Although it seems like everybody is preparing for a zombie apocalypse, not many people actually want a pandemic to sweep the planet. The following films are some of the most iconic and beloved films to ever fuel the zombie craze, each one featuring a distinctive take on what it would be like if humanity had to deal with undead mayhem. As people gather their weapons and plot their escape routes, these five movies allow would-be heroes to enjoy all the suspense, gore, and thrills of a zombie apocalypse, but without worrying about the actual mess and hassle.
“Night of the Living Dead” (1968) is a must-see classic for anyone who professes to be a zombie fan. Those who wish to survive a zombie pandemic would be smart to take cues from George Romero, one of the filmmakers who spearheaded the entire genre. “Night of the Living Dead” is not just a prime example of a good zombie film, but also a work of cinematic genius, preserved in the National Film Registry. In the black-and-white horror flick, Barbara is a young woman who ends up under attack and then taken in by a small band of desperate refugees. The film exemplifies many of the tropes that have become landmarks of zombie movies, including a plot that focuses on a group of human survivors trying to outlast the zombie outbreak without lashing out at each other.
“Dawn of the Dead” (1978) is another classic by Romero, showing his continuing evolution as a director and as a master of the horror genre. Instead of taking place in a rural setting, “Dawn of the Dead” focuses on a city environment, giving a fresh twist to the zombie narrative. Cities are especially dangerous for the few remaining humans. A group of survivors seeks shelter in a shopping mall. The movie is notable for taking a familiar and innocuous setting and turning it into a landscape of gore and terror. “Dawn of the Dead” makes the zombie apocalypse seem all too real, with its explorations of what might happen after civilizations crumble and governments topple.
“28 Days Later” (2002) is a horror masterpiece that proves that the new millennium has plenty of potential for producing iconic zombie films. Danny Boyle’s film is so eerie and unnerving that it helped to reenergize the zombie craze, breathing new life into a genre that had started to look a little dusty. Cillian Murphy stars as Jim, a British man who wakes up in an abandoned hospital and goes searching for some sign of life. The scenes of Jim wandering a ghostly and deserted London are both beautiful and terrifying, capturing some of the best aspects of the zombie apocalypse narrative. After running across a band of people who are carrying “the Rage,” a deadly virus, Jim becomes part of a ragtag group of survivors. The true terror of “28 Days Later” stems from not only the violent and bloodthirsty zombies, but also the chilling exploration of how survival brings out the worst in the remaining humans.
“Shaun of the Dead” (2004) borrows its punning title from the 1978 classic, already setting the tenor of this irreverent, witty, and hilarious zombie spoof. Simon Pegg has a career-making role as the eponymous Shaun, a directionless British man who works at an unfulfilling job, has a floundering relationship, and spends most of his time drinking the hours away with his crude slacker of a best friend. When zombies start to take over his town, Shaun feels so preoccupied by his unhappy life that he scarcely notices the hoards of the undead gathering on the sidewalks. Once he does realize the threat, though, Shaun springs into action, escaping with a small handful of friends to his favorite pub. What makes “Shaun of the Dead” so popular is the film’s uncanny ability to mix deadpan humor and hilariously lighthearted moments with all the bloodiness and suspense that characterizes more traditional zombie films.
“Zombieland” (2009) follows in the bloody footsteps of “Shaun of the Dead,” attempting to blend true zombie horror with some much-needed levity. The movie succeeds admirably, managing to carve out a place among the most popular zombie films of the past decades. The story starts after the pandemic has already turned much of the United States into undead stomping grounds. An unassuming young student, nicknamed Columbus in the film, is traveling across state boundaries to see whether his parents are still alive. Along the way, Columbus runs into a few other stalwart survivors who are clinging to their humanity, including the tough Tallahassee and the beautiful Wichita. The film’s most suspenseful and funny moments include a fateful encounter with Bill Murray, as well as a stunning climax that takes place at a theme park.
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