World War Z was the highest-grossing film of Brad Pitt’s career – but the path to a sequel proved to be blocked.
As is always the way with high concept, modern big budget films, World War Z was intended to be the beginning of a blockbuster franchise. Even as the first film was being made, there was an eye on a follow-up.
Based on the 2006 novel by Max Brooks, World War Z explores the ramifications of a worldwide pandemic (what was fiction in 2006 becoming documentary through the lens of 2022). Brooks, however, takes the premise even further, as the virus turns the population of the world into ravenous zombies. This was a key fact that was left out of the promotion for the movie itself, allegedly at the behest of Paramount Pictures. Still, in the film Brad Pitt plays United Nations investigator Gerry Lane, who agrees to help in the search to find a vaccine in order to protect his wife and child.
Marc Foster directed the film from a screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof. Making over $500 million on a $200 million budget, a sequel was quickly announced in June 2013 and the plan seemed to be to get things moving really rather quickly. Given the extensive reshoots to the original – the entire back third was reshot at great expense – the chances of Marc Forster returning seemed slim. He did indeed step away from World War Z 2.
In December of that year, J.A. Bayona, of The Impossible fame (who has since jumped into the world of blockbusters with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), was set to direct from a script by Dirty Pretty Things writer and Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight. Pitt would go on to work with Knight on the 2016 romantic thriller Allied.
Soon, Bayona was tied up with work on 2016’s A Monster Calls and was forced to leave the project. But World War Z 2 rumbled on.
It was then reported that Dennis Kelly, perhaps best known for writing the dark, nihilistic conspiracy thriller Utopia for Channel 4, had been hired to rewrite Knight’s screenplay. A release date of the 9th June 2017 was set. This seemed to be moving forward. There followed a lengthy period of radio silence, until June 2017, when David Fincher was sort-of-announced as the new director. There was never an outright press release or anything, but at the very least it was clear he was working on the film.
Fincher and Pitt already had a good working relationship, having made Fight Club and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button together. At the time, Fincher had been away from the screen for some time, having last scored a huge hit with 2014’s Gone Girl. World War Z 2 would have been his first sequel since Alien 3, his directorial debut in 1992.
Although Pitt was committed to doing the sequel, indeed he was one of the loudest advocates for it (his company also produced it), he was forced to move on to other projects, including Ad Astra and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
Story details of Fincher’s version of the film are thin on the ground, though an alleged plot document was leaked onto the internet. It claimed that the sequel would pick up where the first one ended. Political tensions across the globe are on the rise, while most human survivors against the global zombie outbreak end up relying on “a camouflage vaccine” that makes them invisible to the undead for a 36-hour period.
The document goes on to claim that a virologist located in Geneva by the name of Dr. Morel creates a serum called E29, an airborne virus that will make zombies attack each other. Dr Morel disappears before sending the final vital piece of information, prompting Pitt’s character to once again travel the world.
Ultimately, though, it was the snowball effect of setback upon setback that ensured we never got to see World War Z 2. In June 2019, after months of pre-production work and location scouting had already been completed, Paramount officially pulled the plug, citing budgetary issues. Paramount itself was having financial challenges at the time and was rethinking large swathes of its film business. Fincher, by that point, was busy with the soon to be Oscar-nominated Netflix film Mank, while Pitt had several projects on the go. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the biggest reason for the ultimate non-appearance of the film may actually have been the Chinese market’s blanket ban on films which feature zombies or ghosts, a rule that also ensured the likes of Zombieland were not released there.
However, that is not quite the end of the story. 2021 saw the release of a videogame, World War Z: Aftermath. Serving as a sequel and an expansion of the world, it differentiates itself from similar games of that ilk by allowing players to take on hordes of zombies which, as in the film, swarm through the streets in seemingly unbeatable numbers. This is achieved by a Swarm Engine which, according to the official website, provides “advanced gore and dismemberment systems”.
It seems that the chances of ever seeing World War Z 2 are slim to non-existent, we can only imagine what zombie film as seen through the lens of David Fincher would have been like.
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