Note: This blog post originally ran several years ago on a different blog.
There are a lot of reasons to love zombie movies. The often complicated sub-text about how fragile civilization and civility are. The statements they make on race, consumerism and our incompetent and/or morally bankrupt governments. The fact that in zombie movies, unlike let's say, vampire or werewolf movies, the characters have no idea what is going on. Usually no one even says the word "zombie" and there are no Scream-style other-zombie-movie references where characters draw upon their zombie knowledge to know what to do - no, they have to figure it all out by themselves. And last, but not least, is that zombie movies are freaking terrifying because - again unlike stupid vampire or werewolf movies - that stuff could really happen. Yes, the reanimated dead walking the streets feasting on our tasty flesh is one bad day away.
So which ten movie are sure to inspire a lifelong and difficult-for-your-friends-to-understand love of the zombie genre? Here is my list.
10. Cemetery Man (a.k.a. Dellamorte Dellamore) - This movie is significantly different from the others on the list. It's the only one that isn't a 'zombie apocalypse' movie. In fact it's a zombie romance film. It's pleasantly weird and not scary at all. It's a foreign film and it feels foreign in a good way.
910. Resident Evil - The zombies don't show up until half way in, but what makes this movie is the mystery, trying to figure out what the heck is going on and the creepily precocious girl computer - The Red Queen. Zombie dogs, Mila Jovovich in a short skirt and the Day of the Dead homage at the end are nice touches too. The sequels continue the homages (mostly to Day of the Dead, which doesn't even make the list) but lack the good story telling.
9. Zombieland (2009) - Not as good a comedy as Shaun of the Dead, but good. Woody Harrelson's character wasn't as funny as I expected, but the running gag of rules that pop up on the screen and the cameo are two of the brightest spots. They avoid the bunker element of most zombie movies - instead making a road movie - and that was probably a good choice. It's one of the few zombie movies that actually uses the word "zombie," even though they aren't technically undead.
8. Night of the Living Dead (1968) - The original modern zombie film and a classic. The movie is claustrophobic and tense. It's one of the first major films to have an African-American as the hero, but it's clearly dated in its treatment of women. The ending is fantastic and the conflict among the characters is what makes the film so watchable. The film borrows heavily from the novel I Am Legend, and, ironically, is better than the three direct attempts to adapt the novel to a movie - much to the chagrin of author Richard Matheson.
7. Dawn of the Dead (2004) - This remake of a sequel (one of the only ones ever) is technically superior to all the others. It borrows all the best parts and puts it together into a very tight film, but there's nothing new or unique and it can feel a bit hack. But still what it lacks in freshness it makes up for in visuals and acting. Sadly the remake of Day of the Dead, which like Dawn of the Dead also features Ving Rhames but as a different character, is going straight to video.
6. 28 Weeks Later - A good sequel, with more of the scariest zombies* of them all and without cheating too much. Though it has some silliness (why do we keep seeing Robert Carlyle and how does he get out of the holding cell where Alice is held anyway?) and lacks the easy-flowing structure of 28 Days Later it does well with the hamstrung starting point and ends in a decidedly darker place.
5. Shaun of the Dead - The best of so very many attempts at zombie comedies (Night of the Living Dead was originally pitched as a comedy called Monster Flick). The movie has a hysterical hook about people who are zombie-like, without being zombies. It's got good lines, good site gags and good physical comedy. And it includes the excellent question "how can you put your faith in a man ...whose idea of a romantic nightspot and an impenetrable fortress are the same thing?"
4. Return of the Living Dead - A lot of people hate this movie. They call it Zomblotation. But it was the first zombie movie I saw and it scared the bejeezus out of me. Technically a sequel to Night of the Living Dead it takes a more comedic approach. The zombies can talk (though they make for poor conversation since all they want to talk about is eating your brains ASAP), run, think and are basically unkillable making them the most formidable of all zombies. If you can choose, you want to meet Romero zombies (slow, stupid and destructible) and not Russo zombies. The ending of this one is at least as good as Night of the Living Dead. The sequels are all pretty awful though.
3. Night of the Living Dead (1990) - One of the few remakes to be better than the original. Romero wrote the script for the remake, and in addition to better acting (Tony Todd is better than Duane Jones, I'm sorry, but it's true) and production value it benefits from a better and less pathetic heroine and a significantly better ending (when the original had a great ending to start with).
2. Dawn of the Dead (1978) - A sequel that's better than the movie it follows (why Scream II never mentions it I'll never know). It has a brilliant premise, even if it distances itself from the previous story, and is the first true 'zombie apocalypse' movies. It makes a great statement on consumerism and the mall culture of the late 70's (making an unofficial trilogy with Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Mall Rats) but it suffers from Romero's inability to write bad guys who are anything other than unrealistically evil.
1. 28 Days Later - I know, technically these aren't zombies (see note below) but this movie is a zombie film that respects the second law of thermodynamics. It brilliantly replaces the crazy flesh-eating Russian engineered plants from the 'comfortable catastrophe' of Day of the Triffids - the book, not the movie - with remarkably non-comfortable flesh-eating infected humans. These blood-spewing non-humans are fast, incomprehensible and the most terrifying incarnation of zombies of them all - partly because they're believable and partly because of the creepy theme song. The love story is weak, but the instantaneous transformation rule and the awesome final act (after Jim is to be executed) more than make up for that. Oh and did I mention that Jim, the hero, is a bike courier?
* Technically the creatures in the 28 ---- Later movies are not zombies but rather crazy people. But this is my list and while I've discounted the creatures in I Am Legend and Army of Darkness, I'm keeping these.