Our guide to the best apocalyptic and zombie films for Halloween, from Dawn of the Dead to Rec

Dawn of the Dead (REUTERS)
Dawn of the Dead (REUTERS)

It’s officially spooky season, so there’s never been a better time to watch all your favourite horror films.

With so many excellent chillers out there to watch, here’s our pick of the best zombie films to get you ready for Halloween.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

This independent Sixties zombie film couldn’t be further from The Last of Us in terms of special effects, but is still absolutely terrifying. George A Romero’s feature-length debut is often credited as the film that set the template for the modern zombie movie. Brother and sister Johnny and Barbra (Russell W Streiner and Judith O’Dea) are attacked by a stranger in a cemetery and things go from bad to worse. Refuge is found in a farmhouse after an army of monsters descends on the siblings. The monsters are apparently the living dead, who survive on live flesh.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

A decade later Romero made another fantastic zombie horror, this time with the financial backing of Dario Argento – the Italian film director whose name is now synonymous with the horror genre. A plague has horrifying outcomes as it reanimates humans who have recently died. Society quickly comes tumbling down as millions of these zombies run amok, despite the government and the military’s best efforts. The story focuses on traffic reporter Stephen (David Emge) and his pregnant girlfriend, Francine (Gaylen Ross) as they try to save themselves.

28 Days Later (2002)

Danny Boyle’s 2002 drama has become a classic of the genre. Cillian Murphy is Jim, a bicycle courier who has suffered an accident. While he was in a coma in a London hospital, a highly contagious virus, which has been nicknamed ‘rage’, has ravaged the world, turning people into ravenous zombies, and there are few healthy survivors. Jim wakes up to find the city utterly abandoned and the film follows him and a small crew of people he picks up on the way as he attempts to find safety. No easy task, when it’s not just the zombies you need to worry about... Christopher Eccleston, Naomie Harris and Brendan Gleeson also star.

Rec (2007)

The zombie version of The Blair Witch Project, this 2007 Spanish film follows reporter Ángela and her cameraman Pablo who accompany a group of firefighters and several police officers attending a call to an apartment building. As soon as they turn up, things start to go wrong: a woman attacks one of the officers, and quickly the building is sealed off, trapping Ángela and Pablo inside with the tenants who are slowly becoming affected by a virus. As with all found-footage horrors, it’s an intense watch, made all the better by the journalists trying to report on their situation before being dragged into the drama.

Train to Busan (2016)

What’s scarier than a zombie apocalypse? A zombie apocalypse when you are stuck on a train, and the zombies are on board. This is the premise of Train to Busan, a South Korean action film from director Yeon Sang-ho who is best known for his high energy movies. Seok-woo is a workaholic who agrees to take his daughter Su-an to Busan on her birthday to see her mother. But then one of the passengers starts to have a fit, and... turns into a zombie. She starts to attack those around her and the virus, and danger, quickly spreads.

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

MR Carey’s June 2014 novel The Girl with All the Gifts was a huge hit, which meant that its film adaptation, two years later, became a star-studded affair. Gemma Arterton starred as teacher Helen Justineau, Paddy Considine as security head Sergeant Eddie Parks and Glenn Close as doctor Caroline Caldwell. In a dystopian future, a fungal infection (starting to sound familiar yet?) has turned most of the planet into zombies. The hope for a cure lies in a small group of second generation infected children who are imprisoned in an army base. They think, feel and learn – unlike zombies – but are still highly dangerous, as they hunger for living flesh.

Army of the Dead (2021)

Dave Bautista plays Scott Ward, a mercenary hired to recover a casino owner’s $200 million from a Las Vegas vault during a zombie apocalypse. He’s racing against the clock as the military is about to drop a nuclear bomb on the city and so brings his old teammates on board (including Tig Notaro in a memorable turn, and Yellowjackets’ Ella Purnell as Ward’s daughter Kate) to try and complete the mission. Dawn of the Dead and 300 director Zack Snyder was behind the camera. Also there’s a zombie tiger, so there’s that.

Honorable mentions:

There have been some fantastic comedy zombie films that we believe should be on this list too. Admittedly they’re not quite as scary, but they’re a brilliant sub-genre of their own.

Shaun of The Dead (2004)

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s brilliant zombie film instantly became a British comedy classic. Pegg stars as Shaun, an electronics salesman who is rubbish at everything he does – he’s dumped by his girlfriend at the beginning of the film. He lives with his unemployed best mate, Ed (Nick Frost). When strange things start happening it takes the duo a while to catch on, but as zombies start overrunning London, they have to step up and Shaun surprises himself by not being a total plonker after all.

Zombieland (2009)

Ruben Fleischer’s feature-length debut was a surprise massive hit. It follows the story of nerdy college student Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) who is traveling across south-western America in an attempt to find a place safe from zombies. Mad cow disease mutated into mad person disease, and then into mad zombie disease, and he is one of the few survivors. On his travels he picks up a motley crew including Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a tough redneck harbouring a painful secret; sarcastic Wichita (Emma Stone) who used to con people out of their money pre-apocalypse, and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), Wichita’s little sister. The Guardian described it as, “a very ridiculous film which is also a treat.”