The horror genre has many sub-categories, but arguably none have made as much of a societal impact as the zombie flick. From George A. Romero’s campy classics to the parodies of today, this facet of our culture has become so ingrained in our imaginations that many of us often wonder about what we would do, were the zombie apocalypse actually nigh? And there’s another question that can’t be ignored: Who would we want by our side when it comes?
While it could be argued that someone who sacrifices themselves for another would make a good companion, we’ve included characters who made it through their movie alive. Beyond that, these folks all showed that they had at least some of the skills, brains, and guts necessary to take down the undead. (On that note — not all of these are explicitly “zombie” films, but all of the creatures fought are of similar nature to zombies, so, for the sake of argument, would provide ample training for whomever battles them in the event of a zombie attack).
So without further ado, here are 15 Movie Characters You’d Want On Your Side In The Zombie Apocalypse.
15. Shaun Riley – Shaun of the Dead
Beginning with one of the aforementioned recent parodies, 2004’s Shaun of the Dead was the first of the critically-acclaimed Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. The title, of course, was derived from Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and the film itself made many references to the Dead series. While intentionally silly and often more comedy than horror, the film found the right balance. Its hero is the titular Shaun (played by Pegg himself), an oblivious yet surprisingly competent salesman who manages to save himself… and a couple others.
Shaun is definitely not the first draf pick, but personally, we’d like someone with a little humor on our side. The days could get long and boring, and we’re suckers for someone who can throw a punchline whilst throwing a punch. He risks his own life to divert an entire horde of zombies, and was willing to shoot his own mum when he had to. But his best quality? Well, in the event that he can’t protect you from becoming a zombie, he’ll keep you in his shed and play video games with you, as long as you don’t try to eat him.
14. Riley Denbo – Land of the Dead
After taking a long break from his trademark zombie series, Romero came back in 2005 with Land of the Dead. Featuring a more modern feel, the film did well critically and at the box office, though it brought in the usual comparisons as far as sequels go. The plot of the film added a conflict between the upper and lower classes in a post-apocalyptic society, which is definitely a unique element to a horror movie.
Our hero is Riley Denbo, who has created Dead Reckoning, a giant vehicle that can safely transport humans through zombie-infested territory. That alone makes him someone you’d want on your side, but he’s also very resourceful. Tasked with gathering supplies from the world outside of the zombie-free city of Pittsburgh, Riley takes notice that the undead are becoming smarter and learning to blend in with the humans. His observation is what saves him and (some of) those around him… oh, and the fact that he cares just enough about women to rescue a prostitute from a zombie death makes him at least sort of likable.
13. Dan Cain – Re-Animator
In the 1985 horror cult classic Re-Animator, one medical student ropes another into his seemingly genius experiment to prove that it’s possible to bring back the dead. Of course, everything that could go wrong, does. The mind behind the project, Herbert West, has discovered an agent that reanimates dead animals, and he enlists the help of his unenthusiastic roommate, Dan Cain, to test on human subjects. The result is something akin to zombies, though unfortunately for our heroes, some of them possess cognitive abilities.
While West may be the assumed candidate for this list, Dan is, overall, the one you’d rather have on your team. In addition to being intelligent and possessing medical training, he’s at the very least skeptical of West’s experiment throughout the film, even when he’s supportive. Where West allows his medical aspirations to cloud his judgment, Dan continues to keep a level head, and (almost) always puts the lives of those who are actually alive first. But his greatest strength is also his weakness: He wants so badly to help people survive that he’ll do anything to keep them “alive,” as seen by his choice to reanimate his fiancée after her own untimely death.
12. Lionel Cosgrove – Braindead
From Peter Jackson, Braindead (or Dead Alive, its North American title) is another hilarious horror-comedy that is mostly only known by those very familiar with the sub-genre. Filmed in the director’s native New Zealand, the movie tells the tale of Lionel Cosgrove, whose hypercritical and overbearing mother is bitten by a rat-monkey at the zoo, turning her into a zombie. Yes, that’s right — a diseased hybrid creature is the carrier of the disease this time around, and it’s as funny and weird as it sounds.
Lionel isn’t far from your usual horror film male lead. He takes really, really bizarre things in stride, he protects his beloved, and he even learns how to use ordinary objects to make a horrifically bloody mess of the zombies. But clearly, there are some Oedipal issues going on here, as the mother theme is both disturbing and glaringly obvious. Still, Lionel proved he had skills, and he is willing to kill (despised) family members for you. To be honest, the Kung-Fu priest would have been our first choice to have fighting next to us, but his death disqualifies him.
11. Sarge “Nicotine” Crockett – Survival of the Dead
When Romero came back with Land of the Dead, the result was so successful that he proceeded to make the fairly well-received Diary of the Dead, followed by Survival of the Dead. The film is the story of two feuding families, the Muldoons and the O’Flynns, whose home is overtaken with zombies, and the National Guardsmen who try to save them. Sounds a little dumb? That’s because it is. The stakes aren’t particularly high (it’s kind of hard to feel bad for the fighting Irish, who don’t make things easy for the military), and it falls flat in comparison to Romero’s other efforts.
But the film finds a hero in Crockett, the colonel leading the troops onto the island. Aside from the obvious weaponry at hand and combat training, he doesn’t take any crap from the inhabitants, zombie or otherwise, and doesn’t flinch in the face of danger. After shooting one zombie with a flare gun, the creature bursts into flames, and Crockett casually lights his cigarette off the burning head. A calm, cool, and collected guy like this could ease the stress that inevitably comes with battling the undead.
10. Flynn – 28 Weeks Later
The follow-up to Danny Boyle’s acclaimed genre-revitalizing post-apocalyptic flick, 28 Weeks Later takes a new group of Londoners affected by the Rage virus and explores what happened after the events of the original film. A father and husband, Don, is reunited with children in a safe zone after abandoning his wife during an attack. The group soon discovers that people can be asymptomatic carriers of the virus, and so the infection breaks out once more.
28 Weeks Later works so well because it is only a sequel in that it’s set in the same universe, and in that it avoids many of the same tropes that the original did. For instance, it’s often hard to determine who will survive and prevail as a true hero, because it’s not always those who are featured most prominently. One such character is Flynn, a skilled helicopter pilot and member of the NATO force. He proves a good friend to Sergeant Doyle by honoring his command to save the unaffected children, but he’s hesitant in doing so. Having a helicopter also makes him an asset, as does his ability to use it as a weapon when necessary. It couldn’t hurt to have him by your side.
9. Gerry Lane – World War Z
A few years post-zombie movie heyday (and after The Walking Dead was in full swing), Brad Pitt showed up on our screens in what is currently the highest grossing zombie film ever released, World War Z. The flick follows Pitt’s Gerry Lane, a former investigator for the United Nations, as he searches for answers amid a zombie outbreak. Though not a groundbreaking film for the genre, WWZ‘s effects were top-notch, and a sequel is scheduled for release next year.
As a hero, Lane is not the most action-driven, but his foreign-relations knowledge and connections certainly help him and his family in a time when safety is essential. He’s a straightforward family man, hell-bent on saving his wife and kids, making him a devoted companion. Lane is obviously smart, and when he comes up with a theory involving possible immunity, he takes it upon himself to deal with the consequences of injection, risking his health but saving others. He also seems to know the exact right time to throw a grenade on a plane, which, though unlikely to occur, could potentially be useful.
8. Tallahassee – Zombieland
Sometimes a cult horror-comedy comes around that is so satisfying that it brings about a (failed) TV series, and a potentially phenomenal sequel… that gets stuck in development hell. But despite the setbacks in its continuation, Zombieland hit all the right notes: It cast likable leads playing roles that suited them, poked fun at common genre tropes, and offered up many memorable and quotable moments.
His fixation on Twinkies aside, Woody Harrelson’s character in the film is effective, and entertaining while being so. Tallahassee’s got nothing to lose, and he’ll crack a joke while he double-taps the zombie that’s sneaking up behind you. He’s hesitant to trust, but he’ll let you in if you prove yourself. The guy also has great taste in movies, amusing fashion sense, and he actually enjoys killing zombies, which could make your survival just a little bit easier at times. Maybe he’ll even take you to hang out with a celebrity friend or two…
7. Peter Washington – Dawn of the Dead
Romero’s follow up to Night of the Living Dead has gone on to have a monumental impact on the genre as a whole. In addition to its numerous sequels, Dawn of the Dead set the standard for gore done right, and, in a decade known for its groundbreaking terror in filmmaking, is a contender for the greatest horror flick of the 1970s. Set primarily in a mall in western Pennsylvania, the story follows a group of individuals comprised of SWAT teamers and staff from a TV station who’ve taken refuge in the shopping center during a zombie outbreak.
Leading the pack is Peter Washington, one of the officers. Being a member of law enforcement would already make him desirable under such circumstances, but there’s even more to him. He makes quick decisions when it comes to the best course of action, and he’s interested in surrounding himself with those are prepared and practical. Peter is shown to sacrifice himself for others, even when he’s feeling like all hope is lost, and even reconsidered suicide at the last minute. He also looks the part of the badass in his era-specific fur coat, because even in the apocalypse, it’s fun to look your best.
6. Martin – Dead Snow
Ordinary zombies are pretty scary, but when they’re zombified Nazis? Things get even messier. 2009’s Dead Snow, a campy Norwegian flick, explores this premise when a group of friends spends a holiday in a remote cabin — which, as we all know, always goes off without a hitch. They soon discover that these particular woods are inhabited by the aforementioned Hitler-loving soldiers who became treasure-protecting undead. The kids are killed off one by one, and the results are very, very bloody.
Leading the pack is Martin, just one of the med students embarking on this ski vacation. His medical knowledge puts him in the same class as his friends, but his survival skills are unparalleled. While his friends spend time hooking up in outhouses, he lays low, and when the time comes, he’s prepared to do anything. After being bitten on the arm by one of the zombies, he takes a chainsaw and cuts it off, so as not to transform. If that wasn’t enough, he’s almost immediately bitten again, this time in an, ahem, uncomfortable place. While we don’t learn exactly what happened down there, he survives the film, and even makes it into the 2014 sequel Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, where he digs up Hanna from the first flick and has sex with her…as a zombie. Well, you can’t say he’s not devoted…
5. Cherry Darling – Planet Terror
If you were a fan of the exploitation flicks of the ’70s, you were likely excited when, in 2007, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino teamed up to release a B-movie double feature meant to emulate the “grindhouse” experience. Though played back-to-back in theaters, the films are two separate beasts… and Planet Terror is the superior of the two, some might say. Starring Rose McGowan as a wannabe doctor-turned-stripper, the plot begins when a scientist accidentally releases a chemical agent that turns people into “sickos,” AKA zombies.
Though it’s important to keep in mind that this is an exploitation film, and women are rarely seen without being sexualized, McGowan’s Cherry Darling manages to be a serious badass just the same. After having her leg torn off by the sickos, she spends the rest of the movie fighting them. One scene of note includes using her wooden prosthetic to take out the eye of the man attempting to rape her (played by Tarantino). Now short a leg once again, her boyfriend El Wray gets her a new one that’s basically just a machine gun with a grenade launcher. Having someone that tough with that kind of appendage on your side against the zombies? Sign us up.
4. Selena – 28 Days Later
It’s hard to discuss Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later without heaping praise on it. This completely unique effort, the likes of which has not been seen since, depicts London in the aftermath of the release of the Rage virus. One man wakes up alone in a hospital, and must learn how to survive in the terrifying world that remains. The film shatters the usual barriers of the genre: Someone you think could be a major character dies without fanfare, and highly relatable themes permeate, such as “What actually make life worth living?” and “Are we, as humans, our own greatest threat?”
Coma patient Jim is fortunate enough to run into Selena, a hardened survivor and former pharmacist who believes that all that matters is staying alive. She fights off the infected with a steely, no-nonsense look, and teaches Jim what he missed in the month he was unconscious. Selena slowly begins to warm up, but never loses her intense determination to take down whomever is in her way. It’s a nice role-reversal from the usual male-female dynamic, and even when the military men turn out to be disgusting, sexist pigs, she refuses to lose hope, crafting a plan to save young Hannah. With Selena on your team, you’re much more likely to make it out alive.
3. Robert Neville – I Am Legend
As far as terrible movie endings go, Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend tops the list of many critics (including us). So when an alternate ending was included with the DVD release, fans were pleased. You see, throughout the film, that whilst battling those affected, Will Smith’s Robert Neville discovers that the Darkseekers still hold onto some semblance of humanity, and have feelings and emotions. This is essentially ignored when he sacrifices himself and blows them up at the end of the theatrical version. (It also would disqualify him from this list.)
So in order to include him, this entry assumes that the superior cut is canon, because Robert Neville is a hero you’d definitely want on your side in an apocalyptic scenario. He has military training, he’s a doctor with a background in studying viruses, and he has a German Shepherd as a companion. Neville was essentially tailor-made to survive in a world filled with the undead. Oh, he’s also immune to the virus, and it turns out that his blood offers the cure. His only downfall is that he gets a little lonely sometimes, but if you’re there with him, he’ll be just fine.
2. Alice – Resident Evil
Movie adaptations of video games are rarely cut-and-dry successes. While avid players of the games come out in droves, and the international box office numbers typically soar, those with a more critical eye often find them to be trite fan-service and quite convoluted. But where most fail, Resident Evil succeeded; though critical reception was never phenomenal, the loose interpretation of the game and consistent presence of Paul W.S. Anderson as writer and (often) director allowed the films to stand on their own as a series separate from the source material.
The protagonist that ties the films together is Alice, a former security officer who is at one point genetically-enhanced in order to take down the various bio-warfare enemies facing the world. Played by Milla Jovovich, Alice is basically a machine: she has telekinetic powers, advanced martial arts training, and is able to successfully operate any weapon she gets her hands on. There are also later clones created of her, that’s how awesome she is. Though at present, Alice has been stripped of her powers, the upcoming (supposed) conclusion to the series, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, will likely show her prevailing over the evil Umbrella corporation, and the undead. Superhuman abilities or not, she’s still someone you’d want on your zombie-fighting team.
1. Ash Williams – Evil Dead
Though the zombie horror genre was arguably defined by Romero, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise allowed for one character to create a continuity in a vastly different world. That man is Ash Williams, the most infamous zombie-killer of all time. He, along with a group of friends, accidentally unleashes the “Deadites,” who are the evil souls of the deceased. The series is iconic in its portrayal of the hero, who grows from a dopey kid to a strong battleax of a man throughout the films, and who shows up in various other universes from time to time. Now he can be seen on Starz in the TV adaptation Ash vs. Evil Dead.
It’s not hard to see why Ash has gained such notoriety, or why he would make an essential companion in battling the undead. Like Cherry, after amputating a limb, he makes the most of things by turning his hand into a weapon itself. His additional artillery is also iconic, from his boomstick to The Deathcoaster. However, Ash’s aptitude for creating weaponry is likely his most impressive quality, because let’s face it, he’s kind of a jerk. But in the event of the zombie apocalypse, someone with the strength, experience, and ingenuity that Ash has would be an irreplaceable, groovy companion to have.
Do these movie characters make your fantasy roster for the zombie apocalypse? Tell us in the comments.