Zombies have remained one of the most popular aspects of horror media. Since they broke out into mainstream cinema during the 1960s, these undead walkers grew more and more prevalent until they became part of their very own genre. HBO Max’s The Last of Us, a series based on the hit video game, is just the latest iteration in a long line of zombie-centric entertainment.
Audiences have seen them as slow-moving shamblers and super-fast predators, but no matter what breed of zombie they are, they will always succeed in giving viewers the frights. Out of all the many zombie films that have risen in the past century, these five are the ones any die-hard horror fan should watch.
5. 1968’s Night of the Living Dead
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” This haunting line set the stage for cinema’s first modern zombie film. Director George A. Romero’s iconic horror movie was revolutionary for its depiction of violence and gore, and the controversy it stirred caused it to be widely panned upon its release. Nevertheless, the public couldn’t get enough of it, and it still became one of the most profitable movies at the time.
Night of the Living Dead has since garnered much critical acclaim, and many scholars have analyzed and interpreted it as a veiled critique of American society and the horrors of the Vietnam War. And thanks to Ben’s shocking death at the end of the film, Night of the Living Dead has been considered a significant piece that comments on the racial tensions that can still be felt in America today.
4. 28 Days Later
At a time when zombie movies had all but died down, this film from director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland gave new life to the genre by presenting its flesh-eating ghouls as fast-moving monstrosities. 28 Days Later remains one of the most realistic zombie films in recent memory, as it features a gritty tone and a relentless story beginning with an unforgettable journey through the empty streets of London.
The film is so full of frantic and chaotic energy that the audience really feels like they’re in the middle of all the action. Many filmmakers have since tried to replicate the look and feel of this film, leading to the trend of zombie media that rose in the 2000s. In the end, this film proved that the public’s love for zombies was never truly dead.
3. Shaun of the Dead
Long before he wowed audiences with Baby Driver and Last Night in Soho, director Edgar Wright delivered a brilliant homage to the zombie genre with this horror-comedy classic. In the middle of a zombie apocalypse, an aimless salesman teams up with his flatmate to gather his loved ones and get them all to safety, and hilarious hijinks ensue.
Like many of Wright’s films, Shaun of the Dead is a masterclass of cinematic storytelling. Almost every scene in this film is filled with brilliant little details that demand multiple watches from its audience. On top of that, the film’s perfect blend of well-written comedy and bloody violence makes this a horror film people can watch over and over without ever getting tired of it.
2. Evil Dead 2
While it might seem strange to classify the Evil Dead franchise in the zombie genre, director Sam Raimi unleashed his own brand of undead horrors with his films, with the second one standing out as the best. Following Ash’s first long night with the Deadites, Evil Dead 2 shows him once again facing off against the Kandarian Demon as it continues tormenting him in his rented cabin in the woods.
Unlike the first film in the franchise, Evil Dead 2 fully embraces the wackiness of its premise and its low-budget production to create a slapstick splatter film that far surpassed the original. And with Ash donning a chainsaw hand and his trusty “boomstick,” Bruce Campbell transformed into a B-movie action movie hero whose impact still lingers in pop culture today.
1. 1978’s Dawn of the Dead
Ten years after he revolutionized horror cinema with Night of the Living Dead, director George A. Romero reinvented the zombie genre once more with this beloved sequel. Dawn of the Dead expands the scale of its zombie invasion and its effects on civilization, all while moving the action from an abandoned house to an enormous shopping mall.
Just like its predecessor, Dawn of the Dead is rife with political and social commentary. But this time, it takes a more satirical approach in addressing issues of racism, police brutality, class divisions, consumerism, and greed. While Night of the Living Dead pushed the boundaries of what horror is capable of, this film showed audiences what the zombie genre could really do.