Wars and social unrest lead to more zombie movies?

Annalee Newitz from the science fiction blog io9 says,

We did a study (with related analytical chart!) of how many zombie movies got released every year since 1910, created a line graph of them, and correlated spikes in zombie movie production with social unrest. It was actually quite eerie, because wars and social upheavals always seem to be followed by a giant leap in numbers of zombie movies in theaters. Coincidence? You be the judge!
War and Social Upheaval Causes Spikes in Zombie Movies (io9)


  1. Oh great does that mean we have to instigate wars and social unrest so I can get my fix of the living dead? And I thought Zombie Movies were only just enjoyable educational materials for the coming apocalypse. But as always Correlation is not causation, but if it means more Zombie movies…

  2. This is because in these periods brains are in short supply, and the normally timid zombie is forced to invade the public awareness in order to have better access to the sweet, juicy, slightly-salty gray-matter.

  3. Zombie hoardes are the filmmakers representation of social upheaval, and the potential ramifications we face of societal collapse. Anarchy, in other words.

    Remember folks, we’re only four days away at any given time from anarchy – just by stopping the trucks with the food.

    In the UK’s Channel 4 show “Dead Set”, the zombies have graduated from Brrrains to any flesh (not seen yet if limited to human), and sprint like Ben Johnson on a healthy dose of the ol’ roids. Not as manic as in 28 Days Later (c’mon, best Zombies of all time – bar Shaun of the Dead, which is a celluloid phenomenon).

    But still, frightening.

    Just remember – they’re not as smart as we are. Although they’re all smarter than one George Bush. Jnr.

  4. Correlation does not equal causation.

    Perhaps more zombie movies create wars and social unrest?!

    (Therefore, The Iraq war was all Max Brooks’s fault.)

  5. Zombies and zombie movies seemed to be popular when they reflected the anxiety over blind conformity. The zombies are mindless and slow moving, but are a menace because they appear in unexpected places, have the strength to kill, and seem unstoppable. Depending on the issues of the day, their mindlessness could be a commentary on social mores, pop culture, spiritual emptiness or existential desperation. On the other hand, it’s also a good gimmic for a scary movie that doesn’t require a whole lot of acting talent! It’s up to the customer to decide.

  6. I’m not sure this is actually news, though. The link between zombie movies and anxieties over epidemics and nuclear and toxic disaster is pretty well-documented. I mean, the whole communicable zombie theme is just a transparently fictionalized epidemic story, and Night of the Living Dead, the seminal zombie movie, set a crashed radioactive sattelite as the cause, IIRC.

    Add to that the zombie movie as a thought experiment in how institutions would react to a truly hostile internal threat -the sort of thing that has currency during times of domestic unrest- and you’ve said exactly what this does.

    Oh, plus, a few of they things they’re defining as a zombie movie for the sake of this graph are a little… fishy. The Mummy? Frankenstein? I don’t thing I’d catagorize them thematically as zombie movies. Horror movies, yes, but not zombie movies.

  7. The best zombie films are classic ‘man vs. society’ stories in a weird way. The idea of being the ‘living’ one in a world made out of walking corpses who want to kill you, who can’t be reasoned with and destroy everything is an easy thing to identify with when the world seems to be falling apart and people, especially unthinking people, are responsible.

  8. While I agree that there’s an upswing in the zombie trend, I think your graph is a little misleading, as the total number of movies released in general would have gone up since 1915. In order to be meaningful I think your graph would have to show the percentage of zombie movies versus the sum total of movies for a given year.

    I wrote a piece for Reality Sandwich in January exploring the spike in the zombie trend:

    “While interest in the undead predates our cultural moment, I think that the reason for the current trend is twofold; as a metaphor, a zombie apocalypse resonates strongly with many of our repressed fears and notions in the wake of September 11th. As an experience, acting out a zombie apocalypse is a way of participating in the kind of viral ‘outbreak’ that mirrors the proliferation of the internets through which many of us live our lives. The post-9-11 generation, by which I mean anyone who identifies as ‘young’ and spends a meaningful portion of their lives online, uses zombies as a rallying point from which to stage blog and text-messaged communicated events, public ‘theater of cruelty’-type explorations (we fake it so real we are beyond fake, to paraphrase Courtney Love) of our oscillations between the mindless group think of the mob and the terrifying isolation of the individual.”


    I think it’s interesting to look at trends in horror movies and compare them to the events going on in the world at the time in which they were made. Zombies represent the return of all those corpses we never see but know exist–the victims from the WTC and the fallen soldiers whose flag draped coffins have been hidden from our view.

    During the height of the AIDS crisis in the US there was a similar spike of vampire movies, the correlation between an often bisexual seducer with tainted blood being pretty obvious.

    Godzilla movies were big horror hits in Japan after WWII…

    I wonder about another current horror trend towards super gross out movies filled with dismemberment, such as the SAW franchise. Are these gore soaked flicks an acting out of a nation wide psychosis among American youth, as recent events force them to disassociate Donnie Darko style from everything they thought they knew about life and how to live it? Or is it just good old fashioned fun with the next level of special effects that allows film makers to pull off gnarlier and gnarlier stuff?



  9. _Zombies_ and _Zombie_ unrest lead to more zombie movies.

    There..fixed that for you.’

    Remember, we have nothing to fear but fear itself..and Zombies.

  10. Looking at the graph (in the original article), it seemed to me that the peak around 1980 wasn’t explained very well.

    After some brief consideration, it seemed to me that the peaks on the graph corresponded to US Republican Presidential Administrations better than social upheaval.

    This is particularly troubling for me as I do enjoy Zombie Movies and Democratic Administrations. Fortunately, Quality Zombie Movies have a longer shelf life than politics.

    Ironic, isn’t it, that US States that favor Republicans are Red States.

  11. This seems like classic post-hoc reasoning to me – counting zombie films and then finding global crises to fit the spikes. 1976 had only one zombie movie released, but that was the year that Son of Sam terrorized New York, it was the middle of the Lebanese civil war, the IRA bombings stepped up… why the lowest zombie movie count in over a decade?

    The other thing that this chart ignores is the natural fluctuation of horror movie fads. My bet is that if you got a sort of “normalized zombie count” that compares zombie movies to all horror movies produced, it’d probably follow that trend line pretty well.

    Also, Normalized Zombie Count would be a great band name.

  12. > Take a look at this
    > #1 posted by themindfantastic , October 30, 2008 > 8:58 AM
    > Oh great does that mean we have to instigate
    > wars and social unrest so I can get my fix of
    > the living dead?

    No. What it means is that very shortly you will be able to watch more zombie movies than you could ever dream of.

  13. Thanks for the link, Xeni!

    Martian Bob: A “normalized zombie count” would be a great idea here (also, as you say, a great band name–but I would challenge you to think of any random three words that *don’t* sound like a great band name!). At least they should have given zombie movies produced as a percentage of overall movies produced, instead of just an absolute number.

    Someone in the comments on the original site pointed out that the high peaks of zombie movies correspond more to republican presidents than they do to wars (with real lulls during the Carter and Clinton years).

  14. Wait, WAIT!

    I want know what that first bunch of Zombie movies are from 1910 ?!?

    Maybe I’m a product of my generation, but I thought that Romero invented the genre in the 60’s…?

    Is there a zombie filmography out there somewhere?

  15. Maybe I can also point out the high proportion of global crises and issues caused by the USA?

  16. Hosidax – check http://www.allmovie.com for the categories. Maybe IMDB can help too.

    Romero added an accretive layer to a pre-existing cohort of zombie-like creatures, folklore and voodoo, just a stitch here and there. Insofar as any cinematographer can be breakthrough within the confines of that business, he was, but it’s too much to say he “invented” zombies.

    Amy Crehore, on the other hand, can be said to be a ground-breaking artist.

  17. Zombies resonate for me. Yes, I understand Zombism from the inside out.

    Someone beat me to this, probably. But just in case I’m wrong, someone has to say it.

    The perfect state of mind for office jobs during hard times is that of a zombie:

    – There is no room in the organization for your original thoughts. Mercifully, after a while, they cease to come. At least the work related ones.

    -The smallest deviation from the unexpected usually leads to something unfortunate: either something tangible like a reprimand, probation or outright firing; or intangible, like loss of respect or, worse, independence.

    – The only valued behavior is single-minded pursuit of the puppetmaster’s wishes, which means all thoughts of cameraderie and acts of kindness and generosity eventually go out the window, to be replaced by ass covering. In fact, in the most extreme environments it becomes THE behavior, leaving real work in its thick, confusing dust.

    Take a bunch of people, dress them in uncomfortble clothes, confine them to a windowless building and make them do things day in, day out that they would never do otherwise. Then zap them with incredible stress from the outside world. Watch their brains squirm. What fun! Mmmm, brains.

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