In anticipation of the release of Zombieland this Friday, I figured I'd take this opportunity to finally compile my definitive list of the top ten best zombie movies. I have high hopes for this movie -- which looks to be little more than two hours of Woodie Harrelson killing zombies and making jokes -- and hope it can find a place on the second version of this list.
10. Land of the Dead
This isn't the weakest of George Romero's still-chugging-along series of zombie movies, but it is the least brilliant of all his good ones. But it is a good one, even though it pales in comparison to Romero's original trilogy of film. There are some great set pieces in this film and contains Romero's trademark direction and snappy dialogue. It's also notable for being the first -- and, at this point, only -- Romero zombie film that has actual actors you'd ever recognize from any other film, including Dennis Hopper as the biggest douche bag ever.
9. Dawn of the Dead (Remake)
Considering my love for the original Dawn of the Dead, I had no faith that this film would be anything more than an insult to fans like me. Luckily, I was dead wrong. All of the subtext, substance, and social commentary from the original are stripped away in favor of nonstop, gore, action, and thrills, but who really cared about any of that crap anyway? I love Romero's movies, but I don't watch zombie movies for any kind of commentary on the human condition. I want to watch people's heads blow up.
8. Evil Dead Trilogy
All things considered, these films (the first two in particular) are absolutely brilliant and should rank higher in terms of quality than most of the other films on this list, but I held it back to #8 because they are only zombie movies in the most literal sense. I'm probably even risking a lot of flack for including them on this list at all. But come on... the monsters in this movie are reanimated corpses called "deadites." They're zombies. Anyway, these movies are brilliant, incredibly funny, and wickedly scary.
7. Zombi 2
I'm going to attempt to tell you the weird, convoluted history of Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2:
To begin with, there was no real film called Zombi, so Zombi 2 isn't actually a sequel to anything. George Romero's Dawn of the Dead was released in Italy as "Zombi," so (long story short) Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci decided to make a zombie film and call it "Zombi 2." I'm going to give that some time to sink into your brain. But, regardless of its odd and somewhat disingenuous origin, it's still an awesome zombie movie. It's a bit slow and has way too many scenes of people talking (when they should be getting eaten by zombies), but it's an absolutely must see for two scenes:
#1. The scene where the zombie shoves a woman's face so a giant splinter of wood goes right into her eyeball is quite possibly the most gory, disgusting thing I've ever seen. It's absolutely incredible. It's the kind of scene you'll have to rewind a dozen times after seeing it for the first time. If you're into that sort of that, that is.
#2. There's a scene where a zombie fights a shark. And I'm pretty sure it's real. I don't mean that an actual zombie fought a shark, but that a guy dressed like a zombie got into a tank and slapped around an actual shark. I've seen this movie a few dozen times and there's no other possible way they could've filmed it. That's an actual actor pushing around and biting a real shark. It's just about the best scene in zombie movie history.
6. 28 Days/Weeks Later
Yeah, I know the "zombies" in this movie are infected with some virus and aren't actually the living dead, but whatever. They're zombies. I lumped these two films together because, frankly, neither one has enough action, gore, and scares to stand alone against the other films on this list, but when taken together, they are quite satisfying and complimentary companion pieces. Both films have amazing first halves but falter a bit toward their ends, but they are still incredibly gripping, incredibly thrilling zombie films. I like 'em.
5. Shaun of the Dead
For the most part, I'm not a fan of "funny" zombie movies, of which there have been a great many over the years. They usually aren't very funny or the least bit original... but this one is both. I think what sets this film apart from the other "funny" zombie movies is that it isn't really a parody so much as a comedy that stands alone as something funny all by itself. You don't have to know the cliches of the genre to enjoy the jokes in this movie, since it's just a straight up hilarious comedy. And then, somewhere toward the end, it actually gets incredibly tense and pretty scary as well. And there's some really fresh ideas and a lot of gore.
4. Dawn of the Dead (Original)
Not much to say about this one, other than that it's probably most people's pick for the best zombie film of all time. I love it to be sure, but it's obviously not my all time favorite since it's only at #4, but number #4 of all time is still really, really exceptional.
This film is just brilliant. It has become so popular and beloved because -- zombies and gore aside -- it's just a great story that's well told. After the first Dead film, Romero decided to write a sequel where, for all intents and purposes, the zombies had won and taken over the world. This was a brave, bold choice and this was a brave, bold movie. Just watch it. It's a lot of fun. It's just too bad Romero didn't really know how to end it.
3. Return of the Living Dead
This movie is both the funniest and the scariest zombie movie I've ever seen. Even more so than Shaun of the Dead, this film finds the perfect balance between over the top, almost cartoonish scenes of pure slapstick comedy, and the overall tone that is just incredibly claustrophobic, unsettling, and depressing. The zombies in this movie eat brains because, we are told, being a zombie is pure agony and only the taste of brains gives them any comfort at all. Also, once your a zombie in this film, you're a zombie forever. Shots to the head just slow these zombies down. The only way to stop them is to burn them, but even that causes more trouble than it's worth. The world presented in this film is the single bleakest, most terrifying universe I've ever seen.
Well, except for the scene where the hot punk chick does a striptease in the cemetery. That scene was pretty inspiring.
2. Day of the Dead
Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead introduced us to the zombie plague and let us know how some of the population were dealing with things. Day of the Dead lets us know what the military is doing about it, and it sure ain't much. This movie is just crazy good, and it's a completely underrated masterpiece in my opinion. Night and Dawn are rightly deserving of their place as acclaimed works of horror art, but nobody cares about Day, even though it's the most exciting and clever zombie film ever made. It's just an epic film full of amazing characters and brilliant ideas.
It also has the best death scene in movie history:
1. Night of the Living Dead
NOTLD is the Citizen Kane of zombie movies. It didn't invent zombies or even create the genre of films, but it popularized them and introduced the main tropes for which the genre is most well known. But who cares about that? It's just a good movie. It's scary and engaging and fascinating and funny and sad and awe-inspiring.
It's Night of the Living Dead. It's just the best zombie movie ever made, which means it's one of the best movies ever made.