Directed by Ruben Fleischer, 2009 horror comedy Zombieland took theaters by storm, ultimately more than quadrupling its modest $23.6 million production budget at the worldwide box office. Starring Woody Harrelson, and then-still rising stars Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin in the lead roles, Zombieland focused on a mismatched quartet of survivors as they attempted to navigate life after an undead apocalypse eliminated most of the world’s human population. The film was a hit with critics and audiences, and stands behind only World War Z as the second highest grossing zombie movie in history.
One interesting aspect of the Zombieland phenomenon at the time of its release was the voluntary fan secrecy revolving around the hilarious cameo of beloved Ghostbusters star Bill Murray about halfway through the film. Harrelson’s Tallahassee and the rest of the group initially decide to head to the actor’s residence in Los Angeles just for fun, never expecting to encounter a still living Murray, who has been surviving by pretending to be a zombie when he makes supply runs. This leads to perhaps the funniest sequence in the movie, and most viewers opted not to ruin the surprise for those who had yet to experience it for themselves.
That said, as great as Murray’s appearance in Zombieland was, it turns out that including him in the film wasn’t even the original plan. In a new preview clip for an interview conducted on Kevin Smith’s AMC talk show Geeking Out, Zombieland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick – who most recently wrote Deadpool – reveal that the sequence was originally written and intended for 1980s and ’90s icon Patrick Swayze. The full clip can be seen above.
For those who might be too young to remember his heyday, Swayze was a pretty big deal in the ’80s and ’90s, with perhaps his two most iconic roles being that of dance instructor Johnny Castle in 1987’s Dirty Dancing and tragically murdered husband Sam Wheat in 1990’s Ghost. Of course, Swayze wasn’t only known as a heartthrob, kicking butt with the best of them in action films like Road House and Point Break. He also turned in a great later-career performance as a motivational speaker with a dark secret in 2001’s Donnie Darko.
Unfortunately, Swayze became sick from the pancreatic cancer that would ultimately lead to his death at the age of 57 before Zombieland could come to fruition, putting the kibosh on Reese and Wernick’s hopes for his inclusion in the film. Interestingly enough, Murray wasn’t even the first person to be offered the spot after Swayze left the running. According to the duo, about a dozen other actors subsequently turned them down, including Jean-Claude Van Damme. Finally, they went to Harrelson for ideas, who suggested they contact Murray, Harrelson’s co-star in the 1996 bowling comedy Kingpin. The rest is history.
Would Zombieland have been as memorable without Murray? It’s certainly an interesting question, especially considering how many other actors turned down the gig prior to the former Peter Venkman signing on. Swayze in particular would have certainly brought a different feel to the proceedings had he been able to participate, as he possessed quite a different on-screen energy than Murray. Still, there would have been no shortage of films for Reese and Wernick to parody during Swayze’s hypothetical cameo, and the thought of Swayze perhaps reenacting his Dirty Dancing routine with Harrelson is enough to bring a smile to just about anyone. Ah, what could have been.
Zombieland 2 is reportedly still in development. We will bring you more information on the sequel as it becomes available.