Bill Murray’s ‘Zombieland’ Part Was Meant for Another Actor

Zombieland, a comedy about a wayward group of misfits just trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, was the surprise success of 2009. Throw in a cameo of Bill Murray and you are sure to have a good time. While Murray’s short appearance helps make the movie, he was not the first choice for the part

Bill Murray smiling
Bill Murray | Rocco Spaziani/Getty Images

It is a comedy about zombies and survival

It’s a story of survival in a world filled with a rather well-known enemy, zombies. Zombieland, according to IMDb, depicts the United States as being decimated by a virus that turns everyone infected into flesh-eating zombies. There are only a few uninfected humans left standing. 

Columbus, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is a student in Texas trying to make his way back home to Ohio so he can check to see if his parents are still alive. It’s his phobic personality that helps Columbus stay away from zombies and survive this predicament. Along the way, Columbus runs into Tallahassee, played by Woody Harrelson. Tallahassee is traveling to Florida and killing as many zombies as he can along the way. Tallahassee is also on the hunt to find a Twinkie. Tallahassee agrees to let Columbus ride along. 

When stopping at a grocery store in search of Twinkies, the pair run into a few zombies as well as two girls, Wichita and Little Rock, played by Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. These two sisters have been on their own for longer than the zombie epidemic and are hoping to get to an Amusement Park in Los Angeles rumored to be a safe place from zombies. After more shenanigans, including a run-in with Bill Murray, the foursome realizes they have created their own quirky family and drive off altogether.  

Murray plays himself as a zombie 

Once the foursome gets to Hollywood, they find the home of Bill Murray. To the shock of the wayward travelers, Murray is very much alive and has survived by dressing up as a zombie. Zombies won’t attack their own kind and this allows Murray to move around town freely. Murray and the others decide to scare Columbus while they are play-acting scenes from Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, the prank goes south when Columbus actually shoots and kills Murray, mistaking him for an actual zombie.

While this scene is probably the most memorable scene in Zombieland, it was originally not meant for Murray. According to HuffPost, Murray’s cameo was originally written for Patrick Swayze. The movie’s directors, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick contacted quite the list of celebrities for the cameo part, including Swayze, Sylvester Stallone, Mark Hamill, and Jean Claude Van Damme. Swayze was their first choice but he was unable to make it to the set due to battling pancreatic cancer at the time.  

The search for the perfect cameo continued until two days before filming and with no actor. The directors asked Harrelson if he had any ideas of who could play the part. Reese said, “We walked up to Woody Harrelson on set and said, ‘Woody, anyone else? Do you have any other ideas? He said, ‘Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray.’ We were like, ‘Yes and yes.’ ” It was too short notice for Hoffman, but Murray accepted after he received the script via Kinkos. 

Murray was still hesitant about taking the part due to the nature of the scene. Reese and Wernick talked to the Q&A Podcast about the cameo and said, “It was a big action scene. It was all this stuff at the house, all the jokes about his career. But when he finally did show up, he just attacked the crap out of them. And he was the most devastatingly difficult zombie to destroy of all time.” The scene was originally not a comedy scene. But, after Murray voiced his concerns, the necessary rewrites were made and they created the scene Zombieland is famous for. 

Harrelson wants to return to “Zombieland” 

Zombieland was a pretty big success in 2009. It was big enough that it warranted a sequel called Zombieland: Double Tap in 2019. The original foursome came together again to fight off the continued insurgence of the undead. 

And now Harrelson wants to make a third installment. He told Screenrant, “I haven’t heard anything about it from many of the creative elements. I would love to do it because I just love those guys. That whole group is really … That’s a singularly wonderful, fun, amazingly funny group of people. So what I’m saying is I’m open to it.”

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