20 Years Later: How “28 Days Later” Changed the Zombie Genre

We have George A. Romero to thank for creating what we now know as the modern zombie genre.  His 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead not only took the world by storm, but it established many of the tropes that we now associate with zombies.  Prior to that they were primarily associated with Hatian folklore.

And while there were a slew of zombie films in the 70’s and 80’s, including some from Romero himself, by the time the 90’s came around the genre was all but dead (no pun intended).  This was until another massive boom in the 2000’s/2010’s that saw the likes of Shaun of the Dead, a remake of Dawn of the Dead, Zombieland, The Walking Dead, Warm Bodies, World War Z, and so many more.

And this new trend arguably began with Danny Boyle’s 2002 indie hit, 28 Days Later. Not only did it start a new trend of zombie films, but it arguably helped shape the found footage movement, as well as created a new trope that still lasts in the genre today.

A New Era
It’s no surprise that in the wake of 9/11, the following decade was filled with horror films that dealt with “torture porn”, as well as a resurgence of zombies.  The public seemed to be subconsciously concerned with the breakdown of society, and in many ways, 28 Days Later fit into that trend.

Even though it was in production already when 9/11 occurred, 28 Days Later very much captured those same fears and anxieties of the world we knew suddenly and swiftly falling apart.  After all, it’s an act of terrorism (albeit ecoterrorism) that causes the outbreak of the rage virus to begin with.

28 Days Later 1
The champagne scene was actually filmed on September 11, 2001. The cast said that it felt very strange and almost uncomfortable to be filming a scene where they’re celebrating, knowing what was happening that day.


In fact, the most disturbing part of 28 Days Later isn’t even the attacks by the infected.  But rather the depraved depths that fellow humans will go to when pushed to desperation.  The soldiers holed up at the base thought nothing of disposing of Jim and forcing themselves on Selina and Hannah, because at that point they had completely lost their humanity, an idea that the world struggled with during that decade.

A New “Zombie”
Let’s get this out of the way, yes 28 Days Later is technically not a zombie film in that it doesn’t deal with undead or reanimated corpses coming to life.  It is by technical definition a sci-fi “infected” post apocalyptic film, but for all intents, purposes, and practicalities, it is thematically and tonally identical to a zombie film.

Prior to this movie, zombies (and infected) had historically moved at a very slow pace, due to the assumption that rigor mortis would have started to set in, thus slowing them down.  But what made the infected of 28 Days Later so terrifying was that they could run just as fast to catch up to you.  You definitely needed to be in good shape and good cardio health in order to outrun them.

28 Days Later 2
The red eyes and fast movement made these “infected zombies”


It’s a trend that continued with Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, which also utilized fast zombies.  After that, there seemed to be a debate between fans over which type of zombie they preferred.  And movies had to choose between utilizing fast or slow based on the aesthetic of the movie they were trying to make.  But without the incredibly swift moving infected of 28 Days Later, that change likely wouldn’t have happened.

A New Realism
2002 was also a time that found footage wasn’t quite what it is today. Sure we had had The Blair Witch Project 3 years earlier, but we were still several years away from Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield, both of which set off a massive found footage trend in horror.  And while 28 Days Later is by no means a found footage film, it uses some of the same techniques that sell its realism.

Firstly, director Danny Boyle made the decision to shoot the film on DV rather than traditional 35mm film (except for the final scene) in order to give it a much grittier, almost documentary style look.

 And secondly, he intentionally avoided casting any large movie stars, instead opting for character actors like Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston, Cillian Murphy, and Naomie Harris. Granted, most of those actors have become much more famous since, but at the time, they looked more like ordinary people.

28 Days Later 3
Their performances were on par with any A-lister though!


The less “Hollywood” it looked, the more realistic it felt, and thus the more terrifying and captivating it became.  These are all techniques that later films in that decade would go on to use, as well as today.

The horror genre owes 28 Days Later in more ways that it will ever know.  It not only jumpstarted a myriad of zombie/post apocalyptic horror movies, but it revolutionized the idea of how zombies could move and made them even more terrifying than they already were!

What do you think of 28 Days Later?  Let us know in the comments!

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