In the horror genre, and particularly the slasher subgenre, there is heavy use of a character labeled “The Final Girl.” This is the female protagonist of the film that is the last character left alive, and the one that stops, or evades, the antagonist. The rest of the characters are often stupid and have little depth, and therefore are nothing more than fresh meat for the villain to kill. The Final Girl, however, is typically moral, intelligent and resourceful. Here are 10 of the greatest Final Girls who managed to defeat some of horror’s most iconic villains.
10. Julie James – I Know What You Did Last Summer
Although I Know What You Did Last Summer (and the sequel) is very much a simple slasher involving attractive girls running away from a mysterious assailant, it does make good use of the Final Girl character. This is Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt), who proves herself to be this character early on by suggesting that they call the police after running over a pedestrian (good morals). They go against her wishes and dump the body in the ocean. A year later they find themselves being stalked after Julie receives a message saying “I know what you did last summer.” Her friends are killed one by one, and Julie gradually unravels the mystery and narrowly avoids death (with a little help from Ray, who also survives). She comes agonizingly close to surviving the sequel too, but seems to be killed by the fisherman in the final scene of the film.
9. Suzy Banyon – Suspiria
Dario Argento’s stunning 1977 Italian horror Suspiria is a visual feast that uses vivid colors to create a surreal setting, and this makes it a very unique and fascinating film. Also unique is the approach to the Final Girl character, who is Suzy Banyon. Suzy is an American ballet student who enrolls in a prestigious German dance academy, but she soon discovers that things are not quite what they seem and several characters die at the academy. Suzy investigates and discovers that the academy was founded by a witch, and she must then use a knife against a female foe (a rarity), which is also her reanimated friend Sarah. She then manages to escape as the building catches fire, and her willingness to fight this ancient evil and ability to resist supernatural seduction makes her one of the best Final Girls in a unique and intriguing horror from Dario Argento.
8. Ginny Field – Friday the 13th, Part II
The Final Girl from Friday the 13th, Alice Hardy, does make this list and is a fantastic Final Girl, but she is first up for the chop in the sequel. Five years pass, and this time it is Jason himself who is on a killing spree at Crystal Lake. Once again there is a Final Girl, and this is Ginny Field, who, unlike most Final Girls, has sex and even drinks alcohol and lives to tell the tale (typically, characters that do this are brutally punished). Ginny, a child psychology student, believes that Jason has no sense of right and wrong and seems to understand him. This is evident through her fast thinking towards the end of the film, which sees her put on Jason’s mother’s sweater and convinces him that she is his mother (momentarily halting his attack). She then manages to use his machete on him and escapes.
7. Alice Hardy – Friday the 13th
Long before Ginny Field was using her smarts to evade Jason, Alice Hardy had to battle incredibly hard to stay alive and take down Jason’s mother, Mrs. Voorhees. Alice is a counselor at Crystal Lake camp, which is where Jason supposedly drowned 21 years earlier and Mrs. Voorhees is now out for revenge. Alice finds her fellow counselors brutally murdered one by one, and then encounters Mrs. Voorhees herself and puts up an impressive fight. She first bludgeons her with a fireplace poker and gets away, but is then attacked again but manages to knock her out with a frying pan. Mrs. Voorhees then comes for a third time (this time with a machete), and after a lengthy clash, it is Alice who emerges victorious by decapitating her attacker and cementing herself as one of horror’s greatest Final Girls (although the sequel does not work out well for her).
6. Sally Hardesty – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Few Final Girls go through as harrowing of experiences as Sally Hardesty in Tobe Hooper’s enormously influential The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. First her, her brother and friends encounter a rather troubling hitchhiker who makes them fear for their lives, but this is nothing compared to what follows. Leatherface brutally kills her friends, and then kills her brother in front of her. She then flees in terror as she is chased by a chainsaw-wielding Leatherface, but after thinking she is safe, she is then dragged back to the house. She is then tortured and tormented by the deeply disturbing cannibal family, but, being a fighter, Sally manages to escape for a second time and narrowly gets away in the back of a truck. The awful events she goes through, the fact that she escapes twice, and her fierce determination to survive make her one of the genre’s toughest Final Girls.
5. Nancy Thompson – A Nightmare on Elm Street
Most Final Girls will do everything possible to evade the antagonist, but are forced into some kind of confrontation near the end of the film. Nancy Thompson proves her toughness and goes against the grain by actively seeking out Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street. This is, of course, the classic horror which sees Freddy strike in children’s dreams, and knowing that sleep is unavoidable, Nancy goes into a dream with a plan to bring him out of the dream so that he can be arrested. She directly attacks him in the dream and pulls him out, and then he falls into all of the traps that she had cleverly set out earlier. She then directly attacks him again and knocks him out with a chair, before weakening him by calling him nothing. This actively standing up to the antagonist makes her braver and more cunning than most Final Girls.
4. Erin Harson – You’re Next
You’re Next is a black comedy horror which brilliantly uses classic horror tropes, but also breathes new life into the slasher and home invasion subgenres. A great example of this is the upgraded version of the Final Girl character, and Erin is certainly one girl that you would want in your corner if you were being hunted in your family vacation home (the setup in the film). Most Final Girls are resourceful but barely manage to survive and are often fortunate, but Erin was raised by a survivalist father in Australia and knows how to set traps, heal wounds and react smartly in dangerous situations. The violent attacks on the home and family members are met with cunning retaliation, and even a shock twist towards the end won’t stop her from kicking butt and being the only one standing once the credits roll.
3. Ellen Ripley – Alien
Ripley from Alien is not just one of the greatest Final Girls, but is considered to be one of the best film characters of all time, and one that is often studied extensively. She holds power over a male-dominated crew (although, importantly, she is not defined by these men or her relationship to them), she is able to react calmly and intelligently in times of crisis, and she is also a survivor (but kills herself to save humanity in the third installment). Not only does she survive, but she also manages to rescue her cat and a 12-year-old girl along the way, and this makes her a heroic character in addition to a survivor. She is brilliantly portrayed by Sigourney Weaver, and it was announced earlier this year that the fifth installment is on the horizon and Weaver will reprise her role as the iconic character.
2. Sidney Prescott – Scream
Sidney Prescott is surprisingly well-adjusted considering the traumatic events that have followed her throughout her adult life, seeing her fend off a whopping seven different killers (including her boyfriend), who all donned the famous Ghostface costume over the four Scream films. She is even wrongfully accused of being the killer in the fourth installment, before being stabbed by her very own cousin (fear not, she does survive). Over the course of the franchise, Sidney becomes stronger and more adept at fighting off the killer, and despite all the death and horror around her, she is still going strong after the fourth film. She is a survivor and undefeated champion, making her an iconic figure in the genre and one of the greatest Final Girls ever created. Additionally, Neve Campbell’s portrayal of Sidney has been praised heavily and seen her dubbed “Scream Queen” of the ’90s.
1. Laurie Strode – Halloween
Laurie Strode is as iconic in the horror genre as all the greatest villains, and this is largely thanks to the fantastic performances by Jaime Lee Curtis which saw her become the original “Scream Queen.” Laurie Strode is one of the earliest and most influential examples of the Final Girl character, which is why she tops the list. She perfectly walks the line of being innocent and vulnerable, along with brave, intelligent and resourceful, and proves to be the perfect match for Michael Myers (who is also perhaps the most iconic in his character role). Being stalked and attacked by Michael Myers on numerous occasions would be a truly harrowing experience, but she proves her bravery by successfully managing to evade him and attack when given the chance (in the first film, she does this with a knitting needle, a metal hanger and even his own knife).