Let’s lay out a few ground rules here. First and foremost, these are zombies; not people who became zombies. It’s a weird distinction, since all zombies were technically people at one time. But just forget about Johnny in Night of the Living Dead, Stephen “Flyboy” Andrews in Dawn of the Dead, or Ed from Shaun of the Dead. If they died during the film, they’re out!
We’d also like to give an honorable mention to all of the generic zombies that have graced the silver screen during the last fifty years of film. That includes the Hare Krishna Zombie from Dawn of the Dead, the Clown Zombie from Zombieland, and all of the unsung heroes with little more than a costume and a few seconds of screen time who still captured our hearts.
So, with all of that out of the way; here are our five most popular film zombies of all time!
5. Worm-Eyed Zombie (Ottaviano Dell’Acqua) – Zombi 2
Apparently brought back to life by a public display of affection on the small Caribbean island of Matul, this zombie prefers to go straight for the throat! His horrible new life as one of the undead only lasts for about a minute though. After rising from a few inches of dirt, he barely manages to take out a single victim before quickly being decapitated by a cemetery cross.
Although he was uncredited in Lucio Fulci’s zombie cult classic, Ottaviano Dell’Acqua became the face of zombie horror for generations! The disgusting image of a rotting corpse, covered in maggots, rising from the grave is the ultimate in undead iconography. This zombie adorned the official movie poster, t-shirts, and merchandise for years. Ottaviano himself even went on to star in many other popular genre films including Zombie 3, and Zombie 4: After Death.
4. Standartenführer Herzog (Ørjan Gamst) – Dead Snow
Legend has it that Standartenführer Oberst Herzog led an Einsatzgruppen to the Norwegian town of Øksfjord during World War II where he and his men abused and tortured the local people. The citizens eventually staged an uprising, forcing Herzog into the mountains where he froze to death. However, his lust for gold and treasure were more powerful than death!
To create Standartenführer Herzog and his undead zombie army, director Tommy Wirkola was reportedly inspired by the video game Call of Duty: World at War and ancient Norse mythical beings known as draug. Ørjan Gamst would eventually go on to reprise his role in the official sequel Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead which ups the gore and insanity considerably!
3. Bub (Sherman Howard) – Day of the Dead
It’s assumed that Bub was a military man of some sort before his death. He represented hope for several survivors of the zombie apocalypse; engaging in many human behaviors including a dramatic salute to his superiors. Unfortunately, Bub eventually surrendered to his deadly zombie nature and sought righteous revenge against those who killed his one and only friend.
Bub was created by special-effects and makeup artist Tom Savini, who won the 1985 Saturn Award for Best Makeup Effects for his work on the film. Combined with the wonderful and expressive performance of Sherman Howard, the character quickly became one of the most popular zombies of all time. Executive producer Greg Nicotero of The Walking Dead even paid homage to Bub with a brief cameo featured during an episode of their fourth season.
2. Tarman (Allan Trautman) – The Return of the Living Dead
Believe it or not, Tarman was captured sometime during, or immediately after, the events depicted in Night of the Living Dead. At some point he was rounded up by the military and preserved inside of a canister of Trioxin. But eventually a couple of incompetent medical supply employees released him from his slumber; inciting the inevitable zombie apocalypse!
Many fans are surprised to learn that Tarman wasn’t simply a puppet or stunt man. In fact, director Dan O’Bannon was insistent on casting an actor for the role; enter Allan Trautman. With his small frame and previous experience as a puppeteer, Allan was perfect for the part. We can also thank his character for being the first film zombie with an appetite for brains!
1. Ghoul (Bill Hinzman) – Night of the Living Dead
There really isn’t much known about this particular zombie, who was found roaming around a Pennsylvania cemetery. But according to the lore, he must have been “recently deceased” and possibly reanimated due to radiation from a NASA probe. However, he was extremely persistent, knew how to use tools, and didn’t seem very interested in eating his victims.
The very first modern zombie of cinema wasn’t the slow, lumbering corpse that George A. Romero later perfected. In fact, he’s even something of an anomaly compared to all of the other zombies featured in Night of the Living Dead. He ran after his victims, used a rock to smash out car windows, and even knew how to open a car door! Considering his disdain for “fast zombies”, it’s surprising that this is the first zombie that Romero ever put in his films.
So there you have it; five of the most popular zombies in film! Obviously we had to leave quite a few off our list, but we think that these particular zombies are representative of the genre as a whole. They’re just so iconic that most people would recognize them even if they hadn’t seen the movies themselves. But what do you think? Did we get it completely wrong, mix up the order, or leave one of your favorites off the list? Just let us know in the comments below!
We’d also like to mention that nearly all of the films on our list have recently received amazing new releases on Blu-ray and DVD, including some wonderful behind-the-scenes footage and documentaries. So if you’d like to learn more, just click on the links below for your own copy!