The best zombie movies are hybrids of other genres. After all, for some of us, the primary elements of a zombie movie – gross looking zombies, gory human deaths and spectacular zombie slaughter – just aren’t enough. These five movies use the framework of the zombie genre to create movies that can stand on their own as comedies or thrillers.
1. Zombieland (2009)
The riotously funny Zombieland brings several nice touches. Our young heroes (Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin) band together with the a master zombie killer (Woody Harrelson). The zombie killer’s astonishing skills and unwholesome enthusiasm are very funny. After many close calls, the group finds shelter in Bill Murray’s LA mansion where Bill Murray (playing himself) is surviving by impersonating a zombie. The climax is a showdown in an amusement park where the zombies have cornered the heroes.
2. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
What makes the surprise British hit Shaun of the Dead so funny are the lovable loser heroes Shaun and Ed, played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. At the outset, Shaun and Ed are so slow on the uptake that they don’t realize that they are threatened by a zombie onslaught. Terrified and armed with a cricket bat, Shaun is the most unlikely savior of civilization. The cast includes Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Rafe Spall and Martin Freeman.
3. Warm Bodies (2013)
Take the zombie version of Romeo and Juliet meets Beauty and the Beast and we have the charmingly funny Warm Bodies. When marauding zombies corner some human teens, a hunky teen zombie is smitten by a saucy live girl (Teresa Palmer), saves her from his comrades and shambles her off to his lair. After he saves her life a few times, she begins to look past his deadness. But her people want to shoot him in the head, and his people want to feast on her organs, so there’s that.
Nicholas Hoult, all grown up from his role as the kid in About a Boy, plays the zombie. Although he can only grunt to the zombies and live humans, the audience hears him narrating his thoughts. It’s normal for any besotted guy to warn himself, “Don’t be creepy! Don’t be creepy!”, but it’s very funny when the guy is dead and looks dead.
Director Jonathan Levine’s (50/50) screenplay is adapted from Isaac Marion’s novel and it hits all the right notes. It’s the story of a really nice boy trying to get a girl to like him, and it’s just hard for her to get past the fact that he ate her boyfriend’s brains.
Rob Corddray is excellent as Hoult’s zombie best friend and, hey, John Malkovich is in this movie, too.
4. Fido (2006)
Fido creates a white bread suburban world where humans have domesticated zombies for menial tasks. One such zombie is our hero Fido, who is chained in the yard like a pet dog. He is hilariously played by the irrepressible Scots comic Billy Connolly (Mrs. Brown, Quartet). Connolly’s performance using only his grunts, his eyes and his body movements, is a triumph of physical comedy.
5. 28 Days Later (2002)
This post-apocalyptic thriller is the best movie on this list. Cillian Murphy plays a guy who awakens from a coma and learns that almost everyone on the island of Britain has become infected by a rage virus that drives them to kill the uninfected. He finds a hidden band of the uninfected (Naomie Harris of Skyfall and Brendan Gleeson of In Bruges and The Guard) who decide to risk a dash through zombie territory to a reported safe haven to the north.
These zombies don’t shamble – they are amped up on adrenaline and they can outrun you. Accordingly, they are way more terrifying that a regular shambling zombie.
Technically, the “zombies”are not zombies (reanimated dead people), but are live people who are infected with the rage virus. However, they fulfill the role of zombies in the plot, and Boyle has acknowledged that scenes in 28 Days Later reference scenes in the George A. Romero Dawn of the Dead series. 28 Days Later is consequently on various zombie movie lists. As in the rest of the genre, the zombies are trying to hunt down the people, a person who is bitten will become a zombie, and, to survive, the heroes need to massacre hordes of zombies.
Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) is known for his visually arresting movies, and here he creates a spectacular post-apocalyptic Britain – menacingly dark and deserted except for the lethally crazed.