The Highest-Grossing Zombie Movies of All Time
While brain-eating zombies may be things of your nightmares, they have been the dreams of movie executives. Zombie movies have dumped millions of dollars into corporate coffers by following the same basic idea of the dead rising and consuming the living.
The ones that stand out in the sea of moaning flesh bags are those who find a twist to add — like mixing in humor, adding a zombie with a conscious or even introducing a zombie newborn — have pulled in the most money. What follows are the 17 zombie movies with the highest gross-ticket sales worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.
Since we’re not adjusting for inflation, some classics don’t qualify, but even a few zombie icons from the 1980s snuck onto our list.
Release date: Nov. 2, 1982
Opening weekend (U.S.): $5,870,889
Domestic total gross: $21,028,755
Foreign total gross: N/A
Worldwide total gross: $21,028,755
Any horror movie that combines director George A. Romero and writer Stephen King is bound to be a home run, and “Creepshow” was just that. This horror flick takes a short-story approach, as it combines five short films to make up one larger film. The third story, “Something to Tide You Over,” is the one that qualifies this as a legit zombie flick. It follows Richard Vickers (Leslie Nelson, right) as zombified versions of his murder victims, Harry Wentworth (Ted Danson, left) and Becky (Gaylen Ross), return for their revenge.
“Creepshow” pulled in a massive $5.87 million in its opening weekend. It ended up with a final domestic take of $21 million against an $8 million estimated budget. Even without international box office take — those numbers are not available — the movie cracks our list..
If we were accounting for inflation, these numbers would be more significant at $15.61 million on the opening weekend and $55.83 million overall.
16. ‘Shaun of the Dead’
Release date: Sept. 24, 2004
Opening weekend (U.S.): $3,330,781
Domestic total gross: $13,542,874
Foreign total gross: $16,496,518
Worldwide total gross: $30,039,392
This flick goes the comedic route, with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost caught up in a zombie apocalypse in London. One of them makes it through without turning into a zombie. The other gets zombified, but still can play video games. Pegg co-wrote the movie with director Edgar Wright.
The film took in almost equal amounts of domestic and international box office, earning a bit over $30 million total worldwide.
15. ‘Land of the Dead’
Release date: June 24, 2005
Opening weekend (U.S.): $10,221,705
Domestic total gross: $20,700,082
Foreign total gross: $26,070,520
Worldwide total gross: $46,770,602
George A. Romero represents again in this fourth installment of his six “Living Dead” movies. This one focuses on survivors of a zombie apocalypse doing their best to get by in Pittsburgh.
The No. 15 zombie flick on our list had a terrific opening weekend in the U.S., earning more than $10 million. “Land of the Dead” went on to earn $46.8 million worldwide.
14. ‘Pet Sematary’
Release date: April 21, 1989
Opening weekend (U.S.): $12,046,179
Domestic total gross: $57,469,467
Foreign total gross: N/A
Worldwide total gross: $57,469,467
Some may argue that “Pet Sematary” is not a zombie movie, but people die and come back evil, which hits two of the three zombie requirements. All it lacks is brain-eating, which is fine with us.
From the genius horror mind of Stephen King, “Pet Sematary” follows a family that moves to a small town seeking peace and quiet only to find there is a Native American burial ground behind their house where the dead don’t stay dead. After losing a cat and 3-year-old son to accidents while at their new home, the father tempts fate and buries both in the sacred burial grounds, but he quickly learns sometimes dead is better.
“Pet Sematary” raked in $12 million in its opening weekend in the U.S. After its time in theaters, it took $57.5 million against a tiny $11.5 million budget (numbers not available for international performance). While these numbers are still great by today’s standards, adjusting them for inflation makes the ridiculously high at $23.8 million on opening weekend and $119 million overall.
13. ‘28 Weeks Later’
Release date: May 11, 2007
Opening weekend (U.S.): $9,807,292
Domestic total gross: $28,638,916
Foreign total gross: $35,599,524
Worldwide total gross: $64,238,440
“28 Weeks Later” is the follow-up flick to the wildly successful “28 Days Later.” The story begins six months after the Rage Virus crushed London and left most of its population as angry, flesh-seeking zombies. The army believes it has restored order following the outbreak until a carrier of the virus enters the city and starts the spread of the virus all over again.
After it was all said and done, this zombie sequel pulled in a $64.2 million take on an estimated $15 million budget.
12. ‘28 Days Later’
Release date: June 27, 2013
Opening weekend (U.S.): $10,061,858
Domestic total gross: $45,064,915
Foreign total gross: $37,654,970
Worldwide total gross: $82,719,885
“28 Days Later” starts innocently enough with animal activists invading a research facility to release chimpanzees that have had terrible experiments done to them. The scientists plead with the activists to leave the chimps locked up, as they had been exposed to a virus that causes severe rage. Ignoring the scientists' warnings, the activists release the chimps, starting the spread of a virus that turns London into a zombie-filled metropolitan that the lead character, Jim, must survive in after waking from a coma mid-apocalypse. Talk about a rude awakening.
After its run in theaters, this cult zombie flick pulled in $82.7 million against an estimated $8 million budget.
11. ‘Dawn of the Dead’
Release date: March 19, 2004
Opening weekend (U.S.): $26,722,575
Domestic total gross: $59,020,957
Foreign total gross: $43,335,424
Worldwide total gross: $102,356,381
“Dawn of the Dead” is about as traditional a zombie flick as you can get, but it has one big twist. It follows Ana, who joins a group of survivors after she finds her husband murdered by her neighbor-turned-zombie. The group decides the best place to stay safe in this new zombified world is at a local mall. Here, the group holds up in hopes of being rescued while random members of the group get killed off by rogue zombies. “Dawn of the Dead” threw a curveball to the zombie-loving community by tossing in the birth and eventual killing of a zombie baby.
Overall, George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” raked in $102.4 million against a $26 million budget.
Release date: Oct. 2, 2009
Opening weekend (U.S.): $24,733,155
Domestic total gross: $75,590,286
Foreign total gross: $26,801,254
Worldwide total gross: $102,391,540
“Zombieland” takes the cheeky route in delivering a great zombie story. It follows Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) as he searches for his family and tries surviving in the zombie apocalypse using his 30 rules of survival. He eventually meets up with grizzled Twinkie lover, Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), and con artists Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), to create a wild adventure that includes a zombie-filled amusement park, twinkie hunts and a not-so-zombified Bill Murray.
“Zombieland” caught everyone off-guard with a $24.7 million opening weekend in the U.S. on its way to a $75.6 million total domestic gross against a $23.6 million budget. International gross was roughly a third of the U.S. take.
The long-awaited sequel, “Zombieland 2: Double Tap,” comes out Oct. 18, 2019. With the first “Zombieland” doing so well and fans having to wait a decade for a sequel, “Zombieland 2” is primed to crush its predecessor. When the time comes, we’ll update the list to reflect the sequel’s performance.
9. ‘Resident Evil’
Release date: March 15, 2002
Opening weekend (U.S.): $17,707,106
Domestic total gross: $40,119,709
Foreign total gross: $62,865,153
Worldwide total gross: $102,984,862
“Resident Evil,” the video-game-inspired zombie flick that spawned five sequels to date and an anticipated reboot, kicked the series off by setting up a zombie outbreak that stemmed from the accidental release a virus that turned the staff of a secret research facility into flesh-hungry undead. The movie follows Alice (Milla Jovovich) as she must overcome amnesia to take her spot as the zombie-killing machine we all know her as today.
“Resident Evil” comes in as the No. 9 highest-grossing zombie flick on our list. During its run in theaters, “Resident Evil” pulled in $103 million against an estimated $33 million budget.
Release date: August 17, 2012
Opening weekend (U.S.): $14,087,050
Domestic total gross: $56,003,051
Foreign total gross: $51,136,348
Worldwide total gross: $107,139,399
The first and only cartoon zombie flick on our list is “ParaNorman.” This kid-friendly zombie flick follows Norman, a kid who can speak to the dead. During a ceremony to keep the cursed dead in the ground a bully interrupts Norman, allowing the cursed dead to rise and create havoc. The zombies eventually find themselves confused by modern society, and Norman must help them through today’s world and back to their graves, sans any brain-eating because, well, a PG rating doesn’t allow for that.
During its run in theaters, it pulled in $56 million domestically. This domestic take came up short of its estimated $60 million budget, but the $107.1 million global take made up for that.
7. ‘Warm Bodies’
Release date: Feb. 1, 2013
Opening weekend (U.S.): $20,353,967
Domestic total gross: $66,380,662
Foreign total gross: $50,600,000
Worldwide total gross: $116,980,662
“Warm Bodies” gives the world a new look at the zombie genre as it follows zombified 20-something R, an introspective zombie, as he meets Julie during a human feeding frenzy and feels the overwhelming urge to protect her. Throughout the film, R and Julie form a tight bond, which leads to R regaining part of his humanity, which spreads through the zombified population. Despite their newfound humanity, zombies were still seen as a threat to untrusting humans, but R and Julie use their relationship and a mutual enemy, the super-fast and ferocious “Bonies,” to bridge the gap between human and zombie.
“Warm Bodies” opened to a $20.3 million opening weekend in the U.S. This gave it the great start it needed to earn $66.4 million domestically and $117 million overall against a $35 million budget.
6. ‘Resident Evil: Apocalypse’
Release date: Sept. 10, 2004
Opening weekend (U.S.): $23,036,273
Domestic total gross: $51,201,453
Foreign total gross: $78,141,316
Worldwide total gross: $129,342,769
This “Resident Evil” film is the second film in the series. The sequel follows Alice (Milla Jovovich) as she awakens to realize the zombies she attempted to destroy earlier had escaped the Umbrella Corporation and had overrun Raccoon City. Realizing she is also an Umbrella Corporation experiment with the skills needed to fight the zombies and other monsters, Alice teams up with a group of uninfected people attempting to survive by taking the battle to the zombies and the Umbrella Corporation.
“Resident Evil: Apocalypse” pulled in a total of $51.2 million domestically and $129 million overall during its theater run against a $45 million budget.
5. ‘Resident Evil: Extinction’
Release date: Sept. 21, 2007
Opening weekend (U.S.): $23,678,580
Domestic total gross: $50,648,679
Foreign total gross: $97,763,386
Worldwide total gross: $148,412,065
The third chapter in the “Resident Evil” franchise, “Resident Evil: Extinction,” again follows Alice as she realizes she is a liability and decides to take on the Umbrella Corporation on her own. As she struggles to battle the evil company responsible for releasing the zombie virus, survivors Carlos Olivera, L.J., K-Mart, Claire Redfield and Nurse Betty struggle to survive in what’s left of Las Vegas.
“Resident Evil: Extinction” rings in at No. 5 with a 23.7 million take on U.S. opening weekend and a $148.4 million gross overall against a $45 million budget.
4. ‘Resident Evil: Retribution’
Release date: Sept. 14, 2012
Opening weekend (U.S.): $21,052,227
Domestic total gross: $42,345,531
Foreign total gross: $197,658,893
Worldwide total gross: $240,004,424
The fifth film in the “Resident Evil” franchise, “Resident Evil: Retributions,” follows Alice (Milla Jovovich) once again. This time, though, Alice awakens in a happier world that includes her husband and daughter. She quickly sees through the charade and realizes the Umbrella Corporation is holding her hostage and feeding her these memories. Alice finds a way to escape when the facility’s security system shuts down and meets with a team attempting to rescue her while the Umbrella Corporation hunts them down.
When “Resident Evil: Retribution” finally left theaters, it had earned $42.3 million domestically. This total domestic take fell short of its estimated $65 million budget, but its $197 million international gross made up for it.
3. ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’
Release date: Sept. 10, 2010
Opening weekend (U.S.): $26,650,264
Domestic total gross: $60,128,566
Foreign total gross: $240,099,518
Worldwide total gross: $300,228,084
The second-highest-grossing “Resident Evil” movie and the third highest-grossing zombie movie overall is “Resident Evil: Afterlife.” This zombie action film, which was the fourth installment in the franchise, again follows Alice in her battle against the Umbrella Corporation and the undead it created. This time, there is the promise of an uninfected sanctuary called Arcadia. Alice and a group of prisoners she frees from the Umbrella Corporation head toward this sanctuary only to find it is not as advertised.
“Resident Evil: Afterlife” delivered a $26.6 million opening weekend in the U.S. This gave it a great start on the way to a $60 million gross take domestically. The domestic take barely met the $60 million estimated budget, but its $300.2 million global gross put it deep into the black.
‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter’
Release date: Jan. 27, 2017
Opening weekend (U.S.): $13,601,682
Domestic total gross: $26,830,068
Foreign total gross: $285,412,558
Worldwide total gross: $312,242,626
The “Resident Evil” franchise is a dominant force in the zombie genre, and it’s no shock with its delicate combination of brain-eating undead and nonstop action. The final film of the series, “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter,” follows Alice (Milla Jovovich) as she looks to put a stop to the evil Umbrella Corporation’s plans to kill off the remaining survivors of the apocalypse with her normal butt-kicking action and leather getup.
“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” raked in $13.6 million in its first weekend. Despite a hot start, critics and fans alike in the U.S. quickly soured on it, resulting in a total domestic take of just $26.8 million against a $40 million budget. Internationally, however, it was a powerhouse, taking in more than $285 million from non-U.S. audiences.
1. ‘World War Z’
Release date: June 21, 2013
Opening weekend (U.S.): $66,411,834
Domestic total gross: $202,359,711
Foreign total gross: $337,648,165
Worldwide total gross: $540,007,876
Put Brad Pitt in virtually any movie, and you have a smash hit. Put him in a zombie flick, and you have the highest-grossing zombie movie by a long shot.
“World War Z” follows the once-calm life of former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) as the world falls deep into a fast-spreading zombie plague. Lane barely escapes the raging zombies only to have the government convince him to investigate the epidemic and try to find a cure before it zombifies the global population.
“World War Z” scored a massive $66.4 million opening weekend. This jump-start led to a $202.4 million overall domestic gross against a $190 million estimated budget. Worldwide, it grossed more than $540 million.
We’ve heard rumblings of a Pitt-led sequel, which would likely crush these numbers, but its body’s gone cold for now due to budget issues.
Close but No Zombies
Box Office Mojo lists two zombie movies we just can’t add to this list. First is “Death Becomes Her,” which would have ranked No. 4 at $149 million worldwide. Yes, “Death Becomes Her” involves reanimated corpses, but their reanimation comes from a potion, not a virus. Plus, they don’t return as violent, brain-eating creatures.
“Hotel Transylvania” ranked No. 2 on Box Office Mojo’s list with a $148.3 million domestic gross and $358.4 million worldwide, but this also failed my sniff test. While I love eating a bowl of popcorn and watching this kid-friendly monster movie with my kids, it is not a zombie movie. Yes, there are zombies in it, but they are secondary characters and have no impact on the plotline.