The 22 Best Zombie Movies Ever Made

When you’re putting together a list of the biggest taboos in Western culture, death itself might not make the cut. But it should: North Americans and Europeans are chronically averse to facing death. Too many of us quietly believe if we follow the right workout regimen, eat enough kale, and take the right expensive supplements we may just live forever. It’s a predictable belief for our youth-obsessed culture. So the intrigue of zombie movies is that this genre forces us to confront death face-to-face. Or rather, death confronts us, looking to scoop out our brains and have us join its ranks.

Sometimes, zombies can bear larger metaphors on their disintegrating shoulders — for our increasingly wired yet increasingly isolated post-internet world, say, as in “Shaun of the Dead.” But sometimes zombies are just zombies: walking corpses who shuffle around and remind us that, even if we’re never somehow reanimated, we’re actually going to look like this when we’re in the ground someday. How’s that for an endorsement of cremation?

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Zombies have long been a tool for filmmakers for satire and contemporary critique. One of the very first zombie films was 1948’s “I Walked With a Zombie,” which very explicitly tackled racism, colonization, and the legacy of slavery. The film that really brought the genre to the mainstream, George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” has been extensively analyzed for the racial implications of its story, particularly its notorious final scene. Other films that followed, like Romero’s “Dawn of the Dawn,” have used zombies’ quest for human meat as a stand-in for all-American consumerism. So, although some might see the zombie genre as overdone or shallow, history proves otherwise: these movies have brains.

Before you suddenly rush to make your funeral plans, give a close read to this, IndieWire’s ranked picks for the 22 greatest zombie films ever made. Entries are ranked, with consideration to their quality and their impact and influence on zombie cinema overall.

With editorial contributions by Christian Blauvelt, Alison Foreman, Tambay Obenson, Eric Kohn, Ryan Lattanzio, Leonardo Adrian Garcia.

[Editor’s note: This list was originally published in 2019 and has been updated multiple times since.]

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