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Image: Zombies
Gene Page  /  AMC
"The Walking Dead" television series has garnered a huge following of viewers with a thirst for thrills.
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updated 10/31/2011 7:12:52 AM ET 2011-10-31T11:12:52

Zombies may be the walking undead, but their contribution to Main Street’s economy is very much alive. In modern times, the zombie genre has evolved from a cult following to a highly popular theme. 24/7 Wall St. estimates that the today’s zombie genre economy is worth billions of dollars.

Think way beyond zombie movie ticket sales. Think about DVD sales, video games, comic books, novels, Halloween costumes, zombie walks, merchandise, conventions and even zombie art. Add to that all of the websites, homemade movies, Facebook sites, YouTube sites and other forms of “digital” zombies, not to mention music. And if you think the financial tab has been high so far, by the end of 2012 the tab is going to be far larger.

Of course, figuring out the exact dollar figure around the “value of zombies,” despite hours of research and interviews with “zombie insiders,” is difficult. Many companies and top industry leaders do not share any sales data and they do not want to divulge how much they make off this craze. On a global scale, the market is even larger. Could this craze be tied to the hard economic times?

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Bestselling zombie genre author Max Brooks noted on his website, “I think they (zombies) reflect our very real anxieties of these crazy scary times. A zombie story gives people a fictional lens to see the real problems of the world. You can deal with societal breakdown, famine, disease, chaos in the streets, but as long as the catalyst for all of them is zombies, you can still sleep.”

Regardless of the reason, zombies are worth billions of dollars. The figure that we were able to piece together: $5.74 billion. In all honesty, this tab is grossly undercalculated in each category. By the time you add the money spent in total around the zombie genre, the figure is much higher.

These are 24/7 Wall St.’s estimates of the zombie economy:

Movies
> Zombie economy: $2.5 billion

The zombie genre in movies is massive and is only going to get larger. Amazingly, George Romero’s 1968 cult classic "Night of the Living Dead" is royalty-free, and does not add much to the actual economics of the zombie genre. Over the past decade, the tally for the top two master titles alone surpasses $1 billion. Milla Jovovich sexed up the zombie theme with four "Resident Evil" films, grossing more than $600 million globally according to the Internet Movie Database. And Will Smith’s hit "I Am Legend" generated close to $600 million globally in sales. We added to the tally such films as the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, "28 Days Later" and "28 Weeks Later," "The Crazies," "Zombieland" and others. The entire zombie genre is closer to $2 billion in the past decade alone for just the big titles.

Once you include the endless DVD sales and the various rentals and subscription services, the tally comes closer to $3 billion than $2.5 billion. On top of it, hundreds of various for-theater and b-grade zombie flicks have been made.

The figure could rise by 2012 and beyond as the fourth "Pirates of Caribbean" film features zombies; there was talk of a prequel to "I Am Legend;" "Zombie Island" is being made; and "World War Z" is coming to the screen with Brad Pitt in late 2012. A fifth "Resident Evil" film is also expected next year. If you include the numerous remakes of "Frankenstein," the figure for movie sales only climbs higher and higher. We will go with the $2.5 billion just to be safe, and we expect that this total is a massive understatement.

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Video games
> Zombie economy: $2.5 billion

Zombie video games have grown into nothing short of another billion dollar business. Series of games under such franchises as "Resident Evil," "Doom," "Dead Rising," "House of the Dead," "Call of Duty" and the new wave of PC and tablet games like "Plants vs. Zombies" are worth millions of dollars. The various "Resident Evil" titles from Capcom have sold roughly 46 million titles. Doom sold more than 8 million copies. And the Nazi zombies were responsible for many more expansion packs and raw "Call of Duty" sales. In fact, many observers believe that, when it comes to zombies, the video game industry is larger than the movie industry. To smooth out the sales through time, we used a theoretical $29.99 average per "Resident Evil" title for a low-ball figure, which comes to more than $1.3 billion. By the time we add the used video game title market, the arcade segment, console sales, and the PC and app-version games, the figure has to be at least $2.5 billion. And that is conservative.

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Comic books, magazines and TV
> Zombie economy: $50 million

"The Walking Dead" is a top-seller in the comic book industry, which is dominated by superhero themes. The publisher, Image comics, told us that edition #90 is set to have 30,000 printed editions. At $2.99 per edition, implied comic book sales would be close to $10 million. The comic is also an AMC Networks smash hit, as is all the zombie rage these days. The show, which averaged more than 5 million viewers in Season 1, and Season 2 is just underway, with a whopping 7.3 million viewers tuning in for the season opener. And more is coming.

Marvel Zombies has even produced an alternate universe where many Marvel characters become zombies. This has seen several off-shoots due to high readership interest. DC Comics has I Zombie. The horror and undead genre magazines include Rue Morgue and Fangoria. Rue Morgue said they have 1,850 monthly subscribers. Their total monthly circulation was listed as close to 14,000. The Halloween issue is even larger. The Center for Disease Control even launched the 40-page comic novella Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, really. The major and small media brands behind the zombie genre are then worth some $50 million combined at least.

Halloween costumes
> Zombie economy: $500 million (over a 4-year period)

Calculating a true tab on just what the adult population will spend on zombie costumes for Halloween is no simple task. The National Retail Federation estimates that Halloween costumes for adults alone will be around $1.2 billion (and about another $1 billion for children) in 2011. We have spoken with Spirit Halloween, the largest U.S. seasonal Halloween retailer with nearly 1,000 seasonal locations, as well as other local year-round costume shops, to come up with some rough figures. CostumeHub.com also noted for this season that zombies would be in the top 10 costume categories. While we cannot find exact figures for zombie costumes, especially because of overlapping sales of rotting flesh, fake blood, makeup, and more, our sources estimate that 8 percent to 10 percent or higher of all costume sales are zombie-related. Adding do-it-yourself zombie costumes — without accounting for child costumes — is $100 million to $150 million in the U.S. Over a four-year period, the value can easily reach over $500 million.

Books and novels
> Zombie economy: $100 million

"World War Z" author Max Brooks is modern-day zombie hit writer. The book, about a zombie apocalypse, is set to become a Brad Pitt movie in late 2012. Almost 1 million copies were sold prior to a more recent mass market release. Both it and a prequel of sorts called "The Zombie Survival Guide" have both hit The New York Times bestsellers list. While the printed books business is declining, it is hard to ignore the millions of Frankenstein novels sold in the past.

Other books include "The Walking Dead," which is sold in novel formats as well. Seth-Grahame Smith added zombies to Jane Austen’s classic "Pride and Prejudice" in "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." There is Jonathan Maberry’s "Rot & Ruin" and "Dust & Decay" for zombie apocalypse fans. In non-fiction, there is the newly released "Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human" co-edited by Sarah Lauro which explores the history, change and impact of the zombie in society. Amazon.com lists 8,772 titles in the books category. If you include all of the Frankenstein books as well, then the zombie book market could easily be worth $100 million in sales through time.

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Conventions, events and walks
> Zombie economy: $10 million

A zombie walk? It is exactly what it sounds like. A bunch of adults and kids paying to dress up as the walking dead and walk with a crowd of make-believe zombies — usually to raise money for a cause. Almost every major city in America now has zombie walks, and some cities have more than one. There have even been some zombie runs. Better yet, zombie pub crawls.

If you can imagine it, there are colleges around America having zombie events and even lectures on the zombie theme. In October, there was ZomBCon in Seattle, a convention dedicated to the undead, with all that a convention has to offer: booths, a horror film fest, celebrity signings, lectures and a prom night party ball. There are also haunted houses. A combined value for all these activities of $10 million may be extremely understated.

Merchandise
> Zombie economy: $50 million

Zombie merchandise is endless and includes T-shirts, coffee mugs, torn limbs, hats, bumper stickers, even iPhone cases. CafePress.com has ready-to-order zombie merchandise. In fact, Cafe Press noted on the zombie theme “16,600 zombie gift designs on 411,000 products.” eBay listed 73,594 listing results for “zombie” among its clothing, costumes, comics, trading cards, toys, books and yard segments. There are even zombie firing range targets from zombietargets.com. It is difficult to assess the value of all of the zombie merchandise out there, but there has to be at least $50 million.

The digital world
> Zombie economy: $10 million

There are countless zombie-themed websites out there, particularly if you include social media sites. Some of these websites are mere discussion boards, and some are large stores trying to resell other existing products. Then there are those websites dedicated to the zombie genre that are very cleverly put together.

Facebook’s The Walking Dead fan page has more than 3.5 million “likes” and it had more than 719,000 listed as “talking about this.” Resident Evil has more than 3.1 million “likes” and Zombieland has more than 2.4 million “likes.” The Facebook page Zombies for zombie movie genre themes has more than 200,000 “likes.” Calculating the value of a bunch of websites is no easy task (ahem), particularly if you include the stores and the social media sites out there that promote other businesses or themes around zombies and the undead. Is $10 million for this entire group of websites an unreasonable number? It is probably yet another gross understatement when you include the e-commerce sites.

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Music
> Zombie economy: $10 million

Musicians love the zombie theme. There is a band called The Zombies, and there is the much more famous Rob Zombie. What about the song “Zombie” by The Cranberries? Those may all be named zombie but not truly zombie themed. Still, Pittsburgh has “Evenings in Quarantine: The Zombie Opera,” which have run elsewhere as well. Then there is the Zombie Music Fest 2011 in Grand Forks, N.D., featuring an Ozzy Osbourne tribute band called “Aultimate Ozzy” with a zombie costume contest. There was also the little known music video by Michael Jackson for “Thriller” in the 1980s — a major cinematic production directed by John Landis. Iron Maiden’s “Eddie the Head” may count as zombie music. Iggy Pop and Peaches have a video for “Kick It,” featuring them kicking the you-know-what out of zombies. Overall, zombie music is grossly understated at $10 million.

Art
> Zombie economy: $10 million

Maybe art should be under merchandise, but it is distinctive enough that it deserves special recognition. There may be at least 100 professional artists out there creating zombie art. Zombiemania, a documentary about zombie movies and other things zombie, featured Rob Sacchetto, a zombie artist. He will take any personal portrait sent to him and turn it into a 9″ × 11″ full color zombie portrait or sketch at zombieportraits.com. He also has other art. In a telephone interview, Sacchetto noted how his orders come from people of all ages. There are also do-it-yourself programs that allow a user to turn their own photos into zombie portraits. This is such a small niche of the zombie culture that it is only being assigned a value of $10 million for an industrywide value. We have undercounted every other aspect of the zombie genre, but this one is harder to pinpoint without tracking down every artist who does zombie art for the public and for commercial or production purposes.

Copyright © 2012 24/7 Wall St. Republished with permission.

Video: Horror genre has found a new home

  1. Closed captioning of: Horror genre has found a new home

    >>> make last minute costume sxhangs plans to scare the neighbors, there's one ghost town of sorts quickly gaining the reputation as the scariest place in america. where zombies, werewolves and vampires run rampant all year long.

    >> reporter: zombies on the streets, a place long known as the capital of the south, it's scary.

    >> it's becom one of the horror capitals of the world.

    >> reporter: meet the nightmare king . beneath the mask and make-up is ben armstrong , part of a legion of locals who appeared on the tv series , the walking dead . it was shot in atlanta . the zombies, we've got company here. also filming near atlanta are two other cable shows about the undead. one featuring a teenage werewolf. the other, vampires caught in a love triangle .

    >> i'm an actual vampire. i sleep during the day and i work onset at night.

    >> reporter: the city so many call hot-lanta is now a hot bed of horror.

    >> we're welcoming vampires, zombies, all of them are welcome here.

    >> reporter: the state is luring these creatures and their creators away from hollywood. no one can really say why, but atlanta has long attract all thing supernatural. every year the city hosts one of the biggest zombie conventions. it infectious. even the centers for disease control also based in atlanta is not immune. for fun, it issued emergency guidelines in case of a zombie apocalypse . what is this fascination with zombies, whenwolves and vampires? we came here to one of the top rated places in the country to find out. not far from atlanta is never world. a massive house of horrors created by our friend, the nightmare king .

    >> i think in tough economic times , people really crave that escape to another world. that's what the fantasy and the supernatural provide.

    >> reporter: if it's fear you're looking for, the nightmare king said atlanta is your dream destination.

    >> happy halloween!

    >> reporter: nbc news, atlanta .

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