The term “zombie” has been used to refer to so many different kinds of entities and social dynamics over the past 40 years that it is now hard to rein it in with any specificity. By one film critic’s account, Johnny Depp starred in the top-grossing zombie movie of all time, 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Pearl raked in more than $650 million worldwide and has spawned a number of highly profitable sequels. The only problem is that it clearly isn’t a zombie movie, as any five-year-old who’s seen it can tell you. There is not a single creature in it that remotely approximates a zombie in any way, shape, or form.

There are instead cursed pirates who must return the lost treasure they pillaged before they can enjoy any measure of human comfort.  They are immortal, look like skeletons in moonlight, and can’t drink, eat or sleep.  But their condition can be easily reversed, they are not dead or undead, and they aren’t relentlessly aggressive or contagious.  They’re just unlucky for having stolen the wrong chest of gold!  At one point Depp himself gets briefly made immortal because he momentarily swipes some booty.

Meaningless generalizations like this make us want to pull our hair out, so we’ve started a new “Not Zombie Movies” category on the ZRS Blog.  We will regularly feature a new movie that is often mistakenly classified as a zombie film, even though no zombies ever appear on screen.  Some will be obvious.  Some will be surprising.  And some will be controversial.

Look for more Not Zombie Movies coming soon.


  1. Well, Jack Sparrow refered to Jack the monkey as being undead in the second film, so the critique is partially incorrect. While they may not have been “zombies” per se, the cursed pirates in the first movie were in a state of undeath.

  2. The “not-zombie” reference reminded me of Resident Evil 4. I believe it was the first (if not only) RE that didn’t use zombies, but infected/posessed persons instead.

  3. when ‘the devil’s rejects’ came out, my local paper reviewed it with a header along the lines of “the most horrific zombie movie yet!” and yes, that uncapitalised ‘z’ did sucker in a few people..
    not that it’s such a bad thing – i love the film. but had i been expecting a zombie [as opposed to a Zombie] flic, i woulda been confused.

  4. Yes!!! Thank you Brandon!! Agreed. Agreed.
    I have often argued that the “28” movies are NOT zombie movies. They are infected with the rage virus, they didn’t die and become reanimated… They are good movies.

    I’ll need to watch “I am legend”… Will Smith put me off initially.

    • True, but people often associate movies where the infection spreads thru bites and people are eating each other. It really doesn’t bother me much if people call them zombie movies because most of the time they are JUST as good, and like I said, they’re basically just a sister genre to zombie movies, but people need to realize that they are NOT actual zombie movies. But about “I Am Legend”, a lot of people didn’t like it but I actually liked it. I thought it was good and yes I think they could’ve found someone better, but good none the less….

    • The irony of “I am Legend” being a “zombie” movie is that it is based off of a story about a virus that turns people into vampires. lol

  5. The Movie “Chariots of Fire” should have been labeled a Zombie Movie..the whole cast was the “Running Dead” ..most boring movie I have seen. I am hoping Hollywood does not ruin Zombie movies like they ruined Vampire and Werewolf Movies. Ever see Twilight ? what a melodramatic abortion that was.

  6. I’ll toss Rec/Quarantine into this category too. Good films, but not zombies.

  7. Technically Zombieland wasn’t a zombie movie either.

    • Actually, Zombieland WAS a zombie movie. They were zombies….They cam back from the dead, and they ate other people and spread the infection thru bite. Just because it was a comedy style movie, it still was a zombie movie……

      • I’m not raging on it because it was a comedy. I loved Zombieland – and I personally find Shawn of the Dead to be one of my favorite zombie movies ever… however I stand by my assertiong that Zombieland wasn’t technically a zombie movie.

        In the first couple of lines of the movie the main character explains that “zombie” aren’t actually dead: “The plague of the 21st Century, remember mad cow disease? Well mad cow became mad person became mad zombie. It’s a fast acting virus that leaves you with a swollen brain, a raging fever, makes you hateful and violent and leaves you with a really bad case of the munchies.”

        Zombieland seems to take place in the 28 Days universe. 🙂

  8. Technically, the 28 Later series dont involve “zombies” by definition. They are never undead or dead, they are purely just “INFECTED”. Just as if it had been rabies or mad cow disease. It just made them full of adrenaline and rage, so thats why they ATE people (because of the rage and for hunger). Same with the I AM LEGEND movie. Technically they weren’t zombies. They had traits of zombies as well as vampires. But never rose from the dead nor died then came back, just pure infection. Even though these movies by definition aren’t classified as ZOMBIE MOVIES, I still enjoy them and see them as maybe a SISTER Genre to the Zombie Scene…

    • Absolutely agree! Its fun getting into these types of conversations with friends, ends up being hours of discussing how a virus or contagion would cause just such an issue.

    • i always thought that ‘i am legend’, was more of a vampire story at its core. the book is still a good read, but that movie was just awful.

      i do think though that these ‘infected’ stories are still commonly accepted as takes on the modern zombie though. i wonder when the dictionary finally adds a definition whether how they will catagorise it?

      seeing some shots from world war Z, it looks like that is going to be an infected film now too – as they seem to turn within seconds of being bitten :/

  9. You should read “On Stranger Tides” by Tim Powers. It is a wonderful zombie novel– with REAL zombies– that had its film rights sold to Disney, who tried to mate it with the POTC franchise and produces this mess.

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