First Ten Pages: Zombieland (2009)

Screenplay by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick 

Zomebieland, one of the most universally loved zombie flicks for countless reasons. Perhaps due to its tightly defined characters or its perfectly timed comedic beats or the fact that Bill Murray plays Bill Murray. Whatever-the-case, Zombieland tells the tale of four individuals amidst a zombie apocalypse, all of whom are on personal missions to fill heartbreaking voids caused by the tragedy that has struck their world. Through this process, their patience, trust, and emotional strains are tested.

Disclaimer: This article is based on a draft from September 18th, 2007. There are many discrepancies from the film. That said, for the purpose of breaking down the first ten pages, it works perfectly fine. For accuracy of the article, a combination of film transcription and script excerpts will be used.

1. Establishing tone and/or genre:

Zombieland is certainly a comedy, written and executed via sharp editing tactics and pacing. It heavily relies on these attributes in reflection to tone, aided by witty dialogue and vivid visuals.

The story opens with a monologue led by the film’s lead protagonist, Columbus (note: Flagstaff in the script). As introduced to the world of Zombieland itself, Columbus catches the audience up a.k.a. what the hell’s even going on and how he’s shockingly managed to stay alive…  While others, well, haven’t.

It’s amazing how quickly things can
go from bad to total shit storm. And
why am I alive when everyone around
me has turned to meat? It’s because
of my list of rules.

And…

When the virus struck, for obvious
reasons, the first ones to go were
the fatties. Poor fat bastard. But as
the infection spread and the chaos
grew it wasn’t enough to just be fast
on your feet.

(Text transcribed from Zombieland the film)

As this monologue takes place, visuals coincide to enhance its comedic value. Both, of which, you’ll see more below.

2. Introducing the main characters:

Stated above, Columbus is the lead and Zombieland makes that apparent from the get-go. He instantly helps introduce the world and its present state. While this occurs, Columbus’ personality, quirks, and essence are effortlessly threaded in.

It’s been two months since patient
zero took a bite of a contaminated
burger at a Gas and Gulp. Just two
months and I might be the last non-
cannibal freak in the country. I may
seem like an unlikely survivor with
all my phobias and irritable bowel
syndrome. But, I had the advantage of
never having any friends or any close
family. I survive because I play it
safe and follow the rules. My rules.

(Text transcribed from Zombieland the film)

We stay with Columbus for a solid nine pages until the next primary character is presented: Tallahassee (note: Albuquerque in the script), and he couldn’t be more different than Columbus.

The Escalade pulls up to within a few yards of the motorcycle
and STOPS. The driver’s side door swings open, and a square-
jawed, broad-shouldered badass, ALBUQUERQUE, steps onto the
running board.

Which, we later discover Tallahassee’s tough-persona is partly a façade, guarding him against traumatic loss as a result of the apocalypse.

3. Crafting the world of the story:

Zombieland nails this – the first ten pages sets the world up grand slam style. The reason why it’s so successful: structure. Its structural breakdown is meticulously thought out and goes something like this…

A) Immediately showcase the world of Zombieland – the state it’s in due to the apocalypse through visuals (a destroyed Washington DC) and dialogue (Columbus’ opening voiceover).

B) Introduce the world’s rules, at least in Columbus’ eyes:

#1: Cardio

#2: Double Tap

#3: Beware of Bathrooms

#4: Seatbelts

C) Physically meet Columbus, where he executes these rules and proves they work in order to survive.

#3: Beware of Bathrooms

Flagstaff reaches for the bathroom DOOR, then stops, thinks,
and decides AGAINST it. He backs away slowly, to discover he
made the RIGHT CALL: A male ZOMBIE BURSTS out the door,
SCREECHING horribly.

#1: Cardio

We’re with Flagstaff as he runs through the field, the two
zombies close behind. His lungs are in good shape. The
zombies aren’t gaining. (The title: 1. Cardio reappears)


A HIGH, WIDE SHOT reveals Flagstaff beginning to PULL AWAY
from the ZOMBIES as he leads them in a big circle back toward
the station and his car.

#4: Seatbelts

Flagstaff goes to adjust his REAR-VIEW MIRROR, and in it,
sees a ZOMBIE SIT UP in the BACK SEAT, a big, bloody grin on
its face.


Flagstaff SCREAMS, SLAMS on the brakes, swerves, and BASHES
into a SAGUARO CACTUS, which is decorating a man’s lawn.


The ZOMBIE launches from the back seat of the car, SMASHES
through the windshield, THUMPS its head against the cactus,
and ends up SPRAWLED on the hood.


Flagstaff, by contrast, is SAVED by his SEATBELT, which TUGS
hard against his chest. (Title: 4. Seatbelts).

#2: Double Tap

Flagstaff loads a dry shell into his shotgun, aims, and
SHOOTS the zombie off the hood of the car.

Without pause, he pops the Shotgun open, loads TWO MORE
SHELLS inside, climbs out, and STANDS OVER the fallen ZOMBIE.

Flagstaff closes one eye and AIMS at the head. (Title: 3.
Double Tap) KA-BLAM! KA-BLAM! Silence.

D) After, Columbus presents other rules of Zombieland

#7: Travel light

Through this, we begin to learn about Columbus on an emotive level.

With only a small suitcase, he walks on a highway that’s filled with abolished, empty cars.

He’s traveling from Austin, TX to Columbus, OH. Explains how he’s a loner, yet has begun to miss people now that none are around. And even though he isn’t close with his parents, how he’s making his way ‘home’ to OH in hopes they’ll still be alive. This effortlessly transitions to…

E) Tallahassee’s introduction. Then after, right at the end of page ten, is when the journey of Columbus and Tallahassee – each chasing their own ‘thing’ – begins.

Flagstaff quickly wipes sweat from his temple with his
sleeve, starts to tremble, then all at once GIVES UP,
lowering his shotgun, setting it against the motorcycle, and
RAISING HIS HANDS, ashamed.

Flagstaff smiles embarrassedly, then STICKS OUT ONE THUMB
questioningly in the universal signal of HITCH-HIKING.

Albuquerque rolls his eyes, lowers his gun, and motions to
Flagstaff with his head: ‘Get in.’

4. Establishing theme and/or the message:

Through individual losses, the theme of Zombieland is molded. For example:

Columbus: Traveling home to see if his parents are alive.

Tallahassee: On a tireless search for Twinkies, in remembrance of his late child.

Then two supporting characters, which are introduced a bit later, become a part of Columbus and Tallahassee’s group. Their purpose, too, falls align with the film’s themes:

Wichita and Little Rock: Sisters, Witchita being the eldest. They’re en route to an amusement park. Witchita wants to give Little Rock something ‘fun’ midst the turbulent times, knowing that Little Rock was stripped of her childhood given the circumstances.

There’s a commonality between all four – they’re in search of a connection of sorts, all of which tie back to family, relationships, people, and themselves.

5. Setting up the dramatic situation: 

This set up links to point #3: Crafting the world of the story. How Zombieland’s more obvious dramatic situation is that there’s a zombie apocalypse. But quickly, we discover what’s at its actual core – a character-driven tale with deep-rooted emotional ties. The film goes on to explore how these characters survive a devastated world while dealing with and internalizing their personal sufferings. Then with meeting one another, how their journey together helps them begin to heal.


Download the script for ZOMBIELAND here for free.


Danielle Karagannis is a writer/director. She currently has a feature script entitled INSOMNIA! (ensemble comedy) that’s been accepted into filmmaker labs and recently took her to the 2018 Berlinale / EFM. You can watch Danielle‘s latest film, GIRL (short), here: http://www.daniellekaragannis.com/watch and can follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cansathefan/.


Photo credit: Zombieland Productions


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