Zombies are perhaps the most prominent staple 21st Century horror (so far). While zombies have been hot commodities in horror since George A. Romero unleashed Night of the Living Dead in 1968, the subgenre really came into its own in the new Millennium. Somehow, one of the most disgusting human plagues ever conceived became mainstream, culminating in AMC’s mega-hit The Walking Dead. While the output of zombie-themed films and TV shows seems to have dipped in the 2010’s, there are still plenty of terrifying innovations in ambition new releases.
Below, listed chronologically, are 15 zombie movies released since 2000 that I consider essential viewing for zombie coinsures, from beginners to experts. Enjoy!
28 Days Later (2002, Directed by Danny Boyle)
Official Synopsis: Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary.
28 Days Later is spark that ignited the zombie craze of the 21st Century. The film also did more to redefine and complicate the subgenre than anything that came before it. It’s fast, rabid zombies never sat well with purists; still, its influence on many of the films that follow can’t be understated. It’s a classic that still holds up over a decade later.
Dawn of the Dead (2004, Directed by Zack Snyder)
Official Synopsis: A nurse, a policeman, a young married couple, a salesman, and other survivors of a worldwide plague that is producing aggressive, flesh-eating zombies, take refuge in a mega Midwestern shopping mall.
Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is one of the best horror remakes ever put to screen, and example of how modern filmmaking FX and techniques can elevate classics from decades past. Perhaps influenced by 28 Days Later, the zombies here are fast and feisty. No one will ever forget the zombie baby or the bravery of a dog named Chips.
Shaun of the Dead (2004, Directed by Edgar Wright)
Official Synopsis: A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.
Shaun of the Dead may be the most responsible for bringing zombie horror into the mainstream. The film was so damn funny, no one could stay away from it—and that included folks who never considered themselves horror fans. The film also established Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright as a top notch comic duo.
Land of the Dead (2005, Directed by George A. Romero)
Official Synopsis: The living dead have taken over the world, and the last humans live in a walled city to protect themselves as they come to grips with the situation.
When classic zombie horror started getting hot again, it wasn’t long before the Master himself, George A. Romero, got back into the game. Land of the Dead proves that the tropes he established in the 1960’s still held sway over modern horror audiences. The film is bolstered by an incredible cast that included: John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, and look for Simon Pegg in a cheeky cameo.
Fido (2006, Directed by Andrew Currie)
Official Synopsis: Timmy Robinson’s best friend in the whole wide world is a six-foot tall rotting zombie named Fido. But when FIDO eats the next-door neighbor, Mom and Dad hit the roof, and Timmy has to go to the ends of the earth to keep Fido a part of the family. A boy-and-his-dog movie for grown ups, “FIDO” will rip your heart out.
This reimagining of 1950’s Cold War hysteria also serves as a send-up of the modern nuclear family; it rewrites history with zombies as a part of everyday existence. Not to be missed for zombie fans, Fido is also a treat for fans of irreverent humor. With PG-13 intensity, this is a good one to trick your non-horror friends into watching. They’ll thank you for it!
REC (2007, Directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza)
Official Synopsis: A television reporter and cameraman follow emergency workers into a dark apartment building and are quickly locked inside with something terrifying.
The Spanish filmmaking duo of Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza are unstoppable, definitely 21st Century Masters of horror. REC is a sterling example of modern horror and found footage done right. The sequel, REC 2, picks up immediately after the first one ends, and is just as good. Parts 3 & 4, though, deviate from what was an established formula—with mixed results.
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007, Directed by Russell Mulcahy)
Official Synopsis: Survivors of the Raccoon City catastrophe travel across the Nevada desert, hoping to make it to Alaska. Alice joins the caravan and their fight against the evil Umbrella Corp.
Part 3 in the Resident Evil franchise is the best of the bunch; it’s low on dread, but heavy on action and big-budget special FX. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the first two; just know that Alice is a technologically advanced bad ass born to destroy evil. Imagine zombies in a wasteland straight out of Mad Max; it’s like that!
Deadgirl (2008, Directed by Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel)
Official Synopsis: Two high school boys discover an imprisoned woman in an abandoned mental asylum who cannot die.
This gritty little indie packs a powerful punch. It’s definitely one of the most interesting and unique takes on zombie mythology, but it’s also a gut-wrenching examination of teenage rape-culture. This one doesn’t sport a lot of action, but it gets under your skin with a believable script and genuine performances. You won’t be able to shake off Deadgirl for ages.
Diary of the Dead (2008, Directed by George A. Romero)
Official Synopsis: A group of young film students run into real-life zombies while filming a horror movie of their own.
Not only is Diary of the Dead another worthy addition to George A. Romero’s Living Dead franchise, it’s a scathing examination of social-media culture and fame-obsessed Millennials.
Pontypool (2008, Directed by Bruce McDonald)
Official Synopsis: A psychological thriller in which a deadly virus infects a small Ontario town.
Based on the novel by Tony Burgess, Pontypool stands alone in the pantheon of zombie films, introducing a plague transmitted through words. Gnaw on that for a minute. While almost entirely set in a single location (a cramped radio station office), this film has incredible pacing and intrigue that won’t let you look away.
Dead Snow (2009, Directed by Tommy Wirkola)
Official Synopsis: A ski vacation turns horrific for a group of medical students, as they find themselves confronted by an unimaginable menace: Nazi zombies.
This irreverent zombie comedy also delivers top-notch gore and thrills—definitely deserving of its hard R rating, and not for the faint of heart. It also works as an excellent upending of your typical cabin-in-the-woods scenario, complete with nods to Evil Dead. Nazi zombies; need I say more?
Rammbock: Berlin Undead (2010, Directed by Marvin Kren)
Official Synopsis: Just when Michael arrives in Berlin to visit his ex-girlfriend Gabi, a terrible virus starts spreading across the city at a rapid pace, turning people into mindless homicidal maniacs.
A gritty, serious zombie film in the vein of 28 Days Later, Rammbock is very realistic and manages some effective innovations in the genre. For example: If you’ve been bitten by a zombie, you can delay the onset of your transition by doping out on painkillers. Unbelievably, there’s also a romance lurking below the surface.
Re-Kill (2012, Directed by Valeri Milev)
Official synopsis: It’s been 5 years since the Re-Animates outbreak that wiped out 85% of the world’s population. Within a few cities, the Re-Animates have been segregated into “zones” and are policed by the R-Division of the QUASI S.W.A.T. Unit.
Reprehensibly shelved for years until it was recently released as part of After Dark’s reinvigorated 8 Films to Die For series, Re-Kill is the movie World War Z should have been. It takes place during a critical turning point in mankind’s battle with the undead, years after the initial outbreak. It’s also one of the best found-footage offering of the past few years.
Zombeavers (2014, Directed by Jordan Rubin)
Official Synopsis: A fun weekend turns into madness and horror for a bunch of groupies looking for fun in a beaver infested swamp.
I’m serious, Zombeavers is so much more than a raunchy vagina pun—which isn’t to suggest it’s not raunchy as hell, because it most certainly is! The titular undead beavers look like rejects from Five Nights at Freddy’s, like ridiculous rabid animatronics! Zombeavers has plenty of low brow humor and a third act just won’t quit.
Train to Busan (2016, Directed by Sang-ho Yeon)
Official Synopsis: While a zombie-virus breaks out in South Korea, a couple of passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.
Train to Busan may just surpass The Host as the best horror movie ever produced in Korea. It’s an awesome gory bloodbath, but it also delves into the complex dynamics of dysfunctional families and classism. It’s a sobering examination of how extreme stress brings out the best and the worst in people; a crisis doesn’t always unify. The fact the all this takes place in the narrow confines of a high speed train ups the intensity exponentially!
What are your favorite zombie movie of the 21st Century? Did any of your favorites make the list? Can you believe I didn’t include Zombieland? Sound off in the Comments section!