War and Social Upheaval Cause Spikes in Zombie Movie Production

by Annalee Newitz
Editor, io9
San Francisco, California
Chart by Stephanie Fox. Additional reporting by Katharine Duckett.


There’s been a huge spike in the production of zombie movies lately, and many of them seem to be inspired by war. Everything from 28 Days Later... to Zombie Strippers makes explicit reference to wartime, as did seminal 1968 zombie flick Night of the Living Dead. Is there really a connection between zombie movies and social unrest? We decided to do some research and find out. The result is a line graph showing the number of zombie movies coming out in the West each year since 1910, and there are definite spikes during certain years, which always seem to happen eerily close to historical events involving war or social upheaval.

Mostly we’ve focused on movies from the U.S. and Europe, and we’ve included mummies but not vampires and ghosts. It’s necessary to correct somewhat for the fact that more movies are being made as we get closer to the present, and (more importantly) there are better records of those movies with better tagging. So it’s easier to research movies with zombies in them if you’re looking at productions from the 1980s onward. In addition, there’s been a huge boom in indie and low-budget horror movies over the past ten years, and that undoubtedly accounts somewhat for the giant spike you see during the last 8 years or so.

Click image to enlarge.

If you’re going to look at these historical correlations, you have to consider that movies inspired by a real-life event aren’t going to show up in theaters for at least six months to a year, so we’ve accounted for that. Still, even correcting for these factors, there are distinctive spikes in zombie popularity, and they always seem to fall slightly after a huge political or social event has caused mass fear, chaos, or suffering. World War II, Vietnam, and the current Iraq War are all followed by a zombie rush at theaters, as are other periods of trauma such as the AIDS epidemic. Is there a causal connection, or is it just coincidence? You be the judge.

Appendix: Zombie Movies We Included in This Study



1911: 1
• The Mummy
1919: 1
• J’accuse!
1931: 1
• Frankenstein
1932: 1
• White Zombie
1933: 1
• The Ghoul
1935: 2
• The Lost City
• Bride of Frankenstein
1936: 4
• Revolt of the Zombies
• Ouanga
• Midnight Blunders
• The Walking Dead
1938: 1
• J’accuse!
1939: 1
• Son of Frankenstein
1940: 1
• The Ghost Breakers
1941: 1
• King of the Zombies
1942: 1
• Bowery at Midnight
1943: 5
• Dead Men Walk
• I Walked With a Zombie
• Revenge of the Zombies
• Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
• The Mad Ghoul
1944: 1
• Voodoo Man
1945: 1
• Zombies on Broadway
1946: 1
• Valley of the Zombies
1952: 1
• Zombies of the Stratosphere (note: this movie contains no actual zombies)
1953: 1
• Scared Stiff
1955: 1
• Creature with the Atom Brain
1957: 3
• The Zombies of Mora Tau
• Voodoo Island
• The Unearthly
1958: 4
• Womaneater
• The Revenge of Frankenstein
• The Brain Eaters
• Misterios de la magia negra
(Mysteries of Black Magic)
1959: 6
• Invisible Invaders
• Teenage Zombies
• The Mummy
• Plan 9 from Outer Space
• The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake
• Night of the Ghouls
1960: 1
• Creature of the Walking Dead
1961: 3
• Muñecos infernales (The Curse of the Doll People)
• The Dead One
• Dr. Blood’s Coffin
1962: 2
• Carnival of Souls
• Santo contra los zombies (Invasion of the Zombies)
1963: 1
• They Saved Hitler’s Brain
1964: 8
• Roma contro Roma (War of the Zombies)
• The Curse of the Living Corpse
• El Secreto del Dr. Orloff (The Secret of Dr. Orloff)
• The Last Man on Earth
• Monstrosity
• Zombies
• The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies
• Der Chef wünscht keine Zeugun (No Survivors, Please)
1965: 3
• Earth Dies Screaming
• Terrore nello spazio (Planet of the Vampires)
• Cinque tombe per un medium (Terror Creatures from the Grave)
1966: 2
• The Plague of the Zombies
• The Death Curse of Tartu
1967: 2
• They Came From Beyond Space
• Dr. Terror’s Gallery of Horrors
1968: 3
• Astro-Zombies
• Blue Demon contra cerebros infernales (Blue Demon vs. El Crimen)
• Autopsia de un fantasma (Autopsy of a Ghost)
1969: 1
• Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
1970: 4
• Night Slaves
• Dream No Evil
• El mundo de los muertes (Land of the Dead)
• Santo el enmascarado de plata y Blue Demon contra los monstrous (Santo and Blue Demon Against the Monsters)
1971: 4
• La muerte viviente (Island of the Snake People)
• La noche del terror ciego (Tombs of the Blind Dead)
• Escape
• The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler
1972: 7
• Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga (The Torture Chamber of Baron Blood)
• L’Etrusco uccide ancora (The Dead Are Alive)
• La Notte dei diavoli (Night of the Devils)
• Blood of Ghastly Horror
• Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things
• Tales From the Crypt
• Las momias de Guanajuato (The Mummies of Guanajuato)
1973: 15
• El espanto surge de la tumba (Horror Rises From the Tomb)
• La invasión de los muertos (Invasion of the Dead)
• La orgía de los muertos (Beyond the Living Dead)
• El ataque de los muertos sin ojos (Attack of the Blind Dead)
• Christina, princesse de l’érotisme (A Virgin Among the Living Dead)
• El castillo de las momias de Guanajuato (Castle of the Mummies of Guanajuato)
• Horror Express
• Dead People
• La noche de los brujos (Night of the Sorcerors)
• La rebelión de las muertas (Vengeance of the Zombies)
• Psychomania
• Flesh for Frankenstein
• Santo contra la magia negra (Santo vs. Black Magic Woman)
• House of the Living Dead
• Vudú sangriento (Voodoo Black Exorcist)
1974: 13
• Dead of Night (Deathdream)
• Garden of the Dead
• Corpse Eaters
• House of Seven Corpses
• House on Skull Mountain
• Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires
• Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie)
• Shanks
• Sugar Hill
• El buque mandito (Horror of the Zombies)
• El pantano de los cuervos (Swamp of the Ravens)
• Young Frankenstein
• Kung bakit dugo ang kulay ng gabi (Night of the Zombies)
1975: 7
• Macchie Solari (Autopsy)
• The Dead Don’t Die
• Frozen Scream
• La noche de las gaviotas (Night of the Death Cult)
• Lord Shango
• Shivers
• La Perversa caricia de Sátan (The Wicked Caresses of Satan)
1976: 1
• Gou hun jiang tou (Black Magic II)
1977: 3
• The Child
• Shock Waves
• La fille á la fourrure (The Porno Zombies)
1978: 4
• Dawn of the Dead
• Les raisins de la mort (Grapes of Death)
• Salinnabileul ggotneun yeoja (Living Dead Girl)
• Within the Woods
1979: 4
• Zombi 2
• Io Zombo, Tu Zombi, Lei Zomba (I Am a Zombie, You Are A Zombie, She Is A Zombie)
• Phantasm
• The Day It Came to Earth
1980: 10
• Zombi Holocaust
• John Carpenter’s The Fog
• Alien Dead
• The Children
• Bloodeaters
• Paura nella città dei morti viventi (City of the Living Dead)
• Fiend
• Virus
• Incubo sulla città contaminata (City of the Walking Dead)
• Más allá del terror (Further Than Fear)
1981: 13
• Night of the Zombies
• L’aldilá e tu vivtai nel terrore (The Beyond)
• Heavy Metal
• Quella villa accanto al cimitero (The House Outside the Cemetery)
• Le notti del terrore (Burial Ground)
• Dawn of the Mummy
• Dead & Buried
• Le lac des morts vivants (Zombie Lake)
• Frankenstein Island
• L’abîme des morts vivants (Bloodsucking Nazi Zombies)
• Kiss Daddy Goodbye
• Evil Dead
• Rosso Sangue (Absurd)
1982: 9
• Aftermath
• Creepshow
• Raw Force
• I was a Zombie for the F.B.I.
• Wu long tian shi zhao ji gui (Kung Fu Zombie)
• O segredo da Múmia (The Secret of the Mummy)
• Pengabdi setan (Satan’s Slave)
• The Curse of the Screaming Dead
• Revenge in the House of Usher
1983: 5
• Frightmare
• Natas: The Reflection
• One Dark Night
• Sole Survivor
• Zeder
1984: 6
• Surf II
• Night Shadows
• Night of the Comet
• Zombie Island Massacre
• Frankenstein 90
• Rocktober Blood
1985: 12
• Hard Rock Zombies
• Return of the Living Dead
• Re-Animator
• The Midnight Hour
• The Dark Power
• Attack of the Beast Creatures
• Dead End
• La mansión de los muertos vivantes (Mansion of the Living Dead)
• Day of the Dead
• Lifeforce
• Warning Sign
• Cementerio del terror (Zombie Apocalypse)
1986: 12
• Zombie Brigade
• Zombiethon
• The Supernaturals
• Loves of the Living Dead
• Diamond Ninja Force
• Deadly Friend
• Nightmare Weekend
• Goremet: Zombie Chef From Hell
• Night of the Creeps
• Raiders of the Living Dead
• Zombie Nightmare
• Abracadabra
1987: 14
• Bad Taste
• Evil Dead 2
• I Was a Teenage Zombie
• Dak Bangla
• The Gate
• Zombie 5: Killing Birds
• Redneck Zombies
• Killing Spree
• La revanche des mortes vivantes (Revenge of the Living Dead Girls)
• Zombie High
• Video Dead
• Zombie Vs. Ninja
• Night of the Living Babes
• Una notte al cimitero (Graveyard Disturbance)
1988: 11
• The Serpent and the Rainbow
• Return of the Living Dead Part II
• Dead Heat
• Waxwork
• Phantasm II
• Zombi 3
• FleshEater
• Zombie 4
• Pet Semetary
• Meng gui xue tang (The Haunted Cop Shop II)
• Curse of the Blue Lights
1989: 17
• The Laughing Dead
• The Dead Next Door
• The Vineyard
• Curse of the Zombie
• Beverly Hills Bodysnatchers
• The Chilling
• The Dead Pit
• Blood Nasty
• Zombie Rampage
• Hellgate
• Zombie Party
• Working Stiffs
• The Nutzoids at Cannibal Cove
• From the Dead of Night
• Ginseng King
• Monster High
• Night Life
1990: 5
• Bride of Re-Animator
• Night of the Living Dead
• Voodoo Dawn
• Demon Wind
• Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout
1991: 9
• Chopper Chicks in Zombietown
• The Boneyard
• Demoni 3
• Nudist Colony of the Dead
• Teenage Exorcist
• Zombie ja Kummitusjuna (Zombie and the Ghost Train)
• Zombie Army
• Zombie Cop
• Zombie ’90: Extreme Pestilence
1992: 11
• Brain Dead
• Batoru garu (Battle Girl)
• Netherworld
• Waxwork II
• Zombie Rampage 3
• Pet Semetary II
• Death Becomes Her
• Army of Darkness
• Urban Scumbags vs. Countryside Zombies
• Dead is Dead
• Zombie Rampage 2
1993: 7
• My Boyfriend’s Back
• Return of the Living Dead 3
• Zombie Bloodbath
• Space Zombie Bingo!!!
• The Killing Box
• Zombie Genocide
• Drag
1994: 7
• Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
• Shatter Dead
• Shrunken Heads
• Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead
• Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics
• Dellamore Dellamore
• Gore Whore
1995: 6
• La Cage aux Zombies
• Legion of the Night
• Zombi I
• Zombie Bloodbath 2: Rage of the Undead
• Voodoo
• Zombie Holocaust
1996: 4
• Living a Zombie Dream
• Zombi vs. Mardi Gras
• Avaruuden teurastajat (Space Butchers)
• Frankenstein and Me
1997: 10
• Plaga Zombie
• Premutos: Lord of the Living Dead
• Uncle Sam
• The Necro Files
• Night of the Living
• Le Zombi de Cap-Rouge
• Zombie Ninja Gangbusters
• Striker Bob
• Bryllupsnatten (The Wedding Night)
• The Vicious Sweet
1998: 9
• Bio Zombie
• I, Zombie: A Chronicle of Pain
• Zombie Cult Massacre
• Laughing Dead
• Tale of the Mummy
• Into the Woods…
• The Cabin
• Hollywood Mortuary
• Zombie Toxin
1999: 5
• Hot Wax Zombies On Wheels
• The Mummy
• VS3: Infantry of Doom
• Mutation
• The Collegians Are Go!!
2000: 12
• The Dead Hate the Living!
• Flesh Freaks
• Junk: Shiryô-gari
• Meat Market
• Prison of the Dead
• Versus
• Wild Zero
• Zombie Bloodbath 3: Zombie Armageddon
• Teenage Zombie House Massacre
• Reign of the Dead
• Heavy Metal 2000
• The Horrible Dr. Bones
2001: 15
• Cremains
• Mulva: Zombie Ass-Kicker!
• Biohazardous
• Dead in America
• Stacy
• Meat Market 2
• Zombie (zero)
• Biker Zombies
• Children of the Living Dead
• Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutants
• The Mummy Returns
• Zombie Chronicles
• Night of a Thousand Screams
• R.I.P.
• The Resurrection Game
2002: 10
• Bubba Ho-Tep
• Deadline
• Cremaster 3
• Mark of the Astro-Zombies
• Necropolis Awakened
• Resident Evil
• Zombie Campout
• Roni vs. Lincoln
• Evil Night
• 28 Days Later…
2003: 21
• House of the Dead
• Beyond Re-Animator
• Cadaver Bay
• Flesh For the Beast
• Maplewoods
• Mummy’s Kiss
• Xombie: Dead on Arrival
• Undead
• Graveyard
• Corpses Are Forever
• Noctem
• Zombie Beach Party
• I’ll See You in My Dreams
• Gory Gory Hallelujah
• Zombiegeddon
• Night of A Thousand Screams 2
• Necro Files 2
• Zombie Night
• Exhumed
• Wiseguys vs. Zombies
• The Mental Dead
2004: 29
• Jigoku kôshien (Battlefield Baseball)
• Dawn of the Dead
• Dead and Breakfast
• Shaun of the Dead
• Choking Hazard
• Les Revenants
• Resident Evil: Apocalypse
• Vampires vs. Zombies
• Beaster
• Zombie Vegetarians
• Dawn of the Friend
• Corpses
• Angry and Moist: An Undead Chronicle
• Bad Friend
• Bone Sickness
• Curse of the Maya
• Dead & Breakfast
• Feeding the Masses
• Ghost Lake
• Hide and Creep
• Hunting Creatures
• Night of the Living Dorks
• Rotten Shaolin Zombies
• Khun krabii hiiroh (SARS Wars)
• Shadows of the Dead
• Shao Lin jiang shi (Shaolin vs. Evil Dead)
• Zombie Honeymoon
• Zombie Nation
• Zombie Planet
2005: 29
• Day of the Dead 2: Contagium
• Land of the Dead
• The Wickeds
• Zombiez
• Boy Eats Girl
• Bubba’s Chili Parlor
• Day X
• Dead at the Box Office
• Dead Creek
• Dead Life
• Dead Men Walking
• Die You Zombie Bastards!
• Die Zombiejäger
• Le divan vert
• Doom
• Hood of the Living Dead
• House of the Dead 2
• Livelihood
• Living Dead Lock Up
• Pot Zombies
• Raiders of the Damned
• Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis
• Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave to the Grave
• Rise of the Undead
• The Roost
• Severed
• The Stink of Flesh
• Swamp Zombies
• Tôkyô zonbi (Tokyo Zombie)
2006: 34
• After Sundown
• Awaken the Dead
• Automaton Transfusion
• Awakening
• City of Rott
• Dead & Deader
• Dead in the Water
• The Dead Live
• Deadlands: The Rising
• Die and Let Live
• Doomed to Consume
• Dorm of the Dead
• Electric Zombies
• Enter the Zombie
• Fido
• Gangs of the Dead
• L’isola dei morti viventi (Island of the Living Dead)
• Last Rites of the Dead
• Meat Market 3
• Mortuary
• Night of the Dead: Leben Tod
• Night of the Living Dead 3-D
• The Plague
• The Quick and the Undead
• Shadow: Dead Riot
• The Slaughter
• Slither
• Special Dead
• Storm of the Dead
• Stoned Dead
• War of the Dead
• Wicked Little Things
• The Zombie Diaries
• Zombies by Design
2007: 33
• 28 Weeks Later
• American Zombie
• Awaken the Dead
• Beneath the Surface
• Brain Blockers
• Days of Darkness
• Dead Heist
• Dead Moon Rising
• The Dead Undead
• Evil Keg
• Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane
• Forest of the Dead
• Forever Dead
• Living Dead Lock Up 2: March of the Dead
• The Mad
• Motocross Zombies from Hell
• Mutation-Annihilation
• Otto; or Up With Dead People
• Planet Terror
• The Rage
• REC
• Resident Evil: Extinction
• Risen
• Street Team Massacre
• Undead or Alive
• Undead Ted
• Wasting Away
• Z: A Zombie Musical
• Zibahkhana-Hell’s Ground
• Zombie Farm
• Zombie Town
• Zombies Gone Wild
• Zombi: La creazione (Zombies: The Beginning)
2008: 9
• Quarantine
• Day of the Dead
• Diary of the Dead
• Outpost
• Sabbath
• Retardead
• House of the Damned
• Zombie Strippers
• Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!

_____________________

This article is republished with permission from the January-February 2009 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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The problem with this study (obviously) is that if you don't include all the zombie movies with major releases, it's not much of a study is it?
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