How World War Z Could Still Create A Trilogy (And Pay Proper Tribute To The Original Novel)

Brad Pitt in World War Z.
(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

These days in Hollywood, it seems the goal of every movie released is to become a major franchise. Some franchises succeed and some franchises die. Even Disney has failed at building franchises from time to time. And while it’s usually the box office that decides what movies get sequels, that’s not always the case. World War Z the movie, while not a runaway smash, was a decent enough hit that plans for a sequel were around for years. And while some hold out hope for World War Z sequels one day, at this point, it seems unlikely that will ever happen.

I happened to sit down and rewatch World War Z on Netflix (opens in new tab) recently, and it reminded me of two things. First, I’m still annoyed that a movie called World War Z had so little to do with the book that inspired it, and second, it was still a great first movie in a trilogy. That trilogy could still, in the end, give us a strong adaptation of the novel. Here’s how.

Brad Pitt in World War Z

(Image credit: Paramount)

World War Z Is An Excellent Prequel, Even If It’s Barely Connected To The Book

World War Z is ultimately a zombie movie, and like many of them, it has a plot that follows a character or characters as they attempt to survive following the discovery of the zombie outbreak. However, World War Z is different in more than a few ways. It focuses not simply on survival for a few characters, but on the active search to deal with the zombie outbreak. Then it ends not with an escape to someplace safe or death, but with one positive step in what will surely be an ongoing war.

World War Z only had the simplest of connections to the book it was based on, but divorcing it from the source material, it was a perfectly good movie. It told a compelling enough story that put some fresh twists on a zombie genre that we’ve seen a lot. There were certainly a fair number of fans who were always hopeful that the promised World War Z sequel would come. 

It was meant to be the first movie in a series, so World War Z's less-than-conclusive ending was very intentional. However, the beauty of the ending is that it very easily leaves a door open for a sequel to be made at any time. While Brad Pitt was meant to star in the future sequels, there’s really no need for that because a World War Z sequel is going to be, at least in my thinking, a very different movie.

Zombies forming a hill to climb a wall in World War Z.

(Image credit: Paramount)

The World War Z Sequel Can Easily Stand On Its Own While Building The Franchise

The first movie may have been called World War Z, but the title was something of a misnomer. While the plot took us to different places in the world and zombies appeared, there wasn’t what I would call a world war. That’s where a World War Z sequel can pick up at any time, with any cast. It wouldn't deal directly with the events of the first film much if at all, so an audience can jump into it with no problems.

The first movie was the setup. It gave us the outbreak and showed us that nowhere is safe from the zombie hordes. The only thing left to do is fight, leaving the sequel to be a war movie. It’s Saving Private Ryan or 1917, but with one side being the walking dead. I imagine us following multiple groups of soldiers all over the world. In each place, we see how each army fights, their strengths and weaknesses, and how the terrain and tactics are different. Some characters will live and some will die, as happens in war. 

Zombie movies always have their action and there’s rarely of shortage of undead being shot in the head, but it's not often the action truly the focus of most zombie movies, and even more rarely do we see trained soldiers as the focus of that action. Large portions of the World War Z book deal specifically with how the soldiers fought, what their struggles were and the tactics they had to use. Let’s see them. 

Brad Pitt stares at a zombie through a glass door in World War Z.

(Image credit: Paramount)

The Third World War Z Film Can Be Based On The Novel

So with movie one, we got the outbreak. In movie two, we had the war. So with the third movie in the World War Z trilogy, we get the look back. This would be the movie that fans of the book have been really looking forward to because it’s the one based on the actual novel.

World War Z by Max Brooks is an “oral history.” It purports to be a series of interviews with the people who were involved in the zombie war, all looking back on the events of the conflict after it’s all over, but told in their voice. The film version would therefore take on a sort of mockumentary feel, as it would include these same interviews, and many of them would obviously be with characters we met in the other two films.

There’s no need for World War Z 3 to be without action or drama due to this framing device. We can cut flashback sequences into the interview segments, showing the events the character is talking about in his interview. These can be used to fill in gaps in the story that we didn’t get in the other films. We could leave some gaps in the second film intentionally to be dealt with here. We could even see events from the previous films from the perspective of another character. Maybe things didn’t happen quite the way we saw, or perhaps our narrator doesn’t quite remember what happened perfectly.

A trilogy of World War Z movies that looks like this would certainly be something different. Each of the three films would ultimately fall into different genres, which I’ll admit might not work for all audiences. Fans looking for lots of action and zombie killing would love the second film in this series, and may not enjoy the faux documentary nearly as much, but I think it would make for an interesting experiment. And if it did work, those of us who have always wanted to see the original World War Z turned into a faithful movie would finally get that. 

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.