When it comes to zombie-related media, everyone has their favorite version. Some people like The Walking Dead, some people like World War Z, other people like World War Z the book, and many prefer the old George Romero classics. But whenever someone makes a list of “Best Zombie Movies” or “Best Zombie Story” or some list like that, you’ll always find two specific movies: Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. And why wouldn’t they be? These are funny, engaging, gory zombie films that have stood the test of time over a decade later.
But which one is better?
I know, it seems unfair to compare the two, but it’s hard not to when you’re the only perfect zombie comedies on a list of otherwise meh zom-coms. Let’s face it, Warm Bodies is more of an okay romantic comedy and Scout’s Guide isn’t really good, but that’s not the point. Like Pepsi vs. Coke, Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead are impossible to not compare together and, with Zombieland: Double Tap about to hit theaters, I believe it’s high time to settle the argument once and for all.
Which is the definitive “zom-com:” Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland? Let’s find out.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD
What Shaun of the Dead has over Zombieland is its clever writing and cleverer jokes, some of which can only be noticed by eagle-eye viewers or long time fans of the zombie genre. The name itself is a play on the George Romero’s 1978 classic “Dawn of the Dead.” And there are plenty more jokes like it sprinkled throughout the film. To give an example of Edgar Wright’s clever humor, you need only to look at the beginning.
After Shaun and Liz break up, Ed takes Shaun to the pub and tells him, in order, the things they are going to do to make him feel better. After watching the film and looking back, you realize that Ed just gave away the entire plot of the film in a matter of seconds. Brilliant.
Another not so subtle joke is when Shaun’s group meets up with his platonic friend, Yvonne’s, group. Not that you need to be smart to get, but you can see each member of each group is a respective clone/copy of each other. Again, very clever.
Probably one of the best jokes in the movie is when Liz’s friend, Dianne, gives Shaun and the rest of the group an acting course of how to properly act like a zombie as not to get detected by the massive hoard that lingers in front of the pub. The entire sequence is not only funny from start to finish, but it feels realistically executed. We’ve seen people try to act like zombies to blend in, but to go this far with the concept, treating it like an acting lesson, having the group bicker as to whose zombie impression is better, and for it to still be funny? Genius.
The jokes even translate to how the action is handled, as many revolve around the types of weapons used on the zombies. Old records are thrown at them, but only the bad ones. Shaun using a tetherball as an insufficient weapon is also funny. Even the bit where five people try to operate one gun is one of the film’s biggest standout moments. But none of those moments compare to when Liz, Ed, and Shaun beat up the bartender with pool cues to the beat of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.”
Another thing that gives Shaun of the Dead an edge is the director: Edgar Wright. A strong director can make a good project great, and Shaun of the Dead is no example. While Ruben Fleischer is not a bad director, you can’t really say he’s as good as Edgar Wright. Wright’s attention to detail makes each shot feel incredibly well executed and matches the visual comedy. One only has to look at the two tracking shots of Shaun going to the store for proof. The movement of the camera is exactly the same but the before and after of the zombie apocalypse is well detailed and makes for great comedic effect.
With Wright at the helm working his unique style, Shaun of the Dead‘s presentation stands out more in the realm of zombie-related media. If we have learned anything from the likes of Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, and Guy Ritchie, it’s that uniqueness helps your project stand out more. Now whether standing out and being unique means your project is any good depends entirely on the creator.
Finally, Shaun of the Dead has an edge over Zombieland in how it handles emotional scenes. Both movies have small dramatic moments, but one clearly handles them better. Shaun of the Dead‘s moments are vastly more real than the stylized world it takes place in. This causes these dramatic moments to have more weight to them than Zombieland does, where the tone and setting feel cartoonish at times. Scene like Shaun and Liz realizing they are most likely going to die or when Shaun has to shoot his mother have so much more weight to them when compared to the scene in Zombieland where Columbus finds out that Tallahassee lost his son instead of his dog.
Still, in the areas where Shaun of the Dead stumbles, Zombieland does more than makes up for.
What gives Zombieland its edge over Shaun of the Dead are the characters and story. The acting in Shaun of the Dead is good, but there’s not really a memorable plot and, while you remember Shaun and Ed, no one really remembers Shaun’s mom, Liz, or even the rest of the characters. Yet people remember Columbus, Tallahassee, Little Rock, and Wichita.
Shaun of the Dead‘s plot is to get from point A to point B, but both points have multiple categories underneath them that stretch the plot out considerably. Zombieland is simply a road trip movie, with a smaller cast. And, if we’ve learned anything from Ridley Scott’s Alien, it’s that audiences bond better with a smaller cast. Plus, Zombieland has Bill Murray in one of funniest cameos of all time. He’s on screen for maybe ten minutes but completely steals the show.
Zombieland also has better zombie action. Shaun of the Dead might have the unique weapon here and there but, in terms of real, bloody action, Zombieland nails the hammer in the head perfectly. The four character use all sorts of weapons including bats, guns, hedger trimmers, a mallet, a truck, a roller coaster, air freshener, a piano, a mechanical t-rex, a banjo, and even a toilet seat. And what’s not to love about the “Zombie Kill of the Week” segment.
What also makes Zombieland better — in some retrospects — is that it’s more “realistic.” While no one can take away from Edgar Wright’s stylized world, it can sometimes feel otherworldly and fake. The people act like programs executing various jokes which, while not necessarily bad, does derail chances for the audience to truly connect with the protagonists.
Zombieland‘s characters, both side and main, feel real and fleshed out. They have baggage, they’re not entirely good, they have hopes and dreams, they backstab each other, just like real people. Not saying the characters in Shaun of the Dead are bad, they’re not. But there’s not much about them that allow each of them to stand out in their own unique way. With Zombieland, each character feels drastically different from the next; Tallahassee is a gun toting redneck from Floria with a Twinkie-craze, Columbus is an introverted, college nerd with germaphobic tendencies, Little Rock is somewhat naive but clever and hopeful, and Wichita is a cunning hard ass with a soft spot and trust issues.
All these traits and qualities are easy to identify and point out. You know their names and you know who they are. With Shaun of the Dead, you’d need to look up the IMDb just to remember the character’s names let alone their personalities and distinguishing characteristics. Even the world that Shaun of the Dead is set in feels painfully vanilla, with most backgrounds, locations, and even zombies blending in together with one fell swoop.
In Zombieland, the world itself is vast and varied. We go from Washington D.C., to a Native American gift shop, to Beverly Hills, to highways of the valley, to an amusement park, to a grocery store, and even Bill Murray’s mansion. Every location and every aspect of Zombieland‘s world is vastly more unique than what Shaun of the Dead has to offer. Sure, you can say that it takes place in England and there’s not much variety to be had there, but it didn’t really seem like it tried to be different. In a sense, it feels more like a standard zombie world. But in Zombieland, the world feels like its own character — real and lived in, like the zombies have left a real change on the environment.
And speaking of which…
What makes Zombieland more interesting is the situations and explorations of the zombies themselves. Sure, Shaun of the Dead has a zombie turning off a car, and the satire sequence at the end where the British government finds a purpose for zombies doing manual labor is very Romero, but those are mostly for bits and gags.
In Zombieland we get to see a whole assortment of zombies ranging from zombie clowns to fat zombies to kid zombies to celebrity zombies to stripper zombies. That’s not to add to the situations that these zombies are put in, all of which are seen near the beginning credits. We have a bride zombie eating her groom at a wedding, a zombie stripper trying to a patron outside a strip club, a zombie on fire trying to eat a fire fighter who is also trying to put out a fire, a father and son in a three-legged race trying to out run father and son zombies who are also in a three-legged race, and kid zombies trying to eat a PTA mom at a princess birthday party. There’s a lot of variety to Zombieland‘s zombies that make them feel like zombies that used to be people rather than just a big mob of monsters. After all, that’s the point of zombies, right? They were once human, just like us. Now they’re not.
Now, with all that being said, Zombieland can only do so many things better than Shaun of the Dead, and vice versa. It’s time to decide which of these movies is the definitive “zom-com.” Which one truly is better? Which one is truly worse?
So which of these two is the definitive “zom-com”? The final answer is: Who cares? No, seriously, who cares? So many people write so many articles trying to compare different films and media with each other. “Which one is better?” “Which one is worse?” Well, it really doesn’t matter. It’s like arguing whether Ledger, Phoenix or Nicholson is the better Joker.
This is apples and oranges again: you can eat them, you can like them, but you can’t really compare the two in ways that most people want. Plus, one film is made by the British and the other by Americans. If we have learned anything from both adaptations of The Office, there’s a clear difference between British humor and American humor.
Instead of talking about how these movies are different, why don’t we talk about what both films do right?
For starters, both movies have characters with established motivations, character traits, and goals. Sure, one does it better than the other, but that doesn’t mean one does it poorly. And in terms of actual zombies, we’ve seen that both movies have a uniqueness in their the zombies and the zombie killing. And the comedy…? For a movie to truly be considered a comedy, it needs to be funny, right? How often is that you can say that ninety-percent of the jokes within a film lands? Not very often. Both Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, while different in how they approach their jokes, are both still gut-bustingly funny and never miss when they swing with a joke. Most of the time.
Both of these movies are funny and use comedy just as uniquely as they use their weapons and zombies. Some of the jokes even involve being turned into a zombie, something that most zombie-related media use for dramatic effect. And while there are moments where the act is treated as dramatic, Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland mostly use it as a means to tell a joke. Every instance where zombies are used as the butt of the joke feel comedically unique since they both need — you know, ZOMBIES to work.
So to recap, both films have great characters with relatable motivations, great zombie related fan-fare and comedy that –while subjective — is funny all the way through. It’s no wonder that both of these have remained as classics of sorts well over a decade later. But what remains the most important aspect is that both films are original.
Take a look at most of the zombie related media we’ve gotten over the last decade or so. Warm Bodies and Scouts Guide were adaptations. So were World War Z, Resident Evil, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead was a remake of the 1978 George Romero classic. 2008s Quarantine was a remake of the 2007 Spanish film Rec. Even The Walking Dead was based on Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel series.
Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, by comparison were made by people who care deeply about the genre and wanted to put their own stamp on it. Sure, they borrow from other films within the genre, but then again most films borrow from each other in one way or another. What matters is that Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland are both original comedies with zombies in them, yet still managed set themselves apart from other zombie related media and even each other.
If there is anything that I’d like you to take away from it’s this: don’t waste your time arguing or comparing the two films with each other. It’s a waste of time. Instead, be grateful that we even got either of these films. No, really, be grateful. Do you know how hard it is to make a movie, let alone how hard it was to make either of them?
Edgar Wright had to fight the studio tooth and nail just to keep the budget, actors, and crew that he wanted. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick were both denied the zombie series they so desperately wanted to make so they were forced to convert it to a movie instead. The fact is, making a movie is hard enough and making it good is even harder. But making a great movie takes A LOT of hard work, collaboration, patience, and real passion. And both of Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland have plenty of those, plus guts. Lots and lots of gory guts.