Zombie movies just won't stay dead. This weekend sees the release of a fifth (!) Resident Evil movie, and there are more films about the undead on the way. The good news is, the zombie movie genre has produced a huge variety of stunningly weird films over the decades.
Here are the 13 greatest zombie movies of all time. And yes, this includes a lot of different types of zombies — whether they're bitten by Sumatran rat-monkey, turned undead by a magical elixir or infected by the T-Virus, as long as they rot and move at the same time, they're still zombies to us. Here they are, in no particular order.
1. 28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle's horror flick not only gives rise to the fast zombie, it also makes time in the midst of the violence to humanize the fellow travelers. Sandwiched between undead fists full of human meat are touching scenes in supermarkets ,where strangers learn to trust one another. And it only makes it that much more sad when they're killed off. Honorable mention on this list: 28 Weeks Later.
2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George Romero's classic. The movie that spawned the whole legend of zombie films.
3. Zombieland (2009)
Sassy and smart, Zombieland works because it addresses the many problems with so many zombie movies: Characters always break the most important rules. But not in this film, which follows a gaggle of strangers as they embark across country looking for a safe haven. Plus there's a lot of audience wish fulfillment, especifically when the camp settles down in LA, invading the homes of the local celebrities and getting high on their stash.
4. Zombi 2 (1979)
Almost all of Lucio Fulci's zombie movies are pretty ridiculously awesome (in the "so bad it's good" sense) but Zombi 2 will live on in undead history books for the infamous Shark Vs. Zombie underwater battle scene.
5. Dead Alive (1992)
The best use of electric pink and red blood and fake skin in a zombie movie. Ever. Peter Jackson's Dead Alive is hands down the bloodiest zombie film, and when you live in a world where everyone's skin is made out of playdoh, it's no wonder. People's faces are ripped off, skin is stretched, and victims' rib cages are ripped out and handed to the owner. It's bloody and beautiful all at the same time.
6. ParaNorman (2012)
Goonies meets Dawn of the Dead, but with a whole lotta heart. This is a zombie movie you can bring your kids to, and that's one reason why we love Laika's new stop motion zombie feature. Not just because it's beautiful and scary, but also because it shows a whole new side to the blue-faced creatures of terror.
7. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Social commentary packaged in a smart move. Dawn of the Dead is a fantastic zombie movie, not just because it awakened the survivalist in us all, but because it was also pokes an undead finger at the explosion of consumerism. We're all just starving shambling monsters consuming products, and never being satisfied. And even though the mall has become a common sight across the nation, this flick still holds up. Plus moving into a mall was a wickedly smart move, it's nice to follow a pack of smart characters. Unlike in Zack Snyder's remake, where the whole crew goes to hell chasing aftera lost dog.
8. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Easily one of the very best meta horror movies ever made. Almost every single previous zombie movie is spoofed or name checked here ("they're coming to get you Barbra!") and it's glorious. Plus there's real horror. Characters die, families are destroyed. But in the end (almost) everyone becomes a better person for it. It's a lovely film.
9. Death Becomes Her (1992)
Surprise! Didn't think this story about two decomposing birds battling it out qualifies for the zombie label? I say it does, and will take it up in comments with anyone who wants to disagree with me. This is not only a great magic zombie movie with an excellent surprise (drink the magic potion and you live forever, but if you die you live forever too as the slowly rotting shell of yourself). They cannot die, and they do decompose, so they're smarter than the average undead corpse and they don't eat brains. In a nutshell, they're more evolved zombies.
10. White Zombie (1932)
Not the best zombie ever made, but wildly considered to be the first (full length) zombie feature. Plus it starred Béla Lugosi as 'Murder' Legendre, the evil voodoo master who rules over an entire crew of zombies.
11. Army of Darkness (1992)
So they're Deadites and not "zombies," and Sam Raimi's series stretches the traditional zombie definition. They're still rotting bodies that come back to life, plus they're hilarious. We really adored the silly skeleton army and their wacky antics. Also this movie asks the burning question, is a pile of bones a zombie? Do you have to have skin in order to be a zombie? For now, we say yes. Because we can.
12. Resident Evil (2002)
The movie that launched four more T-Virus movies and copious "Milla Jovovich has nice legs while kicking ass" shots. Say what you will about it being silly or simple, Paul W.S. Anderson struck gold turning the video game world into movie reality. Plus it's fun — the combination of T-Virus monster with T-Virus zombie and plenty of additional evil Umbrella Corporation gadgets (like the wall of bone slicing lasers) keeps people on their toes, much like a video game. Note this was almost replaced with the very road warrior-esque Resident Evil: Apocalypse, but it was the first.
13. Re-Animator (1985)
Completely off-the-rails insane, but still scary. Re-Animator stars the now cult treasure Jeffery Combs, and centers around a student who brings his professor back to life — and things go terribly wrong, as they so often do. Featuring the unforgettable image of a zombie head between the legs of poor Barbara Crampton.
The original, not the remake. Also this was the first shaky cam zombie movie that didn't make us want to retch.
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
First time we get to hear a zombie moaning for brains.
Because Charlie called me a "weirdo" for not liking it, and she's right.
Credit for trying something new with the whole "infected words" angle.
Special thanks to Max Kutner and Alasdair Wilkins.