Barbara is the main protagonist of Night of the Living Dead and its remake.
Barbra and her brother, Johnny visit their long-deceased father at a cemetery in Pennsylvania. During their visit, the pair have a disturbing encounter with a shambling stranger. After witnessing Johnny hit his head on a gravestone, Barbra flees the stranger and finds a nearby farmhouse as shelter. Barbra rushes in, locks the door, and finds a knife.
While searching the house, she found a corpse on the second floor, it's head skinned down to the bone. Horrified, Barbra rushes from the house but is immediately blinded by headlights. Ben, a fellow survivor, guides her back into the house and kills the hostile strangers. Barbra attempts to assist him in barricading the house but soon falls into a catatonic state.
She listens to the radio as Ben fortifies the house. Ben shares his first encounter with the ghouls and she recounts her experience in the cemetery. Barbra becomes agitated and confused before trying to leave the house to find Johnny. When Ben tries to convince her that her brother is dead, Barbra goes into a blind rage and strikes him. Ben strikes Barbra, knocking her unconscious, and places her on the sofa before turning his attention to the ghouls outside.
After coming to, and returning to a calm state, Ben went upstairs to search for any other supplies. While waiting for Ben to return, Barbra noticed the door of the cellar open and screamed in fear, alerting Ben, who rushed down and stood to protect Barbra, until he found they were more survivors; Harry Cooper, his wife Helen, their daughter Karen, Tom, and his girlfriend Judy Rose. When the arguing between Ben and Harry started, more and more of the zombies heard them and started approaching the house. A television was set up where the news broadcast revealed that the bodies of the dead were being reactivated by an unknown force and began feeding on the living.
After Ben's plan to refuel his truck with the pump outside resulted in the truck exploding and the deaths of Tom and Judy Rose, Barbra suggested that they leave, knowing the house was not safe to stay in. When zombies started breaking into the house from every window and door, Barbra tried to help Ben keep the front door barricaded, until she saw her brother, now a zombie, breaking the door down. Frozen in fear, she let Johnny drag her away into the crowd of zombies where she was presumably devoured off-screen. Barbara's fate is revealed in a series of installments.
Barbara's Zombie Chronicles
In this unofficial spin-off comic series published by Avatar, Barbara's Zombie Chronicles, Barbara survived the farmhouse and went from becoming a damsel in distress, to a brave, tough as nails, kick-ass fighter. This is non-canon.
Night of the Living Dead
In this official Night of the Living Dead comics series also published by Avatar, the series was written by the 1968 films producer John Russo and presented by the 1968 film director George Romero. Barbra turned into a zombie and later joined Johnny, Karen (also a zombie) and the rest of the undead group killing other survivors in the Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh area then wandered off to Washington D.C to kill more survivors. This is canon.
Ultimate Night of the Living Dead
In another unofficial separate comic series published by Double Takes, Ultimate Night of the Living Dead, Johnny (who was unconscious back in the cemetery) found Barbra in the farmhouse and rescued her by posing as a zombie and they escaped from the undead crowd. This story is set in 1966 as opposed to 1968, it is also non-canon.
Night of the Living Dead: Genesis
Barbra is revealed to be alive in Night of the Living Dead: Genesis. An upcoming unofficial sequel to the 1968 film. Judith O'Dea will reprise her role as Barbra, but it is unknown as of yet how Barbra survived. George Romero did not direct the sequel nor is it produced by John Russo.
Night of the Living Dead (1990 film)
Barbara in the 1990 remake is much more in common with her proactive early script version as well as that of Zombie Chronicles
At the beginning of the undead apocalypse, Johnny and Barbara visit their mother's grave in the Pennsylvanian cemetery. Noticing his sister's fear of grave, Johnny childishly teases her by claiming that the approaching man nearby is a zombie who comes to get her. Unamused, Barbara walks up to the man to apologize for her brother's antics only to see him too catatonic to notice his surroundings, simply walking away all while muttering "I'm sorry", much to the siblings' confusion. That is when an actual zombie ambushes her, prompting Johnny to rush to defend her. Unfortunately, he died in the attempt, but nonetheless managed to buy Barbara some time to flee.
Unable to escape with her car (which is in gear) in courtesy of a second zombie followed by the previous one breaking through the windshield causing it to crash, Barbara is forced to take refuge in a nearby farmhouse and locks the pursuing zombies out. A falling severed hand alarmed her that not even the farmhouse's inside is safe, as another zombie, one who unintentionally dropped said hand, closes in for the kill followed by the other two who enter the unlocked back door, forcing her to flee.
Fortunately, Ben arrives in his truck ramming through the zombie who killed Johnny. Exiting the car, he notices the traumatized Barbara and snaps her out of her hysterical state before dragging her back into the farmhouse to retake their shelter despite similarly distressed himself. Just as Ben takes out one of remaining zombies within, Barbara takes all her anger to deal the other in which she finally did with a fatal blow on his skull with a nearby fire poker.
Carefully disposing her kill with Ben aiding her, Barbara listens in as the latter explained outside world's situation from what he heard in his car's radio, his discovery of the way to properly kill a zombie during a chaos in diner he visited early on (which intrigues her as it explained how she took out the aforementioned zombie), and his conclusion where the outbreak being the result of some unknown force. Remembering the ambush from the second floor, Barbara warns Ben as the latter investigates upstairs for a gun shortly after finding some ammo in one of the rooms. To her relief, the latter finds what he is looking for within the grasp of a mangled corpse who apparently used it to shoot himself in the head. It is when other survivors (Harry Cooper, a selfish and argumentative husband; his wife Helen; their daughter Sarah, who was bitten by a zombie and has fallen seriously ill; and teenage lovers Tom Bitner and Judy Rose Larson) emerge from the basement, alarming Barbara that she attacks them on sight all while screaming to get Ben's attention before they eventually calm themselves a bit and reassess their situation.
Listening to the group uneasily relate to one another regarding their respective encounter with zombies where some of them used to be those they knew in life (except the irritable Harry), Barbara soon notices a zombie approaching the house on the outside prompting Ben to suggest to fortify their shelter which has alternate escape routes in favor of Harry's idea to hid in the cellar instead. Barbara takes the initiative by starting to work on boarding doors and windows as Harry argues with Ben again before storming back into the cellar to tend to his wife and daughter below. Not long after Tom and Judy follow her in suit, she has a second thought about their current plan upon noticing the zombies' limited mobility which made them easy to outmaneuver only for her suggestion to be shot down by Ben in favor of the current one. Little did they knew the loud construction attracts more zombies than they could handle.
While taking her time changing her clothes before resuming the task at hand, Barbara notes things don't go any better among the group. Two of the invading zombies break through barricaded door and window respectively and one of them, whom Judy recognizes as Mr. Magruder is more successful that Barbara and Ben had to finish him at that instance. Exasperated by some of her fellow survivors' apparent denial over the prospect of their reanimated loved ones are indeed gone like Mr. Magruder, Barbara angrily yells some sense of them by wasting three of her ammo on another attacking zombie which predictably shrugs them off before eventually headshots him.
As Ben returns to the house to find things beginning to dissolve into chaos, Harry, whom already gone mad with the situation has wrestled Barbara's gun away from her and is now armed. Unknown to the survivors upstairs, Sarah, whom now became zombie after killed her mother, makes her way upstairs and triggers a shootout between her father, who is trying to protect her, and Ben and Barbara, who are trying to protect themselves. Both Ben and Harry are badly wounded where Barbara manages to shoot Sarah as Harry retreats upstairs to the attic.
Barbara leaves the house alone and attempts to find help after eluding zombies that she encountered. She eventually joins a group of Countryside locals who are clearing the area of the undead. She is awoken the next day and is surrounded by the safety of the media and townspeople. Noticing some hillbillies playing around with a couple of zombies, she comments on the similarities between the living and the undead. She returns to the farmhouse to find Ben, who died of his wounds and has been reanimated. He gazes at Barbara before being shot in the head by one of the posse members. When Harry emerges from the attic alive, Barbara kills him in a fit of rage for causing Ben to die, and turns to leave the house, telling the vigilantes they have "another one for the fire". The film ends as Barbara hypnotically watches the bodies being burned in the fire.
During the zombie outbreak, Barbra became catatonic and helpless. She also had a fear of cemeteries, and constantly bickered with her brother, Johnny.
Barbara's personality basically the foil to her original iteration, as she eventually toughen herself up and proved to be the most sensible of the survivors apart from Ben, a change that surprised even the latter. In addition of rightfully pointed out that the zombies can be outrun due to being too slow (an idea that rejected by the others but what saved her in the end), she does her best to be the voice of reason among the group, attempting to ease the tension between them to no avail.
However, her ordeal also embittered her so much that her faith in humanity becomes crippled, as seen when she watched the hillbillies playing with the zombies, she stated that the dead and the living are the same. She even killed Harry in retribution over his murder of Ben.
- Feminine activists criticized Barbra's character in the 1968 film for being "Catatonic and "Helpless".
- Recent scholars and views have come to recognize Barbra's symptoms as a traumatic response to Johnny's sudden death.
- The original script featured a more proactive version of Barbra but Judith O'Dea made changes to her performance based on her interpretation of Barbra.
- One fan theory suggests that Barbra (Judith O'Dea) was bitten during her first encounter with a ghoul and her behavior is the result of the bite's effects.
- There is an ongoing debate about the spelling of this character's name (Barbra vs. Barbara). She is listed on certain script drafts as Barbra and other drafts as Barbara. IMDB lists Judith O'Dea's original portrayal of the character in the 1968 film as "Barbra" and Patricia Tallman's portrayal from the 1990 film as "Barbara."