Shamblers. Walkers. Biters. The undead. Lurkers. Bloaters. Freaks. Geeks. Whatever you call them, you know zombies, you love zombies, and you can’t get enough of zombies. Otherwise, why would you be here?
Zombie horror is gruesome, grotesque, and often delightfully cheesy, providing viewers with hours of blood-and-gore entertainment. If you’re an Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Shudder subscriber, you’ll find an abundance of zombie movies to sink your teeth into. But it’s far too easy to get caught up in something terrible.
To save you the grief of sitting through even the opening credits of a bad zombie movie, I’ve scoured the libraries of each streaming service and pulled out the best zombie movies to stream on Netflix, Shudder, and Amazon Prime.
Throw the popcorn on, dim the lights, and prepare for an evening of thrills and chills.
Diehard fans of the Capcom video game series may scoff at this entry, but I’d be lying if I said Resident Evil isn’t on my TV at some point every October. While it is a pretty terrible Resident Evil movie (as all of the live action versions are), it’s not a bad zombie movie. The makeup was as rotten and grisy as it needed to be, depicting freshly-turned corpses that didn’t quite have the time to decompose.
The story is pretty weak and every reference to Resident Evil source material is cringy, but it does have its mild high points that help usher the film along. Pre-action hero Alice is actually fun to watch and root for and Matt Mabius is a decent stand-in for the new cop in the RPD. I also always enjoy that first encounter with the undead. It’s neat, tense, and actually has a bit of that survival horror pacing you want in a Resident Evil movie.
Some may say I’m setting a low bar, but let’s be real. The genre kind of did that for me.
14. Return of the Living Dead 3
Director: Brian Yuzna Platform: Amazon
It’s a far cry from Return of the Living Dead (1985), but the third entry in the series at least tries something different. Sure, it’s hypersexualized, but it is a unique take on zombies that draws off a concept introduced in the original.
Return of the Living Dead 3 spins the notion that these zombies feel pain and chowing down on human brains is the only cure so that pain is the (very) temporary cure for their brain-lust.
In the third installment, Melinda Clarke delivers a memorable performance as the Trioxin-infected Julie Walker, who is brought back to life after a tragic motorcycle accident with her boyfriend, Curt Reynolds (J. Trevor Edmon). The movie follows Julie as she deals with being one of the undead, taking a step further than the predecessors ever did.
Watching her transformation into an S&M zombie sex goddess is as ridiculously delightful as you could expect – though side plots about militarizing zombies tend to slow down the movie a bit.
Director: Ben Howling / Yolanda Ramke Platform: Netflix
Sometimes, a zombie movie gets by on its acting. Luckily, Cargo has Martin Freeman, who delivers an astoundingly tragic performance. It’s not quite the shift you’d expect from the The Office and Sherlock alum, but it really does help save the film.
Cargo is a generally bland experience that interchanges rabid people and zombies. Think 28 Days Later and the whole “they’re not technically zombies” argument. They may not be zombies, but they’re also 100% zombies.
Alongside Freeman’s performance, the movie excels in its sound design. It helps build an unsettling atmosphere as you follow Freeman and his darling co-star, Simone Landers as Thoomi. It’s definitely not a feel-good movie, and you don’t watch it for the ample zombie gore. But, when you want a unique film about a virus that turns people into rabid brutes, Cargo is absolutely worth putting on.
12. Ladronas de Almas
Director: Juan Antonio de la Riva Platform: Amazon
When a band of insurgents come under attack by Spanish army royalists during the Mexican Civil War, an unspeakable evil emerges.
The apparently defenseless family hides a savage darkness that drags the royalists into an unspeakable level of hell. That hell, of course, is full of zombies, ready and desiring to rip them limb from limb.
If you don’t mind foreign language films, Ladronas de Almas is a serviceable zombie flick that has some neat tricks up its sleeve. I definitely wouldn’t say watch this over most entries on this list, but if you need a break from the usual zombie horror, director Juan Antonio de la Riva is sure to deliver a few freakouts that you’re going to love.
11. World War Z
Director: Marc Foster Platform: Amazon
Brad Pitt delivers the performance of a lifetime in this adaptation of Max Brooks’ Oral History of the Zombie War. I kid, of course. World War Z didn’t need a key player and Pitt seems to understand this as he meanders his way through a decaying world. However, this is not enough to strike World War Z from the list of must-watch zombie movies.
Where the film does succeed is in capturing the global scale of the outbreak referenced in Brooks’ fictional tale. Viewers follow Pitt across the world, from the streets of Philadelphia to within the protective walls of Jerusalem. In every location, things go horribly wrong – and we get to watch it all unfold.
The undead horde is terrifying and abundant. World War Z would have benefited from more practical effects, but considering the sheer number of zombies on screen, the use of CG makes sense. Thankfully, the digital fiends don’t take away from the horrifying thought of being overrun by a literal swarm of the undead.
Director: Cho Il-hyung Platform: Netflix
Joon-woo had the life so many of us want. Day-in and day-out, he streamed his favorite games and connected with his followers. Then, one day, it was all taken away from him. As was the rest of the world. When a virus rapidly spreads across his town, Joon-woo is forced to leave his life of luxury behind and barricade himself inside his apartment.
Every day is agony as he survives through the apocalypse alone, the moans of the undead nearby. When he learns of his family’s fate, Joon-woo is moments from killing himself when he realizes he’s not entirely alone.
Rather than beat us over the head with zombie gore and jump scares, #Alive instead delivers an emotional and traumatic experience about isolation. There’s another movie on this list that does it a little better, but #Alive is absolutely a great zombie film that takes a unique approach.
9. Dead Snow
Director: Tommy Wirkola Platform: Amazon
Oh, I need to say more than that to get you interested? Okay, how about: “Nazi zombies that returned from the grave to protect a treasure of gold coins and various trinkets.” You already know Dead Snow is going to be a ridiculous ride, and the movie delivers in some of the best ways.
Setting it in a snowy environment helps amplify the already delightfully abundant gore. The contrast of red and white works so well that you can’t help but wait for the next spectacular kill. And in Dead Snow, there are plenty.
I already gave away the most important plot points, but it’s worth noting that the zombies are battling a band of students looking for a spring escape in Oksfjord. Ill-prepared for the fight against the undead, they resort to using whatever is at their disposal to maim, dismember, and slaughter the reanimated SS soldiers.
Director: Robin Aubert Platform: Netflix
George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was steeped with social commentary – as was the rest of his of the Dead series. Director and screenwriter Robin Aubert clearly saw inspiration in Romero’s works and created a zombie horror drama that also aims to tackle social themes like brainwashing society and personal identity.
When it’s not trying to get you to look inside yourself, Ravenous is a pretty thrilling zombie film. Its small cast works wonders to build the dread of this world of the undead. Since we’re here for the zombies, it’s worth noting that they’re truly terrifying. The film’s sound design earned it a justified nomination and win at the 2018 Prix Iris. In fact, the movie scored quite a few victories that evening.
Ravenous doesn’t comment on anything we haven’t already discussed at length because of Romero’s 1968 classic, but that doesn’t take away from the overall experience.
7. The Night Eats the World
Director: Dominique Rocher Platform: Amazon
The Night Eats the World proves that you don’t have to go wildly overboard with your concepts to have an effective and good zombie movie.
This French horror film follows Sam, who happens to find himself in the worst of scenarios. After passing out at his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, Sam awakens to find an entirely different world than the one he was living in 24-hours earlier.
Amidst the usual horrors of a zombie movie, The Night Eats the World explores the concepts of mental strength and loneliness. Sam spends much of the movie alone, surviving and dealing with the realities of this new world without a soul to talk to.
Anders Danielsen Lie delivers a superb performance that really does carry the whole movie. The zombie action is light, but the moments it picks up are heartstopping as you really fear for Sam’s well-being.
The Night Eats the World should be on everyone’s watch list, not just zombie movie fans.
Director: Julius Avery Platform: Amazon
This one may fall on shaky ground, but so many people consider it part-World War II action film and part-zombie movie that I’m going to roll with it.
Overlord had a very high probability of being terrible. When you combine genres – in this case horror and war – you risk losing the point of both. However, Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith’s screenplay and Julius Avery’s direction resulted in a film that really captures the essence of both.
The first half of the film is absolutely a World War II movie, with a band of American soldiers enthusiastically battling against Nazi aggressors. Partway through, the tone starts to shift and we get a glimpse of the darkness that’s waiting to fully emerge. When it does, Overlord is at its best.
The entire cast is brilliant, but I have to give extra praise to Wyatt Russell, Jovan Adepo, and Pilou Asbaek.
5. The Cabin in the Woods
Director: Drew Goddard Platform: Amazon
If you try to tell me The Cabin in the Woods is not a zombie movie, I’ll fight you.
The Buckners are a “Zombie Redneck Torture Family,” as named by the deranged minds running the facility. They may not eat brains and devour flesh, but their reanimated corpses love to inflict death on the living. Also, there is a small group of zombies that appears at some point in the film – but explaining any further borders spoiler territory.
I will admit that The Cabin in the Woods is a cross-genre film that integrates zombies, the supernatural, werewolves, clowns, aliens, body horror, and everything else you can imagine. For that, it’s one of my favorite horror movies. The fact that it’s completely meta and outwardly aware of the asinine rules laid out in the genre only makes it that much more fun to watch.
The movie starts off as a love letter to The Evil Dead and expands from there. Among some of its better components are the likable characters, who, at the film’s start, break the stereotypes we’ve grown so used to watching die. It actually makes much of the film pretty tragic.
4. Zombi 2
Director: Lucio Fulci Platform: Shudder
Now here’s a strange story.
Zombi 2 is really the first of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi series, but is the second in a series of films that includes George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. So, technically, Zombie 2 is a sequel to Night of the Living Dead and is really Zombi 3. The confusion came from the Zombi 2 screenplay by Dardano Sacchetti, which was originally intended to be a sequel to Dawn of the Dead, which, in Italy, was marketed as Zombi.
Luckily, none of this is important to enjoying the film. Unlike Romero’s film series, Zombi 2 gives cause to the undead plague by introducing a voodoo curse that swept across a Caribbean island.
For its time, the movie was shocking. Fucli is known as “The Godfather of Gore,” and much of that stems from Zombi 2. Chances are you know the eye scene, which is the movie’s claim to fame and one fo the most unsettling kills in zombie movie history.
3. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Director: George R. Romero Platform: Amazon
Legendary filmmaker George R. Romero literally created the modern zombie genre. Before Night of the Living Dead, zombies were relegated to mindless slaves created by voodoo. Post-1968, the genre suddenly had “rules” that we still abide by today. And those servants? They’d just as soon gnaw your face off then do your bidding.
Night of the Living Dead is an incredibly slow film, but it’s the pacing, slow build up, and scattered encounters with the shambling reanimated that keep you on the edge of your seat. There’s also this underlying antagonistic quality about every character that makes it quite believable. Everybody has their own plan and they’re going to abide by it, even if it means belittling and possibly even harming other survivors.
That the bulk of the movie takes place in a small house amplifies the horrors even more. As you’re watching, prepare for your mind to start determining your exit points in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
2. The Return of the Living Dead
Director: Dan O’Bannon Platform: Amazon
If Night of the Living Dead created the modern zombie, then The Return of the Living Dead gave us even more reason to fear it. Replacing the slow-moving, half-naked monstrosities of Romero’s film are fast, intelligent, and very talkative reanimated corpses. Worst of all: they can’t really be killed.
A bullet to the brain, dismemberment, severed spinal columns – you can try it, but these flesh-crazed fiends will still come at you. Burning them even proves problematic as it releases the toxin responsible for bringing the dead back to life.
The Return of the Living Dead is a blend of horror and comedy, but the funnier parts don’t overshadow how scary the movie can be. Zombies that can think critically, at least enough to call for paramedics, is a frightening idea. If not for their desire for brains, their emergence from cold graves, and the fact that they were once dead, these zombies could pass for demons in a Sam Raimi film.
1. Train to Busan
Director: Yeon Sang-ho Platform: Amazon/Shudder
There isn’t a person in my life I haven’t recommended Train to Busan to. The atmospheric and claustrophobic setting, the ravenous and gnarly undead, the impressively deep character drama – it’s everything that most zombie movies lack.
Train to Busan primarily takes place on a train. Our hapless heroes – which consists of a selfish businessman and his adorable daughter, a young baseball team, and an endearing pair of soon-to-be parents – are immersed in a world of the undead when a viral outbreak spreads across train cars. The zombies are downright terrifying, and that they’re in such a high number in an enclosed space doesn’t make them any less so.
Yeon Sang-ho made the wise choice to cut out the gore and focus more on building characters and relationships. There’s nothing worse than watching relatable characters succumbing to the wave of death spreading across the train.
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