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SYFY WIRE Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead’s Post-Credit Scene Remains One of the Darkest Shock Endings Ever

The perfect jaw-dropper to end an excellent try in the zombie franchise.

By Trent Moore
Dawn of the Dead 2004

The 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake reinvigorated the zombie subgenre and helped solidify director Zack Snyder and writer James Gunn as true players in genre filmmaking. But we’re here to talk about that ending. Or to be more specific, that post-credit scene that blows the ending up in the bloodiest way possible.

First, a bit of a refresher: The 2004 Dawn of the Dead (now streaming on Peacock) ends in a similar fashion (conceptually) to the 1978 version. A group of survivors take refuge in a shopping mall to escape a full-on zombie apocalypse that throws the world into chaos. In the 1978 original, they’re the traditional slow-moving zombie — while Snyder’s reboot featured some terrifying, fast-moving undead — but the concept remains the same.

In both versions a group of survivors make the local shopping mall their refuge, locking up the doors and converting the mall into a community of sorts. The concept of a mall was still novel in the late 1970s, so George A. Romero’s original version was also filtering in some subtext about consumerism along with all the brain dead zombies (you get it?), while Snyder’s version opted for a more straight-up action horror story with plenty of bites, blood, and insane set pieces to keep the action rolling.

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As for the endings, they’re both also pretty close to one another: The 1978 version finds a handful of survivors make it out of the mall when it finally falls to the undead and human raiders, flying off into the unknown in a helicopter. Low on fuel, sure, but still alive and with a faint hope they might be able to make it to a safe place before it fades to black.

The 2004 remake trades the helicopter for a boat, with a handful of survivors abandoning the mall to make a run for a boat to see if they can set off far enough to sea to discover a potential island that hasn’t been touched by the zombie virus. It’s not the worst idea, and though a fair amount of the group doesn’t make it all the way to the dock without being eaten, the nurse Ana (Sarah Polley), cop Kenneth (Ving Rhames), junior security guard Terry (Kevin Zegers) and his love interest Nicole (Lindy Booth) do get out to sea as the movie officially ends.

So, pretty similar takes, right?

Why the Dawn of the Dead remake's ending is so shocking

But just a few seconds after the credits start, Snyder and Gunn’s version takes a turn. Found footage from a camera on the boat cuts in as the credits roll, showing Terry recording their journey at sea as things quickly turn dire. We see them running out of food and water, and the boat runs out of gas and the engine catches fire. Thankfully, they manage to still reach an island.

That hope of safety quickly takes a turn, as we hear a horde of zombies storming out of the tree cover. The camera hits the ground as we hear screams and gunfire, as zombies pour in from the side of the frame.

Cut to black.

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Sure, it’s still technically an open ending — since we don't actually see the remaining survivors die. But it’s a nihilistic moment to end on, especially after you already technically ended the movie with the survivors escaping via boat, with an ocean of possibility in front of them. Instead, the final frame is blood and screams, with the thundering clatter of zombies incoming.

For a big budget theatrical horror flick, it’s one heck of a gutsy way to leave an audience. You’ve spent the past hour and a half getting to know these survivors, watching these final few survive against all odds. Then, after seemingly making it out, there comes the rug pull. Not even as a legit scene in the same style as the film that came before, but in found footage snippets. 

James Gunn explains Dawn of the Dead ending

Interestingly, Gunn talked about the film’s message back around the 2004 release, and despite the final scene, he said he still sees the overall story as one of hope. When push comes to shove, it showed people from all backgrounds and skill sets come together to face a common foe. Now, they might not necessarily prevail in the end, but they still came together nonetheless.

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“Their careers, their churches, their jobs, their families are stripped away. They're gone. They start at nothing and they have to become who they really are in the face of all that and some of the people are redeemed and end up becoming good people and some of them are not redeemed and they end up, you know, not redeemed,” he told IGN in 2004. “And that's what kind of drove me throughout the story, was it was a story about redemption. I also think that there's a lot about how people survive and what people turn to in the face of such tragedy. The tragedy in this case being flesh-eating zombies. And really it's a group coming together to work as a community who wouldn't otherwise work together. So there is that foundation of love, that basic message.”

It’s hard to argue with Gunn’s take, you just have to take into account the fact that even when humanity does rally to support and save one another — they still might not win (or in this case, survive) in the end. Or you could always take the hopeful view, and believe they made it back to the boat with no food, fuel, or water and found another refuge.

Hmmph. Yeah, right. 

Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead is streaming now on Peacock!