15 Great Zombie Movies That You Need To See: It is quite easy to make a zombie film these days. Genre formulations are so commonplace and expansive that filmmakers need not go too far with their outlines. But it is equally difficult to make a “good” zombie film that adds value to the viewer’s palette. In the most general terms, zombies are creatures that are already dead and controlled by an evil power, like the cordyceps fungi in HBO’s latest hit, The Last of Us.

They may also be conjured by the magic of science and its endless experimentations with genetics, like Resident Evil or 28 Days Later. Most commonly, these settings create the outlook of an isolated landscape. The ethos of civilization in a society degrades to its lowest point.

The zenith of chaos, savagery, and insecurity marks the golden crossover into the doomsday scenario. But these are modern inventions in the genre. If one combs through the annals of cinema’s history, one can find traces of the first ever Zombie on the screen back almost a hundred years.

Victor Halperin’s 1932 opus, White Zombie (available on YouTube), espoused a basic depiction of zombies. Slight makeup majorly focused on the eye setup, and normal man clothes did not evoke a perverse reaction. The voodoo resurrection culture came much later in George A. Romero’s film Night of the Living Dead (1968), one of the classic black-and-white horror films, when the entire usage of special effects changed the game. From there on, many inspired filmmakers like Lucio Fulci, Herschell Lewis, and David Cronenberg brought their own personal touch to the genre.

Many offshoots from this broad theme started to do well. The most beneficial segment of filmmakers was the one making independent features as the audience for zombie films grew. More and more people sought different flavors of flesh-eating creatures. And as a result, the zombie genre is extensive with a rich differentiation when it comes to blending genres and different settings, both serious-minded and nonsensical. This list features some great picks from the zombie genre, even though it is not comprehensive at the time of writing. We will keep updating our list of the best zombie films annually.

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Apocalyptic and pandemic-style settings: the new normal

In its true essence, all zombie films are apocalyptic in nature. The descent of society into its most primal state of nature where survival is a Hobbesian construct and the function of your physicality and wit is a ubiquitous genre theme. But there are some films that have representations and settings that are grounded in showcasing what we lost. The Last of Us is the apotheosis of this representation. Every scene and shot of what was and what is a glaring reminder of it. World War Z (2013), I am Legend (2007), and Outbreak (1995) are interesting films from this category.

We have chosen three special films from different countries for the list. Each of these encapsulates our most dreaded nightmares in their respective cinematic worlds. The paradigm shift from civilization and order is a hallmark of the following films.

1. The Sadness (2021)

15 Great Zombie Movies That You Need To See: The Sadness (2021)

Perhaps all great horror films in the modern-day are born out of directorial whims allowed to persist. Minimalism is a boon in this scenario. With no additional pressure, a director’s job becomes easier. For Rob Jabbar, the benefits accumulated & gave shape to this compelling zombie fest. Owing to its time of release, the film is powered by strong undertones of the pandemic. Many visual cues are taken directly from news reports, and the sense of bleakness we felt back in March 2020 is prominently featured.

Set in Taiwan, the film follows a young couple, Kat and Jim, who separated on the fateful day when the outbreak takes a virulent and violent shape. The city quickly descends into chaos as the infected operationalize their now uninhibited shenanigans. The two try to find a way back to each other, as the chances of that happening turn ominous by the second. The film’s concept holds on well in the early parts. The intrigue with a fresh story and premise is intact for the first twenty minutes and picks up pace later.

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2. 28 Days later (2002)

15 Great Zombie Movies That You Need To See: 28 Days later (2002)

Danny Boyle, the masterful English filmmaker, had his hands full with the shooting of 28 Days Later. It is quite incredulous that the entire movie was filmed on location. Imagine the entire block in London put on halt for a few hours. Well, the shooting was done in the wee hours of the day without such stoppages. But the more impressive part of 28 Days Later is the world-building preceded by one of cinematic memory’s most horrifying opening sequences. One can expect fireworks when the setup is so precisely thought out and takes such full shape on the screen.

28 Days Later has compelling visual language. The camera work is intentionally non-descriptive, with smaller cuts and durations. It ensures that the viewer’s expectation is aroused and their reaction to the zombies is visceral, like that of the protagonists. Alex Garland’s typical post-apocalyptic elements are reminiscent of his style today. The taut pace of the narration is characterized by patient exposition and a special focus on emotions like fear and anger.

3. Train to Busan (2016)

15 Great Zombie Movies That You Need To See: Train to Busan (2016)

There are not many zombie films on the list or in general that can make you cry, like Train to Busan. In typical Korean movie style, it combines heartbreak, dread, and excitement in a compelling fashion. The story within a story format works perfectly as we follow a handful of characters navigating an ongoing pandemic of flesh-eating zombies. The outbreak happens as Seok-woo travels with his daughter for her birthday to his ex-wife’s house. On the train, the true horrors of the outbreak are realized as they begin to take over.

The diverse group of survivors gives a chance to the creators to embellish Train to Busan with observant social commentary. Through the characters of Yon-suk, the executive, Yoon Sang-hwa, and the homeless stowaway, we see a spectrum of social classes and reactions to the unfolding chaos. Vivid special effects and makeup of the characters complete the technical details the film needs to flourish. The heart-breaking ending is a sore sight but a timely reminder of the devotion of the Koreans never to stray away from the emotional exactness of a story. It is arguably one of the best zombie films of our time.

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Comedy genre: laughs where you least expect them but can find the easiest

Jim Jarmusch did a bit of a 180 when he came up with the bizarre and funny The Dead Don’t Die (2019). It was so not his style of the genre, and perhaps, the lack of exposure and sensibilities showed in the final product. But that film cemented an easily found place for comedy in the zombie-horror genre for many. The inspiration came way back in the ‘80s when Dan O’Bannon experimented with the story format to release The Return of the Living Dead (1985). The resultant film was so hilarious and brilliant that it prompted many more entrants.

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) came earlier but did not squarely fall into this sub-category. Cemetery Man (1994), Dead Alive (1995), and Zombieland (2009) each had their own unique twists on this style. Our selection for this list is mostly modern. It is not purely because of recency bias but a strategic choice to help you start with familiarity.

4. Brain Dead (1992)

15 Great Zombie Movies That You Need To See: Brain Dead (1992)

Before Peter Jackson owned the world with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he sculpted this cult classic zombie fest set in the ‘50s. Brain Dead’s most crucial aspect is its innocence which stems from Lionel’s teen romance with someone his mother Vera deems below him. Vera’s wishes do come true, but at a grave cost. She is bitten while following Lionel and Paquita to the zoo one day by a rabid rat and turns. Lionel spends the rest of the film trying to protect her from others and vice versa as well. Their dynamic is really fun to watch, and credit to Balme (Lionel) and Moody (Vera) for striking up electric chemistry.

The laughter never outstays its welcome in Jackson’s world, but you are confronted on certain occasions with moments where you do not know what to do. That lateral tragedy of Brain Dead is what makes watching the film a special experience. Let’s leave you with trivia. In his autobiography Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy’s Journey to Becoming a Big Kid, Simon Pegg regarded Brain Dead as an inspiration for Shaun.

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5. Fido (2006)

15 Great Zombie Movies That You Need To See: Fido (2006)

“Good dead are hard to find,”; and so are movies that showcase them. Fido is definitely one of them. The best parts about the film are not its premise or setting but rather what director Andrew Curie manages to do with them. His characterization, whilst not unique or sensational, is heartfelt and genuine. Fido almost takes on the cover of a hard-hitting satire, but those moments are occasional. Nevertheless, Fido wins you over in those very real moments of vulnerability. For a good reason, Fido is a hard sell for hardcore fans of the genre. It is not an out-and-out zombie film by any measure. One thing is clear, though; even for those fans, Fido offers an opportunity to relish a subversion of expectations of what zombie films should be about.

6. Zombieland (2009)

15 Great Zombie Movies That You Need To See: Zombieland (2009)

Zombieland was a surprise, given its scale of production. More often than not, such projects are taken up to get a chunky return and possibly get one foot in the door for a franchise. Zombieland ended up doing both, but not without providing us with a unique and fresh twist on zombie outbreaks. The story is fairly simple – an outbreak has rendered the world inhabitable and crawling with the dead.

Mad cow disease it is this time, but that is no challenge for Columbus and his clever survival norms. He meets up with fellow survivors, and they embark on a journey of thrilling zombie kills and revealing personal indictments of their lives. The ensemble of Zombieland effortlessly mixes action with road-trip comedy. Their collective performance feels like a complete package without resorting to gimmicks and acts of the convention. The film has a great rewatchability score, something that ensures it gets better with every viewing.

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7. Shaun of the Dead (2006)

15 Great Zombie Movies That You Need To See - Shaun of the Dead (2006)

Shaun of the Dead is the most impressive film in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy. It is the hallmark of Wright’s clever humor in onerous situations. The unique combination of these two is definitely heightened by the central deadly outbreak that threatens the existence of the locals. Simon Pegg is a reliable central anchor on Wright to base his story around. It is one of those films that takes inspiration from the comments a viewer makes on his couch watching zombie-horror films. The self-ridicule has sharp satirical tendencies and never backs down from exposing formulaic filmmaking and genre conventions.

Wright’s unique perspectives and insights provide clarity in tone and storytelling. Shaun of the Dead is consistently funny and critical. Every move the characters make and the jokes they crack are something you expect after watching the film initially. Having said that, Wright and Pegg’s writing is not bereft of emotional heft. Compelling subplots like Shaun’s relationship with his father intensify the film’s dramatic appeal.

Indie zombie films: Doing more with less

No one can deny admiration for those filmmakers who do not need much to make films: bootstrapped projects, especially those with minimal resources and special attention and place among viewers. In the zombie genre, such realities are more than just coincidences. Prosthetics, makeup, and doomed settings are expensive to create. But the films below have proved it can be done. Even though most films in this list have been made on negligible money, the following are more worthy in this section than the others.

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8. Rabid (1977)

David Cronenberg is an interesting character in the film. The Canadian filmmaker’s emaciated style strips all the storytelling nuances to their bare minimum. Even then, his raw special effects capture the imagination like no other. Feelings of suspense and shock are foremostly tied to those creative choices. Rabid was one of the first films in the zombie-horror genre to weaponize effects and makeup to arouse those emotions. Cronenberg left no stone unturned in creating a chilling atmosphere that at once struck you cold and eased you into his world. His staging is perfect for Marilyn Chambers and co to channel the helplessness and nightmarish reality of the script.

Rabid’s striking flesh-eating humans might not seem very special in the modern day. We have become accustomed to watching much more refined specifics. And it is true that the world of zombies and creatures has gone through a panoramic transformation. But one cannot simply run past such classics that helped shape today’s reality. Cronenberg sits atop that vanguard who revolutionized the (body) horror genre with their imagination and curiosity.

9. One Cut of the Dead (2017)

15 Great Zombie Movies That You Need To See - One Cut of the Dead (2017)

This Japanese flick remains true to its title. It follows a crew of filmmakers trying to film a zombie film in a single take. But, as fate would have it, they are attacked by real zombies in the facility where they shoot. The mixing of the two realities gives shape to the fast-paced, uncompromising narrative that never second-guesses creative choices. It all moves at a frenetic pace in one direction: forward. The format of the story has something to do with it, but it also highlights the conviction of the makers in the project.

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10. REC (2007)

15 Great Zombie Movies That You Need To See - REC (2007)

Next up is this found footage horror film from Spain that never allows you a second of relief from the moment reporter Angela, cameraman Pablo, and two firefighters enter an apparently normal building tending to a distress call. Such is the generosity of the setting that jumps scares are suitable to embolden the horror tones. The building is a genius idea to create a hellish nightscape for the viewers and the characters. There is no shortage of gore either in REC. In fact, that aspect of storytelling will be enjoyed by genre purists.

The most intense sense one feels due to the handheld camera style, lighting, and overall format of storytelling is claustrophobia. It will have the same impact as seeing sharks or other sea creatures in the open sea does on those who are afraid of the water. Without any qualms, REC is not for the faint-hearted. Its crazy potential to invoke the above is fully tapped into by directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero.

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Opening the gateway to hell

“Not knowing” is an effective yet simplistic narrative tool. A filmmaker can gauge our attention and sensibilities more to their will by not showing us something as opposed to the other way. Alfred Hitchcock was a classic component of this stream of consciousness. His effortless style to reel you in with a lack of specifics was unmatched. This element is a natural pull for horror films. More recently, films like Barbarian have epitomized the waiting game, burning anticipation that makes you an urgent viewer. This section of the article has two impressive zombie films where the characters open a portal to the realm of the dead.

The discovery of those worlds unravels in utmost chaos and brings destruction all around. Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond is a standout from his list of inspiring works. It fits perfectly within our categorization. Land of the Dead (2005) by George Romero is another wonderful representation of this style. Hellgate (1989), Hell Hunters, and The Haunted Mansion are exciting proponents of the demonic world portal style that you can check out. For now, none of these makes it to our picks. But perhaps in the future, we can revisit them.

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11. The Beyond (1981)

15 Great Zombie Movies That You Need To See - The Beyond (1981)

Inheriting a haunted mansion is one thing, but inheriting a hotel with one of the gates to Hell is wholly another level of bizarre. Lucio Fulci’s enigmatic cinematic brain brings this flavourful festival of evil and doom with so much variety and blunt darkness you would want to switch off your screen. The Beyond works due to the energy that Fulci provides in his characterization.

In spite of its biblical origins and nature, Fulci’s world suffers from no such overhang. Such is the standard of gore and trauma that Liza and the audience are subjected to; everything outside the hotel seems unreal. The setting of Fulci’s world is the main driver of The Beyond’s direction and epic genealogy.

12. Resident Evil (2002)

15 Great Zombie Movies That You Need To See - Resident Evil (2002)

Here is our controversial pick on the list that will raise eyebrows. And to some extent, the skepticism is justified. Resident Evil, based on a video game developed by Capcom, is a commercially exploitative franchise without too much inventive curiosity or accretive features for the genre. There are a lot of indications that are suggestive of the casual attitude to filmmaking while making these movies. Yet, it is one of those guilty pleasure campy horror flicks that have a watchable quality that easily fits into your busy daily schedule. It is one of the foremost names on the list that you can at anytime slot between your everyday work and watch for fun with your friends and family.

Milla Jovovich became an icon with her central protagonist that has even today retained its stature. Her presence at the core of Resident Evil is imperious and imperative. One cannot simply imagine Alice without her face and physicality. Alice’s struggle with the Umbrella Corporation is somewhat comparable to other bad-ass female characters like Lara Croft, and she definitely falls in the same category. Resident Evil is a formulaic, obnoxiously patchy potboiler with no intention to amount to anything more, and that is its most compelling offering.

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The Classics of the Genre

One always has to fall back to the place where it all started. Without knowing about the origins, one can appreciate the beautiful evolution of the final product. This classics section is the subcategory of the zombie genre with the vanguard of the moment. For now, we have not gone back too far into the ‘20s and ‘30s to scrape the first instances of zombies on screen like Frankenstein (1931) or Victor Halperin’s 1932 opus, White Zombie. The undead is a large canvas, and condoning them under an umbrella term is difficult. In our reckoning, the following films are crucial in the defining development of the zombie genre.

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13. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Even though it is not hard to see why Night of the Living Dead is so cherished in American cinematic annals, one can gain more insight from a first-hand account. And there is no one better than Roger Ebert to do so. This review is a must-read to understand that perspective. Modern viewers see the film through a different lens. Our sensibilities have all pointed in this direction, and while watching Night of the Living Dead, one cannot miss the creative genius that is now called tropes or cliches. In Romero’s world, the dead come to life in a visceral manner. The transformation of the dead into zombies is beautifully shot.

Those moments include when Barbara and Johnny try to flee the undead hordes, and one is not so lucky. That is where the fortunes of the genre changed, and it was a pivotal moment. The emotions and feelings come gushing to the fore, watching it all play out. Night of the Living Dead hardly wastes time in setting up the camp and treating you to a first-rate night of horror and gore.

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14. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

At the outset, it must be mentioned that picking one of the two – Romero’s original and Snyder’s 2004 remake – was a tough choice. As big a fan as I am of Snyder’s filmmaking style, Romero’s original is more historically significant. Its precedent value is much higher, and that is why it will remain one of the most significant films in the genre. Dawn of the Dead was Romero’s second zombie film and instantly set sight on a broader horizon. The scale of the apocalyptic breakout was much bigger in size and intensity in Dawn of the Dead. This film is set in a small location – a shopping complex Romero spotted out of nowhere – but has ambitious statements about the outbreak’s impact on societal life.

The element of comedy is never lost on Romero. He uses it sparingly but so effectively that you’d remember those parts long after you have watched the film. The direction of his ridicule is embedded precisely at the roots of American life – consumerism to the point of gluttony and envy. The sense of dread is significantly lesser than in Night of the Living Dead. However, that does not prevent the presence of smartly placed jump scares.

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15. The Last Man on Earth (1964)

The Last Man on Earth is adapted from the same novel that Will Smith’s I Am Legend was adapted from. Hence, you will find similar elements between the two but, of course, generational differences in the setting and world-building. The Omega Man (1971) is also a pretty great impression of the novel.

The Last Man on Earth is best seen as an escapist experience. It is heavy on details of how Price’s Robert Morgan survives in the new apocalyptic world. There is also a credible backstory to reveal how it all happened. Its place in the narration does not undermine the present either, thus creating a compelling mix of past and present.

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