It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is impossible for zombies and vampires to be equally popular at the same time. While both are classified as undead entities, zombies and vampires occupy two very different places in our pop culture and collective unconscious. They also represent two very different social classes. At the moment, audiences are clearly bullish on brain-eaters, as evidenced, for example, by the film "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," (based on the 2009 novel of the same name), being released nationwide by Sony Pictures on February 5.
This Jane Austen monster mash is but one tiny offshoot of the increasingly fertile zombie genre. AMC's "The Walking Dead" is a case study in how to increase viewership year over year. And its spinoff series "Fear of the Walking Dead" just finished the highest-rated first season in the history of American cable television, according to Variety.
Both creatures make almost guaranteed box office bank. But in absolute numbers, it's impossible to imagine any zombie-based entertainment empire come even close to rivaling the Twilight phenomenon. The "Twilight" movies alone earned $3.5 billion in total worldwide box office receipts. By comparison, zombie apocalypse blockbuster World War Z (2013) earned "only" $540 million-- in other words, "World War Z" made more than the first film installment of Twilight (released 2008, $402 million worldwide) but way, way less than any of the Twilight sequels. Of course, that could change (World War Z's sequel is coming in 2017).
Vampires versus Zombies: Class Warfare
At first glance, the zombie versus vampire contest would seemingly be a no-brainer (sorry for the pun) in favor of vampires. Vampires are sublime, beautiful, well-spoken and people want to marry them; some wish to become vampires themselves. Zombies, meanwhile, are mute, have sub-optimal hygiene and unexplained missing body parts. Their motivations (finding brains to eat) are not terribly interesting, and there's not much character arc either.
Typically, vampires have title or money or both: Count Dracula was a titled aristocrat; Anne Rice's Vampire Lestat was a New Orleans French blueblood and plantation owner. "Twilight"'s main vampire family, the Cullens, had money whose provenance was poorly explained (The father is a doctor? Or something?). Basically, immortality requires tons of money. Vampirism is a luxury of the rich.
By contrast, zombies--more specifically, zombie-hunters--are the 99%. Zombie-hunters have been an important symbol of subversion and the triumph of the underdog. George Romero's cult zombie classic "Night of the Living Dead" (1968) is famous for being one of the first, if not the very first action movie with a black hero (played by Duane Jones). The titular character of the comedic "Shaun of the Dead" is a working-class chump who proves to his unimpressed girlfriend that spending all your time playing video games and hanging out in a pub is the perfect preparation for a zombie epidemic.
Zombies hearken to so many fears of the disenfranchised--fear of contagion, disease, brainwashing, and the evils of the military industrial complex. A popular leitmotif of the zombie movie is how everything is the fault of scientific hubris: "28 Days Later" begins in a lab where experiments on superstrong primates have gone very wrong. The war against zombies is Everyman's war. And it would be very hard to deny that a zombie apocalypse (brought on by a hyper-advanced form of encephalitis) is a lot more realistic than a globe populated by vampires. The US Pentagon, for example, doesn't have a vampire contingency plan; however, it does have a plan to stop the zombie apocalypse.
Pride and Prejudice, essentially a novel about money and the lack thereof, lends itself well to the zombie-hunter parody. "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" asks, among other things, why the Bennett girls need a dowry when they are skilled zombie slayers? Just as the Black Plague was a great equalizer--striking rich and poor equally--so was the zombie apocalypse that (in the context of this movie) the plague engendered. And killing zombies is an equal opportunity, purely meritocratic undertaking.