I was recently telling a friend about the start up of Surviving Patient Zero, explaining to her what type of content I’d be hoping to share when she offered an incredible idea for an article. She said she was looking to start watching zombie content, specifically The Walking Dead but she’d heard things from multiple sources like “Don’t start watching until Season 2” or “Stop watching after Season 5, that’s when it starts to go downhill.”
She told me she wanted somebody to let her know what zombie television shows and films to watch and in what order, ‘the zombie basis’ she called it. It was a brilliant idea and I’m ready to take a stab at my list of the zombie classics for people who haven’t dived into the gore-filled apocalyptic ruin of zombie culture.
Warm Bodies (2013) is directed by Jonathan Levine and from Summit Entertainment. For someone who’s never watched a zombie film before I’d suggest starting with something a little less gruesome and more feel good. This film is an adaptation of a novel by Isaac Marion, which is extremely good. The Warm Bodies concept is interesting and innovative. Viewers never get to see into the minds of the undead, this film/book not only gives us a zombie’s inner thoughts but also an emotional love story. I’m also a major fan of intertextual referencing and if you look deeper into Warm Bodies‘s storyline you’ll find many references to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, the most obvious is seen within the lead couple’s character names, R and Julie.
Next on the to-watch list is Zombieland (2009) which is directed by Ruben Fleischer and from Sony Pictures. This film was the reason that I got so interested in zombie visual culture. It’s a hilarious movie filled with totally quotable scenes and zombie gore goodness. I have rewatched this movie so many times over the years and it never gets old. A pure classic zombie film of the modern era!
The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead (2010-present) is directed by Frank Darabont and from AMC Network (FOX). This show was extremely frightening the first time I watched it, I actually watched a few episodes and stopped for a while because I had nightmares centered around zombies invading my house. When I finally built up a larger scare tolerance I binged my way all the way up to season five in a matter of weeks. This show focuses more on the aspect of survival horror instead of a mere gore show. It shows the darkness that lurks in the human soul when society has collapsed and there is a constant threat of being eaten alive…or running into another group of survivors.
Z-Nation (2014-present) was created by Karl Schaefer and Craig Engler and from The Asylum on the Syfy Network. The show is currently in it’sFifth Season which began in early October of 2018. I think this show is groundbreaking in so many different ways and it also cleverly pays tribute to other zombie lore in the process. It features different types of zombies such as radioactive and plant based creatures and it has one major factor that many others don’t…hope. Murphy has the ‘cure’ to the zombie virus in his blood; all the survivor group has to do is get him from New York to a CDC lab in California…simple, right? I love this show and if you can stand a bit of cheesy Syfy graphics at points then I highly recommend this series. Also check out another piece I wrote appropriately titled called ‘Why All Zombie Fans Should Watch Z-Nation.’
28 Days Later
28 Days Later (2002) is directed by Danny Boyle and from Fox Searchlight. This film takes a different approach to the zombie virus, instead of it making people strictly crave human flesh, it makes them full of rage. It’s explained at the beginning that this rage disease makes people uncontrollable and extremely violent. These threats are fast and lethal, so while the infected don’t always devour their victims, they always brutally tear them apart. This British film is also beautifully shot, they include stunning shots of an abandoned central London, which had to be shot over a period of weeks in the early hours of the morning before the iconic locations became flooded with locals and tourists.
Train to Busan
Train to Busan (2016) is directed by Sang-ho Yeon and from STUDIOCANAL Ltd. I’d heard about this film from one of my film professors back at University who was also a fan of zombie lore. While it is completely in Korean; there is an English subtitled version available. The language barrier does not take away from the enjoyment or impact of the film. It is rumored that there will be a remake of this movie, but this time it will be completely in English. I have to say that I don’t think it’s necessary to remake entire thing, the subtitles are completely fine. This film has strong characters, an emotional story, and features tremendous performance from actor Ma Dong-Seok. Not to mention some terrifyingly quick zombies who are trapped on a non-stop train with carriages of the living, each that start to fall one by one.
Fear the Walking Dead
Fear the Walking Dead (2015-present)(FWD) was created by Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson and from the AMC Network. This show was initially marketed as the ‘prequel’ to The Walking Dead (TWD), essentially meant to show how the zombie virus outbreak started. However, if TWD actually plans to follow the storyline found within the comics, then FWD logically wouldn’t make sense. But if you separate the two shows, then FWD can stand proud as a good series. The characters are like-able and the entire show is set on the opposite coast to TWD. Again, it’s impossible to completely separate the series, as some characters, such as Morgan, do appear in both shows, therefore, there is some sort of crossover, other than supposedly being set in the same universe/reality.
Land of the Dead
Land of the Dead (2005) is directed by George A Romero and from Universal Studios. I watched this film for a paper I wrote on zombie visual culture and although some parts are laughable, I overall enjoyed it. The main concept of the film is that all the rich citizens are holed up in a luxury shopping centre, leaving all the low-income citizens outside as easy targets for roaming zombies. However, instead of the poor becoming prey, they get assistance from the zombies to infiltrate and destroy the wealthy and their save-haven. It’s a thought-provoking film that uses zombies as a symbol for capitalism and consumerism, although it does feature some cheesy special effects and awkward moments.
I suggest that these films/shows be watched in the order that I’ve presented here. The order of this list was based on easing the viewer gently into the zombie genre, instead of jumping in headfirst. Starting off the list with a love-story and a comedy is a less intimidating way to get into zombie culture as opposed to watching Romero’s early 70’s cult classics.
Specifically left out: World War Z (2013) and Shaun of the Dead (2004); additionally any of the other early Romero ‘Living Dead’ films. I personally despise World War Z based on the completely awful pace of the storyline and the extremely rushed ending. I also am not a major fan of Shawn of the Dead, while I can appreciate what the film has done for the zombie comedy genre, but British humor is just not my cup of tea. Lastly, most of Romero’s early ‘Living Dead’ films are quite niche, they weren’t meant for the mainstream commercial audience, so based on the fact that this list was for fans new to the zombie genre, I thought it best to leave niche films off the title list.