I am a huge fan of zombie movies. The desolation, the examination of human psychology, the buckets of gore — I love it all. But because of overexposure and a constant tweaking to the mythos to keep it “fresh”, I have become a little jaded, so much so that the best zombie movies released over the last two decades are few and far between. They don’t make them like Romero used to, before he went all independent and deeply disappointing.
In the 1980s, the zombie onslaught was everywhere: on our televisions, adverts and music videos, which led to an eventual lack of interest from the public and a whole lot of “meh”. Once there were dancing zombies in Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, being scared by them ever again seemed liked a hard task.
Zombies almost completely disappeared from our media until 2004 when the both excellent Shaun of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead were released, with the latter doing a lot to introduce “fast” zombies to a new modern audience. Replacing shuffling, sometimes laughable slow zombies with sprinting lunatics did a lot to revitalise the perception of the undead as legitimate monsters once again.
However, fastforward ten years and the perception of zombies feels like it’s shifting again. An abundance of zombie-related media has meant that what exactly makes a reanimated cadaver is now more debatable than ever: some of them can talk, use tools, retain some of their humanity, not to mention their “rules” regarding what they can and cannot eat. Some of them aren’t even dead to begin with.
It’s a creative free-for-all.
That’s not to say that there hasn’t been some truly innovative and original ways of showing brain-eating and marrow gnawing on our screens lately. It just so happens that for every Land of the Dead or Train To Busan, we get fifty Volcano Zombies.
With the surely imminent death knell of the modern zombie craze not too far away, I decided to take a look at some of the best zombie movies of the 21st century — whether they feature slow zombies, fast zombies, or questionably even zombies at all — so far.
The Best Zombie Movies of the 21st Century
45. The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Looking at the cast alone, which features the legendary Bill Murray along with Adam Driver, you’d expect The Dead Don’t Die to rank much higher. Despite some good jokes, it’s perhaps too offbeat for its own good.
Struggling in its pace and tone, The Dead Don’t Die throws a few too random, meandering bits in to the mix, making for an overall missed opportunity. Still, if it’s Bill Murray and zombies you want, this is a decent alternative to the obvious that we’ll discuss much later.
Dead Rising is one of the most popular zombie game franchises around and one that should make an easy transition to the movies. Just make Dawn of the Dead but much less grim and a little silly and your job is done.
Unfortunately, Watchtower tries to be less obvious and ends up being slightly generic as a result. Jesse Metcalfe is surprisingly inoffensive in the lead role, which somehow isn’t Frank West and just a guy called Chase Carter instead. They really could have been onto a straightforward winner here, but there’s still some fun kills and action to be had.
Scandinavian horror has a reputation for being oppressively dark, and that’s certainly the case with What We Become. Telling the story of a family in the middle of a zombie outbreak in their neighbourhood, it’s not what you would call a “chirpy” time.
Perhaps too slow going for its own good, What We Become offers creeping tension as the family figure out what’s happening around them. Light on zombies themselves, stick with this one and you could be pleasantly surprised.
What would you do if your dead girlfriend came back to life? You’d probably be pretty happy, right? Okay, so what if that same girlfriend possesses freakish strength and a desire for human flesh?
A movie of two halves, Life After Beth starts pretty strongly with a load of charm before it fades away significantly in its latter stages. Things fall slightly flat as its unconventional pacing kills its momentum, though there’s still a good amount of fun to be had as Aubrey Plaza gives it her all.
Probably the closest Resident Evil movie to the games in terms of storyline faithfulness, Apocalypse is one of the better popcorn zombie movies around, it offering empty-headed escapism that makes you feel like you’re holding a game controller.
Set during the outbreak in Raccoon City, Apocalypse features some truly terrible Russian accents and a tone that’s too close to a nu-metal music video at some points, though it’s still a great excuse to put your brain on ice and laugh at its wonderful nonsense.
I was in two minds whether or not two include Warm Bodies on this list of the best zombie movies, purely because it’s so “Disney-fied”. Compared to other undead offerings, it’s incredibly tame and marketed towards a teenage audience — it’s like a better version of Twilight but with zombies.
Still, it has some great moments and Nicholas Hoult’s zombie friend is a standout, and, though it might not do it for gorehounds, the central romance is admittedly charming. If you’re looking for something to watch with a squeamish partner, Warm Bodies is a safe pick.
World War Z is a movie that gets dramatically worse with every watch. At the cinema, I thought it was quite the ridiculous but fun spectacle. After watching it a few times since, how out of touch it is with its source combined with the troubled production coming through at some points sent it down in my estimations.
Plus, that Pepsi scene was gross. Watch it once when you’re drunk, maybe, and pray to God that the cancelled sequel from David Fincher is brought back and does the book justice.
Yeah, it’s dumb. You should kind of get that almost immediately from its name. But Bong of the Living Dead is still a lot of fun. A low-budget zombie movie, what Bong lacks in terms of technical quality, it makes up for it in terms of laughs and unexpected scares.
When a group of stoners light one up and start discussing the zombie outbreak, exactly that happens. Don’t go into it expecting the second coming of Romero and you will have a lot of fun.
As derivative of the BBC’s criminally under-watched In The Flesh and the actually just bad The Returned as The Cured may be, it’s still a tense and emotional time that tries its best to create parallels with modern times and terrorism.
When a cure is found to return zombies to their human state and back into society, it’s not all smooth sailing as one of “the cured” returns to his family home harbouring a dark secret.
Featuring some great performances, particularly from Ellen Page, The Cured asks some potent questions but just labours under the weight of it being too similar to what preceded it. A worthwhile watch all the same.
Here Alone starts off strongly with plenty of intrigue as a lone woman makes a simple living for herself in the woods. The tension is always bubbling and threatening to boil over in the post-apocalypse, leading to plenty of anticipation for the reveal of the zombies, who are…terrible.
As soon as their weak designs appear on-screen for the first time, the whole thing bottoms out. It’s all downhill from that, featuring some terrible plot advancement and some very ropey sequences, but if you could bottle the first half an hour of Here Alone, you might have a small zombie movie gem on your hands.
35. The Rezort (2015)
Director: Steve Barker
Is The Rezort a good movie? Not particularly. Does it do anything different to what we’ve seen a hundred times already? Well, it’s Jurassic Park with zombies.
When you boil down its premise to just that succinct little tagline, it’s clear that this isn’t a movie you should take too seriously. Sure, it looks cheap at the worst of times and some of the acting veers into melodrama, but as a zombie movie, it’s effective escapism that might take you by surprise.
Compared considerably to Netflix’s excellent Kingdom show, Rampant features swords and zombies in an epic yarn between an exiled prince and the Joseon Minister of War in ancient Korea. Whereas Kingdom balances the undead horror with its drama, Rampant is guilty of preferring the latter to the former.
Really, the main thing that goes against Rampant is its format: it would be better suited to a long-form show to give itself more time to grow. Still, if it’s South Korean horror you want with decapitations and hordes of the undead aplenty, Rampant is great, often intense fun.
Is there a case to be made that Lupita Nyong’o is the new queen of horror? As well as turning in a fantastic dual performance in 2019’s Us, she also played the part of a preppy teacher in the midst of a zombie outbreak in Little Monsters remarkably well.
During a school trip to Pleasant Valley Farm, Miss. Caroline must not only contend with the advancing hordes and keeping the children safe, but also the advances of a man-child who’s tagged along. Often funny and packed with heart, Little Monsters seems to have passed by a lot of people, so give it a chance when you can.
32. The Night Eats The World (2018)
Director: Dominique Rocher
After a depressing night at a party, a man wakes alone in an apartment building in an even more depressing situation. The infected have ravaged France overnight, leaving him completely isolated and one of the last remaining people alive in the world. He only he has himself (and an infected stuck in an elevator) for company, but he can’t even trust his own thoughts.
The Night Eats The World attempts plenty of unique twists on the subgenre, which includes almost completely mute zombies — you get the impression that this will cause some people terror and others to just laugh. It’s definitely a slow burner with a “twist” that is completely obvious, but if it’s an unusual zombie movie you want, The Night Eats The World is it.
A popularly conflicting movie, Henry Hobson’s Maggie is a fascinating look into the deterioration of a young girl’s humanity as she gradually becomes one of the undead. Her father, played spectacularly by Arnold Schwarzenegger, does everything in his power to keep her safe and away from the inevitable.
Not one for action fans, Maggie is instead an introspective look at love and what it means to be human, though it does have its pacing issues. Still, if you want to catch Arnie in one of his most underrated roles, it’s one that pulls at the emotions.
This movie could have been so much better – if it had stuck closer to the games it was based upon, that would have been a start. The fact that they spend the most fleeting amount of time above ground in the Spencer Mansion feels like the ultimate tease.
Despite dispatching of most of its cast in the feeblest way possible instead of making them undead chow, Resident Evil has a few good moments of zombie action. Shame the rest of it is such a bizarre hodge-podge of nu-metal music videos and slow-motion, then, but there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be had.
Just before the found footage subgenre reached its peak, the late, great George A. Romero released his spin on things with Diary of the Dead, which, somehow took place in the same timeframe as Night of the Living Dead.
Featuring plenty of memorable moments (Amish farmer, anyone?) but a lack of consistent quality, Diary of the Dead is certainly watchable but nowhere near the top of Romero’s zombie filmography. Still, it’s one of the better found footage movies out there.
Dance of the Dead is a modern zombie movie that is dumber than Harry and Lloyd rolling around in nuclear waste talking about creationism.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing as Dance of the Dead doesn’t make the mistake of taking itself seriously for even a second. A light-hearted effort centred around a zombie outbreak during a high school prom and you can fill in the blanks about what happens next.
The Ford brothers’ 2010 African adventure is a movie that I staved off watching for the longest time. It’s been polarisingly received by zombie movie fans, who might not have appreciated its slower tempo and more hesitant approach to a world filled with the undead.
If you can deal with not having action sequences every five minutes, The Dead takes a leaf out of the Romero guidebook and it works wonders for it. The sequel ain’t so hot, though.
26. Seoul Station (2016)
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
While not as captivating or as emotional as its live-action counterpart thanks to some bizarre writing decisions in the final third, Seoul Station is a worthy companion piece to the seminal Train To Busan.
This South Korean animated movie follows the onset of the outbreak that wreaks havoc in Busan and deals in themes of family, though not with quite the same amount of love as Busan. Seoul Station is considerably darker and less optimistic than its sequel, which really is saying something.