Zombieland’s most important rules for surviving the undead

Daniel Rutledge looks back ten years to the hugely entertaining horror-comedy Zombieland, considering its ten most important rules of zombie survival.

In this piece, he also comes up with five new rules to improve the survival chances of Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin in upcoming sequel Zombieland: Double Tap.

Could we (and the zombie genre as a whole) learn something from this piece? It would appear so.

Zombieland was released a decade ago and became a cult favourite, memorable to different people for different reasons. Some were pleasantly surprised by how sweetly sentimental it was, telling the story of how a ragtag foursome became a family. For me, it’s the gorgeous, slow-mo splatter of the opening scene, shot at 1000-frames-per-second and put to perhaps the greatest song ever recorded—Metallica’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls‘.

But for many fans, Zombieland is iconic because of its rules.

The movie officially has more than 30 rules used by Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) to survive, even though only a few of them featured in the film. Before Zombieland: Double Tap is released in New Zealand on October 17, it’s a good time to take a look at the first film’s best rules—and to humbly suggest a few new ones I hope are implemented in the sequel.

The ten most important rules of Zombieland

#2 – Double Tap

First things first—don’t stop until they’re really, really dead. This is an extremely crucial rule for zombie survival that’s often fatally ignored in movies. Always ensure a zombie is down for good before lowering your guard and if you’re not completely sure it won’t get back up, just put another bullet in its head. Don’t get stingy with your ammo.

#22 – When In Doubt, Always Know Your Way Out

Resource gathering is an essential part of post-apocalypse survival and that means searching a lot of buildings. But never get caught in a place with only one door. One of my favourite ever zombie movie kills—the eye splinter in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2—could have been avoided if the lady hadn’t gotten tragically trapped in that little, single exit room.

#1 – Cardio

“When the zombie outbreak first hit, the first to go, for obvious reasons… were the fatties,” Columbus intones at the beginning of Zombieland. In 2019 that sort of language is what some may deem offensively un-body-positive, but in a movie with running zombies, it’s basic survival. Maintain your fitness so you can outrun the flesh eaters.

#31 – Check The Back Seat

This is an underrated rule that every character in every horror should follow. Just imagine if Leon and Claire had obeyed this at the beginning of Resident Evil 2—they would’ve seen and wasted that back seat zombie, not gotten separated and made that whole game way easier. No matter how frantic the situation, always take a moment to look in the back seat before driving off.

#17 – Don’t Be A Hero

Sometimes it’s cool to be the hero. Those times are when doing so doesn’t get you killed. How many times in zombie movies have we seen someone foolishly sacrifice their own life trying to save someone else who was going to die anyway? Columbus knew what was up and that’s why he stayed alive. The charm of Wichita (Emma Stone) did see him bend this rule a bit, however…

#3 – Beware of Bathrooms

They say “bathrooms”, but that’s American and actually means “toilets” in English. When you’re taking a dump, you’re super vulnerable and the undead in Zombieland can apparently sense that. They can probably smell it. Anyway, the safety and security of a toilet needs to be ensured before one’s bowels are relieved. Don’t even think about going number two in a flimsy outhouse like that guy in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. Let zombified Jason Voorhees’ blade through the poor chap’s belly serve as fair warning.

#4 – Seatbelts

This isn’t just a Zombieland rule. This is one of real life’s most important rules. It’s more important than all 12 of dumb Jordan Peterson’s dumb rules. It’s more important than the first four of the Ten Commandments of God, and probably the tenth one, too. Always, always, always wear a seatbelt.

#29 – The Buddy System

Having a companion to watch your back can be a life-saver. A second set of eyes and ears that doubles your zombie-killing potential, they’re kind of essential. Just make sure your buddy isn’t a panicky wuss who can’t stick to a plan, like that dork Nicholas from The Walking Dead who caused Noah’s particularly gory death.

#7 – Travel Light

Only ever pack what you need while traveling in the United States of Zombieland. Getting weighed down with heavy unnecessary shit is a great way to reduce your life expectancy. Columbus also meant travelling alone or with just one buddy by this rule, which means he’s ignoring it by the end of the first film and presumably all of the second. For the rest of us, it’s probably a good idea to obey.

#32 – Enjoy The Little Things

Your mental health needs to be looked after post-apocalypse. It can be a lonely, shitty place often filled with terror and despair, so you have to be mindful of allowing yourself to enjoy what you can. The first Zombieland taught us that this means having fun by smashing, bashing and destroying whatever you like.

5 rules Zombieland: Double Tap should add to the list

Kill The Bitten

There’s no time to get sentimental when a fellow human gets bitten—they got to go. Treat them the way the natives of Skull Island did Bill Ralston at the beginning of Braindead when the dreaded Rat Monkey sank its teeth into him.

Avoid Amusement Parks

Flashing lights, a crazy cacophony—this will attract all undead for kilometres around. And it did at the climax of Zombieland, imperiling all four of the main characters. No matter how much you want to go to Pacific Playland or Rainbow’s End, resist the temptation.

Fear The Living

Games like The Last of Us and the TV show The Walking Dead make it pretty clear that after zombies have roamed the Earth for a while, they’re the least of your worries. Other humans are far more evil. Don’t trust anyone and kill at the first sign of danger.

Never Pretend To Be A Zombie As A Joke

Shaun of the Dead was maybe the first movie to have people pretend to be zombies to move safely through a herd, but disguising yourself as one should never be done as a prank. Bill Murray found this out the hard way in Zombieland, getting a great big bloody hole through his chest for the effort.

Don’t Look For Twinkies

They may be delicious, they may remind you of simpler times and they may be the most revered of tasty treats in American pop culture. But the relentless search by Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) for a Twinkie needlessly endangered his life and the lives of those around him in Zombieland. Twinkies aren’t worth dying for.