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. When it comes to the best zombie movies of the 21st century, you’re almost spoilt for choice for scares.
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.
Let’s take a look at some of the best zombie movies of the 21st century — whether they feature slow zombies, fast zombies, or something else entirely — so far.
The Best Zombie Movies of the 21st Century
50. 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.
40. 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. You may not think you want that, but this movie could surprise you.
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.
A Shudder exclusive, Yummy is one of the bloodiest zombie movies of recent memory, it bringing to mind Peter Jackson’s Braindead/Dead Alive in terms of the amount of shlocky gore being chucked around the screen at once. It’s not deep, but it sure is a lot of fun.
When a woman visits a shady plastic surgeon with her meek boyfriend, a science experiment is let loose and the deaths aren’t far behind. It’s not quite a zombie comedy, but there’s a decidedly tongue-in-cheek attitude to Yummy that makes it a light-hearted — albeit incredibly viseral — zombie flick that is sure to crack some dark smiles.
38. Rampant (2018)
Director: Kim Sung-hoon
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.
36. Train To Busan: Peninsula (2020)
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Let’s get this out of the way: Peninsula doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessor, which you will find much higher on this list of the best zombie movies. It doesn’t have quite the same heart, but as far as high-octane action goes? It’s just a tonne of dumb fun.
Following the events of Train To Busan, survivors travel back to South Korea for a big payday. It’s not long before gangs, families and the zombies themselves make their job a lot harder. Despite a couple of throwback moments, you could easily see Peninsula as a completely separate zombie flick.
35. 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 (and even the franchise) 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.
29. 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.
This is a nasty, ugly film which serves as more of a reminder of the depravity that humanity will sink to rather than an out-and-out zombie movie. After two teenage boys find a reanimated corpse in an abandoned facility, they resort to depraved acts as they hold her captive.
It’s a hard watch that can be far too aggressive with its message, but is still an effective alternative zombie film which should be ticked off your watchlist. Just don’t choose it for date night.
This will not be for you if you like your zombie movies to be a bit “flighty”. Exit Humanity takes place in a Civil War-era overwhelmed with the undead and follows the toils of an ex-family man who is just looking to survive in the most melancholy way possible.
The narration can be slightly jarring and the action a little melodramatic, but this is a taut, clever effort nonetheless that is available on Amazon Instant Video. It’s not always a “breezy” watch, but everyone involved gives it their absolute all.
Nobody is going to claim that this extremely low-budget found footage movie is groundbreaking in its cinematography, but it is fascinating in concept, and that’s typically what the best zombie movies boast.
For the princely sum of £45, director Marc Price managed to create an intelligent film told entirely from the perspective of a zombie during an outbreak in Britain. If for nothing but to appreciate what was accomplished on a tiny budget, Colin is a must-see.
25. #Alive (2020)
Director: Il Cho
Timed a little too perfectly in the 2020 movie release window, Il Cho’s #Alive focuses on a young, almost comedically inept Korean who is stranded in his family’s apartment during a zombie outbreak. With food running out and his mind going to troubling places, the movie takes an unexpected turn.
While #Alive features a tonne of somewhat slapstick moments, it’s when the going gets tough that it really starts to shine. Ah-In Yoo puts in a great performance as the hapless zoomer with the movie bolstered by a strong emotional core throughout. Try this on Netflix if you haven’t already.
24. Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
Director: Ruben Fleischer
It was always going to be difficult for Double Tap to succeed in the same way Zombieland did ten years after the original’s release, but those wanting more of the same will be left delighted. The gang’s chemistry is still infectious, especially the banter between Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee and Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus.
Following a similar pattern to the first movie, Double Tap doesn’t hold any pretences of being a deep movie whatsoever, allowing for an absolutely gigantic and bombastic final battle that’s right up there with some of the best action sequences in any zombie movie.
Probably the last good thing Robert Rodriguez touched before Alita: Battle Angel, Planet Terror is a romp from start to finish that plays up the best of trashy exploitation cinema from the 70s.
As part of the admirably throwback Grindhouse series with Quentin Tarantino, Rodriguez released a camp, silly but still stylish zombie movie back in 2007 that featured some of the greatest one-liners in film history. “I’m gonna eat your brains and gain your knowledge” is the first thing I say to all my new friends.
Hands up if you knew that Billy Connolly was once a zombie. Putting in a great performance as the titular “hero”, Connolly anchors one of the first interesting spins on zombie legend to come out in the 21st century.
Taking place in a world where the flesh eaters have become domesticated, Fido is a unique zombie film that might have passed many people by on initial release. It’s definitely worth picking up for cheap now, if not for Connolly’s brilliant performance, but for the movie’s unique 1950s vision.
Going on poster art alone, The Horde would be one to swerve. It’s by no means perfect, but this Belgian release is a pleasant surprise, especially if you base your preconceptions on its dodgy cover.
Don’t expect the Citizen Kane of zombie movies (that will always be 1978’s Dawn of the Dead) and you will have a lot of fun with the machismo of dumb police officers who fail to understand where to shoot zombies.
Imagine The Raid with zombies and you aren’t a million miles away.
Judging from its first few scenes, I thought Wyrmwood would be a difficult slog and definitely not one of the best zombie movies I’d watch in ages. It’s full of cheese and totally unbelievable, but as the film progressed, I found myself being charmed.
Wyrmwood has plenty of influences that it isn’t afraid to hide, so much so that it feels like one long homage to an entire genre. It’s a B-movie done absolutely right for a modern audience with just enough seriousness to keep you invested.
America’s War on Terror is a big inspiration for events here and contributes towards a smarter, more accessible effort than 1985’s Day of the Dead that still ends up as an arguably inferior but great watch nonetheless.
Dennis Hopper also steals the show in one of his last great roles.
The more I watch Ruben Fleishcer’s zomedy, the more I notice its flaws. It’s still a worthwhile look into the end of the world via zombies that’s helped out a lot by our lord Bill Murray’s hilarious cameo, as well as fantastic chemistry between all of the main protagonists.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, take your brain out of your skull, put it in a bag of frozen peas and allow yourself to enjoy some honest whimsy. Just don’t try to explain to me the sense in going to a theme park in an apocalypse.
A recurring theme with modern zombie movies is not taking the zombie apocalypse all that seriously, which is exactly the charm of the Spanish-Cuban Juan of the Dead. After the undead outbreak, the chosen Juan decides to start up his own ethically unsound zombie-killing business with differing results.
Equal parts slapstick comedy and political allegory, this is a smart and heartfelt effort, which isn’t too bad a result considering it’s viewed as the first Cuban zombie film ever made. It’s not amazing from a technical perspective, but there’s something about Juan of the Dead that just works incredibly well.
Based on the manga of the same name, I Am A Hero is an unusual movie in that it is completely unapologetic about its weirdness. Its zombies are infected with ZQN and are able to talk and even jump really high, but it all depends on what they were like in their normal life.
It’s certainly an unconventional time, but not one that you will struggle to be endeared by. I Am A Hero is one of the best Japanese horror imports in years, so it’s such a shame that it’s so hard to find in the West, the UK in particular.
Following a young girl who was born while her mother was infected with the virus that has plagued the world, The Girl with All the Gifts is equal parts social commentary and nerve-jangling action that isn’t quite like anything else out there.
When I’m in a good mood, I appreciate its performances and the constant tension, but while I’m in a bad mood, its awful final third tries its best to make me smash my head through a window. Still, its first third is a masterclass in suspense and mystery that reveals that not is all as it seems.
South Korean filmmakers really knows how to make zombies work, to keep putting interesting spins on what is by now a very cramped market. In Zombie For Sale, the senior residents of a town think they’ve discovered the cure for ageing — a zombie bite.
With a great cast of characters and some undeniably funny moments, Zombie For Sale is like Warm Bodies mixed with a Wes Anderson movie, except if The Royal Tenenbaums had buckets of blood. Zombie For Sale keeps up its whimsical fun right up until its final, suitably silly scene.
13. Cargo (2017)
Director(s): Yolanda Ramke, Ben Howling
The slow-burn and lack of buckets of blood may turn some zombie movie fans away from Cargo, but it really shouldn’t. It feels like the evolution of Maggie: a look at the dynamic between a father and daughter with the same arid landscape as The Dead and the hook of Colin to boot.
If that sounds convoluted, Cargo is anything but. It’s a simple story of love and sacrifice beautifully told that you shouldn’t overlook on Netflix. Martin Freeman gives this one his all, but the supporting performance from Simone Landers more than matches him.
12. Ravenous (Les Affamés) (2017)
Director: Robin Aubert
By all accounts, the zombie craze is over. Mention a new undead movie in passing to someone and the best you can hope for is an eyeroll. It was a big surprise, then, that Ravenous somehow managed to make zombies feel like a threat again.
Admittedly, a lot of the added tension in this unusual horror film might have come from reading the subtitles while also trying to keep an eye out for the jumpscares, but this is still a taut and highly enjoyable trip to Canada that’s minimalism leaves a lasting impact.
11. Rammbock (2010)
Director: Marvin Kren
A German horror that might have flown under the radar for many, Rammbock is a tense yet mercifully brisk affair that sees a jilted boyfriend trying to reconnect with his ex, only to become embroiled in the outbreak of a rage virus.
Set in an apartment block, our unlikely hero must remain calm – literally. The virus takes over quicker if people become enraged, which gives Marvin Kren’s movie a welcome and interesting twist.
If the words “zombie musical set at Christmas” make you feel uneasy, Anna and the Apocalypse really may not be for you. That being said, you try to listen to just a few of its songs and not bop your head along to it without a care in the world after the third or fourth listen.
While its final third definitely lets it down after such a promising start, Anna and the Apocalypse is another novel twist on the zombie subgenre that has plenty of heart, laughs, and one or two guts to show. Expect the lead, Ella Hunt, to be a big name within the next few years.
Continuing the trend of smart, exciting foreign zombie movies comes Dead Snow, or Død Snø in its native Norwegian. When you combine Nazis, zombies and a dash of comedy for good measure, you will only ever been onto a winner and that’s exactly the case here.
Dead Snow is smartly shot, fantastically paced and doesn’t fall into the same old tropes that hamper so many similar films. It’s also gory as all hell, as well as being a deeply silly time that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
One Cut of the Dead is one of those modern zombie movies that you just want to talk and talk about, but to do so beyond the basics would be to inevitably spoil what makes it so special.
When a film crew’s B movie production is suddenly overcome by actual zombies, a crazed director compels his cast to utilise the situation for better performances. A funny, unusual zombie yarn, One Cut of the Dead is worth a Shudder subscription all on its own.
7. REC (2007)
Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Few movies have perfected found footage horror quite like Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s REC, even Hollywood. While Quarantine, the American remake, had some frights, you can’t quite match the pulse-pounding terror of REC.
A slow burn that rises to an almost unbearably tense final fifteen minutes, REC follows an apartment lockdown when one of the residents is discovered to have contracted some unique strain of rabies. The tension slowly creeps upwards until its chilling final scene, which will probably make you question ever going in your attic again.
6. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
The sequel to Danny Boyle’s cult classic found itself in a similar status shortly after release. 28 Weeks Later may not be quite as essential as the movie which helped to reignite the interest in the genre, but where it lacks in brains it more than makes up for it with a serious amount of blood and guts.
That helicopter scene is every gorehound’s dream, plus Jeremy Renner steals the show. In fact, with performances from Imogen Poots, Rose Byrne, and the aforementioned Renner all before they hit the big time, 28 Weeks Later is a more important movie than a lot of people realise.
A film which I cannot espouse enough, The Battery appeared in a period of fantastical, ridiculous zombie movies to do something that so many simply fail to do: tell a story.
As a low-budget affair, this allows first-time director Jeremy Gardner to explore the mental toil of a zombie apocalypse on two begrudging baseball players who were thrown together through necessity rather than choice when the world went to shit.
Despite some rough edges due to the non-budget, The Battery is essential viewing.
Following a thirtysomething layabout whose life is going nowhere fast, leading his long-time girlfriend to dump him, Shaun of the Dead follows the titular Shaun as he tries to play the hero — usually to disastrous effect.
It would almost be easier to just copy and paste a load of memorable quotes from Edgar Wright’s now famous romzomcom than to actually write anything about it. If you haven’t seen Shaun of the Dead yet, get your life together and turn on ITV2 right now because the zombie comedy will invariably be playing on there as we speak.
A film that I make an effort to watch at least once a year, Zack Snyder’s remake of the classic original is a breathless action film which only shares the location (a shopping mall) with its source material. It doesn’t have anything in the way of social commentary or much substance, though it’s an absolute thrill ride that doesn’t let up.
It’s not the thinking man’s zombie movie, but I will be damned if it isn’t the most entertaining, set up perfectly by a relentless opening sequence. There may be too much stupidity from people for you to handle, though.
Who brings a chainsaw onto a moving vehicle? Really now.
From the outside looking in, Train To Busan may just come across like a Korean version of 28 Days Later. Look closer, however, and you will find that it’s much more than that, delivering its blood and gore with just as much heart, as well as Romero-esque social commentary.
Set, weirdly enough, on a train going to one of the last vestiges of safety after an outbreak wipes out civilisation, it’s a breathless and exhilarating movie that should really be the first of the best zombie movies on this list that you check off your watchlist.
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