Best Zombie Movies: From 'Night of the Living Dead' to 'Zombieland' - Rolling Stone
Home Movies Movie Lists

The 10 Best Zombie Movies

Undead flicks that matter, from ‘Night of the Living Dead’ to ‘Zombieland’

Best Zombie Movies

With AMC’s The Walking Dead burning up TV screens and Brad Pitt’s World War Z heading for the multiplex, zombies are hot again. Well, actually they’re cold and dead. But you know what I mean. Freaks for vampires are always bitching that zombies, being rotting corpses, can’t ever exert the sexual allure of Rob Pattinson’s Edward Cullen in the Twilight series or Ian Somerhalder’s Damon Salvatore on The Vampire Diaries. The hell with that. Let’s hear it for the best zombie movies, the creepy-crawly ones that have their own way of keeping us up at night.

By Peter Travers

'Zombieland' (2009)

Glen Wilson/©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection


‘Zombieland’ (2009)

Following the lead of Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland delivers a scary funhouse blast. Studly Woody Harrelson, nerdy Jesse Eisenberg, sexy Emma Stone and sunshiny Abigail Breslin roam a near-dead world, kicking zombie ass. Harrelson is a hoot using anything handy – even a  banjo – to rid the world of dead skinwalking. And the extended star cameo from Bill Murray, playing himself, is a wowser. Director Ruben Fleischer mixes fright and slapstick with bloody glee, and the blowout sequence of the undead  lining up for rides at an amusement park is zombie heaven.

'Dead Snow' (2009)

©Euforia Film/Courtesy Everett Collection


‘Dead Snow’ (2009)

Nazi zombies? Who doesn't want a piece of that, especially as they feed on oversexed medical students Easter vacationing in the Norwegian Alps? If you tamp down your expectations — those gaping plot holes are dangerous! — there is a storm of scary fun to be had in this Scandinavian splatterfest. Conveniently, the vacationers include a movie junkie (Jeppe Beck Laursen) who points out the flaws in other horror flicks. It's fun counting the allusions to zombie lore. Props to director Tommy Wirkola. He makes the blood look crazy creepy in the snow.

8. 'Planet Terror' (2007)

©Weinstein Company LLC/Courtesy Everett Collection


‘Planet Terror’ (2007)

Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror kicked off his and Quentin Tarantino's 2007 two-for-one package, Grindhouse. Tarantino's Death Proof, a babes vs. serial killer epic, won the better reviews. But Rodriguez's take on the zombie genre has its wicked pleasures. Rose McGowan plays Cherry Darling, a Texas pole-dancer whose career takes a hit when zombies gnaw off one of her shapely stems. Actually, these creatures are victims of government chemical experiments led by Bruce Willis, in Army drag, and his henchman (Tarantino), who finds Cherry's lack of a leg no detriment to rape ("Easier access"). The kick is watching Rodriguez try to top himself with stomach-churning stunts. Mission accomplished.

'Dead Alive' (1992)

©Trimark/courtesy Everett Collection


‘Dead Alive’ (1992)

Before New Zealand director Peter Jackson even thought of a hobbit, he cooked up this smashing zombie cheapie about Lionel (Timothy Balme), a mama's boy who freaks out when his take-charge matriarch (Elizabeth Moody) gets infected by a monkey at the Wellington Zoo and goes ape-shit rabid, infecting everyone in sight. Soon there's a zombie army! The blood-spewing hits a gory peak at the end when Lionel goes on a slice-and-dice offensive with a lawnmower. Be on the lookout: Dead Alive has an alternate title, Braindead, in some areas. Whichever way you slice it, you're in for a gross-out treat.

3. 'Shaun of the Dead' (2004)

Rogue Pictures/Everett Collection


‘Shaun of the Dead’ (2004)

They say you always kill the thing you love. And those mad Brits, actor-writer Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright, kill their love for zombie flicks with laughs. It's the best way to do it. When Shaun (Pegg) and his drinking mate (a priceless Nick Frost) find their North London streets invaded by zombies, there's no recourse but to pretend they're also undead. There's never been a zombie movie as ferociously funny as Shaun of the Dead. In the spirit of George Romero, this movie knows that zombies shrieking "We're coming to get you!" is still an irresistible invitation.

5. '28 Days Later' (2002)

©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection


’28 Days Later’ (2002)

If you're up for hardcore zombie scares, look no further than this killer-thriller from Slumdog Millionaire Oscar winner Danny Boyle. Twenty-eight days after a virus decimates London, newly zombified citizens pop up to take you down like stealth bombers. If one of them even drools on you, you're a raging jungle beast in 20 seconds. Survivors, led by Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris, try to escape. They wish. No way you can forget the zombie uprising in a church where crosses just don't do the trick. Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland keep things scary and visionary. A sequel, 28 Weeks Later, followed in 2007. It has its moments. But this is the real deal.

'Re-Animator' (1985)

Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection


‘Re-Animator’ (1985)

Director Stuart Gordon, adapting H.P. Lovecraft's story, Herbert West: Re-Animator, puts a zowie zombie spin on the Frankenstein myth. The result is a bloody Z-fest that earns its cult status. The wonderfully beady-eyed Jeffrey Combs stars as creepy med student Herbert West, who experiments with bringing body parts to herky-jerky life before moving on to his dead prof, Dr. Hans Gruber (Al Berry). You only think you get the picture. Re-Animator springs surprises that puke all over your preconceptions.

'Dawn of the Dead' (2004)

Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection


‘Dawn of the Dead’ (2004)

Here's a surprise. A big, glossy remake from director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) that pays tribute to the spirit of George Romero's zombiefest and then takes off at its own bloody speed. Snyder also sets the film — his first — in a shopping mall (Milwaukee, this time, not Pittsburgh), but his living dead are no staggering slowpokes. They race around like sprinters. Whatever the film lacks in originality (plenty), it makes up for in zesty humor and nonstop gut-ripping. And make sure to watch the epilogue.

'Dawn of the Dead' (1978)

Laurel Group/Ronald Grant Archive/Mary Evans/Everett Collection


‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978)

This living color sequel to George Romero's black-and-white Night of the Living Dead focuses on a TV reporter (Gaylen Ross), her traffic pilot boyfriend (David Emge) and two SWAT cops (Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger) who hole up in a Pittsburgh shopping mall to protect themselves (Ha!) from marauding zombies. Watching zombies shop is a scene for the time capsule. Besides scares, the movie gives Romero a platform for a scathing satire of the malling of a sexist, racist America.

'Night of the Living Dead' (1968)

Courtesy Everett Collection


‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968)

Not only the best flesh-eating zombie movie shot in Pittsburgh, it's the best flesh-eating zombie movie anywhere. Everything zombie, right up to AMC's ab fab Walking Dead, owes a debt to this baby. Director George Romero's haunting black-and-white imagery sneaks up in all its ragged glory as a group of live ones hole up in a farmhouse as the dead come up to chow down. Duane Jones, playing one of the first black heroes in the horror genre, must talk and sometimes slap sense into this panicky herd. The cemetery opener in daylight always gets me. The Dead have never been livelier or scarier than they are here when Romero built the mold.

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.