The cast of survivors of 'Dawn of the Dead' 2004.

20 Years Later and I’m Still Bummed Out About the Secret ‘Dawn of the Dead’ Ending

Right off the bat, let’s get one thing straight: I genuinely believe a zombie apocalypse could happen. Am I saying it’s probable? No. Is it possible? Yes, absolutely. With that in mind, zombie movies terrify me a little extra. Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, which just turned 20 years old, might be the most terrifying of all.

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***SPOILER ALERT: This post spoils DotD, which came out 20 years ago. So if you haven’t watched it by now, seriously, what are you doing?***

As a reminder, in case you want some fresh nightmare fuel, the zombies in Dawn of the Dead can f-cking RUN. As someone who knows in their heart they would get bitten by the dumbest, slowest zombie possible, the fact these motherf-ckers can run at you full steam with the grit and determination of a gym rat weirdo confidently challenging Usain Bolt to a sprint is a hard no thank you! You may be wondering why a scardey cat like me would even watch this movie and, well, all I can say is, 20 years ago I was slightly less timid towards zombies than I am now. I blame this movie for shifting my fear level a few notches up.

After the core band of the more well-known actors heroes (including Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, and a dog) escapes the mall they initially sought refuge in, they somehow manage to escape the apocalypse via a dead rich guy’s boat at the end of the film. Hurray! We have catharsis, and there is hope amongst the blood, guts, decay, and ruin. Life will somehow find a way, etc., etc.

That is, unless you stayed for the end credits where that entire happy-ish ending is undone. Boo! Keep in mind that this movie came out in 2004, and Marvel hadn’t yet warped everyone’s expectations for post-credits scenes. In theory, you could have left the movie theater none the wiser. If only.

The real terrible ending showed our heroes arriving on a secluded island, where zombies immediately attacked them as they disembarked the boat. Yes, including Chips the dog!

Now did they die? Who knows, the film ends there. The last shot you see is a camcorder dropped while the zombies descend. After that, the credits still roll, and there are just random shots of zombies being zombies. So if you want to get deep with it, the heroes are dead because we never see them again. All that’s left are zombies now.

To add insult to injury, the credits scenes already set up that their boat is almost out of gas and supplies. So really, there is no happy ending for these people you just spent two hours caring about and rooting for to make it out of this mess alive. Maybe the dog does, but you know what? Probably not, given the bleakness of the whole thing.

Yes, I know what kind of movie I was watching. They didn’t just serve up an undead mass of running zombies killing indiscriminately to let us go off into the sunset happily, but did it have to be that mean? Couldn’t they have left a glimmer of hope that maybe there was a way out of this pickle?! Clearly not, according to the film’s screenwriter James Gunn. When asked about the survivors on Threads, Gunn posted, “What survivors?”

The older I get the more I crave happy endings because they’re so rare in real life. The good people we know in life rarely reap their rewards, and the dum-dums we hate, who treat people terribly, tend to fail upward. I guess it was too much to expect someone could find happiness in a post-apocalyptic world where zombies can run, but geez Louise, that ending is still Bummertown, USA: Population: Me.

(featured image: Universal Studios)


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Author
Kate Hudson
Kate Hudson (no, not that one) has been writing about pop culture and reality TV in particular for six years, and is a Contributing Writer at The Mary Sue. With a deep and unwavering love of Twilight and Con Air, she absolutely understands her taste in pop culture is both wonderful and terrible at the same time. She is the co-host of the popular Bravo trivia podcast Bravo Replay, and her favorite Bravolebrity is Kate Chastain, and not because they have the same first name, but it helps.