We all enjoy zombie television shows like The Last of Us or The Walking Dead, right? There has been a real focus on zombie television over the past decade or so, but what about the films that exist which depict various types of the classic undead we've all come to know lovingly as Zombies? We're going to take a look at the Top Ten Zombie Films to Inspire Your Post-Apocalypse TTRPG Setting *, especially now that we've announced our own Zombie Post-Apocalypse game we'll be releasing sometime in the future. With that said, let's get to listing those films!
*Since putting the entries in some sort of numerical order in a definitive place is not only hard to do, but also arbitrary and subject to change at any given time, these will not be in any sort of chronological order - just a general top ten.
DAWN OF THE DEAD Google Play/Amazon/AMC/VUDU/Spectrum/YouTube/iTunes/Microsoft - 2004
The zombie genre wouldn't be anywhere without George A Romero, but Zach Snyder (Watchmen) and James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) brought us a revitalized take on Romero's Dawn of the Dead back in 2004. With a snappy and stylish lens, Dawn of the Dead brings us on a journey full of action and even some dark humor which Stephen King called "genius perfected". While the original Dawn of the Dead is a bit more nuanced, I think that 2004's Dawn of the Dead was a worthy successor for the times in which it was made, not long after the tragedy of 9/11. With some expected stupid decisions on the part of the characters (this is a horror movie, after all) there was actually some good character moments and development going on thanks to Gunn's writing. Plus, who doesn't love fast zombies? (George A Romero, that's who) The plot of Dawn of the Dead revolves around survivors of the zombie apocalypse toughing it out at an abandoned mall.
ZOMBIELAND FuboTV/ Hulu - 2009
With a great cast (Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Bill Murray, Jesse Eisenberg, and Abigail Breslin) and a quirky, stylish comedic delivery, Zombieland manages to take on tired zombie movie tropes and flip them on their heads in a movie Roger Ebert gave 3 out of 4 stars. While most people prefer their zombie films to be on the serious side, Zombieland gave us a breath of fresh air while still standing on its own from other comedic zombie films such as Shaun of the Dead. Bill Murray's cameo in this film is perhaps one of the best celebrity cameos in any film in recent memory. The plot of Zombieland revolves around survivors of a zombie apocalypse named after their hometowns (Dallas, Tallahasee, etc) trying to stay alive by adhering to a list of rules.
DEAD ALIVE Amazon - 1992
Any nerd worth their salt will know that Peter Jackson is the one responsible for all of the amazing Lord of the Rings films we've come to know and love over the years, but do you know he made a dark and creepy zombie film as well that has a lot of quirky and unique New Zealand flavor on top of being possibly one of the goriest movies ever made? Well, he did, and it's called Dead Alive (or Braindead outside of the US). This film was a box office bomb despite relatively good critical reception, and eventually became a cult hit and Peter Rainer from the Los Angeles Times remarked "...it is the most hilariously disgusting movie ever made. It makes something like Re-Animator seem like a UNESCO documentary about Mother Teresa." In Dead Alive, the protagonist lives with his mother, and she's bitten by a hybrid rat-monkey creature experiment which was accidentally loosed upon the public, whereupon she turns into a zombie and starts eating everything and everyone she can.
PLANET TERROR Roku/VUDU/Freevee/Apple/Amazon/Google Play/YouTube/Microsoft/Redbox/AMC - 2007
Technically just one-half of a double feature movie experience billed as Grindhouse, Planet Terror was directed by Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Spy Kids) and ran alongside Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. While not exactly a box office bomb, Robert Rodriguez cast Rose McGowan as the Go-Go Dancer protagonist named Cherry Darling against the wishes of Harvey Weinstein, and Weinstein reportedly choked the ad revenue for the film resulting in possibly lower turnout than there would have been. Aside from the controversies surrounding Weinstein and McGowan, Planet Terror is a quirky and hip take on zombie films and the Grindhouse genre. The plot revolves around Cherry Darling losing her leg to a zombie attack and her boyfriend El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) replacing it with a high-powered rifle with grenade launcher capabilities which they use in conjunction with El Wray's combat skills to take out hordes of the undead.
28 DAYS LATER Amazon - 2002
28 Days Later is an English take on the zombie genre starring a young and talented Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, and Brendan Gleeson and directed by Danny Boyle. Fans of typical zombie fare will find a lot to sink their teeth into here (pun unfortunately intended) with a grim, decidedly *not* humorous depiction of the undead that the screenwriter, Alex Garland, said was inspired by George A Romero's Dead trilogy. The film became a massive success at the time and is credited with reviving zombie films once again, and due to its proximity to the 9/11 terror attacks was also seen as a very deft political allegory. Bloody Disgusting said of 28 Days Later "What's so amazing about the film is the way it so expertly balances scenes of white-knuckled, hell-for-leather horror with moments of intimate beauty." The plot revolves around a bike courier who wakes from a coma and finds himself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in London.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD Microsoft/Redbox/Google Play/Amazon/AMC/VUDU/Spectrum/Alamo/Peacock/YouTube/Apple - 2004
Zombies don't always have to be serious, and both Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg took this to heart when they created the zombie movie parody, Shaun of the Dead. The movie was a critical success upon release, and received the approval of George A Romero himself, whereupon he offered them cameos in one of his next Dead movies. They accepted (on the condition that they were zombies). The movie was also praised highly by Stephen King, Roger Ebert, and other personalities and websites at the time. The plot revolves around a pair of bumbling English friends who are so wrapped up in the doldrums of their lives that they almost miss that the apocalypse has begun.
RESIDENT EVIL Amazon - 2002
Coming on the heels of 9/11 and the collective tragedy we all felt, the post-terrorism world was obsessed with a zombie film resurgence for almost an entire decade. 28 Days Later, Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, as well as Shaun of the Dead were all released a couple of years after Resident Evil, which was the first in a long line of movies celebrating the shambling undead. Listen, the movie isn't amazing and was even on Roger Ebert's most hated movies list, published in 2005 - but the sheer presence of Milla Jovovich carries the first film especially and the five sequels that followed. With a very interesting movie soundtrack scored by Marilyn Manson, and some dumb zombie fun despite some special effects that don't hold up really well even back then, it's no wonder that James Cameron once said that Resident Evil is his biggest guilty pleasure. The plot centers around Alice (Jovovich) and a team of commandos as they seek to contain the T-Virus, which creates zombies from the general population. Fun Fact: George A Romero wrote several scripts for the film, but all were rejected so the movie wouldn't receive an NC-17 rating.
DAWN OF THE DEAD
YouTube - 1978
Where would this list be without the grandfather of zombie cinema, George A Romero? Out of all of Romero's Dead films, Dawn of the Dead really stands out and sets itself apart from the pack. Dawn of the Dead introduced many of the horror tropes and conventions still in use in cinema today. Films like Shaun of the Dead likely wouldn't exist without Romero's influence, and despite its age - the 1978 version which Romero created still holds up. Roger Ebert proclaimed it "one of the best horror films ever made" and the movie went on to reach critical acclaim. Unfortunately, most likely due to licensing rights, it's very hard to find Romero's Dawn of the Dead streaming anywhere and almost as impossible to find it on DVDs or other disc formats. I've read that you can find it on YouTube but haven't tested it myself yet, so hopefully you or someone else you know already owns it. The plot of Dawn of the Dead revolves around survivors holing up in a shopping mall to fend off the undead.
TRAIN TO BUSAN
Amazon/AMC/Hoopla/Shudder/Peacock/Roku/VUDU/Tubi/Redbox/Crackle/Pluto/Freevee - 2016
Out of left field, South Korea dropped a 2016 zombie film seemingly inspired by Brad Pitt's World War Z, which turned out to be a pretty decent hit especially for the region and somehow more impactful than America's World War Z in general. Train to Busan received mostly positive reviews, and Shaun of the Dead's Edgar Wright said it was "the best zombie movie I've seen in forever" while at the New York Times, Jeanette Catsoulis selected it as her Critic's Pick and noted its subtle commentary on class warfare. Zombie films from outside the US often provide cultural angles that breathe new life into the genre, and Train to Busan did just that. The plot involves a zombie apocalypse breaking out while the film's characters ride a high-speed train from Seoul to Busan.
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS
Amazon/VUDU/Roku - 2016
The English, coming through in 2016 once again with a very solid and unique spin on the zombie genre with The Girl With All The Gifts. Based on the novel of the same name by Colm McCarthy, but not following the narrative exactly, The Girl was generally very successful as far as zombie flicks go. Dave Robinson of Crash Landed said of the film that it was a "tense and intriguing experience" - and most critics seem to agree that Sennia Nanua steals the show as the main protagonist. The film revolves around human-zombie hybrid children such as Nanua's "Melanie", a second-generation zombie child who can somewhat curb her hunger being used to help find a cure for a fungal infection leading to the creation of zombies.
There are many other zombie films which could arguably also be on this list, so why not let us know your picks in the comments? Also, remember that we are hard at work on our own Zombie post-apocalyptic setting to be released in the future. Thanks for reading! - Joe