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10 Shows and Movies Like ‘The Last of Us’

The Last of Us premieres on Sunday, January 15 on HBO Max, and zombie horror fans are pumped. Make that survival thriller fans. Or post-apocalyptic sci-fi fans? There are so many genres wrapped up in this series! Based on the hit video game of the same title, The Last of Us tells the story of Joel (Pedro Pascal), a grieving father who’s struggling to survive in a world in which most of humanity has been transformed into nightmarish cannibals by a mind-controlling fungus.

If the show’s weekly release schedule has you impatient for more in between episodes, here are some films and series that might help tide you over. Some of them are zombie movies, while others are similar to The Last of Us in other ways. All of them should scratch that itch, though.

The Walking Dead (2010-2022)

Injured Judith in The Walking Dead series finale
(AMC)

If you’re looking for a good zombie saga, it doesn’t get much better than The Walking Dead. This series chronicles the months and years after a zombie apocalypse, as small groups of survivors search for safety and new homes.

Children of Men (2006)

Theo and Kee in Children of Men.
(Universal Pictures)

It’s grimly fascinating to imagine what might happen to society in the wake of disaster, and Children of Men paints a portrait of a world that collapses into authoritarianism and despair after humans become infertile. Theo (Clive Owen), a disillusioned former activist, is tasked with getting a young woman to safety after she finds that she’s able to carry a baby to term.

The Road (2009)

A still from the movie, The Road
(Dimension Films)

In the wake of an unspecified apocalypse that kills off all plant and animal life, a father (Viggo Mortensen) travels to the coast to try and find a safe haven for himself and his son. If you want an apocalypse story that doesn’t flinch, this is the one for you.

John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

(Universal Pictures)

The Thing is the perfect watch if your favorite thing about The Last of Us is its grotesque body horror. An alien parasite invades an isolated research station in Antarctica, where it starts to take over the bodies of the station’s inhabitants. The body transformations in this movie will sear themselves into your brain forever. Kurt Russell plays a gritty helicopter pilot armed with a flamethrower.

28 Days Later (2002)

man standing in London, in front of "Big Ben," wearing blue scrubs and alone
(Sundance/WireImage)

28 Days Later is a solid, tense zombie movie with some unforgettable cinematography. When Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a month-long coma, he discovers that the entire world has been wiped out by a virus that turns people into rage-filled monsters. Jim has to team up with a small band of survivors to seek safety.

Related: 2022’s Sight & Sound Top 100 Movies Poll Demonstrates Film Culture Is Online Culture on The Escapist

Contagion (2011)

Gwyneth Paltrow lies on an exam table with one eye held open by a doctor in Contagion.
(Warner Bros.)

Part of what makes zombie movies so fascinating is the “what if” scenario of a lethal illness decimating human civilization. If the Covid pandemic hasn’t dampened your enthusiasm for this kind of speculation, Contagion really gets into the nitty-gritty of a global pandemic response, from identifying patient zero to developing a vaccine. It doesn’t get all the details right, as we all found out in 2020, but it still makes for a compelling story.

Vesper (2022)

Vesper (Raffiella Chapman) looks pensively beyond the camera.
(Condor Entertainments)

Apparently I’m the only person who actually saw this movie, but it’s a good movie! Especially if you like post-apocalyptic stories that involve fungus! Vesper (Raffiella Chapman), a 13-year-old girl living with her father in the forest, wants to snag a spot in one of the wealthy, well-protected Citadels after most of the world’s ecosystems are destroyed by genetic engineering. Everything changes, though, when a Citadel resident crashes near her home and reveals that she’s hiding a terrible secret.

Annihilation (2018)

The Shimmer in the movie annihilation
(Paramount Pictures)

This adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s acclaimed novel is another good choice for lovers of parasites and body horror. It even has one shot that’s almost identical to a moment in The Last of Us. A biologist (Natalie Portman) is sent on a mission to an area called “the Shimmer,” which features strange and mind-bending flora and fauna. Her mission is to travel to a lighthouse in the Shimmer where a meteor landed, but she soon finds that she and the other researchers are mutating into something unrecognizable.

Station Eleven (2021)

Station 11 TV still
(HBO)

Part of what makes post-apocalyptic stories so compelling is their open-world feel, in which characters wander vast landscapes that are slowly being reclaimed by the natural world. Station Eleven, based on the novel by Emily St. John Mandel, doesn’t have any zombies in it, but you’ll get the same macabre thrill of watching most of humanity succumb to a deadly disease overnight. After a new strain of the flu kills off most of the world’s population, Kirsten (Mackenzie Davis) roams the land, performing Shakespeare and protecting those she loves.

Chernobyl (2019)

Lyudmilla in HBO's Chernobyl.
(HBO)

Chernobyl, the series that Craig Mazin spearheaded before making The Last of Us, has a very different premise than the zombie survival thriller, but his fingerprints are still all over it. When a nuclear reactor blows at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine, a small group of scientists have to convince a reluctant government to contain the damage while radiation kills civilians and power plant workers. This series is a frightening and haunting look at the hubris of the nuclear age.

(featured image: Paramount Pictures)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) lives in Los Angeles, where she reads tarot and watches Marvel movies. You can check out more of her writing at linktr.ee/juliaglassman, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.