I’ve been a fan of zombie movies for over 15 years now, since getting a real Hollywood budget for zombie flick was laughable. While times have changed, some of my favorite movies haven’t. Visually, films today have a distinct advantage over their early counterparts, but that’s only part of what makes a zombie movie that has the ability to last.
10. Dead Alive – While this film is a bit of a fluffball in terms of plot, it is amongst the goriest films I’ve ever seen. The over-the-top violence in this film is so absurd and hilarious that it spawned off a new era of zombie comedies that continues to this day.
9. 28 Weeks Later – You come across 28 Days Later on almost every list out there, but 28 Weeks Later was a much more focused and intense film. In the first installment, the second half of the film sputters off into some asinine storyline about military rapists. As if the zombie apocalypse wasn’t enough of a plot. Way to ruin an epic beginning of the film. In the second installment the story builds and build for the length of the film, and arrives at an ending as epic and gloomy as any of Romero’s classics. On the whole I thought this was a much darker film than the original, better written and the characters seemed more developed.
8. Shaun of the Dead – This movie is brilliantly made with hilarious characters. It not only pokes fun at the zombie genre, but pays tribute to it at the same time. While some of the jokes have always been a little too British to make me laugh, there are so many scenes that are unforgettable. Not to mention, it had the most catchy zombie theme song since The Gonk.
7. Dawn of the Dead (2004) – Love it or hate it, this film sparked a series of big budget zombie films and shows that reignited the public interest in the genre. This film was such a disappointment to me on first watch, as it had little to do with the original and was totally devoid of any of the social commentary that has been a staple of Romero’s work. Eventually, I learned to love it as it’s own creation. It is a wham bam zombie flick that is a fun ride and the zombies looked impressive.
6. Land of the Dead – This movie rarely appears on any lists I come across, but it’s become such a timepiece in my mind. The movie speaks volumes about the Bush era, the rise of terrorism, and the growing division of wealth, all wrapped up in an action-packed zombie flick. I can’t understand why this film seems to be excluded from the acclaim awarded to Romero’s previous films as it strikes many of the same chords.
5. Day of the Dead – Day of the Dead also never seemed to quite get the credit it deserves. There is the tension between science and the military, or by scientifically domesticating our primal tendencies like Dr. Frankenstein’s zombies, or becoming like the savage violent soldiers and killing everything. That all plays well with the early eighties political cold war ideologies. So the zombies will now wipe the slate clean and we can start over. It’s always been a little too neat and clean and even a little forced for me though, a little too optimistic in comparison to Romero’s other films. What keeps this film up there is the stunning leap forward in special effects from it’s predecessors, some of which still look great in comparison to big budget films today.
4. The Battery – It took a while to figure out where exactly this film fit into this list as it is the newest zombie flick included. After years of waiting for something new and exciting in the genre, but still true to the roots, The Battery blew me away. What makes this low-budget film a work of lasting brilliance is the characters. Not since Night of the Living Dead has a zombie film worked so hard to develop characters, to show their conflicts, their motivations, and to capture what makes them still feel human in a world that is becoming less and less human. The Battery proves that the thing which still drives an epic zombie movie is not the action and gore, but the survivors.
3. Zombieland – Aside from being incredibly funny, this is just a great post-apocalyptic story. The four characters are typical modern people that have spent their lives closing themselves off from others. Now that there aren’t many people left, the survivors are lonely enough to see each other as actual human beings again. This story is best told by Columbus, the aptly named narrator that takes us through his discoveries in the “New World.” The whole film just works and it’s a lot of fun to watch.
2. Night of the Living Dead – What can possibly be said about this film that hasn’t already been said? It’s simply the most classic zombie plot. A group of survivors from very different circumstances find themselves shut up together in a farmhouse during a zombie outbreak. Ben, the proactive survivor, Mr. and Mrs. Cooper with their strained marriage and injured daughter, Barbara who lost her brother and her mind, and Tom and Judy, the young lovers determined to stay together and trying to keep the peace in an increasingly intense situation. And no one survives. Flawed, brilliant, and more awesome than even Romero ever realized it would be. It’s the only black and white film I can still watch today and be impressed with the overall accomplishment for the level of production.
1. Dawn of the Dead (1978) – The unquestioned king of my zombie movie list is Dawn of the Dead. The zombie horde, drawn to the mall by the same thing in their zombie brain that drew them there when they were alive, the promise of fulfillment. For the first time, we see those special zombie characters like the Hari Krishna zombie. A post-apocalyptic gang of raiders on motorcycles that steals and robs the “kingdom” our apathetic heroes have locked themselves inside as the world falls apart. Everyone is after all the “stuff” in the mall. But as our survivors find out, it was never having all that stuff that made life worth living. This is really Romero’s masterpiece. While much of the social commentary of Night of the Living Dead was not even intended in the writing of the film, there is a definite commentary in Dawn of the Dead that seems even more relevant as time goes on. It gets to the core of what zombies are all about, how our materialism and apathy to the outside world can turn any of us into a mindless zombie. In a word, wow. If you aren’t strongly affected by this movie, there is a pretty good chance you’re already a zombie and just don’t know it yet.