What defines a trilogy? A continuous narrative told over the span of three films, or recurring details and motifs? The answer is ‘both’, of course, but Edgar Wright’s celebrated Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy – comprised of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and capstone entry The World’s End – happens to fall into the latter category.
Each film is self-contained, and respectively they tell stories of zombie apocalypses, small-town conspiracies, and homogenizing alien invasions. Yet they still make up their own varied trilogy courtesy of countless elements, themes, and ideas shared and explored across all three pictures – and Screen Rant has diligently catalogued the best of them.
From repeat-use of the same cast members from picture to picture, to the ever-present delicious frozen treat from which the series derives its name, here’s our list – in no particular order – of the references, cameos, Easter eggs, and tie-ins of the Cornetto Trilogy. Note: this post contains minor SPOILERS for The World’s End.
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way: the trilogy’s namesake ice cream. Cornettos almost have their own supporting role in these films as the go-to sweet for all of Wright’s principals. Whether it’s Nicholas and Danny snacking in their squad car, or Ed blithely eating a cone after he and Shaun kill their first zombies, Cornettos make up the literal dessert topping of the series.
The notion of the Cornetto trilogy came from a wisecrack Wright, Pegg, and Frost made following Hot Fuzz. With fans clamoring for a third film, the trio joked about the “ice cream connection” binding Fuzz together with Shaun, and later realized that both movies were alike in more ways than their characters’ common fondness for frosty Cornetto deliciousness.
Which no one gets to enjoy in The World’s End. The film contains nary a hint of ice cream…until the epilogue, when a Cornetto wrapper (mint!) flies by a wistful Andy.
In each Cornetto film, Wright uses pubs as places for his heroes to let off some post-breakup steam, bond over some drinks, or revisit the good old days. He also inevitably turns those bars into zany battlegrounds, pitting his cast against undead sieges, murderous villagers, and alien invaders.
Halfway through Shaun of the Dead, Shaun’s and Ed’s go-to tavern – the Winchester – becomes their defense against the onslaught of zeds, not to mention the setting for some heavy personal confrontations. Meanwhile, Hot Fuzz‘s local pub serves as the backdrop for a blazing gunfight between Sandford’s finest and the bloodthirsty townsfolk cabal.
Meanwhile, The World’s End zips from one watering hole to the next, staging chases and numerous action scenes across the whole film. The most memorable of these, however, occurs in the Beehive, and while we won’t give away more than that, the sequence – choreographed by Jackie Chan Stunt Team leader Brad Allan – is one for the books.
The great Russian author Anton Chekov believed that nothing in a narrative should be irreplaceable or without purpose; he famously stated that if a rifle is hanging on the wall, then it either must go off at some point in the story or it must be removed. Today we call this principle ‘Chevok’s gun’, an expression about including only what’s necessary in a dramatic work.
Wright clearly agrees with Chekov on some level or another – or perhaps he just really hates fences. Either way, no fence goes unbroken in the Cornetto films, which all see characters blunder over, barrel through, and thoroughly topple pickets and posts amidst all manner of pandemonium.
Of course, the glory of the fence gag is hard to articulate on paper – but that’s where this fantastic GIF comes in handy. (You’re welcome.)
It’s a given that any filmmaker or actor is a movie fan on some level, but like the Quentin Tarantinos of the movie world, Wright, Pegg, and Frost share a truly monumental love of cinema, especially genre flicks. That enthusiasm crops up throughout the trilogy in ways both big and small.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of direct mentions, such as Hot Fuzz explicitly name-dropping Point Break and Bad Boys II – two films that heavily impact Fuzz‘s plot – while The World’s End borrows Peter Fonda’s climactic speech from The Wild Angels not once, but twice. Other nods can be a bit more subtle; Shaun works at Foree Electric (as in horror icon Ken Foree, the hero in Dawn of the Dead), and he tries to get a reservation at an Italian restaurant called Fulci’s (as in Lucio Fulci, gore film legend and director of Zombi 2.
Each Cornetto movie also tackles its own genre, mixing comedy with zombie horror, buddy cop action, and alien takeovers. No doubt about it, these movies know their genre history and embrace it with gusto.
Nothing is more immediately identifiable about these movies than their casts, which are made up of a huge variety of names – apart from Pegg and Frost, that is – showing up in roles of differing sizes. Sometimes, they just have a cameo; sometimes, they’re integral to both plot and theme.
Most of them only appear in two of the three pictures apiece -Patricia Franklin, for example, has minor parts in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, while Paddy Considine and David Bradley appear in both Hot Fuzz and The World’s End and Reece Shearsmith has roles in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. On the other hand, some of them went for the turkey and took roles in all three.
Perhaps most notably, Martin Freeman received increasingly larger roles throughout the series, from his walk-on in Shaun of the Dead, to his brief scene in Hot Fuzz, to his significant supporting part in The World’s End. Julia Deakin and Rafe Spall both have mostly small bits in each (though Spall, playing one of the two Andys, does enjoy more visibility in Hot Fuzz).
Last of all, Bill Nighy portrays Shaun’s step-dad in Shaun of the Dead and the Chief Inspector in Hot Fuzz; while he doesn’t appear on-camera in The World’s End, he supplies his distinctive voice to the alien’s leader in the finale.
Nighy isn’t the only veteran Brit that Wright casts in the Cornetto films, though. In Shaun of the Dead, he’s joined by Downton Abbey‘s Penelope Wilton, while Hot Fuzz squeezes him into a massive cast that includes Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Edward Woodward, Anne Reid, the aforementioned Considine and Bradley, and Game of Thrones‘ Rory McCann plus English comedian Kevin Eldon.
The World’s End continues this trend, casting Kill List‘s Michael Smiley as the Reverend Green and – look away if you want to remain surprised – Pierce Brosnan as the heroes’ former schoolteacher. They’re joined by Sightseers‘ Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, as well as Eddie Marsan and Rosamund Pike.
Then, finally, there are the cameos. Most folks probably know that the psychotic Santa in Hot Fuzz is none other than Peter Jackson, and that Cate Blanchett plays Janine, Nicholas Angel’s ex-girlfriend. (Wright himself plays Dave, Janine’s new beau.)
It may surprise you to learn that Smiley plays a zombie in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in Shaun of the Dead, though, and that the twin biker zombies – Kevin and Nick Wilson – also play the butcher twins in Hot Fuzz.
“You’ve got red on you.” At first, it’s just a throwaway quip and kind of a burn on the unkempt Shaun, but those five words wind up being reused multiple times in Shaun of the Dead, and they take on new meaning.
It’s a common pattern in these films: they echo lines of dialogue or sequences of action but twist them in some way and change their impact. Toward the beginning of Shaun of the Dead, Shaun guides Ed through a level of TimeSplitters 2; later, as zombies close in on them in the Winchester, Ed coaches Shaun the same way by calling out targets.
In Hot Fuzz, meanwhile, Nicholas Angel has his command taken over by the unassuming Sgt. Tony Fisher, mirroring an earlier scene in the film where Nicholas takes decisive control over a Sandford crime scene. Plus, Danny’s ketchup packet prank – at first just an innocent joke meant to get a rise out of the hard-noised Angel – turns into a lifesaver later on when Nicholas runs afoul of the NWA.
In The World’s End, Gary blurts out Peter Fonda’s famous “loaded” speech from Wild Angels in the climax, which we hear as a soundbite during the opening scene. Andy also frequently grouses that there’s no arguing with Gary – something that the aliens quickly discover for themselves (to their chagrin).
Intentional or not, Wright’s and Pegg’s scripts all contain one defining moment or quality that sums up the plot of each film; they’re not direct and overt, but they’re there, and they’re a lot of fun to pick out.
Ed, for example, synopsizes Shaun of the Dead early on when comforting Shaun following his split with Liz: “We’ll have a Bloody Mary first thing. Bite at the King’s Head. Grab a couple at The Little Princess, stagger back here, and bang! We’re up at the bar for shots.” And that’s exactly what happens – they kill the zombie girl in the garden (“Mary”), Phillip gets bitten, they save Dave, Dianne, and Liz, they shamble around like undead, and they shoot zombies at the Winchester.
Additionally, The World’s End neatly encapsulates its modern-day King Arthur motif in its character names: Gary King, Andrew Knightley, Stephen Prince, Oliver Chamberlain, Peter Page. (They’re also on a quest to recapture their youth.) And in mentioning Point Break and Bad Boys II, Hot Fuzz provides the blueprints for its over-the-top climax.
It wouldn’t be a Cornetto trilogy list without dedicating a spot to its leading men. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost vaulted into geek iconography almost a decade ago when Shaun of the Dead reached an audience that hadn’t yet seen Spaced; since then, they’ve played best buddies three additional times, in Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, and the Greg Mottola-helmed Paul.
What’s exceptional about each outing they’ve done together is that they never fail to convey their friendship – which is, of course, because they’re really friends. That bond gets tested in all three of Wright’s Cornetto films, each of which end with a big, emotional moment between the two – it’s the beat that each picture builds to.
Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End are about a lot of things – like growing up, facing oppression, and normal people in extraordinary circumstances – but more than anything else, they’re about friendship. Wright couldn’t have picked a better pair to bring that pursuit to life.
And there you have it: all of the good stuff that helps tie the Cornetto pictures together into one cohesive trio. That’s not to say that we caught everything – there may be a cameo or two we didn’t pick up on, or a reference that slipped under our radar – but we did our level best to detail the choicest bits. Anything we missed? Feel free to pipe up in the comments!
Seeing the Cornetto trilogy come to a close is a mixed bag; Wright, Pegg, and Frost have been making these movies for near on a decade, so this marks a fond but bittersweet farewell. None of this means that they won’t work together again in the future, mind, so we’ll have to sit back and wait and see where they all go from here – as well as whether or not they decide to make the Cornetto series a tetralogy.
The World’s End releases in the U.S. on August 23, 2013.