A Quasi-Analytical Look at Zombie Mind Share

I love the hyperlinked world of the internet. After having just read Feed, a post zombie apocalypse novel by Mira Grant, I was curious about the genre and how it has changed. Curious enough to dig a little bit. I felt, but could not prove, that zombies seem to be a lot more visible in recent years, occupying a larger mind share. Maybe it’s due to The Walking Dead, a show/comic/game I really enjoy. Maybe it’s due to the PR strength of Hollywood to inundate me with their message. I don’t know. So I looked.

Below is a chart showing the number of zombie movies per year since 1932, according to Wikipedia. I don’t really question whether the list is truly exhaustive. I don’t question the definition of zombie movie. Like I said, this is not a deeply scientific analysis. Assuming that list is right, you can see they’ve been around for a long time. There are a lot of zombie movies in recent years. There’s a spike of popularity every five to eight, sometimes ten years. The intensity of the spike grows fairly consistently from the 1940s to the 1980s, about 60% from spike to spike. Then in the 80s it leveled off and dropped to a disappointing low in the 90s. Finally, look at the spike in 2008. There were thirty one, count them, 31 zombie movies.

Chart: Zombie Movies Since 1932

I point to the 2002 classic, 28 Days After as the reason for this spike. 2002 was not a great year for zombie movies, a mere four measly flicks. The trend was clearly going in the other direction. In many ways, the movie is a watershed moment in the genre. It’s the first memorable reboot of the genre (my memory here), for the first time pointing to a virus as the reason for zombification. That movie influenced the genre as much as, while certainly not more than, the Romero movies.

Then the analyst part of me perked up, questioning what this really means. I mean, sure, there are a lot of zombie movies lately. But aren’t there just a lot more movies? How many are there? Turns out it’s not that hard to find. I decided to swing by IMDB to check it out. Again, assuming that the data are correct, Hollywood produced 545 feature films in 1932. This surprised me. That means more than ten new films every week. Maybe it makes more sense when you consider there was no TV at the time. The worst year for movies appears to be 1962, with only 219 feature films. Maybe this makes sense, too, considering the growing prominence of television. But the biggest surprise is the dramatic increase of feature films in 2008. From 1998 to 2004, there were around 1,200 films per year. Pretty consistent for a full seven years. Then, the number spikes to 2,121 films. Finally, last year, 2014, saw 3,841 feature films from Hollywood. At least according to my un-scientific research, using IMDB.

Chart: Hollywood Movies Since 1932

Which raises the question. Are there really that many more zombie movies these days? Number wise, sure. That’s clear. But as a ratio, the answer is, “No, not even close.” The year of the highest ratio is 1981, with zombies comprising 3.2% of all movies released by Hollywood. So what about 2008 then, you ask? Thirty one movies, right? Turns out, it’s only 1.5% of all Hollywood movies for the year, about half the mind share of 1981.

Chart: Zombie Movies As a Ratio of Hollywood Movies Since 1932

So back to my original question: Are there more zombies movies, or is it PR?

Looks like both. There are a lot more zombie movies, and there’s a lot more Hollywood out there.

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