Zombie movies have been a feature on screen for decades. Their presence in the horror genre has been continually re-imagined since the beginning of the genre. Indeed, zombies have become a huge part of popular culture, being a staple Halloween image up there with ghosts and vampires. The idea of a blood-hungry and brain-dead creature whose only aim is to consume flesh has been terrifying moviegoers for years.
Update September 9, 2023: This article has been updated with even more realistic zombie films as everyone gets ready to start their Halloween viewing schedules.
As horror films have evolved, so have zombie movies. In fact, the zombie comedy movies has taken the 21st Century by storm, offering a harmonious blend of horror and humor in movies like Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. More than that, with the advance of special effects, technology, and narrative techniques, zombie movies have become more and more realistic. Movies like I Am Legend and Train to Busan have approached the zombie subgenre with careful consideration of the science and social consequences of zombie outbreaks, making it easy for us to imagine ourselves in an apocalyptic, zombie-infested world. These are the most realistic zombie movies of all time.
10 Army of the Dead (2021)
After his vision for the DC Universe didn’t pan out, Zack Snyder returned to form in the genre that made him famous. Now an exclusive talent for Netflix, the director made his splash with Army of the Dead. The film offers another brand new take on the world of zombies with a group of undead that are smarter, faster, and more organized than any zombie you’ve ever seen on screen.
The plot is straightforward: a mysterious financier needs something extracted from Las Vegas before the government blows up the city after being isolated due to the zombie outbreak. Since greed is the greatest motivator in human history, the plot is feasible in real life. Even with a dumb premise, this movie is still a fast-paced delight that makes good use of every minute of its runtime.
9 Land of the Dead (2005)
Twenty years after his first zombie trilogy, George Romero returns to the genre that established him as a powerhouse in horror lore. Land of the Dead is the first chapter of this new trilogy made on a meager budget of $15 million. In the story, we have a powerful business mogul who has built a safe haven for wealthy people in a world overrun by zombies. His second in command is trying to rally the troops to demand equality, but things get out of hand when the zombies start to evolve and develop intelligence.
Although Romero rarely confirms the social commentary of his movies, this one illustrates the clear divide between people who have money and the chance to lead a normal life and those who don’t. It’s a point proven moot at the end when the zombies eventually invade the city and kill everyone regardless of status. It’s an absolute return to form for the revered director who pleases his audiences with gruesome visuals and well-designed zombies taking apart everything they find.
8 Zombieland (2009)
In the world of Zombieland, an unknown virus has turned the dead into flesh-eating monsters, and it’s up to the rest of humanity to survive the outbreak while trying their best to survive. Zombieland certainly takes a more grounded approach to survivalism than other entries in the film. Tallahassee explains it best regarding the rules you need to survive in this new world. The first one is bound to offend some sensibilities, but the rest certainly make a lot of sense, such as the double tap, being careful in bathrooms, the reasoning to travel light, and getting a great partner. It’s these small details that could prove helpful when the zombie apocalypse actually hits our real world.
7 Blood Quantum (2019)
Blood Quantum is a fun twist on both the zombie genre and actual history. The film focuses on a zombie outbreak in the First Nations of Canada, but the residents, due to their Indigenous heritage, are immune to the virus but must deal with the impacts of the wider world undergoing a zombie apocalypse. It is a fun twist on the horrors of history where white settlers would inflict diseases on Indigenous tribes. Realistically, some would be immune to the virus, and this film shows what happens to those people and how they still must navigate the new world.
6 I Am Legend (2007)
I Am Legend was released in 2007 and features Will Smith in the leading role of Robert Neville, who is a scientist and survivor of a human-made plague that has transformed humans into bloodthirsty mutants who hunt at night. The film is extreme in its nature, but the isolation felt by Will Smith’s character allows the audience to sympathize and envision how difficult it would be to stay motivated to live in an apocalyptic world where the odds are against you.
5 World War Z (2013)
Max Brooks’ novel was brought to life in 2013 with World War Z, which stars Brad Pitt in a leading role as he tries to find a cure amongst the chaos caused by an infectious virus. The film is fast-paced, and the zombies are much more brutal than usual, able to sprint at abnormally fast paces, and are relentless in catching their prey. The film feels different from others in the genre as it treats the subject matter maturely, bringing in the United Nations and how they would deal with the issue, which gives you more context as to how it would possibly play out if this were to happen in real life.
4 Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead has become one of the most iconic zombie films in the genre and has endured as a cult classic years after its release. The film focuses on Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost) both of whom find themselves having to conduct a survival operation after the UK is infected by a virus that turns the infected into zombies. The film differentiates from others in the genre due to its comical nature and the terrible decisions made by the main characters. It’s one of the few zombie films that presents real people and reactions we could see ourselves in, rather than the typical over-the-top action films where characters are borderline superheroes.
3 Train to Busan (2016)
The Korean horror Train to Busan was released in 2016 and combines the classic zombie horror story with a human element, as the characters are caught in dangerous situations that we could easily imagine ourselves experiencing if such chaos were to ensue.
The plot focuses on a divorced businessman (Yoo Gong) who is taking his daughter (Su-an Kim) on a train journey from Seoul to Busan to visit her mother when a woman who is infected by a virus boards the train. The infection soon spreads, and the passengers find themselves trapped and having to fight for their survival. The action is relentless, and the audience can’t help but imagine themselves in the difficult situation.
[REC] was directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza and was released in 2007. The film uses the found footage method to create an authentic feel to the horror, which ensures. The Spanish thriller uses found footage and follows a young television presenter (played by Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman (played by Pablo Rosso) who become trapped inside an apartment complex that is experiencing an outbreak of a mysterious virus, which turns those who are infected into bloodthirsty hunters who hunt the uninfected with no mercy. The contained nature of the apartment complex makes the audience feel claustrophobic, and the found-footage element makes the viewer feel as if they are included in the experience.
1 28 Days Later
Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later feels like the most realistic zombie movie, even years after its release in 2002. The plot focuses on Jim (Cillian Murphy), who wakes up from a coma weeks after the UK has been terrorized by a virus that causes the infected host to turn into a zombie. London is now a ghost town, and we see characters being plunged into chaos and bear witness to the drastic lengths they have to go to in order to ensure their survival.
The societal collapse feels very real, and the cast is excellent at portraying the realism of the situation. This movie redefined the zombie genre, and set the stand for the realism audiences wanted in their zombie movie.