Zombies get a bad rap. Sure, they’re ugly, they drool everywhere, they eat brains and destroy civilizations, but it’s not like they’re doing it on purpose. Sometimes, all a zombie needs is a little guidance. This is not the conclusion one would draw from The Walking Dead, in which zombies are, without exception, pretty awful. Will this change in the upcoming spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead? Who knows?
Since George A. Romero invented the modern zombie genre with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, zombies have been portrayed as mindless creatures, unable to think, acting on pure, brain-eating instinct (OK the brain-eating specifics only came in 1985’s The Return of the Living Dead). But over the course of nearly five decades, a few films and television shows have dared to show us the nicer, kinder side of zombies.
Here is our list of 10 zombies with GREAT personalities!
Bub in Day of the Dead (1985)
In the third film of his loosely connected Dead series, George A. Romero decided to go beyond the conceit of the previous two films – that people are coming back from the dead and attacking the living – in order to ponder what it actually means to be a zombie. With Bub (Howard Sherman), Romero asks if its possible for zombies to think, or to have emotions, and it turns out that they can. Though kept in captivity, Bub shows the ability to solve simple problems, to follow routines, and to remember things. He even listens to music. In other words, he’s a good dude. Who wouldn’t want a grab a few brews with a Bub like this!
Ed in Shaun of the Dead (2004)
The joke at the heart of Shaun of the Dead – which is so embedded in the narrative of the film that it almost stops being a joke at all – is that the majority of humans are basically zombies to begin with. This is especially true of Ed (Nick Frost), the eating, farting, video game-playing best friend and roommate of the titular Shaun (Simon Pegg). After getting bitten by a zombie later in the film, Ed retains many of the same characteristics that as he did while he was human, including his role as Shaun’s best friend. In fact, Shaun keeps Ed chained in the garage to play video games with, under the rules that he can’t get too close with his big ol’ slobbery zombie mouth.
Most people hear the name “Fido” and assume that it refer to a cute, fluffy dog. Maybe a Border Collie, or a Russell Terrier. But in this low-budget Canadian comedy, Fido is the name of a rather adorable zombie servant (Billy Connolly). Fido takes place in an alternate universe wherein zombies have been quelled and forced into servitude by collars produced by “Zomcon,” a vaguely evil-sounding corporation. Nevertheless, the captive Fido develops an unorthodox friendship with Timmy (K’Sun Ray), the son of the family that owns him. As a long-time portrayer of lovable, eccentric Scots, Connolly does an excellent job at making us empathize with this loveable, eccentric zombie. Fido is truly the Lassie of brain-eating undead.
Big Daddy in Land of the Dead (2005)
For the fourth entry in George A. Romero’s Dead series, the godfather of zombies expands his exploration of sentient zombies even further. With Bub in Day of the Dead, Romero explored a zombie with emotions and memory. With Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), Romero explores the possibility that zombies might begin to redevelop their lost intelligence after spending enough time infected. Daddy, a former gas station attendant still wearing his coveralls, learns how to use an assault rifle, making him a dangerous leader of the undead. Big Daddy’s character gains resonance as a metaphor for disadvantaged people who are locked out of centers of power and wealth. If he seems angry and vindictive as he leads a mass of zombie buds up to the gates of Fiddler’s Green – a fortified and protected city of the living – it’s understandable; Big Daddy hasn’t eaten in weeks and he is very peckish.
R in Warm Bodies (2013)
With their faces constantly in danger of falling off, it’s kind of hard to read a zombie’s facial expression, let alone figure out what they’re feeling on the inside. Given that they can’t talk, you can’t really be sure of how much of your conversations they understand, either. This is R’s (Nicholas Hoult) predicament in Warm Bodies. R is a zombie with a heart of gold and at least some smarts (as it turns out, zombies strategize among themselves while hunting for flesh). While out on a hunt with some of his zombie buds, R decides to save the pretty Julie (Teresa Palmer) from the others… because he has a crush. As with Bub in Day of the Dead, R is a zombie slowly developing his humanity back. Warm Bodies questions the finality of zombie-ism, and whether or not it’s truly an incurable ill. If R is any indication, then there can still be some sweetness underneath the rotting flesh of a zombie.
Liv Moore (get it?) in iZombie (2015 – )
Liv (Rose McIver) is a zombie, but she’s pretty good at hiding it. She eats brains, but only from people who are already dead. She sometimes has violent urges, but can generally keep them in check. She’s very pale, but she throws on some lipstick every once in a while. For whatever reason, Liv survived the transition into zombie-dom with most of her critical faculties in check. She’s a lot more dour now, but no more than you would expect from someone who works at a morgue (where she takes care of her dietary needs by collecting brain from the cadavers). As it turns out, she also gets visions of the lives of dead people she comes into contact with, which makes her pretty good at solving crimes and a valuable contact for Detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin). iZombie was developed by Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright, who previously worked on the cult favorite Veronica Mars, and this show contains much of the same charm. And part of that charm comes from Rose McIver as Liv, the dead, cold, but very endearing heart of the show.
Frankenstein’s monster in Frankenstein (1931)
OK, OK, Frankenstein’s monster isn’t technically a zombie. Both Mary Shelley’s novel and James Whale’s classic 1931 adaptation pre-date the creation of the modern zombie in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, and they weren’t related to the 1930s Voodoo zombies of White Zombie either. Yet, the monster shares an awful lot of characteristics with his zombie brethren. He’s dead, he’s brought back to life, he consists of dead body parts, and he has no way of communicating with the humans that want to kill him. As Boris Karloff’s performance makes clear, Frankenstein’s monster doesn’t particularly want to be the terrifying creature that he is, and he fails to understand the fear that his presence creates in other people or the damage that he can cause. When the local townspeople burn down a mill that contains the monster, we can’t help but wonder how things might have been different if they truly understood how he felt.
Kyle in American Horror Story: Coven (2013 – 2014)
Like Frankenstein’s monster, Kyle (Evan Peters) isn’t technically a zombie, but like Frankenstein’s monster, he’s pretty darn close. Cut together from the best parts of various dead frat boys, Kyle is a sweet, sensitive, undead boy with some serious emotional issues. If you’re unfamiliar with Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s American Horror Story series, you should know that this creative duo has never encountered a plot twist that they thought was too shocking or extreme. Even before he learns how to talk, Kyle is thrust into a polyamorous relationship with two witches (Taissa Farmiga and Emma Roberts), one of whom can’t have sex without killing her partner (which is why it’s handy that Kyle is already dead). After a while, Kyle learns to control his body, his emotions, and his tongue, but he never loses his innocence.
The Blithe Hollow Town Council in ParaNorman (2012)
ParaNorman, or Norman for short (or maybe Norm if you want to go really short), is a small-town boy who runs into problems because he sometimes unwittingly speaks to the dead. After a few cute, shambling zombies pop out of their graves, however, Norm (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) learns to use his powers to reign them in. As it turns out, these zombies aren’t so bad. a few hundred years ago they were town councilors, who sentenced a woman to death for witchcraft and were cursed by her as she burned on the stake. BUT: they know they were wrong! And the whole “coming back as zombies” thing is a pretty fair punishment. Anyway, they’ve learned their lesson, and they encourage Norm to get in touch with the spirit of the dead witch, who was really a medium like Norm.
Bill Murray in Zombieland (2009)
You know Bill Murray! He’s the scene-stealing star of Caddyshack, the beloved scientist Steve Zissou, the funny guy from Stripes, Meatballs, and Ghostbusters. He’s also the charming fellow who might give a groom some advice on wedding night, join some strangers for karaoke or kickball, or spend the night bartending at a music festival. He’s a great guy! And he’s that same great guy in Zombieland, in which he plays himself. He invites the gang into his giant Hollywood mansion, plays games with them, gives them liquor and shows them a good time. He also, sadly, puts on some zombie make-up and gets himself shot by a jumpy teenager who goes by the name “Columbus” (played by human ball of nerves Jesse Eisenberg). Granted, he may not be a real zombie, but what’s a real zombie anyway? Besides, the pickings for this list are getting a little thin. Cut us some slack.
As we mentioned, there aren’t too many zombies with good personalities out there. Most of them are real moody and don’t have much time for conversation. Did we miss any genial walkers? Can you point us toward any zombie gems that we can take out for dinner and maybe buy a drink? Let us know in the comments below!