10 years ago today, this massive box office hit should have been a huge flop
Despite its success, there is apparently one very specific reason why we've yet to get a sequel.
When the book was released, World War Z sparked a huge bidding war between two of Hollywood's biggest stars/producers. The project almost went to Leonardo DiCaprio and his production company Appian Way, before Brad Pitt and his Plan B production house successfully secured the rights to the story in 2007.
It would be another six years before the movie arrives in cinemas, due to a huge amount of complications behind the scenes. Director Marc Forster (Quantum Of Solace) signed on to the project very early, with the script being provided by J. Michael Straczynski (Sense8).
Early comparisons to All The President's Men, The Bourne Identity and Children Of Men got everyone very excited, but some major changes needed to be made from Max Brooks' original book, which read more like a UN diary of reports than an actual narrative.
Paramount brought on Matthew Michael Carnahan (State of Play) to work on the rewrite, and happy with the new script, they provided a $125 million production budget. Filming began in 2011 in Malta, before moving to Glasgow, which proved to be a very believable double for Philadelphia, as you can see from the opening scene of chaos:
The movie's ending scene was to be set in Russia, but filmed in Budapest for budgetary reasons. However, during the shoot, Hungary's Counter Terrorism Team raided the set, confiscating 85 guns that were to be used during the climactic action sequence. The paperwork for the weapons stated that the weapons were non-functional, but it was discovered during the raid that each of the weapons were actually fully functional.
Hajdu Janos and Zsolt Bodnar, the director and deputy director of Hungary's Anti-Terrorism Unit, told Us Weekly at the time: "This morning a private plane brought guns wrapped in a parcel from a company to an individual [in Budapest].Guns like these are highly illegal to transport even if they were to used as stage guns, which hopefully they weren't."
In the end, it almost didn't matter, as the entire Russia-set sequence was cut from the movie, when those involved realised that it simply didn't work. Simon Crane, the second-unit director on the movie, told Vanity Fair: "It wasn't character-driven anymore... [The filmmakers] really needed to think about what they wanted to do with the third act."
Paramount reached out to Damon Lindelof (Prometheus) to come up with an entirely new third act, and while he was unavailable to write the new scenes himself, Paramount did take his advice in reshooting 40 minutes of additional footage to change the ending. The scripting went to Drew Goddard (Cloverfield), who swapped out the epic, Red Square zombie battle with something much more claustrophobic... and set in a small building in Wales.
The additional production sent the budget up to a whopping $190 million, with producers growing increasingly concerned that it would be impossible for the zombie movie to make a profit. They went so far as to reportedly edit out a scene in which the virus is speculated to have originated in China, in order to secure the movie's release there.
Turns out, the worry was all for nothing, as World War Z went on to make $540.5 million worldwide... without China, where it was ultimately rejected from getting shown in cinemas. However, that is apparently also the primary reason why we've never got a World War Z sequel.
Paramount Pictures had a vision of this being the first in a World War Z trilogy, with J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) signed on to direct and Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) signed on to script the first sequel. By 2017, David Fincher (The Social Network) was apparently close to signing on as director, but by 2019, the entire project had been cancelled.
As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, the action-horror sequel would've required a $200 million budget, but without the guarantee of China's box office, it was too risky. And China won't allow in movies that feature zombies or ghosts, and as one Hollywood CEO put it: "It’s not cultural, it’s government policy. And the reason it’s government policy is you have got a government that is trying to keep control of a population where there is a fair amount of unrest. One of the things that seems to particularly stir revolts or riots is superstition."
We fully recommend you go check out the original book, as there are some set-pieces (including one on a submarine) that would've been absolutely incredible to see on the big screen. Meanwhile, the one and only World War Z is available to rent right now on Google Play, Apple TV and the Sky Store.
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