What Are the Most Successful Zombie Movies of All Time?

By Sarah AndersonLast Updated August 31, 2020
Photo Courtesy: New Line Cinema/IMDb

Why do we have a seemingly undying fascination with the undead? According to Live Science, there are plenty of reasons to love a good zombie film. Among other things, we enjoy the stress relief, the art of survival and the (oftentimes) hopeful messages about the resilience of the human spirit that are packed into most zombie flicks.

From TV’s The Walking Dead to some of Hollywood’s most beloved blockbusters, it seems like there’s a new show or movie about the undead debuting every other month. But these top-ten highest-grossing zombie films really stand out from the pack — or, should we say, horde.

#10. Zombieland (2009) | $102.4 million

Action-comedy Zombieland (2009) kicks off the top ten. This instant classic not only proves that the apocalypse can be full of laughs, but that Twinkies will, in fact, outlast us all. After grossing $24 million during its opening weekend, Zombieland went on to earn an impressive $102 million worldwide.

Photo Courtesy: Columbia TriStar/IMDb

The movie follows nerdy college student Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), an unlikely apocalypse survivor who attempts to travel from his dorm to his parents’ house in the wake of the outbreak. Along the way, he bands together with a rather ragtag team: Twinkie-loving, killing machine Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson); the 12-year-old and not-so-sweet Little Rock (Abigail Breslin); and her protective older sister, Wichita (Emma Stone). Rotten Tomatoes’ aggregate review perhaps puts it best, noting that this dark comedy is "proof that the zombie sub-genre is far from dead."

#9. Resident Evil (2002) | $102.9 million

Simply called Resident Evil, the first film in the blockbuster zombie franchise debuted in 2002, kickstarting over a decade of action-adventure movies helmed by Milla Jovovich. On its opening weekend, the first movie made $17 million and, by the end of its theatrical run, it grossed $102 million worldwide.

Photo Courtesy: Sony Pictures/IMDb

The series follows amnesiac heroine Alice who takes the Umbrella Corporation to task after an effort to contain the T-virus — the zombie apocalypse-causing virus — goes awry in the Hive, the pharmaceutical company’s secret underground facility. Based rather loosely on Capcom’s beloved video game series, Resident Evil is a bit formulaic and cheesy, but The Chicago Tribune points out that it "updates the zombie genre with an anti-corporate message while still scaring its audience and providing heart-pounding action."

#8. ParaNorman (2012) | $107 million

Laika Studios’ stop-motion hit ParaNorman (2012) comes in at #8 — and it holds the distinction of being the only animated film on the list. On its opening weekend, the feature grossed $14 million and, in the end, it earned $107 million worldwide.

Photo Courtesy: LAIKA-Focus Features/IMDb

The movie tells the story of an 11-year-old boy named Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Considered something of a social outcast, Norman can speak with ghosts and, as a result of his abilities, is tasked with ending the 300-year-old witch’s curse that’s plagued his hometown in Massachusetts. Fun Fact: ParaNorman is the first stop-motion film to use a 3D color printer to create characters’ faces.

#7. Warm Bodies (2013) | $116 million

Now that we’ve got (most of) the Resident Evil films out of the way, it’s time for another top-grossing book-to-movie adaptation. Warm Bodies, 2013’s zombie romance — yes, you read that correctly — nabs the #7 spot, thanks to its $116 million worldwide gross. Told from the zombie’s perspective, an undead man named R (Nicholas Hoult) spends his time feasting on human brains and trying to form a bond with mere mortal Julie (Teresa Palmer).

Photo Courtesy: Summit Entertainment/IMDb

Although R starts off a bit threatening, he gradually becomes something of a protective guard dog as he struggles with both his human feelings and undead impulses. Comical, gruesome and surprisingly tender, Warm Bodies manages to put a fresh spin on both Romeo and Juliet-inspired love stories and the zombie genre. Looking for a fun night in? This zom-rom-com is full of heart.

#2–#6. Most of the Resident Evil Series | Between $129–312 million

If you’re a fan of the Resident Evil films — or the classic video games on which they’re based — you’ll likely be happy to know that the franchise nabs second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth on the list of highest-grossing zombie movies of all time. While Resident Evil (2002), the series’ first installment, doesn’t crack the top six, the franchise has still reigned pretty much supreme for over a decade.

Photo Courtesy: Sony Pictures/IMDb

For the unanointed, the Resident Evil film series stars Milla Jovovich as Alice, a former security specialist and covert operative with a mysterious past who dukes it out against the Umbrella Corporation, an alleged pharmaceutical company whose dangerous bioweapons trigger a zombie apocalypse (and a host of other problems). This action-packed series takes bits and pieces from the long-running game series and adds in its own flair and, despite some convoluted plot points, it’s worth the watch for the thrills, chills and incredible set-pieces. Here’s the complete rundown: #2. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016) | $312 million; #3. Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) | $300 million; #4. Resident Evil: Retribution (2012) | $240 million; #5. Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) | $148 million; and #6. Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) | $129 million. 

#1. World War Z (2013) | $540 million

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name, 2013’s World War Z is the top-grossing zombie film of all time. On its opening weekend, the movie earned $66 million and, in the end, pulled in a whopping $540 million worldwide. Of course, the fact that this one is helmed by Hollywood megastar Brad Pitt likely helped that big box office draw.

Photo Courtesy: Paramount Pictures/IMDb

In World War Z, Pitt plays a United Nations employee who is stuck in traffic in Philadelphia with his family when zombies begin to overtake the city. In typical zombie fare fashion, Pitt is then tasked with finding a cure for the undead takeover — as if keeping his family safe wasn’t enough to contend with. Although it diverges from the popular source material, this film is equal parts action-packed and smart, which gives a whole new meaning to the whole "braaaiiinnnsss" thing.

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