The 25 Fiercest Final Girls Of Horror

These slasher film heroines went toe-to-toe with sadistic serial killers — and lived to tell about it.

Anchor Bay Entertainment

 

The way we understand horror films changed forever with the publication of Carol Clover’s 1992 book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Her basic argument is that although slasher movies seem to delight in the sadistic torment of female victims, they are actually providing the audience a point of identification with the last woman standing, which Clover identified as the “Final Girl.”

The Final Girl is female, but she has a gender ambiguous name. She propels the plot forward with her investigative nature. She is pure, abstaining from sex and drugs. And she faces the killer in a final showdown, ultimately surviving by defeating him or through a third party’s intervention. In horror series, however, the Final Girl often dies in the sequel, paving the way for a new Final Girl to carry the torch.

These characteristics are not set in stone, and the Final Girl has developed over time. Even Laurie Strode, Halloween’s Final Girl and one of Clover’s primary examples, was a new breed of Final Girl when she reemerged in Halloween: H20. The following list represents characters who fit into the Final Girl model, some more snugly than others. But all have left an impression in the genre.

25. Julie James (1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer)

Columbia Pictures

Played by: Jennifer Love Hewitt
Also appears in: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, audience’s point of identification, survives
While the ’90s were an important time for the resurgence of the slasher film, I Know What You Did Last Summer didn’t add much to the genre. Julie in particular is a relatively weak Final Girl, only surviving when her boyfriend comes to her aid. At the same time, Jennifer Love Hewitt remains an iconic modern Scream Queen.

24. Lila Crane (1960’s Psycho)

Paramount Pictures

Played by: Vera Miles
Also appears in: Psycho II (1983)
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, survives, killed in sequel
Psycho is one of the earliest slashers, with Lila Crane often acknowledged as the first Final Girl. It’s not a perfect fit, in part due to Psycho’s unusual structure: We identify with Marion before she’s murdered. But for her investigative nature and role as the last woman standing, Lila qualifies.

23. Alana Maxwell (1980’s Terror Train)

20th Century Fox

Played by: Jamie Lee Curtis
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, audience’s point of identification, survives
Jamie Lee Curtis had already established herself as a Final Girl prior to Terror Train, in which she’s not nearly as dynamic as she is in Halloween. (More on that later.) But Alana still tries to identify the killer and ultimately survives the final showdown, albeit with help from the train conductor.

22. Natalie Simon (1998’s Urban Legend)

TriStar Pictures

Played by: Alicia Witt
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, audience’s point of identification, defeats killer, survives
Urban Legend isn’t exactly a modern-day classic, but it’s one of the more memorable late-’90s slasher films, thanks to creative deaths and a female killer. And while Natalie isn’t as resilient as some of her Final Girl counterparts, she does at least deliver the final shot to the killer in the end. (Without killing her, of course.)

21. Sally Hardesty (1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre)

Dark Sky Films

Played by: Marilyn Burns
Also appears in: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Final Girl traits: Female, audience’s point of identification, pure, survives
Sally is another one of Clover’s quintessential Final Girls, which some might argue earns her a spot higher on the list. But Sally never fights back — she merely escapes. In the process, she’s brutalized in a way many other Final Girls aren’t, so she gets points for toughness even without taking Leatherface down.

20. Chris Higgins (1982’s Friday the 13th Part III)

Paramount Pictures

Played by: Dana Kimmell
Final Girl traits: Female, gender ambiguous name, defeats killer, survives
Chris doesn’t just overcome Jason Voorhees — she does a number on him. In the climactic fight, she stabs Jason, hangs him, and ultimately hits him with an axe. That might sound like overkill, but if you know slasher films, you know it’s never enough. Still an impressive showing from Chris.

19. Sarah (2005’s The Descent)

Lionsgate

Played by: Shauna Macdonald
Also appears in: The Descent Part 2 (2009)
Final Girl traits: Female, audience’s point of identification, defeats killers, survives, killed in sequel
While The Descent isn’t really a slasher movie, Sarah can be seen as a Final Girl. Even with the more ambiguous original ending, in which it’s implied that she’s not going to survive, she makes it through the film, dispatching crawlers and humans alike with a badass pickaxe.

18. Kristen Parker (1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors)

New Line Cinema

Played by: Patricia Arquette
Also appears in: 1988’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (played by Tuesday Knight)
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, audience’s point of identification, pure, survives, killed in sequel
As the Nightmare on Elm Street series progressed, Freddy Krueger’s victims were given more and more power to fight back. Kristen is one of the third film’s titular “dream warriors,” which puts her on a level playing field with Freddy. Of course, she still needs Nancy’s help when it comes to actually defeating him.

17. Jesse Walsh (1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge)

New Line Cinema

Played by: Mark Patton
Final Girl traits: Gender ambiguous name, investigative, audience’s point of identification, pure, defeats killer, survives
A male Final Girl? Yes, it’s possible, particularly when the character is given a gender ambiguous name and stereotypically feminine characteristics. While the first Nightmare on Elm Street sequel has been panned, it’s actually an intentional (and hilarious) subversion of the slasher film and the Final Girl trope.

16. Jess Bradford (1974’s Black Christmas)

Warner Bros.

Played by: Olivia Hussey
Final Girl traits: Female, gender ambiguous name, investigative, audience’s point of identification, survives
Many of the Final Girls on this list aren’t “pure,” but Jess isn’t just sexually active: She’s a woman who is getting an abortion, whether or not her boyfriend agrees. Her emotional strength turns physical when she’s forced to beat him to death. It turns out that he wasn’t the killer, but hey, she didn’t know that at the time.

15. Suzy Bannion (1977’s Suspiria)

Anchor Bay

Played by: Jessica Harper
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, audience’s point of identification, pure, defeats killer, survives
Suspiria is another unusual choice, a surreal film in its own right and not a slasher. But Suzy is the audience’s point of identification, and through the film she discovers the identity of the Directress and ultimately defeats Mater Suspiriorum, stabbing her and destroying the entire ballet academy in the process.

14. Alice Hardy (1980’s Friday the 13th)

Paramount Pictures

Played by: Adrienne King
Also appears in: Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, audience’s point of identification, defeats killer, survives, killed in sequel
It’s worth remembering that while Alice is eventually killed by Jason, she never fights him in the first film. The killer in Friday the 13th is Pamela Voorhees, and yes, there’s something more badass about Alice hitting a middle-aged woman over the head with a frying pan and eventually decapitating her with a machete.

13. Samantha Hughes (2009’s The House of the Devil)

Dark Sky Films

Played by: Jocelin Donahue
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, defeats killers, survives
The House of the Devil is a throwback to ’70s and ’80s horror, though it’s by no means a classic slasher. Still, Samantha is very much a Final Girl in that she uncovers the Satanic cult, kills most of its members, and escapes. (Sure, she escapes by shooting herself in the head, but it works!)

12. Alice Johnson (1988’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master)

New Line Cinema

Played by: Lisa Wilcox
Also appears in: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989)
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, audience’s point of identification, defeats killer, survives
Alice survives two films as the Final Girl, a nearly unprecedented feat. (Note: Do not be friends with a Final Girl. Everyone around her dies.) She picks up skills along the way, and she passes the torch on to her unborn child, an odd but neat little twist on the traditional transition to the next heroine.

11. Dana Polk (2012’s The Cabin in the Woods)

Lionsgate

Played by: Kristen Connelly
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, audience’s point of identification, pure
Because The Cabin in the Woods is such a meta horror film, Dana is a very self-conscious Final Girl. She’s by no means a perfect fit by Carol Clover’s standards, but she is identified as a type, the Virgin. Of course, Dana doesn’t actually survive — in dying, however, she does defeat the enemy, in a way.

10. Ash Williams (1979’s The Evil Dead)

New Line Cinema

Played by: Bruce Campbell
Also appears in: Evil Dead II (1987), Army of Darkness (1992)
Final Girl traits: Gender ambiguous name (Ashley), audience’s point of identification, defeats killer, survives
Yes, really. If you look at the sequels, no, Ash is not even remotely a Final Girl. But in the first Evil Dead film, that feminine name and sheepish demeanor are conscious decisions to squeeze him into the trope. Once Ash is a full-on action hero, however, he loses his Final Girl cred.

9. Ginny Field (1981’s Friday the 13th Part 2)

Paramount Pictures

Played by: Amy Steel
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, audience’s point of identification, defeats killer, survives
What’s most interesting about Ginny is that she doesn’t defeat Jason with force but with wits. With her background in child psychology, she knows that Jason really just wants his mother’s approval, and she tricks him accordingly. It’s a smart ploy — and Ginny still gets to hit him with a machete.

8. Mia Allen (2013’s Evil Dead)

TriStar Pictures

Played by: Jane Levy
Final Girl traits: Female, defeats killer, survives
The Evil Dead remake is an interesting film in its own right, particularly in terms of the character of Mia. She’s not a clear point of identification and spends much of the movie possessed by a demon, and yet, in the end, it’s Mia who saves the day by chainsawing through her evil double. So much for the classic Final Girl.

7. Kirsty Cotton (1987’s Hellraiser)

Image Entertainment

Played by: Ashley Laurence
Also appears in: Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, audience’s point of identification, defeats killer, survives
Kirsty not only manages to survive two Hellraiser films — she also shows up in a third nearly 15 years later. But Hellseeker is awful, so maybe let’s forget about that. The point is, Kirsty successfully overcomes the Cenobites, her evil stepmother Julia, and a corrupt doctor. That’s pretty impressive.

6. Marybeth Dunston (2010’s Hatchet II)

Dark Sky Films

Played by: Danielle Harris
Also appears in: 2006’s Hatchet (played by Tamara Feldman), Hatchet III (2013)
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, audience’s point of identification, defeats killer, survives
Although Marybeth appears in the first Hatchet, she wasn’t much of a Final Girl until Danielle Harris took over the role in the sequel. Her Marybeth is brutal and always the last character standing, even if that means literally tearing the killer to pieces. And she’s not afraid to get dirty.

5. Stretch Brock (1986’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2)

MGM

Played by: Caroline Williams
Also appears in: Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
Final Girl traits: Female, gender ambiguous name, investigative, defeats killer, survives
By ’80s standards, Stretch is effortlessly cool. I mean, she’s a radio DJ. But even when she’s being terrorized by Leatherface and family, Stretch holds it together, finally gaining the upper hand. The last shot of the film, with Stretch swinging the chainsaw just like Leatherface, cemented her place near the top of this list.

4. Nancy Thompson (1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street)

New Line Cinema

Played by: Heather Langenkamp
Also appears in: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Final Girl traits: Female, investigative, audience’s point of identification, defeats killer, survives, killed in sequel
Nancy doesn’t make it through her second Nightmare on Elm Street film, but she dies after delivering another killing blow to Freddy Krueger. And before that, she teaches a new generation of teenagers how to defend themselves against Freddy. For those reasons, she earns the distinction of fiercest Nightmare Final Girl.

3. Ellen Ripley (1979’s Alien)

20th Century Fox

Played by: Sigourney Weaver
Also appears in: Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), Alien Resurrection (1997)
Final Girl traits: Female, gender ambiguous name (Ripley), investigative, audience’s point of identification, defeats killer, survives
Alien is a sci-fi thriller, not a horror film, but the first film might as well be a slasher with the alien as the serial killer. And Ripley is undoubtedly the gender-bending point of identification, and ultimately the last astronaut standing (er, floating?). Like Evil Dead’s Ash, she transitions to action hero in the later films.

2. Laurie Strode (1978’s Halloween)

Anchor Bay Entertainment

Played by: Jamie Lee Curtis
Also appears in: Halloween II (1981), Halloween: H20 (1998), Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Final Girl traits: Female, gender ambiguous name, audience’s point of identification, pure, survives
Why is Laurie so high on the list? In Halloween, she’s certainly not as tough as any number of women above her. In this case, it’s worth looking at Laurie’s arc throughout the Halloween series, a direct response to the Final Girl’s metamorphosis into true heroine. The Laurie of Halloween: H20 can easily kick Michael Myers’ ass.

1. Sidney Prescott (1996’s Scream)

Dimension Films

Played by: Neve Campbell
Also appears in: Scream 2 (1997), Scream 3 (2000), Scream 4 (2011)
Final Girl traits: Female, gender ambiguous name, investigative, audience’s point of identification, defeats killer, survives
Because Scream is conscious of the slasher film history, Sidney is able to adapt — she is the ultimate Final Girl, the true culmination of a transformation that played out through the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. She understands what it means to be the victim (running up the stairs instead of out the door), and she actively rebels against that. Sidney is strong, resilient, sharp, and fearless. Plus, she gets to have sex, albeit with the killer.

Check out more articles on BuzzFeed.com!

Facebook Conversations
          
    Now Buzzing