For those old enough to remember a time before The Walking Dead premiered on AMC, it’s strange to admit we’ve reached a zombie saturation point. Believe it or not, there was a moment where you were not inundated with zombie movies, zombie TV shows, zombie video games, and zombie memes. Rather the undead were a cult novelty that allowed indie filmmakers to speak truth to power… via allegories involving lots of brain-munching and disembowelment. What could be better?
Now it’s hard to take a single step in the pop culture landscape without landing on a reanimated corpse with a belly full gray matter—not that this should be treated as the end of the world. Indeed, as you’ll see in many of the movies below, a zombie apocalypse can be just another chance to turn a frown upside down. And what’s more delicious than a zombie comedy that gets flesh-eating just right?
Editor’s Note: This is ranking zombie comedies, not zombie movies with comedic elements. Hence no Evil Dead, Dead Snow, Dead Alive, Cemetery Man, or the like.
11. Burying the Ex (2015)
Suggesting there was something in the contaminated water during the mid-2010s, Burying the Ex was the second zombie film about the ex-girlfriend from Hell. Literally. But in addition to being last, it was also least. Despite being directed by a genre master like Joe Dante, this painfully unfunny high concept about a mousy slob (the great and wasted Anton Yelchin) dithering between the reanimated corpse of his significant other (Ashley Greene) and his very own manic pixie dream girl (Alexandra Daddario) mistakes movie trivia knowledge for character depth, and blatant misogyny for humor. With Greene saddled with a character stuck between the two gears of the ravenously horny sex kitten and the whiny, politically correct shrew, many of the “laughs” come from seeing the vegan munch down on a cool bro or being forced to vomit embalming fluid. Blech, but not in the right way.
10. Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)
The concept of a zombie musical-comedy is a winning one, and this indie effort from director John McPhail approaches the conceit with the kind of “let’s put on a show!” gusto that’s hard to begrudge. But the thing about musicals are they need to star people who can sing, and let them do so in productions with the budget to execute glee at a dazzling level. The good cheer of this holiday-set film should be as infectious as any zombie virus, yet most of the songs are bland, autotuned, and staged with a lack of inspiration. It’s enough to make you root for the zombies to eat them all.
9. Planet Terror (2007)
This one admittedly could be considered a push between zombie comedy and outright zombie action movie, but when the film’s most memorable aspect is a stripper named Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) attaching a rocket launcher to her amputated thigh, we tend to think it veers closer to the yuks. And in terms of finding them, Robert Rodriguez occasionally succeeds by relying on gross out sight gags like Bruce Willis and a jar of severed testicles, or via breaking Hollywood taboos by having a mother discover what happens when she leaves her child alone with a gun. A case study in the juvenile, Planet Terror hasn’t aged particularly well, but Rodriguez might consider that a compliment for a film bathed in grindhouse rot.
8. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
Here’s an odd one. Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s satirical novel of the same name, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was originally conceived a decade earlier as a star vehicle for Natalie Portman and comeback piece for director David O. Russell (he eventually found that shot of adrenaline in Silver Linings Playbook). Languishing in development hell for years, the eventual Burr Steers film starred the very talented Lily James as a saber-wielding Lizzie Bennett and an excellent supporting cast that also includes Doctor Who’s Matt Smith and Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey.
In spite of these assets, the film doesn’t capture the mild amusement of Grahame-Smith’s novel, which is still about 75 percent Jane Austen and only a quarter zombie carnage (with the joke being the British are too polite to mention the undead marauding ghouls roaming the countryside unless absolutely necessary). The movie, however, is just a middle-of-the-road zombie actioner in period garb, feeling far more stilted than even the driest Masterpiece Theatre entry.
7. Life After Beth (2014)
The other, better my ex just won’t leave me alone, even after the grave movie, writer-director Jeff Baena’s Life After Beth is a mixed if ultimately satisfying work. Like the best zombie thrillers, this zombie dramedy uses the pretext of the dead coming back to life to discuss poignant realities, which in Beth’s case is the pain of grief. When the movie begins, Zach (Dane DeHaan) has already buried Beth (Aubrey Plaza), the girlfriend who was on the verge of breaking up with him.
Yet when she comes back to life thanks to some old school, pre-George Romero voodoo magic, he has a second chance to say goodbye, which is no easier with her right there… and that’s before she begins to rot. It’s a sweet if somewhat belabored allegory that finds its groove in the later scenes where long-lost relatives return to the living, creating darkly comical situations like who really owns a home after multiple generations of families have lived there? And does anyone alive actually like smooth jazz? (Answer: No, no they do not, but zombies love it!)
6. The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
If ever there was a zombie movie more pleased with itself, I haven’t seen it. Yet that smirking self-awareness and dry detachment does not prevent director Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die from being coolly bemusing and quietly wrathful. Coursing with a seething rage that is unlike Jarmusch’s traditional indie work, this genre blender wears its Romero influences on its sleeve while crafting a scathing indictment of humanity’s apathetic reaction to climate change: We’re turning a blind eye, even as mass extinction is right upon us!
This commentary is made with ironic ambivalence to the realization that the dead, and for that matter aliens with a Scottish brogue, are walking the earth. When they attack, it is genuinely gruesome, and perhaps more unsettling than any zombie carnage since 28 Days Later, especially as they feast on the working class or youth who’ve stumbled upon an already doomed situation. But by and large, it’s most effective when Bill Murray and Adam Driver provide perfect deadpan delivery as a pair of bumbling cops who’s first response upon seeing two mutilated corpses of old friends is, “Whoever did this even smashed the coffee pots.” Driver is especially unflappable as he constantly repeats, “This is going to end badly.” Meta-humor since his character has read the script? Maybe, but haven’t you read about the next 50 years?
5. Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
Returning to the well 10 years after a sleeper hit can be as dangerous as a shopping mall full of ghouls, but miraculously Zombieland: Double Tap is almost as funny, and still equally as inventive, as the cult classic that birthed it. A decade since the 2009 film became a college dorm room staple, Double Tap continues the hijinks of Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Not only is it a sequel to a comedy from a different era, it refreshingly doesn’t feel like a product of our own with its cheeky irreverence and unabashed delight in gore and Zombie Kills of the Week™.
Still fleet, if maybe a little too sitcommy for its own good (the first movie was originally intended to be a TV pilot), this sequel updates the lore in a mirthful way by introducing pop culture-influenced classifications for zombies. It also wins the award for best hideout during the zombie apocalypse: the White House! But it is still the winning character personalities, and now literally award winning actors playing them with palpable affection, that makes Double Tap so warm and fuzzy. Sure, that could also be from the gunpowder and grenade smoke, but if only all comedy sequels were as endearing as this reunion between old friends.
4. Warm Bodies (2013)
A high-concept that feels like it was engineered in a Summit Entertainment conference room during the height of Twilight and Walking Dead mania, Warm Bodies is actually based on an earnest YA novel by Isaac Marion. And more incredulously still, it’s good. Like really good in that heartwarming and heart-rending way.
The basic setup is that after the zombie apocalypse, Zombie Boy (Nicholas Hoult) meets Survival Girl (Teresa Palmer) while they’re both foraging for food. But instead of trying to eat her, he immediately falls head over heels. And somehow this romantic comedy works, in large part thanks to its own mythological wrinkle that through love, a zombie can reclaim 50 percent of their humanity (and good looks). Better than it has any right to be, the movie succeeds thanks to the tongue-in-cheek playfulness of writer-director Jonathan Levine and its pleasant two leads. The rest of the movie could be YA boilerplate, and in lesser hands it would’ve been a trudge through the genre cemetery, but with this movie’s arched eyebrow, it’s more like a frolic.
3. Little Monsters (2019)
Look, there may come a day when you think you’ve hit rock bottom and then the zombie outbreak finally strikes. But that doesn’t mean you need to look at the glass as half-empty. Every sunrise is a call to adventure, and each reanimated corpse is a potential playmate! Such is the sunny disposition of Abe Forsythe’s incredibly underrated and utterly charming movie about a kindergarten class’ field trip, interrupted.
Actually a story about a selfish asshole (Alexander England) learning to be an unselfish parental figure to his nephew while chaperoning a petting zoo visit, Little Monsters is the cuddliest zombie movie you’ll ever seen thanks to the magic of a genuinely great teacher, here embodied by Lupita Nyong’o’s winsome Miss Caroline. She is the kind of woman who keeps a song in her heart, usually of the Taylor Swift variety, and she’ll teach it to the whole class one ukulele solo at a time. A movie predicated on a sincere celebration of kindness, Forsythe’s vision feels particularly reassuring these days, even with its gory bits about a military testing site next door accidentally unleashing a horde of the undead. If you keep your chin up and the children safe (and even sheltered) from the fact they’re in danger, then you can shake anything off!
2. Zombieland (2009)
The all-American answer to Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, this deceptively clever yuk and human chunk-fest caught audiences by surprise before zombie comedies were a regular occurrence. Snarky and even a little mean-spirited, Zombieland is also stealthily cheerful in its depiction of four disparate souls surviving a dead world one set-piece at a time.
Something of a utopian vision of blue staters and red staters finding commonality after the end of things, Zombieland’s four characters are named after their hometowns—Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock—and each is played by an actor who elevates the material. The movie’s joyous shower of gore makes for excellent sight gags that buttress an otherwise classic road trip movie about oddballs forming a makeshift family. Turning Armageddon into meet-cute, there is a reason Zombieland became a staple for an entire generation reared on Columbus’ rules for surviving the zombie apocalypse… and Bill Murray’s claim on the greatest film cameo of all-time.
1. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
For all the good and even great zombie comedies that came afterward, there is still only one masterpiece in the growing subgenre, and it’s the movie that started it all. Director Edgar Wright’s second film, Shaun of the Dead is a brilliant deconstruction and homage to the zombie genre before it went mainstream. It’s also a crackling good romantic comedy about the timeless tension created by the triangle of a couple and the best mate.
Beating with a living heart underneath all its sarcasm, Shaun’s core performances by Simon Pegg (who co-wrote the movie with Wright), Nick Frost, and Kate Ashfield ground the meta pop culture madness unleashed by Wright’s unbridled enthusiasm for genre lore, often told with rapid fire editing by Chris Dickens and fourth wall-breaking gags. The film is also predicated on an airtight script that hues closely to the principle of Chekhov’s Gun by paying off every single setup and bit of foreshadowing in the first act with a delirious third act that combines the holy trinity of zombies, draught beer, and Queen music. Fifteen years later, and we’re still grabbing a pint at the Winchester and waiting for this whole thing to blow over.