Why Zombieland Still Rules As a Horror Comedy Classic

Over a 15-year span between 2004’s Shaun of the Dead (streaming here on Peacock!) and 2019’s The Dead Don’t Die (also streaming on Peacock here), there’ve been exactly three great mainstream zombie comedies –– hilarious horror flicks that dare to spew silly string all over the ongoing parade of serious shamblers that typify the zombie genre on screens both big and small. Those two films both are awesome and you should definitely watch them as soon as possible… but the other one, 2009’s Zombieland, continues to stand just a slight, well-placed machete-cut above the rest.

Bearing all the giddy energy that Ruben Fleischer (Venom, Zombieland: Double Tap, Uncharted) brought to his feature film directing debut, Zombieland (streaming here on Peacock) sets itself apart from its funny undead-movie peers for wearing its event-film ambitions on its sleeve. It’s a big, fun, goofy road trip through the version of America you’d almost hope we’d get in the event of a zombie meltdown, appropriately escorted by an event-movie cast that couldn’t possibly have been more perfectly suited to its zany-but-simple premise.

Zombie Bill Murray, Twinkies & more: Why Zombieland remains a classic

So many of Zombieland’s horror-comedy conventions have lapsed into the wider pop-culture zeitgeist that it’s easy to take them for granted in hindsight. “Double tap” became common conversational parlance long before the movie’s hugely-anticipated, good (but not great) sequel, 2019’s Zombieland: Double Tap, finally arrived. The entire mental rulebook, in fact, that neurotically nerdy Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) compulsively follows all throughout the film holds its own special regard among fans (Rule 32: Enjoy the little things!), even as the title itself still evokes a certain swashbuckling vibe that claims the Zombieland mini-movie-verse as a genre all unto itself. 

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Uniting it all, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Deadpool, Twisted Metal) made sure to pack the whole thing with an entire bucket list of zombie road trip must-haves. From an Office Space-style set piece where its four heroes blow off some destructive steam, all the way to Los Angeles — where the movie makes its iconic surprise drop-in on a characteristically chilled-out “zombie” Bill Murray — every stop along the way feels totally indispensable if you’re ever blessed with the chance to take a lawless, anything-goes jaunt across what’s left of a plague-deranged country.

Eisenberg’s character might’ve been a misfit, but he blended in perfectly with the movie’s motley main quartet of cocky and confident zombie-slaying heroes. Woody Harrelson personifies the entire film’s endearing ass-kicking ethos as gun-loving wanderer Tallahassee, while Emma Stone (Wichita) and Abigail Breslin (Little Rock) bring a one-two punch of deadpan sass as a pair of con-artist sisters whose grift is never quite offensive enough to really drive their male ride-sharing compatriots fully over the edge.

Diving deep into the story wouldn’t be much fun, and would probably spoil the delight of watching (or rewatching) Zombieland anyway. Each of the four city-named goofballs is looking for something and has lost something, and each lets the others slowly chip away, to hilarious effect, at their understandably well-guarded personal boundaries. By the end, of course, they all find unexpected satisfaction in something far different from what they initially thought they were searching for… and, more importantly, they coalesce into a dysfunctional ride-or-die family.

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Beyond that, Zombieland’s plot is a generously wide-open excuse to cut loose four unique actors for a bloody fun wallow in guts, gore, a famed Ghostbuster’s ganja stash, and even an occasionally genuine human moment or two. It’s fitting that “Zombieland” serves as a catch-all title that circumscribes not only Columbus’ nickname for the entire fallen nation, but for all the honest-to-goodness fun these idiots manage to have while crashing their way through it. These stupid survivalists aren’t just trying to stay alive, they wanna go to an amusement park, dammit! And that infectiously optimistic spirit, along with an impeccably-selected cast, pitch-perfect writing, and killer special effects, all combine to make Zombieland feel as fresh today as one of Tallahassee’s elusive (but apocalypse-proof!) Hostess Twinkies.

Hey, spooky-movie season can’t be all about staying scared out of your wits 24/7, and there’s no comic-relief horror flick that’s forever more true to the season’s fun side than Zombieland. Stream it on Peacock here… and get set to keep score for your favorite Zombie Kill of the Week.

Want a classic zombie comedy trifecta? Shaun of the Dead is also streaming on Peacock here, and The Dead Don’t Die (featuring even more Bill Murray mayhem with zombies) is streaming on the bird app here.