Sometimes we all feel like a zombie in a corporate wasteland. We stumble through our days, and try to find escape through movies. And then sometimes we want to see people plow through droves of the undead and barely survive. We’re more inclined to the latter ourselves — and we bet you are too (otherwise you’re on the wrong blog)! As the season gets spookier and we get more and more ready to watch horror movies, it’s time to plan our marathons. This Halloween (and by ‘Halloween’ we mean any day after October 1st) we thought, “what’s scarier than zombies?” When we couldn’t come up with an answer, we decided that the restless dead are very high up on our monster list.
So with that in mind, we decided to put together what we consider to be the definitive zombie movie marathon. We strove to remove as many spoilers from our list as we possibly could to preserve the twists and endings — but a few more minor ones may have slipped through. For all you fans of the shambling hordes, this one’s for you. These are the 10 best zombie movies for any undead marathon!
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
While it may not have been the first-ever zombie movie (that honor goes to White Zombie), Night of the Living Dead is considered the film that spawned the modern zombie trope. This was Romero’s first zombie flick, but it would be far from his last. From shambling corpses to a bite turning someone in the surviving party into one of the walking dead — these rules all spawned from Night of the Living Dead. This movie birthed the zombie siege trope and started a zombie craze.
At the time of its creation, there was a lot of controversy around how much gore was in Night of the Living Dead — but it’s pretty tame by modern standards. Most of the movie focuses on the lack of trust and communication between the survivors. It offered an early glimpse into the horrors of an undead onslaught.
The film is a classic and sets the tone for a marathon. While outdated (it has some rough gender role stuff) — it is filled with gore, flesh-eating, and paranoia. With a slow build of tension into a frenzied finale, this film holds up, despite its age.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Another Romero classic. During the ’70s, consumerism and malls were on the rise. Ramero took advantage of this by setting his Dawn of the Dead in a shopping mall. Dawn of the Dead is a full-blown gorefest and combines materialistic hedonism and the undead with immense success. The blue zombies can throw people off a little (documentaries claim the makeup didn’t film correctly, but we think it’s a great touch). The characters can be a little hollow, but we believe it perfectly echoes the lifeless corpses waiting just outside the mall doors. The whole film feels bleak and a bit hopeless as time passes, and it definitely captivates and is considered a classic.
The hopelessness of the oncoming horde, the greed of survivors, and the loss of humanity are all poignant themes which Romero nails. Dawn of the Dead, like most Romero films, has a pulse-pounding opening and then kills the finale (no pun intended). Do not skip this one — and don’t ditch it for the remake.
Zombie is not the original name of this movie, so you’ll need a little context. Dawn of the Dead was released in Italy as Zombi. Due to a loophole in Italian copyright law, anyone can make a sequel to any movie. So some enterprising producers decided to make Zombi 2. Ramero was (understandably) pretty annoyed it was billed this way. The director himself, Lucio Fulci, spent most of his time clearing this up as well, as he did not like the association either. So when it released as just Zombie in English, he was actually relieved. Despite the somewhat shady way they went about marketing Zombie, it’s a great movie.
The intro sets a dark and mysterious mood — and the winding path to the “cursed” Island of Matul in the Antilles is a gore-filled zombie-fest. The danger feels real, and it has some of the best zombies ever to be shot. The incredible makeup and special effects make these zombies feel unnervingly real. Be warned, there is gore in this movie that will make modern audiences squirm.
Zombie focuses on atmosphere and shock over character development — but we don’t hold that against it. From the moment the boat appears in New York to the final moments when all hope seems lost — you’ll be glued to the screen. Zombie is a heart-pounding ride to a thrilling finish. It’s a must-have on any marathon list.
Day of the Dead (1985)
If you thought you’d seen the last of Romero on this list, you were wrong. Many place Day of the Dead lower than the others on our list, but we take a different view. It focuses on the breakdown of communication and finding humanity in what we might consider a monster — both themes which are still relevant. The confined setting, a bunker during the zombie outbreak, creates a powder keg of emotional stress.
The unwillingness to work together, and the inability to accept the changing world outside their isolated bunker, builds tension between characters. Day of the Dead shows how humanity can be the cause of our own downfall. With zombies waiting to break down the gates, there is nothing to do but try and get along. But when supplies begin to run short, the divide between the scientists working to cure the disease and the military wishing to leave grows larger.
The cruelty of the military, particularly from the main antagonist, towards the scientists who are trying to find a solution to save humanity, highlights a turn from science we are still seeing today. Day of the Dead also introduces the idea that the zombies can evolve, shown through the mostly docile Bub. Like all of Romero’s work, the build is good and the finale is satisfying, leaving enough ambiguity in the ending to satisfy any hardcore fan.
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
The Return of the Living Dead is an early Zombie Comedy (Zom-Com? We’re going with Zom-Com), and the foundation for the mythos that zombies eat brains. It’s a wild romp filled with military incompetence, punks, and some of the smartest zombies in the genre. In this universe, Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is based on actual events — but was changed to be inaccurate to prevent a military lawsuit. The zombies in the movie are the first to be shown running. They also don’t die from a blow to the head. They can talk and can plan, which are massive departures from most zombie lore. It cheekily breaks all of Ramero’s zombie rules, while offering an endless array of different zombies, and that makes this movie a fantastic watch.
The Return of the Living Dead showed that you can mix humor and the undead, which sparked future films like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland to follow in its grisly footsteps. The pacing is excellent, and the balance between silliness and seriousness is just right. The intelligent zombie horde is a fantastic spin on a classic and provides a different look at the now brain-hungry monsters.
28 Days Later (2002)
28 Days Later was a wild ride showing survivors a month into a rage-virus outbreak. While the zombies are non-traditional (less undead, more really aggressive), the premise is the same. These zombies also run — which is much more unsettling than the traditional shambling corpse. While not the first film to depict running zombies (see above), this was the first that really hit the mainstream horror market. When the zombies are as fast, if not faster, than the average person, the situation quickly feels hopeless.
Some zombie fans think that because the infected aren’t technically undead, 28 Days Later doesn’t belong on our list, but we beg to differ. It boasts all the traditional elements of a zombie movie, and Romero himself broke the previous rules of zombies when he entered the genre.
This movie perfectly combines terror and political allegory. You root for the core survivors and love to root against the military they encounter. There is a genuinely visceral human aspect to this movie which will have you glued to your screen — and it has an equally chilling sequel, but more on that later.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
On its release, Shaun of the Dead was a breath of fresh air in the zombie genre. At the time, zombie movies were action-packed thrillers, often full of blazing guns and powerful heroes. Shaun of the dead in some ways reanimated the genre. It injected a healthy dose of humor into the apocalypse, without losing the core of what makes a great zombie movie. With the general obliviousness to the outbreak and the slow build to the final battle — this movie has enough horror and gore to satisfy fans, while still leaving room for fantastic jokes.
The allegory between retail work and zombies is hard to miss, and despite his lack of drive, you root for Shaun and his rather hapless friend Ed. It’s a great film with a lot of hair-brained schemes, biting satire, and zombie fueled gore. If you’re looking for a movie which can make you laugh and squirm, Shaun of the Dead is a great stop to ease the tension in your marathon.
28 Weeks Later (2007)
Many people feel that this movie doesn’t belong on a best zombie movie list — we’ve heard the debates before. However, for us, it’s earned its spot. 28 Weeks Later picks up, you guessed it, 28 weeks after the rage virus outbreak. It is rare to see the “aftermath” of an outbreak. With the infected starving, parts of London are safe, and the military protects those within the walls. But, as always in a good zombie flick, things go very, very wrong.
While the first movie was a human story about survivors trying to get away from the first waves of infected, 28 Weeks Later focuses on the response of a breach in a safe zone and a new rash of infected. There is a lot of flippancy in how the occupying troops wipe out those they were protecting just days before. The movie is chilling, and it starts strong and finishes stronger. It is, as one would assume, perfect to follow 28 Days Later in your marathon.
Pontypool also takes an unusual approach to its storytelling, focusing on broadcasters trapped in a basement radio station in a small town in Ontario, Canada. It feels a little War of the Worlds in the scattered accounts that trickle in — and is minimal on the gore (though there is enough to state). Despite its bottle like feeling, that confinement, and the confusion as you muddle through the reports is unbelievably powerful. As reports of a zombie outbreak come out in fragments, we are left entirely unaware of what’s actually going on. The twist could have been seen as a slap in the face, but the reveal is so well executed, it drags you in deeper.
If you’re looking for a different take on zombies, this is a must-watch. There is a misconception that thought-provoking horror doesn’t work, but we feel this is a flaw of bad directing. Pontypool perfectly combines horror with introspection — and because of that, it stays with you long after you finish watching it. Few zombie flicks can rival the experience.
Train to Busan (2016)
This movie surprised us. When we think zombies, we don’t think of Korean films. So, when Train to Busan released to a lot of hype, we had to check it out. The close quarters in the train as it travels through a zombie-infested South Korea keeps the stakes high. The linear cars leave little space to escape the attack and the minimal choice of items to use as weapons keep the tension topped out. The slow realization of how far the infection has spread and the effort to escape from an increasingly infected train creates a powerful movie.
While the ending drags a little — we think that’s okay. The characters are delightfully human, and we didn’t want to let them go. The action sequences will stick with you, though — they are dynamic and pulse-pounding. The inability to escape the train while the undead fight through car after car is stunning. While the ending is a little drawn out — we have no other complaints about this wonderful film.
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