Zombieland Writer Reveals They Wanted Another Legendary Actor Instead of Bill Murray

Bill Murray's cameo in Zombieland was one of the film's most unexpectedly hilarious moments, and helped shape Murray's 2010s reputation as a living internet meme. It also almost didn't happen, according to writer Rhett Reese, who had a different vision for the scene in his mind. Now, this is hardly new information: a number of names have circulated as potential alternates to Murray over the years, including Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze, who reportedly could not do it due to his health issues and who passed away the same month the film was eventually released in theaters.

Other names mentioned over the years include Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Kevin Bacon, and Mark Hamill. But the one that got away, in Reese's mind, is My Cousin Vinny star Joe Pesci.

"We wanted Joe Pesci for what turned out to Bill Murray's role in Zombieland," Rheese said on Twitter. "We warned Pesci's agent it was a small part. He said, 'There are no small parts, only small money.' It was a no."

In the film, Murray played a heightened, parody version of himself, wandering around his giant mansion while wearing zombie makeup in the hopes that it would prevent him from being attacked when he encountered the undead. It seemed like a decent strategy, except that it didn't account for human error, and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) accidentally kills the actor, mistaking him for a real zombie.

Zombieland was made for less than $25 million and earned more than $100 million at the box office. It also generated a ton of revenue in the way of the home video and video rental markets, which were not as anemic in 2010 as they are now. That made for a healthy profit margin, and the movie was instantly considered a hit. But the trend of mid-budget, R-rated comedies started to fade not long after that. Fans were vocal about their desire for a sequel, but by the time The Hangover Part III disappointed at the box office in 2013, it was difficult for a movie like Zombieland to get a budget. A sequel finally happened in 2019, and performed similarly well, earning back around $145 million against a reported budget of somewhere in the $40 million to $50 million range.

Murray has been embattled recently, with bad on-set behavior shutting down production of Aziz Ansari's Being Mortal and now a litany of former co-stars and collaborators coming forward with stories about prior production nightmares. How much trouble that will spell for the veteran comedian's career in the long term has yet to be seen; he will next appear in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania when it releases in February.