Zombieland Originally Approached Joe Pesci For Bill Murray’s Role, Here’s What Went Wrong

Bill Murray and Joe Pesci
(Image credit: The Roku Channel/Netflix)

Remember when Ruben Fleischer’s weekend box office hit Zombieland had a surprise cameo from Bill Murray? Believe it or not, that role was actually going to go to another celebrated actor we all know and love. Joe Pesci was originally approached to take on what ended up being Bill Murray’s surprise cameo role, but turned it down for one specific reason.

You may remember that random Bill Murray cameo as he played a fictional version of himself in the zombie-comedy flick Zombieland. The gang visits his mansion, accidentally gets killed after being mistaken for a real zombie, and he regretted Garfield. Well, Joe Pesci was about to be the cameo that would have made audiences cheer as it was revealed on Twitter by Zombieland co-screenwriter Rhett Reese that the Home Alone star wasn’t offered enough money to sign on for it.

It’s a shame that Joe Pesci rejected the offer. This would have been a cameo no one would have expected since he announced his retirement in 1999 and focused on his music career. But Pesci came out of retirement for Netflix’s The Irishman, where he reunited with a number of actors from Martin Scorsese's movies. But it wasn’t without a little coaxing from Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, and others who were part of the Netflix Oscar-nominated film. Shows that everyone wanted this talented performer to come back to play the gangster-type roles we all know him for.

It’s a funny story about how Bill Murray ended up taking on his Zombieland role. The horror-comedy film’s co-screenwriter Paul Wernick approached Woody Harrelson about which celebrity would be great for the part. He said it was either Dustin Hoffman or Bill Murray. Since Hoffman wasn’t available, he gave his St. Vincent pal a call and he took the bait. His cameo was almost completely different where Murray’s character would go full zombie on the characters and was nearly impossible to destroy. But the comedic actor wasn’t a fan of that writing choice, so rewrites had to be done to give us the memorable scene we know today. 

When Zombieland 2: Double Tap came out, Bill Murray was brought back to the sequel. You can see him in a post-credits scene where during his interview promoting the fictional film Garfield 3: Flabby Tabby, the zombie apocalypse starts with Murray battling all of the zombies that break in during the junket. Clearly, this iconic actor ain’t afraid of no ghosts or zombies. Joe Pesci could have gotten his chance to appear in a funny scene with Ghostbusters stars for the sequel, but the Goodfellas actor wasn’t acting anymore at the time and still would have wanted more money for the role. If ten years later they decide to make a third Zombieland movie let's hope Pesci will say yes this time. I wouldn't care if he would be in his late '80s. He would still make the role memorable.

While it would have been entertaining to see a surprise cameo of Joe Pesci in Zombieland, Bill Murray was still a real treat for audiences to see. You can his hilarious cameo appearance in Zombieland on your Peacock subscription and Zombieland 2: Double Tap on Starz.

Carly Levy
Entertainment Writer

Just your average South Floridian cinephile who believes the pen is mightier than the sword.