World War Z 2 finally had the plug pulled on it earlier this year, after six years of people trying to get the sequel moving.
It didn’t make huge headlines last week, but one of the movie deals that recently came to light was stuck between Plan B and Warner Bros. Plan B is the highly successful production company of Brad Pitt, that’s won Oscars for 12 Years A Slave and scored sizeable box office hits too.
What the deal gives is a first look to Warner Bros on potential Plan B projects, and it takes over from a similar deal that the company had held with Annapurna Pictures since 2017. However, by far the longest relationship that it’s enjoyed has been with Paramount, who had first dibs on the company’s projects between 2005 and 2013. And one of those just happened to be Plan B’s biggest hit: World War Z.
It’s easy to overlook, nearly seven years on from its release, just what a troubled production that film was. It was based on the book of the same name by Max Brooks, the latest in a procession of ‘unfilmable’ books that Hollywood had a crack at. The reason this one was considered so troublesome was that instead of it offering one continuing narrative, it tells the story of a zombie war through lots of different accounts, rather than one.
The novel Robopocalypse follows a similar structure, and was for a long time a Steven Spielberg project. But that ultimately came to zero, and it’s hard to not think the struggle to wrestle it into a movie screenplay was one reason why. Yet with World War Z, a way through was found, with Babylon 5 creator J Michael Straczynski arguing for a Bourne style approach. That seemed to offer some progress.
Rewrites followed, but that core idea still held, and in 2010, Quantum Of Solace helmer Marc Forster was recruited to direct. Pitt would star, Paramount was to put up the near-$200m asking price (although it hadn’t gone that high at the time), and as we charted in a podcast episode here, it was full steam ahead.
The problem came in the middle of 2012, a year after filming had begun. At considerable expense, the entire final act of the film was rewritten and reshot in post-production, causing a release date delay and unending internet articles suggesting – not unreasonably – that the film was in deep trouble.
Yet incredibly, it was all turned around. Whilst the promotional campaign was light on the fact that zombies were involved (and that’s some understatement), and whilst the film went for a PG-13 rating (much to the understandable consternation of fans of the book), it defied the poison pens, and grossed over $540m worldwide. Not only was it a huge hit, a sequel was surely inevitable.
In fact, the original plan, announced before the release of the first film, was that a trilogy was to be pursued. Confirmation of World War Z 2 followed within weeks of World War Z hitting big. Yet the problems were soon to mount.
Firstly, there was a question of who to direct.
Reports had suggested that Pitt and Marc Forster hadn’t been a perfect match, not helped by the significantly overhauling of the first picture. There seemed little chance that Forster would return, but few could grumble when Juan Antonio Bayona was announced as the new choice instead. Off the back of The Orphanage and The Impossible, he seemed an excellent choice. Heading into early 2014, then, it seemed like things were moving forward.
But there was still a script to get right, and all parties wanted to avoid the last minute course correction of the first movie. Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight was hired in May 2014, and submitted his draft. A year later, Paramount was confident enough to announce a June 9th 2017 release date, although Pitt and Plan B were also now working on projects for the likes of Netflix too.
Whilst those projects were moving forward – War Machine, for instance – World War Z 2 wasn’t. And it suffered a huge blow when Bayona left at the start of 2016, to make Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (which seemed more certain to hit its schedule) having also directed the superb A Monster Calls.
His departure was mitigated by the potential identity of his replacement: David Fincher. Having worked with Pitt on several movies, a reunion was mooted, and Fincher duly entered talks for the film. He had a commitment to the Netflix show Mindhunter, and so things weren’t going to move quickly. They didn’t, but over a year after his involvement was first suggested, Fincher was edging closer to the dotted line. In early 2017, it even looked like he might sign it, with Paramount confirming that the release date had shifted, and 2019 was more likely.
Spoiler: the film didn’t come out in 2019. As the cinematic plates were shifting, so a World War Z sequel was looking riskier and riskier. Not least given a gap of at least five years since the first movie.
Crucially too, this wasn’t a big comic book movie, and there was growing uncertainty as to how the international market for the film would hold up. $200m of the first film’s take had come from the States, and with the budget for the sequel likely to be another cool $200m or so, Paramount needed as broad a market for it as it could get.
And it wasn’t going to get one. The plot of the first film had been altered to try to ensure – unsuccessfully – that the movie got a full release in China. But with the clock ticking, it needed one this time around, and when it became clear that it wasn’t going to get one – in 2019, it was revealed that China’s pretty much blanket ban on zombie films was holding – the plug was finally pulled, even with Fincher circling.
World War Z, then, will never happen, and there’s not even been talk – at least yet – of resurrecting it as a TV series, where it may find a more natural home considering its source material structure. Plan B, meanwhile, has moved its attentions elsewhere, and Paramount is pursuing different options.
The one film we got is an imperfect beast, with some of its edges cut off. But it’s something, it had promise, and it became another Hollywood blockbuster to build to an ultimately non-existent sequel…
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