With Fear The Walking Dead now beginning its first season, I look back on my top 10 zombie films.
Zombies, the pop culture phenomenon that began on the big screen with George A. Romero and is continuing on the small with The Walking Dead. I love zombies, the films, the shows and some games too, its the gruesome, terrifying movie monster that I can’t get enough of. Just why, I’m not sure. I particularly love the slow break down and panic of the early part of a zombie story, the ‘morning after’, I call it, when a character awakes to find chaos. (Such as in Dawn of the Dead 2004)
All the best zombie stories have the slow snowballing of events, picking up in action and gore as it goes along, whilst also finding time to be funny, sad or thoughtful. In this list I will compile my top 10 Zombie films of all time and talk briefly about why they’re in the list. After that, I’ll name a couple that didn’t make the list, including some awful zombie films.
#10 – Dawn of the Dead 1978
By many this is the zombie film that is considered to be THE No.1, but for me, it’s only 10th. I’ll admit, I didn’t particularly like it the first time I saw it, but after viewing it again recently I realise it’s actually pretty great. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have that ‘morning’ thing that its remake does, and that’s why I rate it less, but if I’m honest it’s a really fantastic film.
It has a great feeling and a style that makes it a genre classic, from its direction to its social commentary, its great score to its effects. In the end this is a classic horror and one that set up years of zombie stories to come.
#9 – Night of the Living Dead 1968
It’s the one that started it all, well, at least it’s the one that set the trend. Romero began his original trilogy of ground breaking films with ‘Night’ and its a really great genre piece. Being black and white makes it even the more effective, the opening is an atmospheric build up in tension, whilst the rest of the film is a great character study in reacting in survival situations.
Its effects are great for the era and it has a great ending that goes down in history. I really like it and if a zombie movie marathon is on the cards, then its the only logical place to begin.
#8 – Diary of the Dead
After his original trilogy, Romero made three more zombie films in the 21st century, Land, Diary and Survival of the Dead. ‘Diary’ is the one that captured the Zeitgeist of the found footage genre, documenting the zombie apocalypse on multiple cameras and creating a moody and engaging film. It may be a little too on the nose at some points, with its media bad, metaphors. Yet its a really effective film that uses the camera to great effect.
The scares are effective as the characters move around dark and empty buildings, grisly zombies rise and get taken out in interesting ways and the characters spout platitudes whilst standing around wondering what to do. Yet, its great as a zombie film and a horror film, it’s well directed, well written and has some interesting things in it, swimming pool zombies for example.
#7- Day of the Dead 1985
The 3rd in Romero’s original zombie trilogy and my favourite of the bunch. Set in an army base under the ground, it deals with interesting themes and is far more action packed than the others.The cinematography is better and the story is interesting, with good characters and real tension between the violent soldiers and the nice scientists. It’s effects are really well done and the story is written with good characters and interesting situations.
#6 – Land of the Dead
Romero brought back his zombies in 2005 during a period of zombie reinvention, with this, a film that takes place years after the zombie apocalypse in a safe city surrounded by the undead. It was one of the first zombie films I saw when I was younger and I watched it on my own in a dark room, which scared me because of its beginning with a black and white recap of zombie history, including a rather creepy eyeball poking through a curtain.
It’s an effective and exciting film with an interesting set up and some really great gore, I mean disgusting, super disgusting. It’s scary as well with great moments of zombies moving towards the city and overrunning it, whilst the heroes go out beyond the wall with a reinforced truck, which makes for interesting watching.
#5 – Pontypool
Pontypool is just about classed as a zombie film like the 28 films, they’re not technically called zombies but they share the characteristics of them. Here the virus spreads in a small town, but we only hear about it through reports, as it’s set in a radio station and we only hear about it developing when the news comes into the ears of the main DJ.
It’s a really atmospheric and tension filled film that has an interesting take on the virus. It’s spread through language, specific words, terms of endearment to be precise, and so the characters resort to speaking in French in order to avoid becoming infected. With only 3 main characters, it’s a quiet and affective film that has a great script and music, which takes its time in telling a story.
#4 – 28 Weeks Later
The sequel to the hit 2002 film is, in my opinion, a better film. Namely because its more filmy, it has better characters, better set pieces and better action. It begins with one of the most gripping, terrifying sequences in zombie history and by the end of the film our knuckles are white with terror. It’s the infected, here presented as rage infected, who run at top speed, making it all the more visceral and horrifying than their shambling counterparts.
The film is littered with recognisable actors, Jeremy Renner, Rose Byrne and Imogen Poots among them. The music is thrilling, the cinematography brisk and the gore is suitably gory. Yet this film is memorable for its sheer inescapable fear, if this was real life, it would be impossible to survive. I love this film, its fast paced, exciting and really scary.
#3 – Dawn of the Dead 2004
Blasphemy? Possibly, but I have a solid love for this film. Years ago when I wasn’t old enough to watch such films, I remember staying up late and catching the first 5 minutes, up to the point where the little girl comes into the bedroom and eats the leads boyfriend. Not being able to watch the rest, ever since then I looked forward to catching it up. One day, when I was old enough to watch horror films, I bought it, and sat at home, on my own, in the dark and put it on.
To this day it means an awful lot to me because it was one of the first horror films I watched and experienced and began my deep love of zombie films. I love a number of things about it, the fact that it has that ‘Morning after’ thing that I was talking about, in the most famous way. It has those fast scary zombies I like on a big blockbuster scale, and it packs in an awful lot of action, gore and humour, making it a tense, just utterly pleasing zombie film, that utilises great music and a good cast to great effect.
#2 – REC
Boy, is this a good movie. To this day, it’s the scariest horror film I’ve ever seen, and the best use of found footage that has been made. A news reporter and her cameraman, following a crew of fireman around, go into a small apartment block, where they are responding to an old lady screaming bloody murder. It’s basically zombies, bloody zombies that infect everyone and spread carnage throughout the locked down building.
It’s visceral, pulse poundingly terrifying and doesn’t let up for a second. The sequels range from bizarre to funny to run of the mill, but this first film is a triumph in breathtaking film making. The atmosphere and the tension are key, the build up in the fire station, the initial arriving at the apartment and the showering of gore that make it a brilliant film. See it at night, in a dark room, with the volume up loud, it’ll terrify you.
#1 – Shaun of the Dead
It’s a no brainer, but Shaun is my second favourite film of all time, so this is no surprise. This isn’t just a zombie spoof, it’s a proper zombie film, with a ‘Morning after’, a great cast, great characters, brilliant direction, a clever layered and deep script. It’s really funny, has great music and fantastic cinematography and action.
It fantastically builds on atmosphere and tension, whilst creating an interesting script in which everything ties into everything else. It’s a layered script that says things at the beginning, but has a bigger meaning come the finally, and the characters are people you care about. Amongst a plethora of great jokes, is a lot of great zombieness. Gore aplenty, building terror and scares make it more than just a ROM COM, it has a lot of ZOM too.
A couple of zombie films that didn’t make the list are
Zombieland – A fun and funny film, there are just 10 films better than it
28 days later – Low budget and really scary, and kind of beautiful
World War Z – Big blockbuster, good have been a disaster but is perfectly fine and fun, just not enough gore
Some of the worst zombie films I’ve seen are
Maggie – Bland and boring attempt and being arty
Flight of the living Dead – Stupid, badly made and talking zombies
Day of the Dead 2008 – Rubbish remake, stupid zombies and no atmosphere
There we go, that was my top 10 Zombie films of all times. Hope you enjoyed it. I hope to do more lists similar to this another time 🙂 Let me know if you liked it.