How Brad Pitt's 'World War Z' Came Back From the Dead
The zombie apocalypse tentpole faced a lengthy production process, extensive reshoots and an escalating budget.
World War Z took the first step towards profitability this weekend as Brad Pitt's tentpole adaptation of Max Brooks' novel of the same name grossed a strong $66 million at the domestic box office. It also opened to $45.8 million overseas in its first 25 markets for a total $111.8 million.
The biggest opening weekend of the actor's career has helped bring positive headlines for the project, which faced a series of setbacks during a reportedly arduous production process. World War Z's budget escalated to $190 million from an initial $150 million, extensive reshoots were ordered and a first cut of the film was so uneven that Pitt recently deemed it "atrocious."
The book was optioned by Paramount in 2006, with Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster conceiving the film as way to bring substance to a blockbuster, the director recalled to Vanity Fair. "There is no better metaphor than the walking dead as, sort of, the unconscious," Forster explained. "In that sense, I found you have an incredible opportunity to make a blockbuster movie that has some sort of substance."
Brooks best-selling novel was subtitled "An Oral History of the Zombie War" and was episodic in nature. Pitt's World War Z mostly focuses on one man, Gerry Lane, a retired U.N. inspector.
Pitt explained his vision to The Hollywood Reporter in January 2012: "Can we take this genre movie and use it as a Trojan horse for sociopolitical problems, and what would the effect on the world be if everything we knew was upside-down and pulled out from under us?" The actor also said that he was inspired by 1974's The Towering Inferno in adapting the zombie book.
Paramount and Skydance Production co-financed the film with Pitt's Plan B entertainment producing. The actor planned to develop the project, in part, for his kids. "This whole thing started because I just wanted to do a film that my boys could see before they turned 18 — one that they would like, anyways," Pitt recalled at a Las Vegas ComicCon appearance in April this year, the Associated Press reported.
The film shot at various European locations, including London and Glasgow (where the production shot scenes that were set in Philadelphia). In Glasgow, in August 2011, Pitt made headlines for saving an extra who was nearly trampled during a scene where a mass of people were filmed running away from a horde of zombies.
A few months later, in Budapest, an anti-terrorism squad raided a warehouse to confiscate 85 of the production's weapons because local authorities claimed they were in working order. The film was first shown to Paramount executives in February 2012, Vanity Fair reported.
"It was just atrocious," Pitt recently explained of World War Z's first cut to USA Today. "You see some first cuts and you go, 'Oh, it's everything you want it to be and more.' It's working on certain levels that you didn't even understand when you were shooting it. Like, I had this feeling seeing Moneyball. And here was the exact opposite."
World War Z was delayed for six months from its Dec. 21 release date -- when it initially was set to open against Disney's The Lone Ranger, which also was delayed until this summer.
After news of the planned extensive reshoots broke, World War Z increasingly was described as a troubled production. Last June, multiple sources described to THR that the film was a "headless enterprise with multiple conflicts."
Star Trek Into Darkness and Lost writer Damon Lindelof was hired for significant rewrites to the film's third act. Lindelof went on to add 60 more pages to the script, and Paramount invested an additional $20 million to its $170 million budget, THR reported in May.
"The idea of a large-scale, epic, $150 million zombie movie starring Brad Pitt sounds pretty good to me," Lindelof told THR in a recent cover story. "Because I haven't seen that before. I haven't seen the go-for-broke, insane zombie movie. One of the things that Brad said was, there are so many tropes we've come to expect in zombie films, and he wanted to do something different. And the only way to do it different was to do it big."
The film had its world premiere in London on June 2 and received more positive than negative early reviews. THR's chief film critic, Todd McCarthy, noted of the infamously reshot final act that "the quiet, pared-down nature of the sequence contrasts strongly with everything that's gone before, which is not a bad thing, although the very ending rather flatly wraps everything up in a jiffy." World War Z currently sits at 67 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
Pitt has been aggressively promoting the film, even appearing in four cities -- Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and Austin -- in a single day in early June in the lead up to the U.S. release. While in Moscow on the global press tour for the project, Pitt hinted at potential sequels for WWZ saying that there is "plenty more material to mine." Forster, however, cautiously stated: "Let's see how this goes. We hope this movie goes well, and we shall go from there."
On Sunday, as World War Z performed well at the domestic box office, Paramount's vice chairman Rob Moore told THR that the studio is setting its sights on developing a sequel. "I think the movie captured the public's imagination with something that is fresh and different," he said.