Few comedies made in the past 20 years have inspired a devoted following quite like Shaun of the Dead has. The film made stars of director Edgar Wright and co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and launched the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” that also includes Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. It’s one of those films that can make fellow fans into fast friends, and it’s now considered one of the best zombie movies ever made.
So, to celebrate Shaun of the Dead and its bloody legacy, here are a dozen facts about the film, from its original title to its TV origins.
1. Shaun of the Dead was inspired by Dawn of the Dead and other horror classics.
It’s no secret that Shaun of the Dead owes a debt to the classic zombie films of George A. Romero. According to co-writer/director Edgar Wright, he and co-writer/star Simon Pegg first bonded while making the British TV series Asylum, when they discovered a mutual love for Dawn of the Dead. In crafting the tone of the film, Wright also drew inspiration from John Landis’ 1981 horror-comedy An American Werewolf in London, and Philip Kaufman’s 1978 production of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
2. Shaun of the Dead began with a single episode of Spaced.
According to Wright, the idea that would grow into Shaun of the Dead came from a single episode of Spaced, the comedy series he and Pegg co-created with Jessica Stevenson. In the series one episode “Art,” Pegg’s character Tim takes a dose of bad speed and stays up all night playing Resident Evil 2, which causes him to hallucinate that he’s actually fighting zombies. After the episode was filmed, Wright pitched the idea of a feature-length zombie comedy.
“The zombie scene was the last thing we did, and I remember being in a cab with Simon on the way to the wrap party and saying ‘Hey, we should do a whole zombie film!’”
3. Shaun of the Dead wasn't the original title.
What would become Shaun of the Dead began as what Wright describes as a “one-page Word document” that sketched out the general idea of the film. Back then it was called Tea Time of the Dead.
4. Edgar Wright basically went broke in order to get the movie made.
When Wright and Pegg began pitching the film, Film4 Productions showed some interest in it. Then, Film4 significantly cut back its budget, leaving Shaun of the Dead without a production company for a while. Because Wright was still hoping to get the film made, he held off on taking other directing jobs while searching for new financing for the film, and ended up having to borrow money from his friends. “For me to take on a TV job meant that I was like pushing the film back, so … I was going rapidly broke. I was like majorly in the red.”
According to Wright, Pegg still hasn’t allowed him to pay back the money he owes him from those lean times.
5. Shaun of the Dead was quite the Spaced reunion.
A number of supporting cast members from Spaced make appearances in Shaun of the Dead, including Nick Frost, Peter Serafinowicz, Julia Deakin, Jessica Stevenson, and Reece Shearsmith.
6. Shaun of the Dead's zombie extras are mostly major Spaced fans.
To find extras willing to be made up as zombies, the filmmakers put out the call on fan forums devoted to Spaced. About 200 extras were eventually recruited.
7. The famous Cornetto was included because of a hangover.
Shaun of the Dead famously kicks off what’s become known as the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy,” which also includes Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. The trilogy is so named because the films share certain thematic concerns (they’re all in some way about men who have to learn to grow up and move on with their lives, for example) and because Cornetto ice cream snacks appear in all three. So, how did that start? According to Wright, it’s because he once ate a Cornetto to get over a hangover, and thought it would be funny if Nick Frost’s character, Ed, did the same after a night of drinking.
“It’s the weirdest thing you would want to eat at that time in the morning,” Wright said. “When I was in college, I got very, very drunk once, and I had a Cornetto in the morning and I felt a lot better. So, it became my hangover cure, and it still is.”
8. Shaun's nickname has a very sweet origin.
In the film, Shaun’s mother Barbara (Downton Abbey’s Penelope Wilton) calls him pickle, and apparently that’s not just something the filmmakers made up. Wright’s own mother called him that as a boy, apparently while she taught some of his classes at school, much to his embarrassment.
9. One character's death caused actual tears on the set.
Shaun of the Dead is full of comedy-laden character deaths, but one particular death actually caused real grief: the death of Shaun’s mother. According to Wright and Pegg, Pegg reacted to the idea of Barbara dying as if his own mother was being killed, and after her death scene was filmed, Pegg and Frost cried real tears.
10. George A. Romero was a fan of the movie.
Knowing that they were borrowing heavily from his zombie filmmaking style and that they’d taken their title from Dawn of the Dead, Wright and Pegg reached out to zombie legend George A. Romero to ask if he’d see the film and give it his blessing. According to Wright, he screened it in a theater in Florida, by himself except for a lone security guard, and quite enjoyed it. “We got a call from him later that night. He couldn’t have been sweeter about it,” Wright said.
11. George Romero isn't the only famous zombie filmmaker referenced.
During the scene in which Shaun leafs through a phone book to try and make a restaurant reservation, he comes across a restaurant called Fulci’s. This is a reference to the legendary Italian director Lucio “Godfather of Gore” Fulci, who directed Zombie and City of the Living Dead (among many other classics).
12. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg were immortalized as zombies after the movie.
After they won over Romero with Shaun of the Dead, Pegg and Wright were both invited to cameo as zombies in Romero’s fourth Dead film, 2005’s Land of the Dead. They are both credited as “Photo Booth Zombie,” and can be glimpsed during a scene in which rich humans get their photos taken next to chained up zombies.
A version of this story ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2021.