and only art house zombie movie. If you like artsy thought provoking movies, look no further. Cemetery Man is one of the most visually elegant horror movies ever made. It was directed by Michele Soavi, who got his start as an assistant director to horror master Dario Argento. This films tells the story of a cemetery caretaker whose daily duties include killing zombies that perpetually rise from their graves. Things change, however, when the caretaker falls in love with a woman who turns into a zombie. This dark surrealist comedy is intelligent, playful, beautifully-shot, and intellectually perplexing.
15) Planet terror
The keyword here is fun. Planet Terror is a first rate homage to the sleazy B-movies of decades past. Loaded with gore, zombies, cliches, and self-referential influences from the likes of John Carpenter, George A. Romero, and Lucio Fulci, it’s so good it’s bad. This film is a loving ode to a lost film experience, when watching movies on the silver screen had meaningful imperfections like blips and scratches on the film. Now that digital projectors have completely taken over… this cinematic experience is long gone. Robert Rodriguez knows there’s a certain magic to the trashy movies from the days of yore and this film beckons us to return to our roots…in the best possible way.
Zombieland pulled off what few other zombie movies have: it created interesting characters you actually admire. This film works because it pokes fun at the zombie genre while also providing some impressive apocalyptic visuals and creepy atmosphere. It’s also wickedly funny. Throw in some witty banter and a surprise appearance starring Bill Murray playing himself…And what more could you ask for?
13) Rec 2
REC 2 is a shockingly inventive sequel that takes the basic premise of the original film and cleverly expands upon it, offering a much more in-depth explanation for the zombie outbreak, and multiple camera perspectives and narratives that connect together. This is all flawlessly integrated into the story. The film follows a SWAT team as they head into the original quarantined complex in search of a blood samples for an antidote. Slowly, the SWAT team learns there’s far more going on than just your garden variety zombie outbreak. REC 2 is a scary good time with more mayhem and creepiness than most horror fare…especially when the characters’ cameras run low, and the screen goes black. That’s the scariest thing of all, being alone in the dark with nothing to keep us company but our imaginations. Some hardcore zombie fans will argue this isn’t a zombie movie due to it’s quasi-Exorcist elements, but we think it fits into the genre swimmingly.
12) The Crazies
This skillfully crafted remake follows Romero’s 1973 original and adds a zombie-like twist. It’s actually hard to tell if the infected are zombies in the vein of 28 Days Laters or just rabid homicidal maniacs. Either way, The Crazies is a rip-roaring fright fest that would fit perfectly in any horror fans wet dream. The story takes place in a small town in Iowa, where the inhabitants have contracted a severely contagious virus that turns people into murderous sickos. There are very few horror movies that execute timing and mood as well as The Crazies. This film just works, plain and simple. It makes you wonder why more horror movies cannot deliver the scares on this level.
11) World War Z
World War Z was not the zombie apocalypse masterpiece we wanted–but it might very well have been the one we deserved. Initially, we were heartbroken when we found out how far the film strayed away from Max Brooks epic novel by going in the most conventional direction imaginable. Then there was the PG-13 rating, cartoonish looking zombies, non-existent gore, and the generic rah rah American nationalism. But as sheer spectacle, War World Z is surprisingly effective. The set pieces are sensational and the action scenes are relentlessly intense and often quite scary. There are very few horror films that are able to deliver pulse-pounding excitement at this epic of a scale, and for that we love this movie.
10) 28 weeks later
28 Weeks Later is an exercise in visceral terror. Its use of horrific imagery and apocalyptic despair makes it one of the scariest and most realistic zombie movies ever made. 28 Weeks Later opens with one of the most chilling opening scenes in the history of horror cinema. From that moment on, like the Aliens sequel, the action strikes thick and fast, culminating in a terrifying take-no-prisoners descent into an apocalyptic nightmare.
9) Shaun of the dead
The first time we saw this movie we were floored. Shaun of the Dead has it all. It’s a perfect blend of horror and witty satire. The film works because it’s a loving homage to Romero’s dead series. Like Romero’s best efforts, the story cleverly builds around the characters world inch by inch until the real nightmare dawns on them. Simply put, this film has something for everyone, horror fan or not. Romero was so pleased by the film that he had the creators appear in one of his own Dead flicks, Land of the Dead.
8) Dead alive
The Citizen Kane of gore movies, Dead Alive saw Peter Jackson taking his over-the-top horror style to the next level. Technically, this was Jackson’s best to date, with state of the art creature and gore effects that far surpassed Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles. Filled with rivers of blood, a woman nursing a zombie baby, hordes of flesh eaters, and a grandmother who swallows a cat whole. Sick. Twisted. Brilliant.
Possibly the only cult horror film that rivals Evil Dead. Based loosely on a series of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft, the filmmakers famously changed track on their “supposed horror film” when they realized it just wasn’t scary. They instead took their zombie movie and turned it into a twisted and goofy B-horror movie opus. The Re-Animator is sick and demented with some of the weirdest special effects ever created. Just when you think it can’t get any more over-the-top, it does. It’s not often you see a decapitated zombie head going down on a girl and still want to rave about it. One of the greatest movies ever made. Period. A word of caution–make sure you are renting the unrated version.
6) Dawn of the Dead
“What are they doing? Why do they come here?” ….”Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.”
They were talking about a mall, of course. Even as kids, we recognized the critique that Romero was making on consumer culture even if we didn’t fully understand it. It abandoned the murky imagery from Night of the Living Dead in favor of a darkly satirical assault on rampant consumerism and bourgeoisie culture, that was bigger and bloodier. It took gore and turned it into an art form.
The film was collaboration between George Romero and Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. He consulted with Romero on the script and provided an original score performed and composed by Goblin. The incredible climax features some of the greatest zombie mayhem ever put on film. Dawn of the Dead is quite simply the zombie movie to end all zombie movies. It single-handedly put the zombie genre back on course for all of us zombie lovers to enjoy today.
5) Return of the Living Dead
We’re still waiting for a zombie film where bath salts are the cause for the zombie outbreak, but in the mean time we have this cult gem. If you’re looking for an 80s punk rock zombie fest, look no further than Return of the Living Dead. Starring an abundance of cult actors, this film strives and succeeds admirably in being equal parts funny and horrifying. Dan O’Bannon, the writer of Alien, stepped behind the camera to direct this loving homage to the zombie genre. The undead in this film are also different from the George Romero zombies. To start, they’re smarter and they crave brains rather than just human flesh. We’re pretty sure this was the first film to debut the appearance of the “fast” zombies too. Backed by a stellar soundtrack by the likes of The Cramps and The Damned this is as punk rock as cinema gets. A bloody good time from start to finish. For my money, I’d choose this film any day over the untouchable Romero trilogy.
4) 28 days later
28 Days Later came out of nowhere and completely reinvented the zombie genre. Though zombie purists will say they are not technically zombies, the virus infected monsters with blood spilling from every orifice still kill humans as zombies do–they just do it much faster. Let’s face it, fast zombies are just way scarier. After watching 28 Days Later for the first time it made the zombies in the Romero films seem comical by comparison.
Although the Dawn of the Dead remake paved the way for the “fast” zombies, this film drove the idea home in a much more realistically creepy way. This film was a shining beacon at creating a juxtaposition of creepy atmosphere. When the zombies appear out of nowhere, the suddenness is beyond horrific. It also brings a sense of dread to the table that seems unnervingly contemporary, as being wiped out by a virus could theoretically happen. We’d say 28 Days Later has done more then any other film in the 2000s to bring zombies back into the limelight.
It doesn’t happen very often, so when it does, it’s truly a cause for celebration. A horror film that’s actually scary. In fact, it’s one of the scariest. Watching this film snowball into a seething siren of panic and dread is the most thrilling film experience we’ve had in the last 10 years. Rec takes the found footage Blair Witch Project style of filmmaking to the next level. The real scares come from what’s framed off the camera. There’s never a moment when sheer terror isn’t lurking around the corner. The staging in Rec is equally as brilliant. Rec also has the creepiest kid zombie ever. One things for certain, the last few minutes of Rec will truly mess with your psyche, sticking with you long after the credits roll. Note: make sure not to watch the dubbed version!
2) Dawn of the Dead Remake
Quite honestly, this is hands down our favorite zombie movie of all time. We think it more than surpasses the original, but you have to pay credit where credits due, to the originals. The remake is a pitch perfect horror movie that has every thing you could ever want in a zombie movie. It’s bloody scary, stylish, creepy, wickedly smart, edgy, darkly pessimistic and yet inflected with sick humor. Its sole aim, is to simultaneously scare and enchant you; to make you as terrified to look at the screen as to look away from it; to fill you with such a mix of horror and guilty pleasure that you can’t tell the two emotions apart. Plus, the opening credits playing to Johnny Cash is as good as it gets. Hollywood take note, this is how zombie movies should be made.
1) Night of the Living Dead
What more can be said about Night of the Living Dead? It’s made the top spot of a horror movie list more times than a bong gets passed around at Burning Man. Despite a shoestring budget, homemade special effects, cheap grainy 16mm film, and unknown actors, this little zombie movie has turned out to be the most influential horror film since Psycho. It’s also a time capsule of the late 1960s–the era of the Vietnam War and civil unrest–in which good does not triumph over evil, and likable characters die just as brutally as the villains. The violence, which was shocking in its day, reflects the horrors Americans were seeing each night on the television. Mysterious dread is cast onto every frame pitch perfectly.
The horror movie would never be the same again. In fact, you can argue that this film is a horror movie in it’s purest form… Night of the Living Dead is a force to be reckoned with that still holds up today even under the harshest scrutiny. We’d give anything to see this movie for first time in the 1960s, being completely ignorant of anything zombie.