October is horror month here at Cinema Spotlight and throughout the month I’ll be posting a variety of different horror-themed countdowns to explore the best this genre of fear and suspense has to offer. That said what better place to start than with one of the most popular horror genres of recent years, the zombie movie? It’s the perfect time for it too seeing as “The Walking Dead” returns this weekend. So maybe some of these cinematic features can serve as a warm up for our return to the zombie apocalypse on Sunday. The zombie craze, while dying down, is still in full force so today I’m going to explore the best cinematic features that incorporate the concept in their stories. These are my picks for the Top 10 Zombie Movies.
First a few housekeeping rules for this list. The movie in question has to have had some form of limited or extended theatrical run. Also I am limiting the list to one film per series so, for example, only one film from the “Trilogy of the Dead” can be represented but any reboots or remakes are not considered part of the franchise that inspired them here so they can have an entry of their own. Movies have been ranked based on a number of factors included popularity, quality and legacy.
For this list the films have to feature zombies as the sole primary monster in the film so a movie like “Cabin in the Woods” that features zombies along with other monsters as antagonists won’t be found here and a movie like “Hocus Pocus” that features a zombie but is more driven by three witches also doesn’t count. Also “I Am Legend” was excluded because the monsters have been defined as more like vampires than zombies. That said though zombies have taken many forms in film, from the slow moving undead to the ravenous infected. All kinds of zombies apply here.
So tell me, what is your favorite zombie movie? I want to know so please share in the comments below. Look for more horror themed countdowns throughout the month of October and for all my fellow “The Walking Dead” fans I hope you enjoy the season premier this Sunday.
10. “Dead Snow”
This 2009 Norwegian zombie flick was mostly released theatrically in foreign markets, but its popularity has amazed me more than enough to have it kick off this list. The movie received an English dub for home release and eventually became a cult classic of sorts. “Dead Snow” sports a delightfully ridiculous premise as it follows a group of friends who are cornered and hunted by Nazi zombies. I mean how much cooler could it get? Nazi…zombies. Writer and director Tommy Wirkola said he wanted to make the zombie an even more intimidating and evil monster and decided adorning them with the garb of one of the most despised political groups of all time would do the trick. Well he was right. “Dead Snow” features fun deaths ridiculous action and a neat twist on the zombie concept making it worth the viewing even if only for shameless gore and the over-the-top nature of its narrative. It’s gruesome, fun, and completely out of control.
9. “Dead Alive”
Before Peter Jackson became the legendary director he is today he worked on a slapstick horror comedy released in 1992 that put a more humorous spin on the zombie concept. Released as “Braindead” internationally and “Dead Alive” in North America, this film was part of Jackson’s “splatter phase” early in his career and today is a cult classic in retrospect thanks to the director’s more recent works drawing attention to his humble beginnings. The movie follows a young man whose mother gets bitten by a monkey infecting her with a virus that turns her into a zombie. She eventually starts to infect the rest of the town as well leading to what some critics have called a truly awesome gore fest. It’s a delightfully silly take on the concept as we see the young man trying to control the infestation himself, sedating his mother and the people she kills and storing them in the basement to keep them, and villagers, out of harm’s way. It’s fun, it’s ridiculous, and it’s one of the more unique zombies films from an era gone by.
8. “Warm Bodies”
One of the most unique movies on this list, “Warm Bodies” is a 2013 paranormal romance feature based on the novel of the same name and while it still includes many horror elements its focus is more on the redemption of the zombies rather than the violence. The film’s main character is R, a zombified young man who falls in love with a human woman and discovers he still has hints of humanity. Most of the film is told from the perspective of R making it unique among zombie films that usually focus on the humans more than the monsters and adds new elements to the zombie lore by actually showing the creatures being cured and reverting back to real human beings. It’s a slightly subversive approach to the zombie story and one that earned respect from both critics and fans for introducing those who didn’t read the book to new ideas for the zombie genre. It’s nowhere near as scary as others on this list, but it’s a sweet, funny and unique zombie movie worth checking out nonetheless.
7. “World War Z”
Apparently 2013 was a popular year for zombie movies. While it was criticized for failing to capture the charm of the book that inspired it, “World War Z” is still a notable horror action film that takes he conventions of the zombie genre and builds on them. The movie follows a United Nations investigator brought in to help solve a sudden zombie outbreak. However, these aren’t you’re typical slow-moving monsters. These zombies are fast, relentless, and fueled by the mentality of adding to the horde rather than simply feasting on unsuspecting prey. The action is superb and the story adds to the zombie lore with new elements to make the creatures even more dangerous. We even get a motive for why they act the way they act. The story treats zombies like true predators that need to be understood to be defeated. It also explores how this pandemic would impact the world on a more global scale and how fast such a disease, and the ensuing panic, would spread. For all its flaws “World War Z” is still a fun film that helped push the zombie genre forward just as the idea was starting to show wear and tear eventually becoming the highest grossing zombie film ever in the United States.
One of the best found footage films around, 2007’s “REC” may not necessarily label its infected humans as zombies specifically but that’s essentially what they become. The story is shown through the camera of a television crew shadowing firefighters into a building. The crew and the responders are eventually locked in the building and discover the facility has been quarantined due to the outbreak of an illness that has turned many occupants into animalistic killers. The use of the found footage setup makes for an excellent realistic perspective on how a zombie outbreak would be handled and the sacrifices that would be made to keep it from spreading. “REC” is chaotic, claustrophobic horror brilliance with enough zombie-themed flair to keep you invested from the first shot to the last. It was remade for American audiences at “Quarantine” in 2008 but trust me the Spanish original is the superior film worth checking out.
For some reason zombies lend themselves greatly to comedy and one of the best examples of that is the 2009 modern classic “Zombieland”. Sporting an incredible cast of characters including Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin and a famous cameo from Bill Murray this post-apocalyptic hit follows their characters on a road trip to try and find a sanctuary from the zombies. Filled with hilarious and creative zombie kills and some equally creative zombie designs “Zombieland” could have easily lived off the hype of its time but instead adds to the genre in numerous ways even having our human characters follow a set of rules to prevent them from falling victim to the hordes. A lot of times even the most comedic of zombie movies take themselves too seriously or lean too heavily on ridiculous gore. “Zombieland” finds a perfect happy medium and as a result has had fans begging to a sequel for nearly ten years.
4. “Dawn of the Dead” (2004)
I could never make a list like this without having a “Living Dead” film here and this won’t be the last. While the late George A. Romero created quintessential classics in his Trilogy of the Dead the remake of the second film in that series surprised by becoming one of the most respected reimaginings from a genre rife with poor interpretations of past hits. The movie focuses on a group of survivors during a zombie outbreak who hide from the undead in the confines of a mall. Critics gave the film credit for respecting its origins while charting its own path and even Romero himself said it was better than he expected. While the Trilogy of the Dead that helped create the modern interpretation of zombies is extremely well done some may find those movies dated or old fashioned. Here Director Zack Snyder (his first feature length direction) manages to bring the “Living Dead” series into modern day adding to the series without compromising the spirit of the original product. It’s a worthy remake and one you should definitely check out if you’re a fan of more modern zombie features.
3. “Shaun of the Dead”
There are several zombie comedies on this list but none of them hold a candle to “Shaun of the Dead” which started the trend of modern horror comedies specifically themed around the zombie infestation. “Shaun of the Dead” features a lazy loser of a man who wakes up one morning to find the zombie apocalypse has taken shape. He joins with his friends, girlfriend and mother to try and escape the chaos as comedic scenarios and unexpected roadblocks sidetrack their efforts. It’s incredibly funny and serves as a pseudo-parody of works like “Dawn of the Dead” paying homage to them while also pointing out some of the ridiculous aspects of their clichés. It’s both a fun zombie feature and incredibly effective comedy that, like most of the entries on this list, adds to the zombie genre rather than simply sticking to convention. For example, this was one of the first features to utilize the “blending in” concept to avoid detection among the zombies and even sheds some light on how society would act if they learned how to coexist with these iconic monsters of horror.
2. “28 Days Later”
While zombies had been a relevant movie monster in years past it really took until the 2000s to make the monster a truly marketable big screen feature creature outside of the “Living Dead” series. That is in large part thanks to today’s runner-up, “28 Days Later”. Atmospheric, creepy, intense, fun, and overall well shot director Alex Garland brought a modern classic to life in 2002 and redefined what zombies could be. This was the first time a lot of people saw zombies as more than slow, moaning, mindless beings. This movie, focusing on survivors in a post-apocalyptic Britain, upped the ante when it was released by presenting the infected as ruthless, calculating and relentless monsters more fear inducing than ever before. Along with its sequel “28 Weeks Later” it has become the quintessential modern zombie flick and one of the most well know and popular in the genre. It single-handedly, and ironically, revived the zombie horror genre from the grave making it not only a quality film but also an important film largely responsible for the success of much of this list.
1. “Night of the Living Dead”
It might be the safe and obvious choice to top this list but, come on this was always going to be the top film here and it deserves it. “Night of the Living Dead”, a 1968 classic from George A. Romero, introduced the world to the zombie as we know it today. While it wasn’t the first movie to feature a zombie in some form it introduced many of the clichés, tropes and attributes associated with the monsters decades later. It’s impact is so great that I included it in my list of influential horror film some time ago. The best part is the movie doesn’t depend solely on the monsters to make its mark. Significant and still relevant social commentary is also worked into the story making it more than just a graphic monster movie. “Night of the Living Dead” was a trend setter and is still considered by many to be the best zombie movie ever made. As much as I like to say that without certain films others wouldn’t be here it’s truer for this movie than with most. “Night of the Living Dead” is directly responsible for this list even existing so it’s a no-brainer to call it the best and most influential zombie film of all time.