Movies Retrospective

“Zombieland”: 10 Years of Hunting for Twinkies

When “Zombieland: Double Tap” was announced, I approached it with the same kind of hesitant hope I approach most legacy sequels. Where would this fit in the current landscape? What made “Zombieland” work so well in 2009? I revisited the movie and the state of zombie films at the time in hopes to see the bigger picture.

Zombieland
(L-R) Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Woody Harrelson | Photo credit: Columbia/TriStar

A Brief History of the Zombie Boom (2002-2007)

2002: Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” revitalized the subgenre with its use of the “fast infected zombie” and MiniDV digital cameras, rarely used at the time.

2004: Zack Snyder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead” incorporated Boyle’s “fast zombie” into George Romero’s world to critical and commercial success. A few months later (if you go by U.S. release dates), Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” rewarded zombie fans’ knowledge through deep-rooted, loving homages to the films of yesteryear.

2005: George A. Romero took the next step in the evolution of his decades-long “Dead” series with the woefully underrated “Land of the Dead.”

2007: Zombie movies saw their highest volume with “28 Weeks Later,” “I Am Legend” and the found-footage crossovers “REC” and “Diary of the Dead.”

“Zombieland”

2009 was the year of “I Gotta Feeling,” President Obama’s inauguration and Kanye West’s intoxicated promise to eventually let Taylor Swift finish. I was a high school junior and “Zombieland” was my very first R-rated movie.

My mind was blown, first by the roaring of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” paired with flying limbs and topless zombies. I sneaked a glance over to my dad to make sure this wasn’t a cruel test. He knew what he’d brought me to, right?

The next 90 minutes were littered with naughty goodies for a teenage boy. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) caved a zombie’s face in with a banjo. Twinkies were coveted more than the Holy Grail and, somehow, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) stammered his way into Wichita’s (Emma Stone) heart. For a short, nerdy, soon-to-be-brace-faced loser, this was a glimmer of hope. 

When my dad and I left, we were in agreement: “Zombieland” ruled. Its fresh, irreverent takes on the zombie movie, coupled with strong performances from up-and-comers Eisenberg and Stone and my “Who is THAT guy? He’s awesome!” review for Harrelson made it my favorite movie of the year.

“Zombieland” arrived at just the right time. In 2007, the subgenre reached its highest cross-generational pollination with the older fans of Romero and Dan O’Bannon’s work (“Return of the Living Dead”) and the newer fans of Boyle, Snyder and Wright. Zombies were hot, but rather than ride that wave, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and director Ruben Fleischer gave themselves enough time to reflect on where zombie movies evolved and use those changes to build their original world.

Zombieland
Emma Stone as Wichita | Photo credit: Columbia/TriStar

“Zombieland” shares its self-aware comedic DNA most with 1996’s “Scream.” Where “Scream” relied on its characters knowing their story echoes horror tropes, “Zombieland” uses the tropes for world-building, letting our heroes live within an amalgam of past zombie mythologies. Part of the fun of these movies comes from their fans theorizing how they would survive the apocalypse. When everyone is working with rules they understand and love, it makes them want to spend more time in that apocalypse.

For some of the cast and crew, “Zombieland” marked a turning point, a sort of calm before the storm. For Fleischer, Reese and Wernick, this movie was their first widely-released feature. For Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone, “Zombieland” opened one year before their star-making vehicles (“The Social Network” and “Easy A,” respectively). Abigail Breslin (who plays Little Rock) already had an Oscar nomination for “Little Miss Sunshine,” and “Zombieland” further boosted her profile. She performed in “August: Osage County” and “Ender’s Game” before returning to the zombie genre in “Maggie,” alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Since “Zombieland,” Fleischer, Eisenberg, Reese and Wernick found box-office success in superheroes, with Fleischer’s “Venom” and Eisenberg’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” both grossing over $850 million worldwide. Reese and Wernick’s “Deadpool” duology broke $1.5 billion worldwide.

Zombieland
Jesse Eisenberg as Columbus | Photo credit: Columbia/TriStar

Eisenberg and Stone made it to the Oscars. Eisenberg was nominated for Best Actor for “The Social Network,” while Stone was nominated thrice in the past five years (“The Favourite, “La La Land” and “Birdman”), winning Best Actress for “La La Land” a fact “Double Tap” cleverly highlighted in its marketing. Who would’ve thought a movie whose catchphrases include “It’s time to nut up or shut up!” would be helmed by three Academy-Award nominees and a winner?

Fast forward to 2019. A decade passed and brought with it too many seasons of “The Walking Dead” and movies like “Warm Bodies” (2013) and “World War Z” (2013). The latter is where I marked the last hurrah of the zombie boom. Sure, we’d get movies like “Train to Busan” (2016) and “The Girl With All The Gifts” (2016), but none of these had A-listers or a $190 million budget.

It’s this decline in popularity that makes me worry about “Zombieland: Double Tap.” Without the fervor from a thriving zombie subgenre, will the sequel recycle jokes, or will it find inspiration in the independent and international horror communities? We’ll know on the 18th, but regardless of what the sequel holds, I’ll always have that teenage memory and I’ll always have that last Twinkie.

“Zombieland: Doubletap” hits theatres October 18. Are you excited for the sequel? Let us know in the comments below!

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Featured image credit: Columbia/TriStar

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One comment

  1. Reading this I just came to the surprising realization that I am a zombie movies fan! BTW, Gong Yoo, the star of “Train to Busan” is a superstar. He is one of my favorite South Korean actors. He reminds me of Russell Crowe, (an actor that can do all genres -comedy, action, horror, fantasy, drama- equally well).

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