Back in 2004, Dawn of the Dead hit the theaters and offered me my first glimpse at a present-day zombie film. Sure, I had seen the original Night of the Living Dead and loved it, but I knew Hollywood was capable of a lot more gore and violence in the Zack Snyder directed re-telling and while the film is certainly not a classic, it does the zombie genre justice and holds a special place in my heart. It does have one humongous flaw, however, as one could argue that it led to a glut of zombie related television and films.
Fast forward almost 14 years and traditional fans like myself have been inundated with zombies, as the classification has seemingly become the trendy pop culture go-to in Hollywood, leaving the vampire craze of the early to mid-2000s in its dust. Since the Dawn of the Dead remake, there have been hundreds of films and television shows with zombies involved in the plot. Some – like 28 Days Later – have been amazing, some – like Shaun of the Dead – have been hilarious, some – like World War Z – have been disappointing and some – like Day of the Dead – have just flat out sucked. But like an assembly line, zombie-inspired entertainment continues to be cranked out, though if recent trends are any indication, I might not be the only one who’s grown tired of it.
The leader of what I’m going to dub the “Millenium Zombie Movement” – was AMC’s The Walking Dead. Based on a successful comic book series, the TV series kicked off in 2010 and, by the end of the first season, had exploded. By the fourth season, there was no getting away from it. Facebook friends would post statuses reminding people that they were watching it every week, there was a popular talk show on right after it called Talking Dead to discuss what happened on that particular night’s episode and it even spawned another series called Fear the Walking Dead. And then the Season 6 finale happened.
Like it or not, it was the “Who Shot J.R.?” of my generation, as everyone, all summer long, was trying to figure out which cast member was about to be killed off by Negan and his barbed wire bat, Luicille. It was definitely a pivotal moment in TV history. The following episode, to kick off the next season, drew an impressive 17.03 rating, one of the highest in the show’s history, and it seemed as though TWD would go one forever.
But, like most fads, eventually people get bored and move on from it.
That seems to be exactly what’s happening right now with TWD. While the spin-off series has somewhat failed to really grow it’s audience, as last month’s season finale drew the lowest ratings yet, with a 2.13 rating, it’s still among tops for AMC’s scripted content but that doesn’t mean it’s safe – and TWD might not be either. Last week’s game-changing series premiere, which was touted on the commercials as one of main character Rick Grimes’ last episodes, drew a 6.1 million rating, the lowest since Season 1. That’s also a 47 percent decline from the prior season’s premiere episode. Keep in mind too, AMC is trying a new tactic this year by releasing the episodes online before it broadcasts.
Part of the problem is the lack of originality. Zombies, at their most basic form, are very simple: they’re undead humans that feed on the living. It’s really hard to keep that fresh and that’s why a franchise like Resident Evil, which was hugely popular when it transitioned from video game to feature film, struggled to bring American audiences to theaters for the final installment – though it did still rake in money worldwide. It’s a tired and lazy narrative in a landscape that has a hard time grasping originality and focuses instead to rehash old franchises or reboot anything that has a popular nostalgic feel.
Hollywood will continue to make zombie content that’s good, bad or indifferent but the TV pendulum is swinging in a new direction and the undead will soon be left behind for something new. And with so many outlets, who knows exactly what it might be just yet.
Honestly, this all comes about five years too late if you ask me.