The Living Dead Series is a series of horror films started and mostly directed by George A. Romero, beginning in 1968. It is primarily responsible for codifying the modern trope of zombies as shambling, flesh-eating undead whose awakening typically brings about The End of the World as We Know It.
The film series consists of:
- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- Dawn of the Dead (1978)
- Day of the Dead (1985)
- Land of the Dead (2005)
- Diary of the Dead (2007)
- Survival of the Dead (2009)
Each of the three original films also received remakes (and sometimes their own sequels) at some point, not all of them by anyone involved with the originals. Day got a second remake, ten years after the first.
- Night of the Living Dead (1990)
- Dawn of the Dead (2004)
- Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006)
- Day of the Dead (2008)
- Day of the Dead: Bloodline (2018)
- Night of the Animated Dead (2022)
There are two further Spin-Off film series:
- The original Dawn of the Dead was Re-Cut and released in some European countries under the title Zombi, which was later followed by more sequels, starting with Zombi 2 (1979). This film series is also known as Zombie Flesh Eaters, after its regional UK title. These had no involvement from Romero or the original production crew.
- The screenwriter for the original Night of the Living Dead, John A. Russo, later co-wrote The Return of the Living Dead, which portrays the original Night as In-Universe fiction. This horror-comedy film spawned a film series of its own, which introduced another trope which has come to be associated with zombies, in that they specifically eat brains.
Other media works:
- Toe Tags also known as The Death of Death (DC Comics, 2004-2005) - An adaptation of unused script for a sequel by Romero.
- Empire of the Dead (Marvel, 2014-2015) - Penny Jones is the sister of Barbra and Johnny from Night of the Living Dead
- Night of the Living Dead (1974): A novelization of the first film by John A. Russo.
- Return of the Living Dead (1978): A stand-alone sequel to Night of the Living Dead by John A. Russo, with few similarities to the eventual films of the same name.
- Dawn of the Dead (1978): A novelization of the second film by George A. Romero and Susanna Sparrow.
- Book of the Dead (1989) and Still Dead: Book of the Dead 2 (1992): anthology books compiled from a number of authors with forewords written by Romero and Tom Savini.
- Night of the Living Dead (2009): A novelization of the first film by Christopher Andrews.
- The Living Dead (2020): A novel started by George A. Romero before his death, and subsequently finished by Daniel Kraus using Romero's notes and incorporating an old short story by Romero. The novel covers a periods of time from the first known zombie attack to the next eleven years.
- Night Of The Living Dead A Zombicide Game: A miniatures game based on the original film with gameplay based on Zombicide.
- Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green (2005): A First-Person Shooter Prequel to Land of the Dead.
These films provide examples of:
- Beware the Living: This trope is a major theme in the series, which is also probably the Ur-Example and Trope Codifier. For example, in the original Night, the sole survivor of the film gets shot by some redneck zombie hunter, who doesn't bother checking whether his target is alive or not. In the following parts of the series, that focus more on the effects of the Zombie Apocalypse on human society, people fall in complete anarchy. More often than not, the zombies actually end up working for the favor of the protagonists by killing the humans who pose a more considerable threat to them.
- Comic-Book Time: The series depicts the breakdown of society over a handful of years, but they reflect the wildly different times they were made in. Night shows the zombie apocalypse beginning in its release year of 1968, while Dawn begins a few weeks into the apocalypse despite obviously occurring in the late 1970s. Day is perhaps a year or two into the apocalypse but is clearly set in the mid-1980s. Land mostly avoids the issue by simply making it clear that some time has passed since the zombies appeared, but not nearly as much as in real life - Romero stated that the film was canonically set just 3 years after the events of Night. The P.O.V. Sequel Diary moves the events of Night to the late 2000s.
- Crapsack World: It's a world where the dead rise from their graves to consume the flesh of the living. If a movie doesn't end on a Downer Ending, be thankful.
- Everything's Deader with Zombies: Trope Codifier. In fact, originally the undead weren't zombies at all, but ghouls. Ghouls shared all the traits of being undead and craving human flesh, while zombies were originally mind-controlled slaves owned by a dark voodoo priest.
- Fantastic Aesop: George Romero's Living Dead Series is another example that puts forth the idea that humans, for all their claims of being civilized, are really savages and that a supernatural species, in this case the zombies, are people too. This aesop became more emphasized as the films went on. Land of the Dead eventually went so far as to give the zombies their own storyline with a Sympathetic P.O.V., and presenting their invasion of the last remaining human city, which was run by a Corrupt Corporate Executive and his private army, as a liberation for the oppressed humans. The problem with this is that while the zombies are too animalistic to be considered truly malevolent, they are still undeniably dangerous, being that they are predators whose biology demands that they feast on human flesh. During their assault towards Fiddler's Green, the zombies consumed just as many of the destitute poor as the corrupt rich, which the film glosses over, resulting in it also being a Broken Aesop.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: This trope is the ultimate nature of the series. The Zombie Apocalypse is, more than anything, a way to provide pressure on the humans, who ultimately turn on each other.
- Idiot Ball: A sadly recurring theme in the series is that the biggest danger is not the zombies, but the sheer stupidity of humanity. There are multiple scenes of characters running straight through crowds of the undead or fighting their way free of groups... with their bare hands, no less. The problem is that humans repeatedly make poor decisions, allowing zombies to get the upper hand on them. Indeed, the zombies are able to multiply to threatening levels in the first place only because of wide-spread incompetence of humanity.
- The worst example is in Dawn where a human stops to get his blood pressure read from an automated mall BP machine while him and his gang are being chased by a mob of zombies, only to have the zombies catch up and tear him apart (while conveniently leaving his arm in the device just to give us the Sight Gag of his arm reading zero on the BP readout).
- It Can Think: A reoccurring theme in the series is the potential intelligence a zombie could have if it re-learns almost everything from scratch. Even recently turned ones still have faint memories of their past or basic motor skills. It can range from leaving a mall at closing time to playing a musical instrument to even properly wielding a gun. This aspect grows over the first three films, and grows to its most prominent in the fourth film, Land.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The series offers multiple explanations for the zombies' existence, some of which are outright supernatural.
- Night of the Living Dead (1968) states that the zombies are Nuclear Mutants, the result of radiation from a Venus space probe.
- Some scientists in Dawn of the Dead (1978) hypothesize that a virus is responsible for the zombie outbreak.
- Dawn of the Dead (1978) also has Peter famously stating "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth." Basically, the zombies were souls that were Barred from the Afterlife.
- Not Using the "Z" Word: The "zombie" terminology has stuck since the original, but the movies typically avoid calling them that.
- Our Zombies Are Different: They move slowly, crave human flesh, and anyone who dies from whatever cause will reanimate as a zombie within only a matter of minutes (so long as the brain is intact). Anyone who's bitten by a zombie will sicken and die, but it's heavily implied that this isn't due to bites transmitting The Virus so much as due to being bitten by corpses being a sure way to introduce lethal infections into one's bloodstream. Later movies showed that they retain some intelligence from their lives and can be taught certain things. The movies have shown that they have aversions to fire and large bodies of water (though this becomes subverted later on in Land). In Day, they are capable of resting until they hear an active prey.
- Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain: Zombies can usually be killed for good by severe enough attacks to the head. Removing the head however doesn't kill them as their brains are still active, even when sliced from the mouth.
- Thematic Series: The series (and most zombie movie franchises) never keep the same characters or setting but are all still a part of the same series.
- Title of the Dead: Every film in the series is some variation on the "X of the [Living] Dead" title scheme. Originally there was also some progression tying it to periods of the day (Night / Dawn / Day), but this was dropped with Land.
- Trilogy Creep: The original Night, Dawn and Day stood as a trilogy for 20 years and became a hallmark of the zombie film genre before receiving a fourth installment in Land, which got some great reviews but was viewed by some fans as a disappointment. Two more installments, Diary and Survival, came out in rapid succession, to very little cultural impact.
- Undead Child: Anybody can become a zombie... even a newborn.
- Villain Decay: Inverted. The zombies got more dangerous, monstrous, and infectious with each passing film. At first they were very slow and could be fought off by hand in low enough numbers; by the later movies even trying that will get you bitten or Eaten Alive immediately. Also, the zombies gradually develop sentience that makes them better hunters.
- The Virus: Possibly. ''Something'' is causing the recently deceased to rise. Contrary to most versions, it's made clear that it isn't the bites or contact with the zombies that turn people into more zombies; rather, merely dying is enough to turn one into a zombie. It was because every corpse in the world came back to life that the plague was able to become apocalyptic in the first place. The only way to prevent more corpses from reanimating is to either inflict brain trauma or completely immolate said corpses.
- Zombie Apocalypse: While the original film portrayed the zombie outbreak as being easily contained by human efforts, later films portray it as an event that causes the end of civilization.
- Zombie Gait: Zigzagged. Although generally considered the Trope Codifier, particularly with the huge, sluggish mobs of zombies in the original Dawn of the Dead, there are exceptions in the films as well. Most notably, the first zombie we see in the original Night actively jogs after Barbara, and there's an encounter with two zombified little girls in the original Dawn who sprint towards the protagonist.
- The unaffilited remakes and the Return spin-off series Avert the trope as a whole, depicting fast and agile zombies.
- Of note however, is in the original films, the only "fast" zombies we see are relatively early in the apocalypse, making a possible reason for their speed being how "fresh" they were, slowing down as they decayed.