Zombies Contribute $5 Billion to Economy; Why This Leaves Horror Fans Conflicted

Zombies Contribute $5 Billion to Economy; Why This Leaves Horror Fans Conflicted

Nov 02, 2011

If it feels like zombies are everywhere in popular culture these days, it’s because they are – and that’s not likely to change anytime soon, as a recent report says that the zombie provides over $5 billion dollars worth of stimulus to the economy.

It’s hard to believe that roughly a decade ago I lamented the fact that the zombie was “the Rodney Dangerfield of horror” – a classic icon of the genre who continually played second fiddle to vampires, werewolves, and even the Mummy. I went so far as to state that I really hoped there’d be a zombie film renaissance – one that ushered in a new era of movies in the Romero and Fulci vein – and I actually got what I wanted (why didn’t I hope for billions of dollars in my bank account instead? We’ll never know…). It’s a prime example of the old adage “be careful what you wish for,” because now I can’t go anywhere without stumbling across zombies. With the morti viventi being such huge business, we can only assume this will continue to be the case moving forward. Hope you love zombies, especially zombies shoehorned into things where they don’t really fit, because it’s the wave of the future!

Blog 24/7 Wall St. arrived at the $5 billion dollar estimate through some fairly imprecise means. Regardless of whether or not you accept their tally or question some of the methodology (I question a lot of it – just because a zombie is in something peripherally, like the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, doesn’t really mean people spent money on it because it had zombies in it…unless maybe Johnny Depp had become a brain-craving member of the undead), there’s no denying that zombies are big business – and have become a huge part of pop culture. How huge? Let’s take a look at the site’s breakdown and see for ourselves.

The two places where the walking dead add billions of dollars to the economy are fairly obvious. Movies and videogames have become the home for zombies. From movies like Dawn of the Dead to videogame franchises like Resident Evil, if you really want to know why we’re experiencing this pop culture zombie apocalypse, look no further than these two media arms. 24/7 Wall St. estimates that these two categories contribute $5 billion of the $5.7 billion dollar total of the zombie economy.

What’s most interesting about these figures is that while the site has made them equals (each providing $2.5 billion to the total), even they acknowledge that zombie games probably contribute more than zombie movies. With games threatening to overtake films as the most profitable form of entertainment in this country, the zombie may well be the frontline soldier in the war to be king of the hill. It makes sense, since most games cost significantly more than a movie ticket or DVD, but film’s ace in the hole is the home video market – where sales can continue for eternity. Games have less of a shelf life than film, given that technology evolves and old zombie games eventually look worse than the rotting corpses the player is running from. Therefore, games have to make all of their money upfront. That being said, you can’t walk into a GameStop or log onto Steam without bumping into dozens of zombie games. They’re everywhere.

Comics, magazines and TV bring in another $50 million – much of which is attributable solely to The Walking Dead. Robert Kirkman’s comic book has sold well, and the jump to television has gone swimmingly for him and AMC, with record ratings leading to great ad price rates.

Halloween costumes added another half a billion to the tally over a four-year period – which makes sense when you consider that zombies are popular in all these other media categories. While it was nearly impossible to figure out a precise figure, sources from the Spirit Halloween store chain and Costumehub.com both place zombie costumes in the top 10 for popular outfits over the past few years. Given that the costume biz is a $2 billion dollar a year enterprise, the $500 million might be a little high – but zombie costumes do definitely bring in some serious cash.

Books and novels were arguably as important to the zombie revolution as films and videogames, but they only contribute $100 million overall. This is a sad testament to how few of us still actually read books more than anything, given that there’s been some fantastic zombie novels and non-fiction pieces published in the past few years.

Conventions, merchandise, art, and the digital online world round out the rest of the categories, with each contributing more millions to the insane zombie economy.

As you can see, zombies have become big business – which is bittersweet for horror fans. On one hand, it’s great to see something horror-related resonating even with our non-horror-loving friends. And of all the monsters to go mainstream, the zombie is the coolest – because unlike vampires or werewolves or even mummies, there’s no way to make a zombie romantic or particularly loveable. Horror fans have watched the general population take our monsters and clean them up and turn them into misunderstood romantic heroes and other nonsense on far too many occasions (we’re looking at you, Twilight – but you were hardly the first to do it). The zombie, however, is unredeemable in this regard. Even when Romero gave us Bub, his relatively domesticated ghoul in Day of the Dead, Bub eventually did what all zombies do when given the opportunity – he killed the living.

So, it’s great to see zombies getting love because they’re doing it while still being horrific monsters.

On the other hand, there is the concern of oversaturation – a point we’re terrifyingly close to at the moment. Zombies are great – and few people love them more than I – but when they become big business companies start to cram them down the public’s throat. “If people love zombies, then why not give them more zombies?” seems to be the prevailing logic. This leads to lots of subpar zombie product, and even worse, zombies turning up in places where they have no real reason to be in the first place. Call of Duty has zombies in it now as part of the online multiplayer. Red Dead Redemption had a zombie apocalypse add-on. These things are pretty cool, but are they really necessary? Call of Duty and Red Dead Redemption had nothing to do with zombies in their original forms – isn’t this just cashing in on zombie chic? And while both of those games make decent use of the living dead, most places won’t – and badly done zombies inevitably leads to people getting tired of zombies which leads to a market crash and zombies going back to being the Rodney Dangerfields of horror. It’s the circle of life, or in this case, undeath. Or something.

This is why zombies contributing $5 billion dollars to the economy is a potentially bad thing from a horror fan’s perspective. What’s the solution? Moderation. Let’s all love the undead for their rotting flesh and brain-craving ways, but let’s not go overboard with it. Support the Resident Evils, The Walking Deads, and the George Romeros of the zombie world – but don’t just blindly plunk down cash for everything because a zombie is in it and zombies are cool. Zombies are cool, but we’ve all got to do our part to keep them that way – because many of the guys trying to cash in on this stuff don’t really care about zombies at all – they just care about money. When zombies aren’t making them cash hand over fist anymore, they’ll move on to the next thing, and our beloved walking dead will once again be relegated to the ghetto of genredom while they wait for another opportunity to rise from the grave and spread the undead apocalypse to the mainstream masses.

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