The stakes are enormous. With its distribution deal with superhero factory Marvel kaput, Paramount is desperate for a new film franchise to hang its hat on—and zombies, experiencing a renaissance of sorts, seem like a solid bet. In 2007 Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B Entertainment, acquired the rights to Max Brooks’s 2006 bestselling novel World War Z, a sequel to his earlier book The Zombie Survival Guide, after a heated bidding war with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way. After several years of script rewrites and searching for financiers, the blockbuster hopeful hits theaters June 21.
Paramount initially budgeted the project at $125 million, reported New York magazine, with the studio hedging that audiences could be sold on a large-scale zombie franchise the way they historically have with superhero flicks. After all, zombies have infiltrated the public consciousness—from the Miami face-eater to AMC’s hit TV series The Walking Dead, whose Season 3 finale notched 12.4 million viewers, making it the most watched drama series in basic cable history. And the zombie genre, with its superstitious adversaries, seems well suited to address our global modern-day fears and anxieties—ones that have surpassed those of a more insular era dominated by superhero films, which reinforce our sense of security, idealism, and rah-rah patriotism. But has Paramount bitten off more than it can chew? In a word: maybe.
In March 2012, the film’s release date was pushed back six months. During filming there were rumors of infighting between Pitt and director Marc Forster. A June Vanity Fair cover story explores the seemingly cursed making of the film, including the hiring of Lost scribes Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard by the studio to fix the film’s third act, resulting in the axing of an action sequence and shooting additional footage to the cost of $20 million, according to Paramount CEO Brad Grey. Meanwhile, the film’s overall budget swelled to more than $200 million.