The Living Dead Series is a series of horror films initiated and largely directed by George A. Romero, starting 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Kill Em All: Besides the general death of humanity, even the main characters are usually dwindled down to a handful of survivors at most by the end of the film. In the original Night and the Alternate Ending of the original Dawn, every one of the main characters died.
- 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 can infect people with one bite. Later movies showed that they retain some intelligence from their lives and can be taught certain things.
- Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain: Zombies can usually be killed for good by severe enough attacks to the head.
- 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. Part of the reason for this is because of the Kill Em All plots.
- 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.
- The Virus: The zombie plague can spread through bites, but merely dying without incinerating the corpse is enough to turn one into a zombie. It was because every corpse in the world came back to life that the plague could become apocalyptic in the first place. The only exception to this is brain trauma and complete immolation.
- Undead Child: Anybody can become a zombie... even a newborn.
- 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.