When creating a top zombie list, I was thinking that there were going to be a lot of great movies to pick from. However, I think that the reality of the situation is that though there are a whole lot of zombie movies out there (Too many to account for), there aren’t all that many GREAT zombie flicks. I would have some trouble making a top 20 list without some dubious selections. Don’t get me wrong, the movies that made my top ten are what I consider to be great, but there is a big drop off around the sixteen/seventeen marker to some pretty crappy zombie films. I also decided that there are some films that I consider more as demonic possession movies, like the Evil Dead and its sequels. I also am not considering movies about flesh golems, like Frankenstein or the ReAnimator, though they do bring back dead bodies. I also sadly was able to determine how many disappointing Romero Zombie movies there are, considering how remarkable the first three movies were. Movies in which the zombies are merely incidental are also not included, like Cabin in the Woods.
There are also a few notable movies that I haven’t seen yet: The Girl with All the Gifts, Maggie, Dead Snow, and Warm Bodies being the prominent ones. I do plan on reviewing them soon, so perhaps these might squeeze in to the list.
The good news? There are two recent entries which I have really fallen for. Train to Busan, and It Stains the Sand Red were both terrific recent takes, and gave me hope that the zombie movie hasn’t run its course. Also worth noting is a remarkable achievement that is The Walking Dead, which has legitimized the zombie sub-genre like no other medium has. I would place that show as #1, as a whole, but for the purposes of this scale, I’m only considering films. Oh… and sorry to fans of Zombie Strippers and Zombeavers… they missed the cut as well.
Read this after you listen to The Scariest Things Podcast Episode V.
28 Days Later (2002) Powerful storytelling, well acted with a survivor crew who is instantly relatable. The premise is solid, and the action is ferocious. Top marks!
Dawn of the Dead (1978) Romero gets gory and allegorical. This time, George draws the darkly comic connection between consumerism and the shambling undead. The shoot ’em in the brain trope starts here. The shopping mall as a character is a powerful statement. The remake by Zach Snyder barely missed the cut.
Sean of the Dead (2004) Edgar Wright makes stars out of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. So many great individual laugh-out-loud moments, and plenty of action and gore to please the horror enthusiast. Another great use of a location, with the Winchester. And, probably the best “pretend to be a zombie” trope to date.
REC (2007) Shaky cam found footage put to incredibly powerful use in a Barcelona apartment building that has been infected with a zombie virus. Claustrophobic and tightly wound. The dread and panic of being trapped are palpable.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) The granddaddy of all zombie movies. Without this film, none of the other movies here would be around for this list. This is a treasure, a landmark in scary. The fact that its progeny (only four in my consideration) are ranked in front of it, in no way diminishes the importance of this film. The bleak ending is one for the ages.
Train to Busan (2017) Korea gets into the act with a fast moving, fast spreading zombie pandemic. Filled with fantastic characters, and their noble sacrifices, this new addition to the zombie pantheon is a thriller. Great pace, great editing, and great heroic turns mark this as a keeper for the ages.
Zombieland (2009) This movie knows its audience. Listing the rules of zombie survival harkens to the Max Brooks book, The Zombie Survival Guide, and has great fun in showing why you have to follow the rules. A romping buddy road trip and an awkward romance also highlight this effort. It is supremely amusing, and enjoyably meta. Woody Harrelson at his doofusy best.
It Stains the Sands Red (2016) I just saw this little indie zombie film and fell in love with it. A single zombie slowly chasing a single survivor through the spectacular Valley of Fire in the Mojave Desert, leads to a strange symbiotic relation between the two. A great story arc turn from Brittany Allen’s slightly dim survivor pulls you through the movie. (Though, sometimes maddeningly dim.)
Return of the Living Dead (1985) BRAIIIIINS! Send more cops! This film creates the setting for the comic-y zombies to come. The half dog. The idiot groundskeeper showing off to his apprentice and releasing the toxins that start the plague. The so-very-80’s punks who party in the graveyard. It’s a collection of great characters having a ton of fun with all things zombie.
World War Z (2013) The zombie pandemic writ large. Not as epic or as journalistic as the book, which is a shame, but what does hit the screen is quite effective. The opening sequence in Philadelphia is hugely harrowing. The Jerusalem scenes were jaw-dropping in scale, if not overly CG. And the third act closer is appropriately intense. Brad Pitt brings his leading man chops, and saves this movie from its troubled production. So many reshoots were involved, but they managed to make a spectacular enough movie that they still made a profit, when many Hollywood insiders predicted a bomb.
So, what do you think? Am I right? Or should I have listed Day of the Dead and Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead reboot? I thought about it, but I had others that I found more unique in their approach. Please comment! Or better yet, submit your own comparative list!