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When it comes to modern horror, zombie movies and series are among the most anticipated genres in entertainment today.
The Walking Dead rejuvenated the genre in the late 2000s and early 2010s, and its success (both comics and series) was built mainly on the foundations of others.
Here we will focus on the films that made the zombie genre a favorite among horror fans.
Note: The following article focuses on the mysterious nature of the zombie apocalypse. Movies about viruses, like 28 Days Later, are excluded.
Night of the Living Dead (1968 and 1990)
The modern zombie genre wouldn’t have happened without George A. Romero and John Russo.
Night of the Living Dead was a groundbreaking film that changed the media’s perception of zombies.
Before Romero, zombies were often associated with voodoo and Haitian witchcraft.
It was this film that created the way zombies are today. Night of the Living Dead is also iconic for casting Duane Jones (an African American actor) as the lead man during a time of civil unrest and rampant racism.
Both films follow a group of people trapped on a farm in rural western Pennsylvania.
The group is tasked with surviving a growing horde of flesh-eating ghouls at night.
While George A. Romero directed the original, the 1990 remake was directed by Tom Savini, who assisted with the original’s special effects.
Savini’s version largely follows the same script but makes changes, following some of Romero’s original plans.
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Return of the Living Dead is the zombie movie that first used the classic “Brain!” line in today’s pop culture.
Although titled “The Living Dead,” the film is in no way related to the works of George A. Romero.
Instead, it was written and directed by legendary screenwriter Dan O’Brannon.
Return of the Living Dead is a horror comedy about warehouse workers, a gravedigger and a group of punks grappling with a horde of brain-hungry zombies.
Referring to the movie Night of the Living Dead, the warehouse workers accidentally open a barrel containing a zombie.
After the body is burned, the gas pollutes the air, causing poisonous rain that revives the dead in a nearby cemetery.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Before the DCEU launched, Zack Snyder made his directorial debut with a remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.
Dawn of the Dead strays from the original story but keeps the plot of a group of people trapped in a mall.
Snyder’s remake also brought the ferocious running zombies back into the mainstream (Return of the Living Dead was one of the first to do so).
Read also: Looking into a few of the films that defined the slasher film subgenre of horror
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Shaun of the Dead, released the same year as the Dawn of the Dead remake, puts zombies in the mix with romance and comedy.
The film references the work of George A. Romero (who loved the film).
Shaun of the Dead also continues Romero’s tradition of making a film with social commentary, using satire to tackle modern life.
While zombie movies usually come with the expectation of blood and guts, Peter Jackson took things to a whole new level.
The film follows a young man living with his bossy mother who is bitten by a rat-monkey hybrid from Skull Island (Jackson’s homage to King Kong before he directed the remake).
Despite being resurrected into a zombie and turning a handful of people, the man tries to keep his zombified mother a secret while he deals with his family and his love life.
Braindead is one of the goriest films in the zombie genre, if not the goriest.
Land of the Dead (2005)
One of George A. Romero’s last three “dead” films, Land of the Dead, was originally the concept he had planned for 1985’s Day of the Dead.
The success of Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead gave Romero the impetus to make this film.
Land of the Dead centers on a group of survivors in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where there is a social divide.
The film also continues to show the evolution of Romero’s zombies from flesh-eating ghouls to creatures with some form of intelligence.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The sequel to Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, offers everything a horror fan could ask for.
Romero delivered horror, action, social commentary, and even comedy, making Dawn of the Dead the most comprehensive zombie film.
Expanding on Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead reveals that the zombie apocalypse was unfolding across the land.
In the film, a group of four manages to take a helicopter and take refuge in a shopping center.
After securing the ground, they settle into a false sense of comfort as the living and the dead wait outside.
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