To be fair, most zombie movies are first-rate disasters. Low budgets, poor acting, cheap special effects and over-sexed scripts were the genre’s mainstay. There were a few that have stood out over the years as truly good films.
The best undead film would have to be Dawn of the Dead. This film had its U.S. release in 1979 and has enjoyed a loyal following ever since. It is the second of the Romero zombie series and follows two Philadelphia SWAT cops and two television station employees as they flee the city in a stolen helicopter. The four characters find themselves atop a shopping mall and decide to make the place their home for a while. Before they can settle in, they need to clear the place of walking dead. This is one of the goriest movies I’ve ever seen and the special effects are truly realistic. The acting is as good as any movie. Dawn of the Dead is full of action and suspense and the script is well thought out, not the typical screamer that horror movies usually lean towards. This film was re-made in 2004. Bigger names and a much bigger budget couldn’t overcome some of the weak plot changes injected into the new project. The original makes the list while its remake falls a little short.
The second-best zombie movie is Night of the Living Dead. Released in 1968, this George A. Romero film was probably the first one to become a cult classic. Set in a Pennsylvania farm house, this low budget black-and-white film was the first of a series of four zombie flicks by Romero. Fleeing the newly risen undead, a group of strangers find themselves barricaded behind the walls of an old farmhouse. They soon discover a couple hiding in the basement with their infected daughter, adding new twists to an already good plot. Will the hapless refugees succumb to the undead hordes or will they find a way to survive? I won’t spoil the ending in case you haven’t seen this film. As the first zombie movie with a good script, decent special effects and above average acting I have to rate this as one of the best of the zombie movies. A re-make of this film was released in 1990. I found the remake to be better because of the special effects and color film, but as a zombie “purist”, I still rate the original as the best.
The other two films of the Romero series include Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead. Day of the Dead was plagued with poor acting and a weak plot while Land of the Dead dealt with terrible casting choices and a plotline that wasn’t thought through very well. Neither made the list. Other movies that didn’t make the list included 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks later. I omitted these on a technicality. The victims in these films were not actually dead, but merely affected by a virus.
The Resident Evil series is a good set of zombie movies. High budgets and outstanding special effects help vault these over many other films. These films revolve around genetic mutations gone awry and the catastrophic affects it has on the planet. This series follows Alice, former Security Chief for the Umbrella Corporation and cause of the undead uprising. These were the first zombie movies created from video games, but don’t let that stop you from seeing them. These are all first-rate films and subscribe to the “fast zombie” theory, as opposed to the “slow zombies” that were featured in the other movies on this list. These three movies also incorporate undead animals and freakish mutations, adding a fresh dimension to the zombie theme.
Rounding out this list is Shaun of the Dead. Released in 2004, this British zombie spoof actually does a very good job at scaring people while making them laugh. Even the most hard-core zombie fan will appreciate the movie’s ability to pick on itself and the genre. Set in a small English town, it follows down-at-the-heels loser Shaun and his even worse off best friend, Ed as they race to save Shaun’s girlfriend, mother, step-father and friends. This movie is riddled with deadpan British humor as well as pretty good gore. If you want a fun zombie movie, this is a definite must-see.