Zombies: they’re movie monsters so numerous and mysterious in nature, you never really need to give them a personality. For the most part, if your zombie character has special characteristics that separate them from the horde, it’s because someone we knew as a human got turned. But sometimes we’re introduced to zombies of all sorts of stripes that can capture our imaginations with their personalities. As Netflix is undoubtedly going to introduce even more of that sort with the debut of Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, it’s a good time to have a zombie history lesson.
We’re about to take a look at the best movie zombies that, good or bad, have made the audience really dig their style. There are some zombies we get to know personally, and there’s even a pretty horrific piece of work that’s on this list as we’re running the gamut. And spoilers, Disney even managed to land a zombie on this list! Keep that level of intrigue up, as we’re about to discuss zombies that were more than just shambling monstrosities.
Bub, Day Of The Dead
Bub from George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead is a a perfect example of the sort of zombie that’s made fans over the decades since he was introduced. One of the first movie zombies to be shown as maintaining a level of intelligence above merely needing to feed, Bub enjoys simple human pleasures. He’s a Stephen King fan, he loves “Ode To Joy” and even grasps the concept of revenge, as he hunts down a human antagonist in this Dawn of the Dead sequel. Bub saluted his friends, and we’re saluting him!
Big Daddy, Land Of The Dead
When George Romero first returned to his zombie legacy in Land of the Dead, he revisited the concept that he was branching out into with Bub in the previous film. Tired of seeing other zombies slaughtered by humanity, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark) is an undead figure you can’t help but feel sympathy for, even as he and his army tear apart humanity’s upper crust. With Romero’s zombies getting smarter, Big Daddy also exhibits that intelligence and empathy, as he and his generation of zombies can use guns and other instruments as weapons, and they’re even capable of mercy killings.
R, Warm Bodies
Being different from the zombie pack isn’t enough, as we see in our next entry focused on R (Nicolas Hoult), the love interest/zombie from the cinematic adaptation of Warm Bodies. While the undead still eat flesh and brains, and can’t really say much, the personalities of the zombies in director Jonathan Levine’s romantic comedy are still very much intact. So while we don’t know much about R’s life before he was turned at the time, upon meeting him, we get to like him; the feeling only grows during his courtship with Julie (Teresa Palmer). What’s more, these zombies can actually come back to life, so rooting for them to become more human is another dimension that makes R’s story more intriguing.
Ed, Shaun Of The Dead
Up until this point, we’ve been talking about zombies that are introduced to the audience as undead denizens. But Ed (Nick Frost) from Shaun of the Dead is a firm example of someone we befriended as a human, only to see sadly turned into a zombie towards the end of the film. That said, when we see that Shaun (Simon Pegg) has not only kept the zombified Ed alive, but in a shed ready to still play rounds of Timesplitters to pass the time, it’s a friendship that earns another trademark Edgar Wright needle drop. Even if he tries to eat Shaun every now and then, Ed is still a friend worth having.
Dr. Carl Hill, The Re-Animator Series
Not all memorable zombies are good, and Re-Animator’s Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) is an absolute piece of trash. Hill’s pompous infamy still makes him one of the best movie zombies because he’s able to control people, and his formerly living body, through extremely powerful telekinesis. Using these abilities to control a zombie army of his own, and in one special case to rape a human woman (Barbara Crampton), Dr. Hill’s skills are the epitome of evil. Not even cool powers, and the addition of bat-wings to his head in the sequel Bride of Re-Animator, can stop Dr. Hill from being trash, but he’s one of the best zombie villains you’ll ever see get crushed to death.
Billy Butcherson, Hocus Pocus
Yes, friends, Disney has a memorable zombie to count as their own. Hocus Pocus’s Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones) is a gateway horror icon that can help introduce your own children to the concept of the walking dead... without showing them The Walking Dead. Played mostly silent, except for one memorably mouthy moment with the Sanderson sisters, Billy’s memorably goofy role helps nail the entire film’s legacy as a family-friendly horror movie. Only the undead could ever square off against Winifred Sanderson and live to tell the tale!
Be they kind or cruel, vicious monsters or hysterical pratfaller, zombies can be pretty memorable when you let them. Our hall of fame and shame above are the best examples of zombies that helped make the movies they starred in examples of not just falling back on the same old groaning tropes. Thanks to the reason we all gathered here today, we’re probably going to see this list grow real soon.
There’s probably room on this list for one or two of the creations that Zack Snyder is about to unleash on the world in Army of the Dead, especially when we’re already being teased with the unveiling of a zombie tiger. As the film debuts in wide theatrical release this Friday, with the streaming release hitting Netflix the week after, we’ll see who the public latches onto and who gets the double tap. Though if we were to place an early bet, that tiger’s probably going to steal the movie. Fingers crossed that's the case.