Zombies and the post-apocalyptic world are a mainstream thing in modern society. At times it seems that the latter might actually be a viable threat to humanity in today’s virus-stricken, nuclear-warring, globally-warming world. The horror genre depicting zombies in film and television has largely had a cult following until the 21st century, but now the genre has found mainstream success thanks to numerous films and television shows.
Just like vampires and werewolves and witches, there is something about mythological monsters that have always piqued people’s interest. Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown, maybe it’s the thrill of being scared; whatever it is, horror films and monster flicks are hugely popular, and viewers can’t seem to get enough. The more perverse and terrifying, the better.
When Victor Halperin’s 1932 film White Zombie was released, the zombie genre was born. The genre gained unprecedented popularity with George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and has since only gained more and more traction. Nowadays, major studios see the money-making possibility of these films and shows and pump them out at an alarming rate.
Some zombies flicks are better than others – some are parodies – and not all zombies are created equal. Makeup artists and visual effects designers go to great lengths to create the most “realistic”, terrifying, and grotesque versions of zombies that they can. Here’s an attempt to point out the 10 best zombies in the over 500 movies that feature zombies in them.
10. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
Shaun of the Dead is an immensely popular British horror comedy, or zom-com, directed by Edgar Wright and written by Wright and Simon Pegg. The movie stars Pegg as Shaun, who has to deal with his girlfriend, his best friend – played by the hilarious Nick Frost – and an uprising of zombies. The film is the first in Wright and Pegg’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy.
Shaun of the Dead is considered one of the best zombie comedies ever, with ample gore, a good use of everyday items as weapons (such as vinyl records), and realistic-looking zombies. Despite a $6 million budget, the films make-up crew did a great job with the slow-moving walking dead. The movie received critical acclaim, with such people as Stephen King, George A. Romero, and Quentin Tarantino all calling it one of their favorite zombie flicks.
9. Zombieland (2009)
This American zom-com really plays out like a video game, with Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin roaming across the Southwestern United States battling hordes of zombies while trying to find sanctuary. In the film, two months have passed since a mutated strain of mad cow disease transformed into “mad person disease,” and then “mad zombie disease,” which overran the entire United States population.
Eisenberg plays Columbus (the characters have taken their city of origin as nicknames), a college student who is traveling from Texas to Columbus, Ohio, to see if his parents are still alive. Along the way he meets Tallahassee (Harrelson), a tough-guy who takes immense pleasure in killing zombies, and the sister duo of Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who are con artists. The make-up crew did a great job of turning the infected population into fast-moving, vicious, and altogether convincing zombies. Bill Murray also has one of the best cameos of all time.
8. 28 Days Later (2002)
28 Days Later is a British post-apocalyptic horror film directed by Danny Boyle. Purists of the genre might not call it a “zombie film” because the monsters are not technically the living dead, but the film deserves a spot on the list because of its influence on zombie films that followed, its story, and its convincing, virus-plagued monsters.
The film was a huge box office success, and it helped revitalize the zombie genre of horror fiction. The plot involves a group of four survivors who struggle to cope with life after a highly contagious virus has infected the population and caused a breakdown in society. The film popularized the concept of fast-running zombies, which proved to be a highly effective idea in scaring the bejesus out of people.
7. The Dead (2010)
Although this British horror film was released to a small number of screens worldwide, the 2012 DVD and Blu-ray sales made The Dead one of the best-selling horror films of the year. The movie brings a new setting to the genre – the African desert – and involves two traveling survivors who struggle to find resources to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by shuffling monsters.
The stark film involves long stretches of dialogue-less travel across the desert, with the duo trying to reach a military base that has become a survival colony. The zombies in the film are very plausible and frightening, and the movie continues to gain generally positive reviews.
6. Dawn Of The Dead (2004)
Although George A. Romero’s 1978 film of the same name is often considered one of the best zombie films of all time, this isn’t a list of the best zombie movies. This remake of Romero’s classic was the directorial debut of Zack Snyder, and involves a handful of human survivors living in a shopping mall that is surrounded by a swarm of fast-moving zombies.
Although somewhat lacking in originality, this remake was still quite good, and there’s no doubting that the vicious living dead are some of the most detailed and realistic in modern film and television.
5. Dead Snow (2009)
Who doesn’t want to kill Nazi zombies? Dead Snow is probably the best Nazi zombie movie ever made (yes, there are more than one). This Norwegian film centers around a group of students who are attempting to survive a Nazi zombie attack in the mountains of Norway. While The Dead features stark, desolate yellows and browns of the desert, Dead Snow features an opposite, yet equally-as-stark landscape of white snow and frigid, frozen zombies.
Despite the meager $800,000 budget, the zombies – in particular the Nazi leader – are quite convincing. The premise of the film is similar to the Scandinavian folklore of the draugr, where an undead spirit or monster greedily protects its stolen treasures.
4. Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
Night of the Living Dead is the George A. Romero cult classic, and the movie that thrust zombies into mainstream culture. The film revolutionized modern zombie horror fiction, and as an independent film it became the most profitable horror film (at the time) produced outside the walls of a major studio.
There is something about the grainy, black-and-white resolution, mixed with the lighting and all-too-real zombies that make this movie so scary, even today. The film was the basis of five subsequent Living Dead films, and has inspired numerous remakes, although none as good as the original. For its influence on all other zombie movies that have followed, and for its realistic undead walkers, Night of the Living Dead deserves a high spot on any zombie horror film list.
3. REC (2007)
REC is a 2007 Spanish horror film that was shot in Barcelona as a found-footage film, and uses the “shaky camera” technique that was popularized by The Blair Witch Project. REC is effective at being scary because of its filming technique, and because the monsters in the film are downright terrifying.
Jamie Russell from BBC praised the film for its sense of claustrophobia and confusion, claiming that “[Rec] will definitely jangle the nerves.” The film involves a newsreporter and her cameraman who are stuck in a Barcelona apartment building that has become overrun by a quick-spreading infection that turns residents and rescuers into mindless, vicious monsters. This is another film that might not sit well with the zombie purists, but its realistic, scary zombie-like monsters is more than enough for it to be included in this list.
2. The Cabin In The Woods (2012)
The Cabin in the Woods is an American horror comedy directed by Drew Goddard in his directorial debut. Goddard and Joss Whedon, who worked together on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, wrote the screenplay in three days and describe it as an attempt to revitalize the slasher film genre and as a critical satire on torture porn.
In the film, two technicians who work at an underground facility discuss plans for a mysterious ritual while antagonizing a group of college students who are spending their weekend at a seemingly deserted cabin in the forest.
The students inadvertently summon a zombified family, as well as numerous other monsters, and everything goes downhill from there. All of the monsters – especially the zombies – are very believable and terrifying. The film received critical acclaim, was a box-office hit, and Rotten Tomatoes gave the film the consensus that, “The Cabin in the Woods is an astonishing meta-feat, capable of being funny, strange, and scary – frequently all at the same time.”
1. The Walking Dead (2010 – present)
The Walking Dead is a television phenomenon, pure and simple. Its season five premiere holds the record for most-watched drama series telecast in basic cable history (17.3 million viewers), and it holds various other records for a cable series. With a per episode budget of $3.4 million, it is one of the most expensive TV shows to produce, and because of that they are able to create some of the most realistic, terrifying zombies that film or TV has ever seen, with some of the best special effects and CGI to boot.
The show stars Andrew Lincoln as sheriff Rick Grimes, who awakens from a coma to find a post-apocalyptic world dominated by flesh-eating zombies. He sets out to find his family, and meets many survivors along the way. Each season of the show has been praised, and it remains the only TV series that AMC owns completely. While some people might not like that The Walking Dead is on this list (which is dominated by movies), there’s no doubting the fact that the zombies look terrifyingly real, and that The Walking Dead has helped push zombie culture into mainstream success.