Content Warning: The following article contains depictions of violence and suicide.
There was once really only George A. Romero’s initial “Trilogy of the Dead” for audiences to watch. Now, there seems to be a new zombie project released on streaming or theatres seemingly every week. Even with the inundation, filmmakers are finding new and inventive ways to both expand the mythos and provide audiences with shocking twists.
The trend does not appear to be going anywhere any time soon because many of these projects have gone on to be well-reviewed, lucrative, or the combination of the two. Yet even in good zombie films, there can be plot twists that are so obvious, the audience can see them from a mile away.
9 The Baby’s A Zombie – Dawn Of The Dead (2004)
Zack Snyder’s take on what is arguably George A. Romero’s best zombie movie, Dawn of the Dead, gives audiences a fresh new addition to the zombie lineup: a baby zombie. The undead infant makes an appearance halfway through the film as the terrified protagonists barricade themselves in a local mall to prevent being consumed by a mob of zombies.
Adding a pregnant woman to the narrative increases the urgency that’s been present from the tense opening scene. Even still, the audience knew that baby was going to be born. Considering it was a graphic horror film, it stood to reason that the baby would also be undead and would need to be eliminated just like any other zombie.
8 A Heroic Sacrifice – I Am Legend (2007)
The eponymous 1954 novel which I Am Legend was based on ends with some startling revelations. The cast and crew even shot this ending where Dr. Neville is essentially the movie’s hero and villain. Neville is the last human to die, and this leaves him with a tarnished reputation.
The vampires (or zombies) see him as a sadist who takes pleasure in slaughtering their budding society. The final cut of the movie goes a more predictable route, with Will Smith’s Dr. Neville finding a cure just before his own heroic death. There’s no moral grey area for the hero; instead, the audience experiences a standard sacrifice for the greater good.
7 Dave Bautista’s Fate – Army Of The Dead (2021)
Netflix’s Army of the Dead contains a cast of well-developed characters, so it’s never clear who will live and who will perish. This uncertainty is amplified by the film’s intentional lack of clarity as to the identity of the film’s true protagonist. It serves as a subtle yet obvious bait and switch that occurs at the end of the film.
The redemption and subsequent death of Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward seemed foreshadowed almost from the beginning. When a narrative sets up greed as a character’s motivation in a zombie film, it indicates the doomed path their arc will take. Scott is no different, so his demise wasn’t a surprise. It didn’t take long before the audience knew that this was truly the story of Scott’s estranged daughter, Kate, who is more of a traditional hero and thus lives.
6 They’re Just Like Us – Land Of The Dead (2005)
The zombies in Night of the Living Dead staggered around groaning. The undead in Dawn of the Dead did just about the same thing, save for the fact that they could remember their life’s habits. Then, Day of the Dead had one listening to music and saluting an officer. It was a signifier that zombies are more than they seem, and it’d yet to stray into unbelievability. Land of the Dead‘s conclusion, with the zombies choosing not to eat one group of people because they’re non-threatening, is a far cry from the lumbering, teeth-gnashing nasties of Romero’s original.
It’s predictable, too, because the movie had so firmly established one zombie as the leader. If the zombies can have leaders, they can congregate and strategize. The intelligent zombie trope can be frightening, but it’s fairly clear to the audience early on that Romero is going for a take on diverging societies living in peace.
5 The Soldiers Are Infected – Planet Terror (2007)
Robert Rodriguez’s best half of the 2007 double feature Grindhouse, Planet Terror, is almost entirely unpredictable. However, it’s pretty obvious from Bruce Willis’ snarling demeanor in the first scene that he and his soldiers are the main antagonists who have something to do with all the zombies wreaking havoc on the small Texas town.
This suspicion grows more apparent due to his departure from the script for the majority of the film. The audience gets the feeling that Willis, then a theatrical headlining star, is going to come back in a major way. He does so by the third act, where Willis’ Lt. Muldoon expounds upon how he and his men are in fact infected themselves. They need the gas that initiated the infection because it is what staves off more severe effects. The “twist” here is obvious: the saviors sent by the government are actually there to kill the heroes. Audiences are used to distrusting authority in these types of films (with Night of the Living Dead being the most famous example), so this reveal wasn’t that shocking or convincing.
4 Flagstaff & Albuquerque – Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
Zombieland: Double Tap is a film packed with new cast members. Some, like Rosario Dawson, seemed pretty certain to survive until Zombieland 3. When Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch pop up around the midway mark of the sequel, the viewer doesn’t get the same feeling.
The narrative is about the established quartet, not Flagstaff (Middleditch) and Albuquerque (Wilson). It’s as if they’re mirror images of Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) that serve no narrative need other than to add to the film’s body count. There’s no way all four of them will get along until the conclusion, even if it isn’t the zombies that do the killing. When they die, it’s both graphic and expected.
3 Some Endings Can’t Be Remade – Night Of The Living Dead (1990)
Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) sticks to the narrative beats of the original almost to the letter. The ending, however, couldn’t and arguably shouldn’t have been remade.
The original’s ending was a fairly subtle but definitive statement on race relations in the United States. The remake (also written by George A. Romero) alters Ben’s fate. The character of Ben is played here by Tony Todd, who provides many of Night of the Living Dead‘s best moments. He dies in both, but his demise here is more traditional for horror. What’s new is Barbara’s fate as she is turned into a tough “final girl” character that is now standard in the horror genre. It works in the movie, but compared to the abrupt, gut-wrenching ending of the original, it’s predictable.
2 There’s A Cure! – World War Z (2013)
As the film races toward its climax, World War Z‘s audience becomes increasingly aware of the fact that a sequel is being set up. It’s obvious this is part one of a series.
Not all movies wrap up nicely and neatly, be it a three-act structure or something a little more subversive. With World War Z, there’s not much of an ending at all. Instead, Brad Pitt’s Gerry Lane injects himself with a vaccine to fight more zombies. World War Z‘s original ending was more complex and almost certainly would have proven less predictable to the audience.
1 The Professor’s Intentions – Patient Zero (2018)
This star-studded sci-fi zombie movie from 2018 mostly flew under the radar. Amongst some of its perceived problems was a predictable plot thread. Matt Smith (Doctor Who) plays Morgan, a character who hovers between infected and fully human. Fairly late in the film, Stanley Tucci comes into the narrative playing a similar character called the Professor.
It’s clear from the moment he asks for Morgan by name that he knows more than he should. Morgan has been established as the hero, and the Professor’s sly demeanor spells out that he has ulterior motives aside from simply meeting someone similar to himself. This is confirmed when he calls his fellow infected to the base for an attack. As this plot twist was expected due to Tucci’s telegraphed villainy, the film’s conclusion feels rushed and generic.