On paper, the thought of zombies overrunning the world doesn’t seem like a particularly humorous one. Therefore, most post-apocalyptic and zombie-centric movies, TV shows, and video games have been pretty dour and brutal throughout screen history. While that’s understandable, it also resulted in many of the 21st century’s zombie films feeling too reminiscent of the genre’s past entries.
Fortunately, the genre’s tendency to focus on darker, more straightforward aspects of a possible zombie apocalypse gives different takes on well-worn zombie stories the chance to really stand out from the crowd. At least, that was certainly the case with one late-2000s horror-comedy.
The film in question is none other than 2009’s Zombieland, which stands tall as one of the most inventive and memorable zombie movies ever made. It’s streaming now on HBO Max, so here’s why Inverse recommends that you check it out ASAP.
In case its title didn’t communicate its plot clearly enough, Zombieland takes place in a version of America that has been overrun by zombies. The film follows Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), an introverted but capable survivor, as he groups up with several other non-rabid humans on a journey that takes them from the abandoned mansions of Beverly Hills all the way to a zombie-infested theme park.
The film’s script, written by Deadpool screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, manages to be consistently playful and inventive. Whether it be Columbus’ various rules for surviving in a zombie-infested world (Rule #1? Cardio) or the obsession Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) has with finding the world’s last Twinkies, Zombieland’s script is filled with gags and details that not only subvert the zombie genre’s traditionally dour tone but also help ensure that its four lead characters all feel three-dimensional and alive.
Notably, the film boasts a truly impressive core ensemble and stars Harrelson, Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin playing their respective characters with humor and charisma. Meanwhile, Ruben Fleischer’s stylish direction only further highlights the verve of Zombieland’s script without distracting or taking away from the surprising depth of its lead characters.
Released in 2009, Zombieland was successful at the box office as well as with critics, and its fanbase only continued to grow in the years after its initial debut. The film proved to be so popular, in fact, that a sequel, titled Zombieland: Double Tap, was released 10 years after the original in 2019. Double Tap was fun and successful in its own ways too, but it didn’t quite match the exuberance or playfulness that runs throughout its predecessor.
Indeed, while Zombieland may have quickly emerged as a standout addition to the zombie genre when it hit theaters in 2009, the fact that it remains one to this day is a better testament to its quality. The film’s energy remains just as infectious (pun very much intended) today as it was 12 years ago, which is why it’s well worth seeking out on HBO Max now — whether it be for the first or 50th time.
Zombieland is available to stream now on HBO Max.