The casting method was employed to prepare gelatin‐based nanocomposite films containing different concentrations of cellulose nanofiber (CNF) as a reinforcement filler (2.5%, 5%, and 7.5% w/w of gelatin) as well as zinc oxide nanoparticles (ZnO NPs) as an antimicrobial agent (1%, 3%, 5%, and 7% w/w of gelatin). The results showed that the incorporation of 5% CNFs (optimum concentration) significantly boosted the films' stiffness (YM; by 47%) and strength (TS; by 72%) but decreased its flexibility (EAB; by 28%), water vapor permeability, and moisture absorption. The best G/CNF film antibacterial activity was provided by the 5% concentration of ZnO NPs according to the disk diffusion assay; Gram‐positive bacteria were inhibited significantly more than Gram‐negative bacteria. The antimicrobial efficacy of the G/CNF/ZnO NPs film as a food packaging material was assessed via counts of Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas fluorescens inoculated on chicken fillets (as a food model) in the treatment (G/5% CNF/5% ZnO) and control groups (plastic bag). The antibacterial film led to a significant reduction in the bacterial load of the chicken fillets ( p < .05), especially against the Gram‐positive strain. This study illustrated that G/CNF/ZnO NPs films can be utilized as active packaging to prolong the shelf life of different perishable foods such as meat.