If you're hungry for zombie fare, there are tons of great movies to pick from. Below, I've ranked my personal faves in ascending order—and I like my zombies speedy, so I've included movies that feature running, infected zombies as well as those with the classic, shambling undead. If you disagree with my choices, share your own picks in the comments below!
College student Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) survives the first few months of the zombie apocalypse, due largely to his strict rule about not getting attached to others. But when he falls in with a rag-tag crew that includes Wichita (Emma Stone), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), Columbus' number-one rule for survival is about to be tested. As he begins to fall for Wichita, Columbus agrees to accompany his new companions to California—and winds up on a collision course with a pack of truly upsetting zombie clowns.
This Stephen King adaptation follows the violent, downward spiral of a young family that moves from Chicago to rural Maine. When his daughter's cat is killed while crossing the road, Louis (Dale Midkiff) takes the cryptic advice of his neighbor and buries the corpse in a mysterious burial ground in the woods beyond their property. The next day, the cat returns—and opens up Louis' world to horrors he couldn't possibly have imagined. A slow but ultimately horrifying movie about the lengths we will go to keep the people we love alive, Pet Sematary is a classic reminder that sometimes dead is better.
World War Z
World War Z, the book, is a genre masterpiece. World War Z the movie is, well ... the movie is not. But when judged apart from its source material, there's a lot to enjoy here. Brad Pitt stars as Gerry, a former U.N. specialist who left the field to be with his wife and two young daughters. When a mysterious, rabies-like affliction starts turning people into bloodthirsty ghouls, Gerry and his family are offered refuge on a government ship—but only if he goes out in the field to try and find the source of the global scourge.
The Girl With All the Gifts
Twenty years ago, a fungal infection that causes the afflicted to lose their mental faculties and crave human flesh destroyed civilization. Now, a group of second-generation children 'hungries' may be the key to a cure. These young hungries haven't lost their minds, and aren't dangerous unless they're close enough to humans to smell them. Melanie, one of these unusual young hungries, is taken to a military base run by the few surviving uninfected. There, she develops a deep affection for her teacher Miss Justineau. Melanie doesn't fully understand what makes her different from other humans, or why the brief moment of physical affection she shares with Miss Justineau causes so much consternation on the base. When the base is attacked and destroyed, Melanie and her teacher must lean on each other to survive as they trek to another base beyond London. Unique, grotesque, and emotionally devastating, The Girl With All the Gifts is one to remember.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
This Zack Snyder-directed reimagining of George Romero’s 1978 classic throws out the characters from the original, but keeps the central location of an abandoned shopping mall. Sara Polley stars as Ana, who takes refuge in the mall along with her daughter, and joins a small community of survivors attempting to keep the peace in their temporary home while they simultaneously plot their escape. Snyder's adaptation also dispenses with most of the social commentary from Romero's movie, instead focusing on unrelenting, tense action sequences that capture the speed with which the world could fall apart. Scary and honestly far more fun than I thought a Zack Snyder movie could possibly be (sorry D.C. fans, he's just not my jam!), this is a fun, frightening reinterpretation of a classic.
28 Weeks Later
A sequel to 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks is set—you guessed it—28 weeks after the outbreak of the deadly Rage virus. The survivors have begun to regroup, but tensions are dangerously high in District One, an army-controlled safe zone. As scientists rush to discover why one woman appears immune to the virus, the volatile conditions in Zone One reach a breaking point. I personally think 28 Weeks Later is one of the bleakest, most unremitting zombie movies out there. Bonus points for featuring lots of Idris Elba as an uncompromising NATO General determined to avoid chaos at all costs.
This Spanish found footage movie might be the flat-out scariest title on this list. A camera crew for a reality show called While You Were Sleeping are recording one night in the life of a firehouse when the firefighters are called to an apartment building where an old woman is reported to be in distress. Once they arrive, the woman quickly becomes violent, and it's revealed that other members of the apartment building are exhibiting symptoms of a mysterious illness. The military arrives to quarantine the building, sealing everyone in for a night of undead terror.
Shaun of the Dead
The first movie in Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s incredible Cornetto trilogy, Shaun of the Dead perfectly plays on well-worn zombie tropes, but is just as sweet and scary as it is pop culture savvy. Shaun (Simon Pegg) is an unambitious electronic salesman content to spend the rest of his days drinking at the Winchester with his best friend Ed (Nick Frost) and his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield). But Liz wants more from life, so she reluctantly dumps Simon, leaving him to find solace in a post-breakup bender. When a very hungover Simon wakes the next morning, he eventually realizes that his relationship isn't the only thing that's dead: a zombie plague has overrun London. The unlikeliest of heroes, Simon and Ed concoct a plan to save Simon's mother and Liz and get safely to the Winchester to wait until the whole thing blows over.
28 Days Later
This Danny Boyle-directed classic remains a standout in the genre, 15 years after it was released. Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes from a coma to find London an eerie, deserted wasteland. When he stumbles across a ragtag band of survivors, he learns that a highly contagious virus spread across England while he was unconscious, causing civilization to collapse and leaving the the city and the surrounding areas choked with swarms of the ruthless infected. Jim and his new companions set out for Manchester in search of a cure; but ultimately, they may have more to fear from other survivors than they do from the infected. 28 Days Later argues that men are the real monsters (and in this case, I do mean men specifically, rather than using 'men' as a synonym for 'humanity'). That's not a wholly original point, but the movie is so stylish and tense that its message about human decency in the face of societal collapse feels fresh.
Train to Busan
Seek-Woo is a single father who, although well intentioned, spends far more time at the office than he does with his ridiculously cute daughter, Soo-an. After he disappoints Soo-an by missing her singing recital, Seek-Woo reluctantly agrees to take her by train to Busan so Soo-an can see her mother, Seek-Woo's ex-wife. When they leave that morning, the two are unaware that a mysterious outbreak is sweeping across the country. But when a wounded passenger comes aboard at the last moment, Seek-Woo is pushed into a fight for his and Soo-an's life.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The second of George A. Romero's 'Of the Dead' films, cult classic Dawn of the Dead follows four survivors of a zombie apocalypse who take refuge in a shopping mall. Their unlikely fortress gives the movie lots of opportunities to satirize mass consumerism and remind viewers that hey, capitalism kind of turns us all into zombies, right man? Throughout, Romero's movie manages to be both funny, horrifying, and emotionally powerful. The four survivors are fleshed out, believable people who all seem like they have final girl or guy potential, which makes the deaths devastating when they do come.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
An iconic film without which none of the other movies on this list would likely exist, Night of the Living Dead follows a group of strangers who find safety in a Pennsylvania farmhouse as a wave of carnage — perpetuated by the reanimated corpses of the recently deceased— sweeps across the United States. Night of the Living Dead challenged what audiences expected from horror movie, and epitomized what we've come to see as the default zombie in pop culture: slow, wasting away, with an insatiable appetite for flesh. The film remains culturally significant not just for its impact on the zombie genre, but for also its nuanced (if unintentional on Romero's part) exploration of racial politics.
Featured still from "Train to Busan" via Next Entertainment World