With films like Warm Bodies and World War Z hitting theaters next year, I thought it’d be nice to take a bit of an undead cinematic stock with a list of some of the best zombie films of all time.
Of course not everyone will agree with my choices, but it’s my list dammit, and you’re more than welcome to agree or disagree with me in the comments section below. Well…let’s get on with this thing!
The one that started it all. George Romero, inspired by a Haiti voodoo myth, purported this black and white tale of the dead rising from their graves—because their was no more room in hell, of course—and despite it’s low budget and shallow performances, there’s no question that the claustrophobic nature of the film coupled with an impending sense of sociopolitical doom became the blueprint for all other zombie films to follow.
This is the godfather of zombie cinema, and to leave it out of this list would be to leave The Catcher in the Rye out of the pantheon of sociopath literature lore.
This Bill Pullman starring vehicle is a more boiled-down zombie film, one that’s centralized on the Haitian zombie mythos as opposed to an all out zombie apocalypse, but it’s an interesting take on the ideal of the dead rising from their graves, and Bill Pullman does an amazingly sweaty job as a man on a mission whose finality is not the kind of answer he ultimately was seeking to experience. The final segment of the film scared the hell out of me as a child and remains chilling to this day.
Sure, it’s a bit of a farcical take on the zombie genre, but how much doom and gloom can this genre take without its batteries fizzing out. It’s refreshing to see some humor added to idea of walking flesh-eating corpses, and Woody Harrelson gives a spirited performance—as he usually does—that makes a cameo by Bill Murray all the more exciting.
As far as tongue-in-cheekiness goes in the walking dead sub-genre, this is as fun as it gets. And the slow-motion zombie-kills are just a blood-splattering good time.
7. Ghosts of Mars
While it’s not what you’d call a traditional dead rising from their graves zombie movie, it certainly is a re-animated corpse film, and isn’t that what zombies are all about? I love John Carpenter films, even his bad ones (anyone remember Prince of Darkness…ugh) but this is one John Carpenter film that revels in all the things that great B-movies excel in: reluctant heroes that kick-ass, gruesome deaths, exaggerated monsters with excessive facial FX…it has it all. Not to mention it’s fun as hell.
6. Pet Semetary
This is a subtle zombie film focused on one family’s plight with the horrors of bringing one’s loved one back to life despite the self-absorbed act of it all. The film deals with the moral dilemma of accepting death, but of course, our characters are flawed, and they just can’t seem to let their loved progress onto the next stage.
So what do we get? Zombified versions of their deceased, and as the genie in Aladdin put it, “I can’t bring people back from the dead. It’s not a pretty picture. I DON’T LIKE DOING IT!”
5. Shaun of the Dead
Edgar Wright knows how to mix genres with humor—he did it with the action genre in Hot Fuzz, and he does so here again with the zombie genre in Shaun of the Dead. The appeal of this film is how Wright takes all of the clichés and standardized sequences of the genre and turns them on their ear substituting guttural burps for guttural quenches of brain-thirst.
Not to mention, Wright, his cinematographer and editor do a fantastic job of superimposing your established zombie platitudes with everyman guffaws that work well to both mock the genre and pay homage to it.
4. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Perhaps the most stylized zombie film on this list; Zach Snyder really made a name for himself—including a visually striking high-angle, opening sequence—with this remake of the 1978 George Romero film of the same name.
I admit I was hesitant when this film was announced, as Romero’s film was just about as perfect as a zombie film can get (more on that later), but I was more than happy with Snyder’s handling of the concept and material here. While his version didn’t create the kind of horrific tension the original did, there’s no denying this is one hell of a fun zombie film.
3. Evil Dead
The Evil Dead is a gory classic of epic proportions that progressed the zombie genre to the “cabin-in-the-woods” trope, and did so in such a garish and inventive fashion that it sprung several sequels and skyrocketed Sam Raimi’s career, and rightfully so.
There’s no denying that—despite the low budget—Raimi had undeniable talent with his canted shots, impressive close-ups, and wonderful use of stop-motion effects. You may not like it that this film is being remade, but if you’ve seen the trailer for the remake, you might just change your mind.
2. 28 Days Later
Possibly the most artistically and tightly wrought of all the films on this list, there nary a moment in Danny Boyle’s film when you’re being is not inundated with an imposing sense of dread. Just a wonderfully plotted, acted and directed film—if it wasn’t for the next film on this list this would easily be the best zombie film ever made. Also, just a fantastic script by Alex Garland—one of his best.
1. Dawn Of the Dead (1978)
It’s the film that made me wish there was a zombie apocalypse just so I could peruse the mall and live out the American dream: ultimate consumerism. George Romero’s best film and commentary on the over-commercialism of American culture still stands the test of time and contains some truly horrific moments (the elevator scene still makes me rush to push the close door button).
There’s never a dull moment in this film, and despite the horror, there’s a sense of freedom and joy that you get to live through vicariously as the characters enjoy the emptiness of one of America’s greatest creature comforts. Not just a classic of horror cinema, but a classic of American cinema in general.