They shamble, they swarm and they enjoy eating people. Zombies! Everyone loves them, despite the fact that they would like nothing more than to tear us into easily consumable pieces. In fact, so beloved are zombies that there are dozens of films featuring them. Hundreds, even.
Most wear their zombie influence on their sleeve, categorised by being comically violent, revelling in gross-out factor, and otherwise not asking to be taken seriously. In other words, B-grade popcorn films. But there are some that are so good they have even inspired online casino games like Microgaming’s Zombie Hoard, so we’ve decided to take a look at the best flesh-eating films ever made.
See if you agree with our top picks…
Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
You know that classic zombie setup? The one where a bunch of people decide to take shelter in a mall? Well, this is the film that created that cliché. Few would argue that Dawn of the Dead is the ultimate zombie film, mainly because it had a very big part in making the zombie genre as big as it is today. It’s horribly violent, goofy at times, and revels in the absurdity of its premise.
Yes, there are scenes where the lead characters just mess around in the mall, playing video games and looting shops. Yes, there is also a moment where zombies take pies in their faces. But lest we forget, this is all contrasted by a horrifying incident where children zombies are gunned down, which is anything but funny. How did legendary director George Romero make it all work together in the same film?
Watch it and see for yourself. As far as zombie films go, this is the gold standard.
Return Of The Living Dead (1985)
Far less well known than Dawn of the Dead, and often overlooked, Return of the Living Dead is the sort of cinema experience that can make audiences gape in disbelief. Extremely dark, hilarious, shocking, and demonstrating so much bad taste that it would almost certainly not get made today, this is how the zombie genre is meant to be tackled. Stare in horror at the scene where the agonised, severed upper torso of a zombie explains why it needs to eat brains. Because it makes the pain stop, of course. Yikes.
On that point, guess which film made it part of zombie culture that the living dead eat brains?
Dark comedy categorised zombie films of the 70s and 80s, and Re-Animator leans heavily into this aspect. Mad, wildly ambitious scientist Herbert West is obsessed with bringing back the dead, and succeeds. Though sadly the living dead only have one thing on their mind, murder. Again, the subject material is shocking, and often repulsive to the point of drawing gasps. But also again, the horror is offset by genuinely great comedy.
Day Of The Dead (1985)
Romero is back, and managed to produce another classic. Many prefer Dawn of the Dead to Day of the Dead, which is fair enough. But Day of the Dead is still a classic in its own right. Gone is the mall, replaced by an underground shelter, and the characters are far less prone to messing around and hitting zombies in the face with pies. But what we do have is a believable cast; plenty of drama, and even a zombie film first, a sympathetic brain-eater who is arguably more human than the humans.
28 Days Later (2002)
The zombie genre was rekindled in the early 2000s, but with major differences. Campy comedy was replaced by a far more grim and serious tone. Not necessarily a bad thing, though far less appropriate for popcorn consumption. 28 Days Later was the first of this new iteration, and hardly something to be taken lightly. Real horror, disturbing implications, and a new zombie that can run. The living dead are now actually scary.
Not everyone approved, but there is no arguing that 28 Days Later is still an excellent film. What would humans really be like in an apocalypse situation?
Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
Lastly we have a comedy to round off the picks. With genuinely scary zombies populating the 2000s, Shaun of the Dead came along to remind everyone that flesh-eating monsters could be funny. This time though, the focus is very firmly on the laughs, despite the still present rampant gore. Shaun of the Dead is regarded as a zombie classic, and is respected by many as more accurately nailing the formula than other films that aim to be taken seriously.
Yes, in this case the formula is being stripped down and prodded for laughs, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t still an excellent film featuring the walking dead as a central plot point