Audiences may have a few questions about the sequel to 2009’s hit “Zombieland,” which opens Friday.
Why did it take 10 years to make a second one, after the first grossed $102.4 million worldwide on a $23 million budget, making it the third-biggest zombie movie of all time (second-biggest if you don’t count “Hotel Transylvania,” because why would you)?
Does Bill Murray return, even though as a human dressed as a zombie, he was definitively killed off the first time around?
And finally, will America’s obsession with the undead translate to a Halloween treat for “Zombieland: Double Tap”? The sequel is looking to take in around $25 million for its Oct. 18-20 opening weekend in North America, and hoping to sustain interest up to Halloween and beyond.
Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Abigail Breslin reprise their roles from 2009’s “Zombieland” in addition to newcomers Zoey Deutsch, who portrays a ditzy survivor, and Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch. Together, the new cast of zombie killers must face off against new kinds of zombies that have evolved since the first movie and taken over a dystopian America. Sony spent $42 million on the the sequel, which is looking positive on Rotten Tomatoes at 75%.
The zombie killers have also moved into the White House, with a gun-toting Harrelson seated in the Oval Office. “I think I would have made a damn fine President,” he declares gleefully, prompting Stone to retort, “You would have brought a real dignity to the office.”
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“Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer also returns to helm following his work on “Venom.” Fleischer is re-teaming with original writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, who worked together on “Deadpool” and “Deadpool 2.” Gavin Polone returns as producer.
Polone admits that R-rated comedies are facing a rough road in theaters lately, though affection for the original should help. “Good Boys” is the top domestic grosser among live-action comedies this year with $82 million, followed by Lionsgate’s “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral” with $73 million and Universal’s romantic comedy “Yesterday’ at $65 million.
Pre-Halloween releases can be risky, with competition from straight-up horror titles, parties and events. “Zombieland: Double Tap” will face off against “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” on opening weekend, while STX’s horror movie “Countdown” opens the week after. The new installment should open on par with the original “Zombieland,” but is unlikely to see anything like last year’s “Halloween” reboot, which opened with $76 million.
“There was a lot more stuff allowed when I was coming of age, like ‘Blazing Saddles,’ and studios now have to decide if it’s worth the risk to get it out to 3,500 or theaters or to stream it,” Polone said. “There’s always the concern that it won’t feel like an event. Our movie has stars and it feels like an event. I think ‘Good Boys’ was a bigger risk and it did really well.”
The first trailer plays up the fact that Breslin, Harrelson and Eisenberg are all Oscar nominees and that Stone won an Oscar.
“Zombies are on TV nonstop,” Polone said. “But you still have to have a tone that makes your movie feel unique. And the actors are really good at creating extremely funny comedy that you can tell isn’t in the script, just because they’re in that moment.”
“This movie was about the most fun I’ve had,” Polone added. “I’m friends with Abby, Jesse, Woody and you don’t get that again if you don’t make a third. Emma was willing to fly in from London while she was in the middle of shooting ‘Cruella’ to do promotion for us. Actors only do that when they care.”
Polone also explained the multitude of reasons behind the franchise’s full decade delay.
“There were changes in personnel at the studio,” he recalled. “Matt Tolmach, who was the original executive on it, left. Then Ruben Fleischer went and did two other movies and so he was unavailable. Finally, after a lot of lobbying on my part, Doug Belgrad decided to do a market test where they found that out of 50 comedies, ‘Zombieland’ was the second most desired sequel even after seven years.”
“Then, we went through many drafts of the script with several different writers because Rhett and Paul were not available. Finally, when Rhett and Paul found some time to work on the project, we got a script that all four actors, Ruben, and I could agree should be made,” Polone added.
As for Murray — spoiler alert — he’s back during the end credits sequence.