Anyone who has watched enough of George A. Romero’s body of work knows that the filmmaker made a career out writing and directing horror movies that featured unconventional heroes that broke from the norm and ushered in a new era of protagonists just like how he revolutionized the zombie genre. Look back at all of entries in the late horror icon’s Living Dead franchise and you’ll see badass female characters and Black heroes take charge while a large portion of the white men are either egotistical morons at best and maniacal psychopaths at worst.
With March being Women’s History Month, I thought now would be the perfect time to go through Romero’s zombie movie franchise and break down the truly badass female characters who left their mark in each title as well as the horror industry as a whole.
Barbra (Night Of The Living Dead)
Though Barbra (Judith O’Dea) didn’t pull off some of the heroics or go through a radical change like some of the female characters that would follow throughout George A. Romero’s subsequent movies, she held her own until near the very end in Night of the Living Dead. The character, which will sometimes be dismissed as a damsel in distress, is anything but and serves as a perfect example of what kind of an impact trauma, terror, and stress can have on a person in the face of death.
Over the course of a few hours, Barba witnesses her brother (her closest living relative) get brutally murdered by a zombie in a cemetery, escapes only to become trapped in an old farmhouse surrounded by the living dead, falls into a catatonic state from all the stress, awakens to protect the house, and is finally dragged away by her reanimated brother.
Francine ‘Fran’ Parker (Dawn of the Dead)
Francine “Fran” Parker (Gaylen Ross) is anything but a damsel in distress throughout Dawn of the Dead. In fact, she is pretty much a badass from the start of George A. Romero’s 1978 sequel and only gets stronger and more confident at each turn. When we first meet the WGON TV producer, she jumps right into action and removes since-fallen rescue stations to save people from walking into death traps despite the station director wanting to run them to prevent people from tuning out. And it only gets better from there.
Throughout the movie, a pregnant Fran insists on learning how to shoot a gun, fly a helicopter (the group of survivors’ only means of escape from the zombie-infested shopping mall), and wants to be a part of any decision made. At one point, Fran even makes a stand for her personal rights after she overhears her boyfriend and the other survivors discussing the prospect of an abortion, to which she tells them not to think any different of her because of her pregnancy.
Sarah Bowman (Day Of The Dead)
George A. Romero’s third zombie movie, Day of the Dead, doubles down on the central argument of his previous movies that what’s left of humanity can be far more dangerous than the flesh-consuming zombies waiting outside the survivors’ barricaded shelters. This time around, Romero’s survivors consist of a small group of deeply divided and frustrated soldiers and scientists, with one of the only voices of reason being Dr. Sarah Bowmen (Lori Cardille).
Throughout the 1985 zombie movie, Sarah seems to be the only person willing to stand up against the tyrannical Captain Henry Rhodes (Joseph Pilato), a man who runs the research operation with a short temper and iron fist. Never one to back down or let the psychopathic soldiers walk on her, Sarah does everything she can to ensure the survival of the human race. It’s just a shame she doesn’t come up when discussing the most badass female characters in sci-fi and horror.
Barbara Todd (Night Of The Living Dead Remake)
Although Tom Savini’s 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake follows the story of the original beat-for-beat for the most part, George A. Romero made a few major changes to the script. The biggest of those is the Barbara character (Patricia Tallman), who is no longer the quiet and terrified young woman but instead a gun-toting badass who doesn’t really take anything from anyone and becomes one of the most vocal survivors.
And despite being an example of the “Final Girl” trope, this reimagined version of the Barbara character is one of the most badass heroines to be featured in a horror movie. And it’s also cool to see how Romero was able to make her the hero of this version like he did with the Ben character 22 years earlier.
Slack (Land of the Dead)
The first George A. Romero zombie movie to be released in the 21st Century, Land of the Dead tackles a lot of the same themes as previous installments in the franchise and features some the series’ best characters yet. One of those is Slack (Asia Argento), who you could argue is one of the most badass protagonists in general.
Over the course of the movie, Slack shows time and time again that she is not only a great fighter, shooter, and soldier, she also means well and does everything she can to protect the impoverished and forgotten residents of Fiddler’s Green. Never one to back down from a fight (against both zombies and humans), Slack is partly responsible for the survival of her enclosed city once the zombies overtake it.
Debra Moynihan (Diary of the Dead)
Although not as well received (or remembered) as the installments that came before it in George A. Romero’s zombie franchise, the found-footage horror movie Diary of the Dead does have a few things going for it, including a badass heroine named Debra Moynihan (Michelle Morgan) who goes through quite a transformation.
Throughout the movie, Debra goes from a mild-mannered college student tagging along with a group of film majors to an absolute badass who isn’t afraid to cut down zombies, deal with hardened survivors, or make the tough decision to kill a loved one to save them from turning. And sure, her outlook on life is a downer at the end, but who can blame her after everything that went down.
Each of the badass female characters bring a little something different to George A. Romero’s zombie movies and help show how the horror icon went out of his way to flip the script with gender norms and show how society has changed in the past 50-plus years. Who knows when we’ll see Romero’s Twilight of the Dead, but in the meantime, check out all the 2022 new movies coming to theaters.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he’s not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.