The 25 greatest zombie movies ever
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The 25 greatest zombie movies ever

George Romeo recreated and redefined the Zombie genre with 1968's "Night of the Living Dead," a low-budget drive-in affair that serves as a horror landmark, spawning an entire genre's worth of films. Since Romero's first zombie film, the public has had a love affair with the undead, manifesting it in comedies and even romantic fare. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Romero's classic, we count down the 25 greatest zombie films, with a couple of surprises that only show just how ubiquitous the undead can be.

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25. "Ed and His Dead Mother" (1993)

"Ed and His Dead Mother" (1993)
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A quirky and mostly forgotten oddity from the early '90s, "Ed and His Dead Mother" earns a spot on our list because of just how fun it actually is. Steve Buscemi stars as Ed, a well-meaning mother's boy who inherits the family hardware store after her death. Offered a unique chance to resurrect his mother for the low, low cost of $1,000, Ed relents and brings his mother back to life, in turn causing a series of unfortunate events (heh) that leads to outright zombie mayhem. "Ed" came out during a time when gore ruled horror films, so for a film in this genre to have so little of it may have turned some off. But in the end, its charm and weirdness make this film so watchable.

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24. "Dead & Breakfast" (2004)

"Dead & Breakfast" (2004)
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Coming on to our list as a surprising low-budget offering, "Dead & Breakfast" brings musical elements to the table along with tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek comedy in this tale of a group of friends on their way to a wedding who make the mistake of stopping off in the town of Lovelock, Texas, a town known for its bed and breakfast...and its embrace of the occult. (Well that's not nearly as well-known, but you know...) Soon, one of the friends opens a box he probably shouldn't, promptly becomes possessed by evil spirits and starts making zombies out of people he kills. The film doesn't intend to take itself seriously, which ends up being its saving grace and a worthy part of our list.

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23. "Dead Snow" (2009)

"Dead Snow" (2009)
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What's worse than a Nazi? An undead Nazi. "Dead Snow" is a relatively straightforward attempt to add a new angle to the genre without adding much of anything at all. The film focuses on a group who accidentally wake up some dead Nazi soldiers after an attempt to steal some long-lost Nazi gold. While the circumstances feel familiar, something about "Dead Snow" still feels fresh within the genre as it builds to an absolutely absurd and ridiculous conclusion.

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22. "Fido" (2006)

"Fido" (2006)
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Picking up on themes presented in Edgar Wright's "Shaun of the Dead," "Fido" gives viewers a different, quirkier look at a zombie apocalypse. In this version of a world besieged by the undead, science of the 1950s won the battle, and zombies became more domestic pets than dangerous menace. While relying on familiar genre tropes, "Fido" also manages a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek satire, more than enough to separate the film from some of the also-rans and earn a spot on our list.

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21. "Maggie" (2015)

"Maggie" (2015)
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In the '80s, seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger in a zombie movie would absolutely mean putting a killing machine in the midst of a zombie apocalypse in order to take out the undead trash in only the way Schwarzenegger could. But in 2015, putting a nearly 70-year-old Schwarzenegger in a zombie movie has a different effect — and one that isn't bad at all. "Maggie" is a more somber affair dealing with a father (Schwarzenegger) who is coping with his daughter's slow progression into becoming a zombie after she's bitten. The film is a harrowing tale about the cost of survival and a reminder that brawn can't save the day every time.

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20. "Land of the Dead" (2005)

"Land of the Dead" (2005)
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Ironically, it was the popularity of Zack Snyder and James Gunn's "Dawn of the Dead" remake that got George Romero the funding he needed to bring a new installment of his "Dead" series to life. "Land of the Dead" gives us every bit of the zombie goodness fans love such as re-establishing that zombies should shuffle, not run, and also Romero's trademark social commentary. The film tackles socioeconomic gaps, as the wealthiest citizens live in Fiddler's Green, a walled-off high-rise offering the finest amenities such as protection from zombie hordes, while the poor are forced to try their own luck outside. Zombies themselves are presented as a third class of citizens who, while dead, possess their own memories and seeming desire for normalcy.

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19. "The Girl With All the Gifts" (2016)

"The Girl With All the Gifts" (2016)
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A slightly different take on the flesh-eating zombie genre, "The Girl With All the Gifts" doesn't feature any undead creatures, but rather humans beset by a fungal illness that turns those infected into real-flesh connoisseurs of the worst kind. Unlike zombies, the "hungries" depicted in the film retain the ability to think and learn, possibly making them into the worst sort of zombie of all. 

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18. "Pet Sematary" (1989)

"Pet Sematary" (1989)
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Based on Stephen King's classic novel, "Pet Sematary" focuses on a local doctor who learns about an ancient burial ground under the guise of a pet cemetery that is rumored to cause those buried there to return to life. Of course, no good can ever come from digging up the dead and reburying them in an ancient burial ground, so each time the doctor buries a member of his family, the results are worse and worse each time. "Pet Sematary" features one of the more brutal kill scenes for the genre, and that's saying something for a genre built on gore.

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17. "Night of the Creeps" (1986)

"Night of the Creeps" (1986)
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A delightfully cheesy B-movie (on purpose) that packs laughs on top of gore, "Night of the Creeps" revels in its '50s monster-movie sensibilities while marrying it to extreme horror. Tom Atkins carves himself a niche in horror-movie-hero history (say that five times fast), as Detective Ray Cameron, a suicidal police officer with a cynical catchphrase ("Thrill me") who steps up to fight off the zombie-making alien slugs when called upon. 

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16. "Night of the Comet" (1984)

"Night of the Comet" (1984)
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"Night of the Comet" has a spiritual similarity to the previously listed "Night of the Creeps," as both films aptly mash together '50s monster movies with '80s gore. While "Creeps" plays most of it off for laughs, "Comet" keeps the laughs but focuses more on the horror as seen through a lens of '80s teen culture. While there are a number of familiar tropes at play here, such as the gorgeous "final girl" who is overlooked by her lunkheaded boyfriend, the film succeeds best as a character study — influenced, of course, by zombies.

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15. "Warm Bodies" (2013)

"Warm Bodies" (2013)
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An interesting take on "Romeo and Juliet," "Warm Bodies" also serves as an antidote to the sort of moribund (pun intended) take on the zombie genre dominated by AMC's "The Walking Dead." While the film focuses on the budding romance between dead guy R (Nicholas Hoult) and Julie (Teresa Palmer), the story never strays from the fact that zombies are still an undead menace that won't hesitate to kill you and eat your brain, in either order. As many genre rules are broken as are adhered to, and the result is a memorable film that, to date, exists as a practical one of a kind.

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14. "Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives" (1986)

"Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives" (1986)
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Yes, we're including Jason on our list, and why not? Although the slasher movie icon was claimed to have drowned as a boy, it was assumed he survived to grow into a hydrocephalic murderer, hacking his way through four films. (The fifth doesn't count.) But after being laid low by Corey Feldman at the end of 1984's "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter," our man Jason was miraculously brought back to life, beginning his run (or slow walk) back into the murder business as a full-blown zombie. And so it goes...

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13. "Zombieland" (2009)

"Zombieland" (2009)
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Rueben Fleischer's "Zombieland" is one part slapstick action comedy and one part loving tribute to the undead genre. It's also a different sort of zombie movie in that the zombies in question are pretty much an accepted fact of life, with the film illustrating how life, at this point, navigates around them. Jesse Eisenberg's Columbus is a different sort of lead, as he's more nebbish than hero, but his knack for survival gives him an unexpected edge. In addition to the solid performances from Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone, "Zombieland" boasts what is probably the greatest cameo appearance in any film.

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12. "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (1988)

"The Serpent and the Rainbow" (1988)
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Horror master Wes Craven's only appearance on our list is also one of his best films. Taking the zombie genre back to its roots in the occult "The Serpent and the Rainbow" isn't your standard brain-eating fare, rather taking a semi-factual look at Voodoo practices and how they may have been used to raise the dead for nefarious bidding. As it's a horror movie, things are taken to the extreme, but in homage to predecessors "White Zombie" and "I Walked With a Zombie," "The Serpent and the Rainbow" manages to ramp up the scares and serve as a worthy entry on our list.

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11. "Braindead" (1992)

"Braindead" (1992)
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Before he treated audiences to the definitive version of Middle Earth, Peter Jackson was really into blood — and by the barrel full. "Braindead — " aka "Dead Alive" — is a supreme gross-out comedy about a man whose mother is bitten by an infected monkey, causing a zombie outbreak. It's hard to tell who is more bloodthirsty here, the zombies or the townsfolk who employ various means to dispatch the zombie hordes, leading to a final confrontation where the primary weapon is a lawnmower. You can draw your own conclusions from there.

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10. "Dellamorte Dellamore" (1994)

"Dellamorte Dellamore" (1994)
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Better known in the U.S. as "Cemetery Man," this Italian offering focuses on a caretaker (Rupert Everett) tasked with keeping the occasional zombie who pops up out of their their grave. The film transcends its genre boundaries and becomes existential in nature, as the titular cemetery man questions his place in the world and whether he'd actually like to continue containing zombies. Couple this with his falling in love with and obsessing over a recently dead zombie, and you have a delightfully weird film that's worth a watch or two.

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9. "Re-Animator" (1985)

"Re-Animator" (1985)
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An adaptation from a 1921 H.P. Lovecraft short story, "Re-Animator" is a campy, low-budget affair that — thanks to the manic performance of Jeffrey Combs as a modern-day mad scientist — is more than just a guilty pleasure. Featuring a bevy of black humor that would weave its way into zombie films going forward, the film is the right amount of unsettling and darkly hilarious. Rightfully so — it was clear that as the gore in horror films increased, the need for it to be less serious served as a way to stave off desensitization to the nature of horror films as a whole.

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8. "Zombi 2" (1979)

"Zombi 2" (1979)
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Yes, we could talk about how Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci made "Zombi 2" as a sequel to Romero's "Dawn of the Dead," released in Italy as "Zombi," but none of that is nearly as fun, interesting and jaw-dropping as having a zombie fight a shark. Again, a zombie fights a shark, underwater...and wins. That's right, a zombie, slow moving and twitchy, makes its way underwater, where it not only encounters a shark, but said zombie overpowers and kills the shark with his zombie bite. That's like creating an entirely new genre of film. Oh, and then there's a scene where we get a bird's-eye view of a woman having her eye pierced with a shard of glass, so there's that too.

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7. "Evil Dead II" (1987)

"Evil Dead II" (1987)
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We thought long and hard as to whether or not Sam Raimi's classic "Evil Dead" series belonged on our list, largely because the Deadites who plague poor Ash (Bruce Campbell) are largely demons who possess the living and the dead. But Deadites are both evil and dead, so here they are! "Evil Dead II" is largely a remake of 1983's "The Evil Dead," but this time everything is ramped up, including the gore and the laughs. While it's not your standard zombie movie, it's an entry worth your time.

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6. "The Return of the Living Dead" (1985)

"The Return of the Living Dead" (1985)
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While Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" serves as a sequel of sorts to "Night of the Living Dead," it isn't the only one. John Russo, who created, with Romero, the original film, parted ways with his collaborator and wrote a sequel as a novel. Seventeen years after the original, director Dan O'Bannon adapted it into "The Return of the Living Dead," which exists as a sequel, but separate from any of Romero's films. Interestingly enough, while "ROTLD" is certainly more focused on gore, the film shares a number of themes via social commentary in a similar fashion to Romero's films.

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5. "28 Days Later" (2002)

"28 Days Later" (2002)
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The film that revitalized the genre as a whole, "28 Days Later" doesn't actually feature zombies who like to feast on flesh, but rather infected citizens who swarm like zombies and kill their victims with a maniacal speed and mercilessness. Cillian Murphy plays a coma patient who wakes up to see London decimated in the wake of the "rage virus," a disease that causes the victim to lose all sense of self and only exist to destroy everything it sees. When this film was release, the zombie genre was practically dead. It's from this point that the genre would raise up from the grave and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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4. "Dawn of the Dead" (2004)

"Dawn of the Dead" (2004)
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When the trailers for Zack Snyder's remake of "Dawn of the Dead" came along, many were unhappy with seeing zombies run. So much so, they were willing to boycott the film — for whatever limited value that sort of threat is worth. However, when the film made it to theaters, it earned quite a few converts, largely due to James Gunn's witty and action-packed script. The best part of the film is that it wasn't interested in replacing the original film, but taking that premise and creating something new and in some cases...better.

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3. "Shaun of the Dead" (2004)

"Shaun of the Dead" (2004)
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2004 was a significant year for zombie movies, largely due to the "Dawn of the Dead" remake and Edgar Wright's mash-up of zombie and romantic-comedy genres with "Shaun of the Dead." Starring Simon Pegg as the titular Shaun, a regular guy who lives a bit on the underachieving side, facing a zombie apocalypse with only a few friends and family to help fend off the undead hordes. Like Romero's "Dawn of the Dead," "Shaun" also takes a satirical swipe at modern life and all its trappings. It's a favorite among genre fans and a minor classic in its own right.

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2. "Night of the Living Dead" (1968)

"Night of the Living Dead" (1968)
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No, "Night of the Living Dead" isn't the original zombie movie, but what it does is redefine the genre and solidify what a zombie is supposed to be. For more than a generation, all zombie films that followed owed a giant debt to Romero's original. But outside of the genre-based significance, Romero's film succeeds in breaking an even greater cinematic taboo: showing a black man as a hero. 1968 was a flashpoint in the civil rights struggle, and a film featuring a man of color taking on an assertive and heroic role was unheard of — and probably this film's greatest gift.

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1. "Dawn of the Dead" (1978)

"Dawn of the Dead" (1978)
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Let's get right to it: The original "Dawn of the Dead" is the greatest zombie movie ever. Hands down. No questions asked. The blood and gore on vivid display is only matched by the wry social commentary that makes this film a solid time capsule into the excesses of the Reagan '80s. Films like "Dawn" show why Romero never did well as a commercial filmmaker, because he simply had too much to say that would never pass muster with a studio system where marketability comes first. A masterclass on the thin line between real and fictional zombies.

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