Top 20 Zombie Movies
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 zombie movies.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the greatest and most influential zombie (or zombie-like creature) films ever made.
Which of these is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!
#20: “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie” (1974)
Besides having a killer title, “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie” is also a bonkers zombie film. Unlike many others, this one actually explains how they came to be. Here, what’s to blame is new machinery in which farmers use radiation to control the insect population. The zombies go on a killing spree, and two innocent people are implicated in the recent deaths. It’s a beautiful movie that takes full advantage of its rustic English setting. This includes scenes shot outside Manchester’s gothic Barnes Hospital. It predates some of the most popular zombie movies of the ‘70s, has a wonderfully foreboding atmosphere, and even includes some social commentary through its ecological themes. It’s not a popular zombie film, but it’s a good one.
#19: “Land of the Dead” (2005)
Twenty years after the release of “Day of the Dead,” the legendary George A. Romero returned to his iconic franchise with the surprisingly good “Land of the Dead.” The movie was significantly more ambitious than its predecessors, complete with a multi-million dollar budget and stars like John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper. The city setting was a new addition to the series, and gave the film a moody end-of-the-world atmosphere. Of course, it was also filled with all the zombie gore one would expect from Romero. And we’d be remiss not to mention the social commentary, which touched on themes of class and militarism. It wasn’t technically the last film in the franchise, but for many, the “Dead” series ended here.
#18: “The Girl with All the Gifts” (2016)
Colm McCarthy’s 2016 movie began to take shape while M.R. Carey wrote his novel of the same name. Despite its similarities with famous zombie films, “The Girl with All the Gifts” mines some interesting new material from the classics. It’s kinda like “Children of Men” set in a “28 Days Later” style universe, complete with a young girl who’s the key to securing a safe and virus-free future. The film is also well shot and contains a great sense of scope, which convincingly conveys its post-apocalyptic setting. Add in a great performance from Sennia Nanua, and you have an effective zombie film.
#17: “Cockneys vs Zombies” (2012)
Similarities will inevitably be drawn between “Cockneys vs Zombies” and “Shaun of the Dead.” After all, the 2012 film also centers much of its humor around passive and polite English culture in the midst of a violent zombie outbreak! But it is nevertheless effective, and watching elderly people fight a swarm of zombies will never not be funny. This movie has a lot of heart, and embraces both the zombie genre and the East End of London, which is where most of the action takes place. It’s a fun and hilarious story that effectively parodies zombie films and Cockney London culture.
#16: “The Last Man on Earth” (1964)
The subjects of “The Last Man on Earth” are a unique and confusing mix between zombie and vampire. Whatever they are, they’re incredibly scary. This film was the first adaptation of Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend”. Though he was credited as Logan Swanson, the author actually contributed to the screenplay. As its title suggests, the movie has a moody and lonely atmosphere that is often punctuated by frightening sequences involving the undead. Vincent Price also gives a great lead performance as Robert Morgan, continuing his legendary streak that began eleven years earlier with “House of Wax.” Modern viewers will obviously be familiar with Will Smith’s “I Am Legend,” but this 1964 film is the scariest and most compelling adaptation of Matheson’s novel.
#15: “Re-Animator” (1985)
One of the best cult films of the 1980s, “Re-Animator” is a loose adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West-Reanimator.” It follows an ambitious med school student who brings the departed back to life. The movie provides a disgusting glimpse into death. Makeup artist John Naulin reportedly conducted thorough research to give the deceased bodies a realistic look! Much of the movie’s reputation actually revolves around its grotesquery. It was so violent that it was initially unrated, so video stores at the time also carried a modified R-rated version of the film. “Re-Animator” is one of the quintessential indie monster exploitation flicks of its time, and it also happens to be hilarious.
#14: “Little Monsters” (2019)
Abe Forsythe’s “Little Monsters” manages to find refreshing new ground within the zombie comedy genre. Featuring Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, and Josh Gad, it follows a kindergarten teacher who must shield her students from zombies during a field trip. Nyong’o’s performance as Miss Audrey Caroline is excellent, as per usual. What’s more, the film contains a lot of great meta humor that pokes fun at the zombie genre. But it doesn’t end there. It also mixes in some touching elements of the romantic comedy genre, resulting in a story that is heartfelt, wickedly funny, and gleefully disgusting.
#13: “One Cut of the Dead” (2017)
Arguably the greatest zombie comedy of the 2010s, this is a small Japanese film that has earned universal praise for its original storyline and intelligent screenplay. “One Cut of the Dead” was made for the equivalent of about $25,000, but ended up grossing roughly $30 million thanks to word of mouth. The film is an uproarious satire of the zombie genre. After all, it follows a director who strikes gold when real zombies attack as he’s filming an indie movie about them! The film hilariously touches on all the tropes of the genre, and its script is packed to the brim with laughs and clever callbacks to earlier setups. In short, it’s a masterpiece.
#12: “Day of the Dead” (1985)
The third entry in Romero’s renowned series, “Day of the Dead” was released to middling success in the summer of 1985. It concerns a group of scientists and military men living in an underground bunker as they attempt to end the zombie outbreak. And though the film was initially a commercial and critical disappointment, its reputation has gotten better over the years. Notably, it contains an unrelentingly dour tone and some horrific violence. But it’s a great film for those who like their zombie movies hopeless and dreary. If that’s not enough to convince you, it also contains some great makeup effects, courtesy of Tom Savini.
#11: “Dead Snow” (2009)
And now for something completely different! “Dead Snow” is a goofy Norweigan comedy about a bunch of students who are accosted by Nazi zombies while on Easter break. Yes, you heard that right. This is basically the modern definition of an intentionally silly B-movie, and not taking it seriously is part of what makes it fun. The humor works well, and the film contains a lot of great makeup effects that’ll have even the most zombie-hardened viewers wincing in disgust. It’s one of those films that should be watched at two in the morning, preferably with a group of rowdy friends willing to laugh.
#10: “Rec” (2007)
Getting in on the found footage genre is “[•REC]”, a Spanish film about a news crew that gets stuck inside a quarantined apartment complex. Did we mention the place is filled with zombies? There have been a few of these types of films throughout the years, but none are as horrifying or as effective as this 2007 movie. It’s a masterclass in low-budget filmmaking, with many scenes going on for minutes at a time. This works perfectly for the story’s sense of grounded realism, playing more like an uncut piece of footage than a polished and edited film. Of course, it also helps that “[•REC]” is very scary, complete with a terrific sense of dread and some blood-curdling zombies.
#9: “Zombi 2” (1979)
“Zombi 2” was marketed as a sequel to George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” which was edited and called “Zombi” in Europe. Yet Italian director Lucio Fulci reportedly had no intention of tying it to “Dawn”, and was not aware that it would be advertised as such. The story follows Anne Bowles, who ventures to a Caribbean island to investigate the disappearance of her scientist father. The movie had a huge influence on the Italian horror genre of the early ‘80s, and quickly earned a reputation as a video nasty in the United Kingdom. It’s this label that has bolstered its popularity, and numerous sequences from the film have become legendary in zombie fan circles.
#8: “Zombieland” (2009)
One of the most famous zombie comedies ever made, “Zombieland” gets by largely on the strength of its incredible cast. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin all star as the protagonists, and Bill Murray provides one of the funniest celebrity cameos in recent memory. “Zombieland” takes the genre and makes it fun with Columbus’ iconic “rules”, some great music, and a funny script filled with wacky scenarios and memorable one-liners. Plus, Harrelson gives one of his greatest performances as Tallahassee. It’s a charming and star-studded zom-com that never takes itself too seriously, which makes it a joy to watch.
#7: “Braindead” [aka “Dead Alive”] (1992)
Before “The Lord of the Rings,” Peter Jackson was making silly zombie movies in his native New Zealand. “Braindead” is one of his most unconventional creations, and it quickly developed a reputation as such. While extremely gory, the film’s violence is always conducted in a tongue-in-cheek manner. The splatter is meant to elicit disbelieving laughs rather than disgust! In fact, “Braindread”’s tone is relentlessly outlandish. Even in its most serious moments, Jackson imbues the story with a giddy sense of fun. As such, it inspired many of the zombie comedies that followed, and remains a go-to classic for gore hounds.
#6: “Shaun of the Dead” (2004)
Speaking of which, Simon Pegg directly named “Braindead” as a major influence on his “Shaun of the Dead.” While Jackson’s DNA is there, “Shaun” is far more subtle in its style of humor. It’s a hilarious zombie comedy that sends up the many clichés of the genre, but it’s also an effective satire regarding passive English culture. It’s a very “British” film in tone, deriving much of its humor from the ways Shaun and his friends absentmindedly interact with the zombies around them. With “Shaun of the Dead,” Edgar Wright proved himself a creative and visually inventive director. Plus, the film turned Simon Pegg into the international star he is today.
#5: “Train to Busan” (2016)
Western audiences have been treated to many great international zombie films throughout the years. South Korea’s “Train to Busan” is one of them. Just when it seems like the zombie genre has done all that it can do, a flick like this one comes along and asks, “What if there was a zombie outbreak...on a train?” The cramped conditions of the vehicle actually create a distinctive and wickedly claustrophobic setting. And when the story eventually opens up, viewers get a compelling glimpse of an apocalyptic situation. The zombie action scenes are thrillingly directed, and the movie aptly uses its backdrop to comment on Korean class issues. Simply put, it’s a heartfelt and horrifying zombie film with brains.
#4: “The Return of the Living Dead” (1985)
Few movies are as unashamedly ‘80s as this one. It’s not just a great zombie movie; it also provides an intriguing glimpse into a mostly lost subculture. Further, the film is often credited for bringing new ideas - such as the undead eating brains instead of flesh - to the zombie genre. So the next time you hear someone groaning “braaains” while imitating these terrifying beings, know that you have this classic to thank. Additionally, its costume design and soundtrack make it quite idiosyncratic, as they place major emphasis on the punk subculture of the ‘80s. In essence, “The Return of the Living Dead” is a stylish and hilarious zombie comedy with a personality unlike any other.
#3: “28 Days Later” (2002)
While it may not have introduced the concept of running zombies, there’s little question that “28 Days Later” re-started it in earnest. It was a fresh idea that proved incredibly rewarding, and it kickstarted a craze that continues to serve the genre. The debate between fast and slow zombies persists to this day, with many believing that quick, screeching zombies are far scarier than the slower ones of old. The movie is also notable for its remarkably post-apocalyptic tone, which includes the famous sequence in which Jim explores an abandoned London. No other zombie movie - not even its memorable sequel - has been able to convey such a nightmarish and foreboding reality.
#2: “Dawn of the Dead” (1978)
Arguably George A. Romero’s most famous work, “Dawn of the Dead” could be considered the granddaddy of zombie movies. Romero veered in a drastically different direction from “Night,” offering a movie that was more colorful (literally), more amusing, and far more gory. It catapulted the genre forward in terms of scope, popularity, and its penchant for displaying bloody violence. Plus, the film contains some of Tom Savini’s best make-up work, a memorable soundtrack, and Romero’s most intelligent use of social commentary. The themes he explores are just as relevant today as they were in 1978, and the movie has mostly retained its unhinged sense of fun. Zack Snyder’s remake was surprisingly good, but nothing beats the original (xref).
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
One of the First Movies from Body Horror Master, David Cronenberg
“I Walked with a Zombie” (1943)
An Influential Zombie Film from the ‘40s with Interesting Racial Subtext
“Planet Terror” (2007)
A Movie Honoring the Sleazy Grindhouse Films of the ‘70s
#1: “Night of the Living Dead” (1968)
While “Dawn” popularized zombie flicks, “Night” really set a gold standard for the genre. A history-making film - and the subject of a solid remake (xref) - “Night of the Living Dead” was reportedly made for just $114,000. But what George A. Romero and a small group of filmmakers accomplished with so little is beyond comparison. The movie was hated upon initial release for its shocking violence and hopeless nihilism. But it’s now regarded as a landmark horror film that introduced countless tropes of the modern zombie genre. According to critics, it also serves as a fascinating glimpse into the America of the ‘60s, with its themes interpreted to be about both the Cold War and the Civil Rights movement. Thus, “Night” gave way to the dawn of the zombie genre.