10 Zombie Thrillers That Made the Genre What It is Today
Martin Freeman (Sherlock) is set to star in the Netflix original zombie film Cargo, premiering this week (May 18). But, this isn't his first time stepping into the genre.
In 2004, Freeman starred opposite Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Shaun of the Dead. Alas, his appearance was brief and we'd like to see more of him kicking (zombie) butt.
But, in Cargo, Freeman plays a single father who has to survive — at least for 48 hours, which is the best he can hope for since he has in fact been bitten by the infected — to save his infant child. He's searching for someone to protect and care for his daughter in the wilds of Australia.
Zombie thrillers come in all different forms and the genre has evolved over the years. Here are 10 films that have gotten us to where we are now:
1. White Zombie
Director Victor Halperin's White Zombie is reckoned to be the first feature length zombie film, hitting theaters in 1932. The screenplay is based on William Seabrook's The Magic Island, published in 1929. The book documented Seabrook's travels to Haiti, where he became immersed in the occult and witnessed cannibalism. His study introduced the idea of zombies to modern pop culture. The film, White Zombie, revolves around a young woman who's transformed into a zombie by a voodoo master. The cult classic stars Béla Lugosi as the zombie master and Madge Bellamy as his prey.
2. Night of the Living Dead
George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead premiered in 1968, with five follow-up films between 1978-2010, all directed by Romero. The original, which spawned such a film legacy, revolves around seven people trapped in a farmhouse, seeking refuge from rumors of and actual run-ins with "living dead" monsters outside. Night of the Living Dead helped create a mold for what moviegoers expected of zombies on the big screen.
3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
You may or may not agree with 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers being on this list, seeing as the "zombies" featured don't tick all the traditional boxes. This sci-fi story revolves around a community in San Francisco. Slowly but surely, friends and family members are changing into mindless entities devoid of emotion. Okay, sure, they're not ravenous and craving human flesh, but once taken over, humans can never go back to being themselves. This is zombie enough for us! This 1978 version (it's been remade a bunch of times but this is the best-regarded retelling of the 1956 original) stars Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams and Jeff Goldblum.
4. The Serpent and the Rainbow
If you're still dwelling on Body Snatchers not being pure zombie, we'll make up for it with 1988's The Serpent and the Rainbow. Bill Pullman stars as an anthropologist who goes to Haiti to investigate a drug being used to bring people back from the dead. Like the first item on this list, White Zombie, this film is based on scientific research of Haiti and its witch craft, outlined in Wade Davis's 1985 book by the same name. The film is directed by horror aficionado Wes Craven.
Director Peter Jackson's 1992 film Braindead (known as Dead Alive in the U.S.) comes out of New Zealand. Yes, that Peter Jackson, who helmed The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchises. But, before he got into those epic stories, he took on Dead Alive — shunned at the box office but now considered a cult classic — which revolves around a young man Lionel (Timothy Balme) who lives with his mother in a Victorian mansion. She has a temper and yells at him day and night, until she's bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey and appears to die. But it's not long before she comes back to life — only not as Lionel knew her.
6. 28 Days Later
In Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later... a young bike messenger (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma to learn that London has been wiped out by an incurable virus. To make matters worse, the emptied city is populated by the "Infected." He's not completely alone, though, and he and his fellow survivors seek refuge. The 2002 film, which also stars Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, and Christopher Eccleston, is considered to be the movie that breathed new life (or should that be death?) into the zombie horror genre.
7. Shaun of the Dead
Sure, 2004's Shaun of the Dead is technically a comedy, but it's also thrilling. And we love a good merging of genres. We mentioned the fan favorite film in the intro, but it really does deserve its own item. Simon Pegg takes on the role of the hapless Shaun, who's on a mission to get his life back together. Top of his to-do list is reconciling with his ex-girlfriend, played by Kate Ashfield. That in itself is no easy task, but when their home town is slowly taken over by the undead, well, survival takes the top slot. Shaun of the Dead also stars Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy.
8. World War Z
Brad Pitt stars in 2013's World War Z, based on the 2006 horror novel by Max Brooks. It's narrated by Pitt's character, United Nations employee, Gerry Lane, who travels the world investigating the zombie pandemic. Or more specifically, how to stop it. He witnesses zombies ignoring certain types of people, those who are sick or weak, and he comes up with a theory based on the zombies' desire to reproduce.
9. Warm Bodies
In 2013's Warm Bodies we learned zombies need love, too. Well, we should clarify; not zombie-zombies, but people who become zombies then somehow bounce back somewhat, recovering their human emotions. They can also fight the urge to eat... other humans. That's an important trait in being un-zombified. Nicholas Hoult (Equals) plays a zombie who saves a living girl (Teresa Palmer) from being attacked by one of his kind. She sees that he still has a human side and helps him bring it out.
10. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
And finally, we bring you the mashup of all mashups, seamlessly mixing the zombie genre with Jane Austen's most famous romantic novel. In 2016's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, we meet five sisters who must deal with the pressure society puts on them to marry. As if that wasn't exhaustingly enough, they also have to fight off zombies. The film stars Lily James (War & James), Matt Smith (Doctor Who), Sam Riley (Maleficent), Charles Dance (The Woman in White) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones). It's written and directed by Burr Steers (Charlie St. Cloud, 17 Again).
Are you now craving a zombie film binge?