The Resident Evil franchise is one of gaming’s most iconic. It’s got over 20 games thus far, and that’s not including all of its HD remakes—of which there are many, indicating an audience even for games released two or more generations ago. It has feature-length animated movies which tie into the games, live-action movies that don’t at all, tons of merchandise, novels, comic books—the works.
Here are ten movies for fans of the Resident Evil games—with a focus, primarily, on slower, more serious “infected” creatures. We’ll talk about other types in future lists.
If you’re going to appreciate something, you should start at its earliest instance, right? White Zombie, barring the unearthing of a previously lost film, is the first known feature-length zombie movie. It … isn’t great, I’ll be honest with you. It’s about a voodoo master turning a woman into a zombie, and isn’t likely to to be much interest to most members of the modern audience, but it’s necessary to acknowledge, if nothing else. It helped pave the way for the game franchise you enjoy.
(And you can watch it and its sequel, Revolt of the Zombies, for free on Archive.org.)
Night of the Living Dead
If White Zombie began paving the way for modern zombie movies, it wasn’t for another 35+ years until the job was complete. George A. Romero release Night of the Living Dead in 1968, about a group of people trapped in a house while zombies—not actually called that in the film, interestingly enough—surround them. It’s the first of the “modern” zombie, and thematically and narratively feels right at home nowadays—even if it hasn’t aged the best.
Dawn of the Dead
Ten years after Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero directed Dawn of the Dead, the first of many sequels to his first zombie movie. This one might be the best zombie movie of all time, and took the initial premise of “trapped in a spot with zombies around it” to a larger location, a mall, and increased the cast size and creativity. It also added in more social commentary, something that would be prevalent in future zombie movies.
Its sequels are … less good, but most of them are watchable, and if you’re interested in seeing where Romero took his franchise—which he kept doing until 2009—you’re not going to waste your time doing so.
Dawn of the Dead (Yes, Again)
“But you just talked about Dawn of the Dead. Why are you mentioning it again?”
Well, good sir or madam, a remake came out in 2004—and it’s also really good. It was written by James Gunn (who would go on to write and direct the Guardians of the Galaxy films) and directed by Zack Snyder (you know him already if you’re reading this). It’s really good, surprisingly, effectively updating the original and providing a somewhat different spin on the subject. It’s still a mall, it’s still zombies, but it feels like its own entity, in a way.
It was released as Dead Alive in North America and Brainded elsewhere. Almost a decade before making the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson directed a zombie movie that has since earned a cult status among many movie lovers. A monkey bites a woman, she infects the rest of the residents of a small town, and our protagonist has to fight them off. I seem to recall there being something of an oedipal payoff, too, but let’s just leave that alone. It’s far more pleasant to talk about zombies murdering people.
[REC] 3: Genesis
Why am I including [REC] 3: Genesis on this list and not [REC]? Quite simply, Genesis feels more like Resident Evil than [REC] does. Is it a better movie? It is for people who can’t tolerate found footage. And even if you don’t mind found footage? I think it’s solid. It’s a zombie movie that takes place at a wedding, follows a bunch of interesting people as they fight for survival—and isn’t found footage like [REC], which is similar but takes place in an apartment building and has someone inexplicably filming the entire thing.
I don’t mean to drag found footage, but this one actively rejects it—within the context of the film; it starts as found footage and then after the outbreak that stops because, reasonably, you wouldn’t be filming it all as you try not to die. And for that reason, it has a special place in my heart.
The Girl with All the Gifts
The Girl with All the Gifts is a recent movie, only coming out in the last year in North America, but it’s a really good one that got overlooked by a lot of people. Set in the near future, some disease has wiped out much of humanity and turned most of the rest into mindless zombies—called “hungries” in the film. There are children who are hybrids—they crave flesh but can also think, learn, and talk. I’ll say no more for fear of ruining the fun. These movies don’t have a ton of children to begin with, but having them as a central part of the plot makes The Girl with All the Gifts stand out.
Train to Busan
A father and daughter take a train to see the girl’s mother. Then a zombie outbreak occurs.
It’s a simple premise that puts its characters in very tight quarters. The movie works well as a drama, giving us great characters we care about, but also as a solid zombie movie. The ones here are scary, largely due to proximity, but also because of how the movie presents them. This is a great movie.
In 2002, Paul W.S Anderson was hired to helm a live-action Resident Evil movie. The first one took place primarily in an underground Umbrella laboratory, and followed mostly new characters—including the franchise’s protagonist, Alice—as they went around the lab and fought off zombies while doing other things that are largely meaningless. The first movie is the only one that feels even remotely close to the games; after that, it became an action franchise with a zombie backdrop, one where sometimes characters from the games would make appearances.
I don’t hate this franchise, but it deviates far too much from the games to have any entry after the first be called anything remotely close to “faithful.”
Resident Evil: Degeneration/Damnation/Vendetta
If you like the Resident Evil games, and care at all about the overarching story, the animated movies—of which there are currently three—are the movies for you. Of course, they’re going to feel a lot like the games, since they’re made by Capcom and written by Hiroyuki Kobayashi, but they also tie into the games, story-wise.
They’re not very good if you don’t like the games or haven’t kept up on their story. I watched the first one without having played a single entry (this has since been rectified, thank you very much), and did not enjoy it. But it, and the others, fit in well, and they’ll be worth your time.
They’re the best you’re going to do, anyway, and it’s rare that a franchise gets that treatment, so take it as a win!