Zombie movies are a firm part of popular culture, and the genre continuously dies and is resurrected in a manner fitting the subjects. Besides popular zombies like Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy (which we’ll discuss in separate lists), zombie films typically feature swarms of undead (sometimes living, sometimes dead) people and animals attacking the “normal” humans.
Check out the 20 best zombie movies released prior to 2020.
20. Cemetery Man (1994)
This insane, surreal movie from the 90s focuses on a cemetery caretaker who kills zombies who rise from their graves. Of course, he falls in love with one at a point but loses her to zombification. It’s a crazy film about a dead-end job that’s a great companion for those who love Six Feet Under.
19. Resident Evil (2002)
A genetic research facility called Umbrella Corporation exists underground Raccoon City. When a thief steals a virus and infects the staff, the resident AI contains the damage. A group of commandos want answers and end up disabling the AI and releasing a hive of zombies into the world.
18. The Evil Dead (1981)/Evil Dead 2 (1987)
The Evil Dead series technically features demons inhabiting human corpses, and these first two movies are basically the same movie. Sam Raimi wasn’t happy with the first movie, so he went back in with a bigger budget, a more confident Bruce Campbell, and made history.
17. Night of the Living Dead (1968/1990/2001)
George Romero’s low-budget indie film is widely regarded as the most influential zombie movie ever made, even though it never actually uses the word “zombie.” NOTLD set all the rules zombie movies would follow for the rest of eternity and is to zombies what Dracula is to vampires – the king.
16. Ojuju (2014)
Ojuju is a Nigerian take on the zombie thriller and one of the better movies to come out of the West-African nation. The single water source in a slum village is causing turning people into infected zombies that terrorize everyone else.
15. Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)
A zombie apocalypse is threatening Little Haven at Christmas, and teenage Anna and her friends are going to stop it. This movie is part of the shift to make zombie movies more palatable for younger audiences with younger actors like Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, and Sarah Swire.
14. The Last Man on Earth (1964)/Omega Man (1971)/I Am Legend (2007)
Everyone from Vincent Price to Charlton Heston and Will Smith have taken on the part of Robert Neville, the last man left on an earth where everyone else turned to zombies. In Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name, he finally determines he is the problem, the outsider, the monster, and kills himself. Hollywood has yet to make the movie right yet.
13. Re-Animator (1985)
Re-Animator dives into the science of, well, reanimating dead people in a way that hadn’t really been updated since Frankenstein. When a mad scientist injects corpses with an ooze, they wake up and go on a murderous rampage.
12. Freaks of Nature (2015)
Infusing elements of Twilight into the zombie genre, this film follows high school outcasts in a town that has humans, vampires, and zombies living in harmony until aliens ruin everything.
11. Tie: 28 Days Later (2002)/28 Weeks Later (2007)
Zombie films were all but dead until Danny Boyle, Cillian Murphy, and the crew came along. A British bike courier wakes up from a coma to a deserted London, except zombies infected by a rage virus are running amok and killing everything in sight. And the slow-moving herds from days of yore were replaced by amped-up freaks running at top speed.
10. Train to Busan (2016)
South Korea comes up with some brilliant horror films, and Train to Busan is a suspenseful thrill ride. A man is fulfilling his wish to his daughter Su-an to bring her to Busan to spend her birthday with her mother. A woman with a bite wound boards and begins biting others to turn them into zombies. Now this father must protect the young girl on a train full of rampaging zombies, because as they get off at the next station, the outbreak is everywhere.
9. Planet Terror (2007)
When Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teamed up for a pair of horror films in the Grindhouse double-feature, you know you’re getting a treat. It reverts the genre back decades, replacing any subtlety or subcontext with gore, boobs, and action sequences.
8. Warm Bodies (2013)
Based on the underrated Day of the Dead, Warm Bodies features zombies with personalities who evolve from the pack. Rob Corddry is a delight as M and steals the show from the Romeo and Juliet characters, R and Julie Grigio (Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer). When a zombie man falls in love with a human woman, their warring sides aren’t happy.
7. Creepshow (1982)
Actually more of a Tales from the Crypt-like collection of short horror stories, there’s quite a bit of undead goodness to be found in Stephen King’s screenwriting debut.
6. Dawn of the Dead (1978/2004)
This sequel to Romero’s classic zombie film that kickstarted the mainstream zombie revolution is a much more polished movie that kept the franchise going for generations. It’s the first time Hollywood special effects teams were able to truly show gore, like exploding heads, on screen. The remake is great too.
5. Life After Beth (2014)
Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza) is killed, and her boyfriend Zach is having trouble coping with it. One day he sees Beth alive in her family’s home and is determined to figure out what happened. Unfortunately she’s a raging zombie now, and things won’t end well for him.
4. REC (2008)
Found-footage films were all the rage when this Spanish film came out, and it became an instant classic of the genre. Zombies are infected with a virus that must be quarantined inside a building with a news crew filming everything happening. It brings new scares to the genre.
3. World War Z (2013)
Brad Pitt’s city is overrun with zombies, so he escapes with his family. Unfortunately there’s nowhere to escape to, and we see some amazing special effects depicting a world with billions of zombies swarming cities. They kill each other just to form a ramp to get over a wall. You’re not stopping these infected zombies without a cure.
2. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Zombie movies were taken a completely new direction by director Edgar Wright and a British cast including Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It lampoons the typical zombie movie, proving that any story can be told in this backdrop. As many times as Dawn of the Dead was spoofed, parodied, and straight up ripped off, this is the most refreshing twist that brought a new level to the genre.
1. Zombieland (2009)
Zombieland is the most culturally important zombie film this side of George Romero. It brought zombie comedy stateside with a likable cast including Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Woody Harrelson as Twinkie-loving Tallahassee. Making light of the apocalypse is no easy feat, but it’s even funnier once Bill Murray gets involved in a scene-stealing cameo as himself pretending to be a zombie.