The opinions in the following feature belong to the author. And warning, they might be scary … just in time for Halloween.
The final girl. I know it. You know it. Everybody knows it.
It’s the last person – typically female – left standing after the initial bloodbath to take on the film’s nefarious foe, be it a slasher or a monster.
The trope as we know it now really started in the 1970s and ’80s, and continues to this day with several films breaking the mold or adapting, but without ever really abandoning the reputation. They are a staple in the horror genre right up there with useless cops and girls who think the masked killer is their boyfriend playing a prank on them.
Come on, girls! Use your head.
So now I take it upon myself to list the lucky 13 of my favorite final girls.
13. SALLY HARDESTY (Marilyn Burns) & ERIN (Jessica Biel)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, 2003)
Yes, a tie. I know, we’re off to a great start.
Sometimes the final girls don’t kill the bad guy, sometimes they just run away, and that’s OK.
Both of these characters – though certainly distinguishable – represent the sort of every girl who is suddenly thrust into a horrific situation and must do whatever they can to survive. With their friends dead and several enemies behind them, they find the first ticket out of there … and they take it.
And while Erin was perhaps more consistently interesting, Sally gave us one of the most iconic moments in horror. As she rides away in the back of a pickup truck, her blood curdling screams turn into uncomfortable laughter, perhaps of relief or joy, or simply because she doesn’t know what else to do.
12. NANCY THOMPSON (Heather Langenkamp)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
One of the quintessential final girls, many people’s bread and butter, is Nancy from A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Now I’d be lying if I said I was the world’s biggest fan of this movie, but I’d be remiss if I left her off this list. Her resourcefulness and determination alone warrant a spot. It’s not enough that she just faces Freddy at the end; it’s the fact that she prepares for the inevitable showdown and then seeks him out to finish him.
It’s an added bonus that I found her character more interesting when she played a version of herself in the underrated Wes Craven’s New Nightmare in 1994.
11. TOMMY JARVIS (Thom Mathews)
Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986)
Yes, a male final girl. They are few and far between, but they do exist.
While the character did appear in The Final Chapter and A New Beginning (played by Corey Feldman and John Shepherd, respectively), it was in Jason Lives that he was at his best. Now all grown up and no longer a passive mute, Tommy digs up Jason’s body in order to destroy him once and for all.
It’s because of this that Jason is struck by lightning and revived, but that’s beside the point! He was proactive and likable and even developed good chemistry with Megan, the sheriff’s daughter. I know, good chemistry in a slasher flick. It’s so rare it’s practically a unicorn.
10. SAMANTHA HUGHES (Jocelin Donahue)
The House of the Devil (2009)
This film is something of a slow burn leading to the climax. So when you spend the majority of the film watching the lead character babysit the mysterious and unseen mother, it’s important to remain engaged.
This film is an effective throwback to the splatter flicks of the ’70s and ’80s, and it would have been easy for Donahue to emulate the over-the-top mannerisms of the women who filled those movies. Instead she remained natural and balanced.
By giving the film a core human element, it makes the climax that much more intense by focusing on a character you want to root for.
9. MIA ALLEN (Jane Levy)
Evil Dead (2013)
To the writers’ credit, the film does play with our familiarity with the original and switches up some of the character dynamics.
In the original film, the role that Mia fills as the character who is the first to be possessed does not make it to the end. Thus making it that much more surprising that she’s the last one standing. However it also introduces an element that makes her the character that goes through the most in the film, and therefore has much more to overcome.
Just when you think things can’t get worse for her, boy do they. I mean I don’t want to spoil anythi- HER HAND GETS RIPPED OFF! RIPPED RIGHT OFF! Sorry, that got away from me for a second.
Anyway, by being a character that’s already unstable when the film starts, it gives Mia a nice emotional and thematic arc that Levy plays very well.
8. SARAH CARTER (Shauna Macdonald)
The Descent (2005)
Guys, this movie…
What’s interesting about the way this film starts out is its changing of story focus. Sarah already has gone through a traumatic experience, and her friends take her on a cave-diving adventure to help her out. That alone could have been a nice drama about recovery.
But then there’s a cave-in and they get lost. That alone could have been a solid survivalist thriller about Sarah overcoming adversity.
Oh, and then cave monsters. Because obviously.
This is such a character-driven film, and at the center of that is Sarah and her broken psyche, who need to survive no matter what. However, depending on which ending you watch (check out the unrated cut) and depending on how you interpret it, it brings into question her validity as a final girl.
And I’ll leave it at that.
7. JAMIE LLOYD (Danielle Harris)
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Not all final girls have to be all grown up.
Continuing his incessant need to murder his family (hashtag relatable), Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield to hunt down and kill his niece, Jamie, daughter of his sister Laurie Strode.
As you all know, being an orphan who happens to be the niece of the town’s most notorious holiday-based serial killer has its ups and downs. We see her bullied at school and struggle to fit in while still mourning the recent loss of her parents. Once again, this is enough to sustain a film on its own, but then Michael shows up and ruins everything because that’s what family reunions are for.
It’s almost impossible not to feel bad and root for this girl; it’s just a bonus that Harris is actually good. She has to do a whole lot of screaming and crying without being irritating which is almost impossible for kids in horror movies, so props to her.
6. GINNY FIELD (Amy Steel)
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
One of the more underrated final girls, Ginny shines in a franchise full of flat and generic characters.
While the other counselors discuss Jason Voorhees and his mother as another campfire story meant to spook the newcomers, Ginny can’t get the reality out of her head and actually considers the logical and psychological reasoning behind the motives. She considers the fact that Jason would have been sheltered from everyone but his mother, lacking basic social skills and understanding of right and wrong, and that her death would send him on a murderous rampage.
This prepares her for the climax where her smarts and resourcefulness are enough to survive.
Or are they?
5. ERIN (Sharni Vinson)
You’re Next (2011)
This chick is what’s up.
When the Davison family is attacked by masked killers in their remote home, Erin – one of the brothers’ girlfriend – jumps into action and straight up Home Alone’s the hell out of the killers.
There’s no waiting for the climax for this final girl to become a bad-ass, she is one from the get go. Because, of course, she is. She’s Australian.
Her knowledge, resourcefulness, and Australian-ness essentially turn this black comedy disguised as a horror movie into an endless climax of traps, fights and brutality.
4. ASH WILLIAMS (Bruce Campbell)
The Evil Dead (1981)
Yes, it’s another guy. Look, I didn’t invent the term “final girl.” Plus “final guy” or “final person” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. And come one, it’s Ash. Freaking Ash!
You know the drill: Friends go to cabin, friends finds creepy book in basement, friend plays tape recorder reciting creepy book, friend unleashes demonic spirits bent on possession and torment. Fairly standard, we’ve all been there.
Ash became more of a B-movie action hero as the films went on, but in the first film he is very much a final girl (I’m gonna keep calling him that, leave me alone).
3. ELLEN RIPLEY (Sigourney Weaver)
I mean, come on. This character has become so iconic as a heroine of sci-fi and action that it’s easy to forget that Alien was indeed a horror movie and that Ellen Ripley was indeed a final girl.
As an unknown actress at the time, and with the “final girl” trope in its infancy, no one expected this character to be the lone survivor among more familiar actors.
But with her no BS attitude and resilience even in the face of her own abject fear and vulnerability, there was no way she wasn’t going to best that dastardly Xenomorph.
2. LAURIE STRODE (Jamie Lee Curtis)
Touted as starting the slasher flick formula, Halloween also introduced us to a final girl archetype that would last to this very day.
Laurie was the smart girl, the sweet girl. The girl who spends her Halloween babysitting instead of fooling around with a boyfriend despite having eyes for one. There’s no way she can survive against the literal manifestation of evil. And that’s the trick.
There’s also something to be said of her transformation from meek schoolgirl in the first film to a traumatized woman willing to face her demons in an epic showdown in H2O. Her performance in that film rounds out the iconic character in the best way.
That moment when she stands in the middle of the campus wielding an axe and screams Michael’s name as the Halloween theme kicks in gives me chills every time.
1. SIDNEY PRESCOTT (Neve Campbell)
Honestly, who else was it gonna be?
My favorite final girl in my favorite Halloween, Sidney manages to break the mold of the final girl character while still adhering to the journey a final girl must take. It might have been enough for her to consciously avoid the horror clichés in an attempt at pure satire, but they go beyond that and give us a fully rounded character.
Already haunted by the murder of her mother, she handles death differently than the other characters do. Yet she is still tricked and beaten and scared, but manages through all of that to be smart, strong, unwavering and perhaps most importantly, three dimensional.
Plus by being one of the few final girls who continued into the franchise, we see her grow and learn while still being recognizable as the Sidney we all fell in love with in the first film.
Well, you know what they say: It ain’t over until a scream queen is covered in blood.
So those are some of my favorite final girls, do you agree with the list? I’m sure I excluded a few, who did I miss? Let me know either way in the comments and Happy Halloween.
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