16th Sep2019

Which is Better? #2 – Shaun of the Dead vs. Zombieland

by Chris Cummings

Which is Better is a new column here on Nerdly where we’ll pick two related movies and discuss each of them, and then conclude which we think is the best one. It might be about films of a similar type, or sequels in comparison to the first film, or the original film and its eventual remake, we might even do it for full film franchises. For this column I’m going to focus on two popular zombie comedy flicks. It’s the battle of the zom-coms!



Okay, okay… so both of these films are excellent in their own rights. Both films have their fans. One of them, Zombieland, is even seeing a sequel soon, starring the same group of survivors as last time. When I think of zombie comedies, of which there are some really fun ones, the top of the pack always comes down to these films in my head. Now, this will be an easy choice for many people, but that’s where the fun of this discussion lies. Some will much prefer the British cult-classic and homage to Romero, Shaun of the Dead, and others will prefer the American buddy-comedy with flesh-eaters, Zombieland. I’ve heard both opinions spoken.

Shaun of the Dead, made 15 years ago in 2004, is an influential and well-loved film that took the zombie film template and injected some very-British-comedy into it. If you saw Edgar Wright’s comedy television program Spaced, then the humour and tone of that show was felt in Shaun of the Dead. The story of a bunch of typical Londoners trying to survive the newly occurring zombie outbreak by driving fast, closing their curtains and going to the pub is so hysterically subtle and gloriously ridiculous. Simon Pegg as Shaun launched his film career with this film and became a popular name among fans of nerd-culture and horror in the process. He was half way there with Spaced, but it really took off for him with Shaun. The rest of the cast, featuring the likes of Nick Frost as the foul-mouthed, tactless but loyal friend Ed, Kate Ashfield as the kind-hearted girlfriend of Shaun, Liz and Dylan Moran and Lucy Davis as the friends Dianne and David, do a wonderful job. It’s a great cast and each offers something unique and important to the way the story plays out. Pegg plays the everyman well, trying to hold his relationship together while also not quite wanting to commit entirely to the changes Liz wishes him to make in his life. His friendship with Ed is brotherly, and his relationship with his Mom (Penelope Wilton) and his step-father Philip (Bill Nighy) is also a messy and fun one to watch unfold. The film itself is so endlessly entertaining, whether it’s the scenes of the group sitting around with a pint waiting for the whole situation to blow-over, or them trying to decapitate zombies in the garden by flinging records at them, there’s comedy in droves and plenty of gory horror to kick it up a gear too. There’s a reason people love this film so much.

Zombieland is more of a road-trip comedy with a rag-tag group of people who are more reluctant to be a group than the people in Shaun of the Dead are. We have the awkward nerdy guy, Columbus, played by Jesse Eisenberg, the brash ass-kicking redneck type, Tallahassee, played by Woody Harrelson and two girls who are as lethal as they are ruthless and as strong-willed as they are fierce, the older Wichita, played by Emma Stone, and the younger Little Rock, played by Abigail Breslin. The four of them are untrusting, uncomfortable strangers who battle with each other as often at they do with the crawling dead that they pass on the roads every few moments. The rules that Columbus lives by explain how he’s stayed alive in a zombie apocalypse, and as the four ride together, not always by choice, they encounter a series of events and situations that involve fairgrounds, Twinkies and Bill Murray. The comedy is as ridiculous and hilarious as Shaun of the Dead, and there’s plenty of gore to be found too, whether it’s gunshots to zombie craniums or melee weaponry being utilised to smash some heads along supermarket aisles.

So, we know what the films are about, we know they’re both a hell of a lot of fun and we know that each film has its own fanbase and is beloved by many folks. Which is better, though? Which of the two films actually stands at the top of the zom-com mountain? They have similarities, with their tales of friendship and survival, their tales of hiding out in funny places to evade the walking dead. They also have plenty of differences, the humour itself is very different in tone, the relationships aren’t the same, the locations are incredibly diverse and Shaun of the Dead has a romantic comedy edge to it, amongst the blood and brains, whereas Zombieland feels more action-packed. Different but similar, it’s a hard choice when you watch them one after the other and enjoy each of them in their own unique ways.

There would be no point to this column, though, if I didn’t take a stand and make my pick.

Zombieland is a high-quality, funny and energetic zombie comedy with a lot of good ideas and a cast who each bring top-notch performances. It’s great. Shaun of the Dead meets those same sentiments, but I also feel like it offers something that wasn’t seen and hasn’t been seen since. A tone very different to other comedies, and with plenty of nods to zombie film history to tickle the horror nerds privates. When I think of this little itty-bitty sub-genre and have to place a single film to represent it, I think Shaun of the Dead is the one that sits the highest. Perhaps it’s the relatable comedy and locations, perhaps it’s the unique humour or perhaps it’s the iconic sequences, such as the zombie being beaten with pool cues to the sound of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”, but whatever the reason, I feel that Shaun of the Dead is the ultimate zom-com, and it will take something even better than the awesome Zombieland to knock it off its perch. I mean… Shaun of the Dead is, after all… fried gold.


Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Now, what do YOU think? Do you agree? Which would you choose as your favourite? Let us know!


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