30 Essential Zombie Movies

The zombie: Without remorse and pity, driven by a single hunger, and damn near impossible to put down permanently. There have been times since their introduction into movies in the 1930s where it felt like we’d never see a zombie movie again. Then there are eras of the opposite, where you couldn’t stick your arm out in a multiplex without a shambling ghoul nearby, ready to chomp. And since we’ve been in feast mode over the last decade-plus, we’re taking a big bite with our guide to the 30 Essential Zombie Movies that you need to watch!

While zombie movies have been for more than 80 years (in 1932 we got White Zombie, in 1943 I Walked With a Zombie), it’s commonly accepted the subgenre as we know it today didn’t rise until 1968, when George A. Romero unleashed Night of the Living Dead. An independent film with a budget barely above six figures, Night enthralled audiences with its mysterious plot, shocking gore, progressive casting and social commentary, and, natch, the unforgettable hordes of the gaunt, hungry undead. Crowned the godfather of zombies, Romero made five more Dead movies, the best of which are featured in this guide, including Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead.

Despite Romero’s efforts, it would still be a long shuffle into the early 2000s before zombies would break out of horror niche and crawl all over pop culture. Highlights from the pre-2000 era include splatter comedies like Return of the Living Dead and Dead Alive, Lucio Fulci’s eye-splitting and shark-wrestling Zombi 2, and H.P. Lovecraft adaptation Re-Animator.

The success of the Resident Evil video games revealed an audience appetite hitherto untapped, inspiring a gushing fount of zombie movies released between 2000 and 2005. Now we got to see the true versatility of the zombie movie. There was the loving spoofery of Shaun of the Dead. The blockbuster theatrics of the Resident Evil adaptation. Cutting-edge, gritty filmmaking with 28 Days Later. Japanese kinetic action in Versus, and most recently the creative, micro-budget One Cut of the Dead.

Ever since, zombies have shown no sign of slowing down. (Some have even figured out how to run.) TV show The Walking Dead is an obvious behemoth to point towards, but in the film world, zombies have made their way into found footage ([REC]), rom-com (Warm Bodies), and grindhouse throwbacks (Planet Terror).

And with this guide, we sought to capture those many moods, the various sensitivities that make up the zombie movie. Most featured here are Fresh and Certified Fresh, and of course we’re including a few Rotten movies. They may not have gotten the highest critical marks, but offer just as much color, life, and odor to this list. With that, it’s time to use your braaaaains and dig deep into the best zombie movies to watch!

Adjusted Score: 81.016%
Critics Consensus: Valley Girl culture satire Night of the Comet gets lots of mileage out of its slapstick sci-fi zombie approach.
Synopsis: In this sharp-witted sci-fi disaster outing, a comet smashes into California leaving a pair of Valley girls and a few... [More]
Directed By: Thom Eberhardt


Juan of the Dead (2012)

Adjusted Score: 79.911%
Critics Consensus: Filled with wild splatter slapstick, Juan of the Dead also deftly uses its zombie premise as an undead Trojan horse for insightful political commentary.
Synopsis: Juan is 40 years old, most of which he spent in Cuba doing absolutely nothing. Juan's only emotional tie is... [More]
Directed By: Alejandro Brugués


Little Monsters (2019)

Adjusted Score: 84.017%
Critics Consensus: Led by typically outstanding work from Lupita Nyong'o, Little Monsters is a horror/rom-com hybrid that proves the zombie genre still has fresh brains to savor.
Synopsis: Little Monsters follows Dave (Alexander England), a washed-up musician who volunteers to chaperone his nephew's kindergarten class field trip after... [More]
Directed By: Abe Forsythe


Wild Zero (2000)

Adjusted Score: 20.786%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Punk rock, zombies, and space aliens combine for this post-apocalypse youth-culture blowout from Japan. After the crash of a meteorite,... [More]
Directed By: Tetsuro Takeuchi

Adjusted Score: 45.139%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Scooby and the gang reunite and head to Moonscar Island in the Louisiana bayou to investigate a haunted mansion. After... [More]


Resident Evil (2002)

Adjusted Score: 39.384%
Critics Consensus: Like other video game adapations, Resident Evil is loud, violent, formulaic, and cheesy.
Synopsis: The director of Mortal Kombat (1995) adapts another popular video game for the big screen with this gory action thriller.... [More]
Directed By: Paul W.S. Anderson

Adjusted Score: 61.014%
Critics Consensus: Cemetery Man will frustrate viewers seeking narrative cohesion or coherence, but this surreal blend of humor and horror should satisfy B-movie fans in the mood for quirk.
Synopsis: Achingly romantic and creepy-funny, this funereal fantasy from the director of La Chiesa (1989) is unlike any Italian film in... [More]
Directed By: Michele Soavi

Adjusted Score: 83.474%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A young Soldier is killed in the line of duty in Vietnam. That same night, the soldier returns home, brought... [More]
Directed By: Bob Clark

Adjusted Score: 77.522%
Critics Consensus: While 28 Weeks Later lacks the humanism that made 28 Days Later a classic, it's made up with fantastic atmosphere and punchy direction.
Synopsis: The devastating rage virus that annihilated the British Isles mysteriously resurfaces in Goya Award-winning director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's sequel to... [More]


Versus (2000)

Adjusted Score: 49.887%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Evil Dead 2 meets Street Fighter by way of The Matrix in this wild and woolly zombie/yakuza/samurai/kung fu/splatter flick directed... [More]
Directed By: Ryuhei Kitamura

Adjusted Score: 74.97%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Three points for that title alone! But Night of the Creeps has a lot more going for it; this maiden... [More]
Directed By: Fred Dekker

Adjusted Score: 91.471%
Critics Consensus: Evocative direction by Jacques Tourneur collides with the low-rent production values of exploitateer Val Lewton in I Walked with a Zombie, a sultry sleeper that's simultaneously smarmy, eloquent and fascinating.
Synopsis: RKO producer Val Lewton seemed to thrive upon taking the most lurid film titles and coming up with pocket-edition works... [More]
Directed By: Jacques Tourneur


Warm Bodies (2013)

Adjusted Score: 89.023%
Critics Consensus: Warm Bodies offers a sweet, well-acted spin on a genre that all too often lives down to its brain-dead protagonists.
Synopsis: A funny new twist on a classic love story, WARM BODIES is a poignant tale about the power of human... [More]
Directed By: Jonathan Levine

Adjusted Score: 76.113%
Critics Consensus: A cool and hip grindhouse throwback, Planet Terror is an unpredictable zombie thrillride.
Synopsis: Maverick filmmaker Robert Rodriguez details the violent struggle between a ravenous army of zombie-like humanoids who have taken control of... [More]


Zombie (Zombi 2) (1980)

Adjusted Score: 43.689%
Critics Consensus: Zombi 2 is an absurdly graphic zombie movie legendary for some gory scenes and nothing in between.
Synopsis: This audaciously disgusting spectacle from the late master of gruesome horror, Lucio Fulci, was posited as a semi-sequel to George... [More]
Directed By: Lucio Fulci

Adjusted Score: 87.58%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A new insect-killing device somehow backfires and manages to raise the dead from their graves. The newly created zombies terrorize... [More]
Directed By: Jorge Grau


World War Z (2013)

Adjusted Score: 77.045%
Critics Consensus: It's uneven and diverges from the source book, but World War Z still brings smart, fast-moving thrills and a solid performance from Brad Pitt to the zombie genre.
Synopsis: The story revolves around United Nations employee Gerry Lane (Pitt), who traverses the world in a race against time to... [More]
Directed By: Marc Forster


Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Adjusted Score: 81.389%
Critics Consensus: A kinetic, violent and surprisingly worthy remake of George Romero's horror classic that pays homage to the original while working on its own terms.
Synopsis: Packed with more blood, more gore, and more bone-chilling, jaw-dropping thrills, Dawn of the Dead Unrated Director's Cut is the... [More]
Directed By: Zack Snyder


Day of the Dead (1985)

Adjusted Score: 85.496%
Critics Consensus: Day of the Dead may arguably be the least haunting entry in George A. Romero's undead trilogy, but it will give audiences' plenty to chew on with its shocking gore and scathing view of society.
Synopsis: Flesh-eating zombies close in on a handful of soldiers and scientists holed up in an underground bunker. Final chapter of... [More]
Directed By: George A. Romero

Adjusted Score: 103.18%
Critics Consensus: Brainy and bloody in equal measure, One Cut of the Dead reanimates the moribund zombie genre with a refreshing blend of formal daring and clever satire.
Synopsis: A cast of relative unknowns, a brilliantly disguised low budget and an epic, 37-minute opening single take makes Shin'ichirô Ueda's... [More]
Directed By: Shin'ichirô Ueda

Adjusted Score: 93.845%
Critics Consensus: A punk take on the zombie genre, Return of the Living Dead injects a healthy dose of '80s silliness to the flesh consuming.
Synopsis: When a mysterious military chemical gets into the atmosphere it ends up soaking into a cemetery down in bayou land... [More]
Directed By: Dan O'Bannon


Dead Alive (1993)

Adjusted Score: 90.781%
Critics Consensus: The delightfully gonzo tale of a lovestruck teen and his zombified mother, Dead Alive is extremely gory and exceedingly good fun, thanks to Peter Jackson's affection for the tastelessly sublime.
Synopsis: Considered by many to be the goriest film ever made and one of the funniest "splatstick" horror films since Sam... [More]
Directed By: Peter Jackson


Re-Animator (1985)

Adjusted Score: 97.331%
Critics Consensus: Perfectly mixing humor and horror, the only thing more effective than Re-Animator's gory scares are its dry, deadpan jokes.
Synopsis: Scientist Herbert West has discovered a fluid which brings living tissue back to life. After the death of his professor,... [More]
Directed By: Stuart Gordon


[Rec] (2007)

Adjusted Score: 89.458%
Critics Consensus: Plunging viewers into the nightmarish hellscape of an apartment complex under siege, [Rec] proves that found footage can still be used as an effective delivery mechanism for sparse, economic horror.
Synopsis: After teaming up in 2002 for the dramatic music documentary OT: The Movie, Spanish horror specialists Jaume Balagueró (Darkness) and... [More]


28 Days Later (2003)

Adjusted Score: 93.814%
Critics Consensus: Kinetically directed by Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later is both a terrifying zombie movie and a sharp political allegory.
Synopsis: After breaking into a primate research facility, a group of animal rights activists discover caged chimps chained up before banks... [More]
Directed By: Danny Boyle


Zombieland (2009)

Adjusted Score: 97.472%
Critics Consensus: Wickedly funny and featuring plenty of gore, Zombieland is proof that the zombie subgenre is far from dead.
Synopsis: A cowardly shut-in named Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is forced to join up with a seasoned zombie slayer named Tallahassee (Woody... [More]
Directed By: Ruben Fleischer

Adjusted Score: 104.333%
Critics Consensus: George A. Romero's debut set the template for the zombie film, and features tight editing, realistic gore, and a sly political undercurrent.
Synopsis: One can only imagine the impact that Night on the Living Dead had on unprepared audiences of 1968. Here was... [More]
Directed By: George A. Romero

Adjusted Score: 98.036%
Critics Consensus: Train to Busan delivers a thrillingly unique -- and purely entertaining -- take on the zombie genre, with fully realized characters and plenty of social commentary to underscore the bursts of skillfully staged action.
Synopsis: TRAIN TO BUSAN is a harrowing zombie horror-thriller that follows a group of terrified passengers fighting their way through a... [More]
Directed By: Yeon Sang-ho, Sang-ho Yeon

Adjusted Score: 98.051%
Critics Consensus: Shaun of the Dead cleverly balances scares and witty satire, making for a bloody good zombie movie with loads of wit.
Synopsis: It's often said that the true character of a man is only revealed in times of dire crisis, and for... [More]
Directed By: Edgar Wright


Dawn of the Dead (1979)

Adjusted Score: 97.754%
Critics Consensus: One of the most compelling and entertaining zombie films ever, Dawn of the Dead perfectly blends pure horror and gore with social commentary on material society.
Synopsis: Viewers who haven't seen George Romero's low-budget horror masterpiece Night of the Living Dead, might be at a loss during... [More]
Directed By: George A. Romero

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