EJ Moreno looks at ten influential and badass final girls…
Did Carol J. Clover think we’d have endless discourse around the term she coined in her 1992 novel Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film? God, no, but thankfully she’s given horror fans endless conversations about who is the real screaming queen of the genre.
During her seminal work, Clover gave us the term final girl, and that’s the focus of this conversation. For this piece, we’ll look at final girls from all horror films spanning decades. There are countless offerings, but we’ve narrowed it down to ten of our icons.
We are looking at not only the iconic status of the actresses behind these final girls but we’re considering how these characters handled themselves in their film(s). For example, an actress may have more name recognition than another on the list, but if the final girl impacts her film more, she’ll likely place higher.
Remember that we are looking at horror stature, final kills, number of appearances, and overall badassery. With that, let’s look at our ten best final girls ever…
10. Julie James
Every final girl on this list has merits. Even if they place low like our I Know What You Did Last Summer leading lady did here, they’re still iconic in the genre. Julie James, played by Jennifer Love Hewitt, is one tough cookie who deals with a hook-wielding killer twice in her horror history.
I Know What You Did Last Summer and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer are two of the stronger post-Scream slashers, and both are grounded by a wonderful turn by Hewitt’s Julie James. Our Last Summer final girl does her best to fight off Ben Willis and his nautical killings. Sadly, she isn’t great at keeping her friends alive, only boasting two survivors in her outings, one of them being a repeat being her boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.), who steals her shine both times.
9. Mia Allen
Jane Levy’s Mia is the first female final girl of the Evil Dead franchise, giving her wild equal status to someone as iconic as Bruce Campbell’s Ash. If we also compare it to Campbell’s first two outings, Mia also fights a much more formidable foe than Ash ever did.
Much like the previously mentioned final girl, Mia is horrible at keeping her friends alive in the 2013 Evil Dead reimagining. Hell, she even falls to the dark side for a good chunk of the film, getting sidelined for her brother to play the hero role. But when she makes her grand return in the movie, she commands the film’s final act and gives us quite a bloody battle. What could place her on this higher on its list is if she makes her Evil Dead return in the next installment.
8. Jess Bradford
Jess Bradford is the first final girl to appear in a slasher, making her a genre pioneer. 1974’s Black Christmas kicked off the entire genre, and we have Olivia Hussey’s remarkable turn in the film to thank for so much of what we love in slashers. But being first can hurt sometimes.
As the most level-headed member of Pi Kappa Sig, she keeps things afloat for some time. She also added a wonderful feminist twist to horror long before it became a trendy movement. Her accolades end there, though, since Jess doesn’t end the film as strong as the other final girls. The film’s final moments leave her fate in the air, and she doesn’t even get to deliver the final blow to the killer. While she’s an excellent one-and-done character, she doesn’t stand up next to others.
7. Nancy Thompson
Slasher fans will see this placement, especially those Elm Street fans, and they might be shocked. But as previously mentioned, all of these icons are badass in their own right. Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) is a horror queen, despite her second appearance lacking a bit.
Nancy Thompson was the first in a long line of people to face off with Freddy Krueger, and she efficiently handled him. Though, our favorite Dream Demon was nowhere near as possible as he’d appear in later installments. Case in point, when Langenkamp’s Nancy returns in Dream Warriors, she’s shockingly killed off due to Freddy’s new powerset. Regardless, we would never diminish the work Nancy put in to get us to the point we are in horror now.
6. Kirsty Cotton
None of the women here have faced easy adversaries, but fighting S&M Hell Demons could be one of the worst. What makes it even wilder, Kirsty Cotton has appeared in four Hellraiser films and survived each outing against the terrifying Cenobites.
What really keeps Kirsty out of the top five is the more obscure nature of the Hellraiser franchise. Leading lady Ashley Laurence gives her all in these films, making Kirsty feel as strong and complex as needed. She played the games set by Pinhead quite well, taking on the hell spawns in the 80s and the 00s. But if you ask most fans, they will barely remember her second film, let alone her third and fourth Hellraiser appearances. We still highly respect the Cenobite ass-kicker.
5. Vanita ‘Stretch’ Brock
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a long-running horror franchise, one of the earliest slashers, and has given fans quite a few memorable final girls. But for this list, we’ll focus on one entry, and if you’re looking at Chainsaw Massacre baddies, look no further than Stretch.
Vanita ‘Stretch’ Brock is a mostly “one-and-done” final girl, only appearing in one entry before a cameo in another. Caroline Williams’ work in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is nothing short of amazing, faring much better than her TCM peer Sally Hardesty. She’s a character you are instantly endeared to, and Williams gives Stretch probably more personality than what was initially written. If she had just one more film, she’s easily higher on this list.
4. Ellen Ripley
You see Alien, and you see Sigourney Weaver; you know this is a top contender. Simply put, there’s a reason Ellen Ripley is one of the most lasting characters. And if you disagree that she’s a final girl, take it up with Carol J. Clover herself since she long-considered Ellen Ripley as such.
Sigourney Weaver’s work in the first Alien film defined this type of character for decades, giving much-needed agency to a genre final girl. She offs one of the universe’s most dangerous killers quickly before coming back in the sequel to do it all over again. She’d do it twice more, but the films would drop all things horror and lean more into action/sci-fi. With each Alien movie after the original, it seems like they forgot what made Ellen Ripley one of the bests in the first place.
3. Erin Harson
Out of all the “one-and-done” final girls, Erin Harson is genuinely the reigning queen. You’re missing one of the most brilliant takes on this trope if you haven’t seen 2013’s You’re Next from Adam Wingard. This is someone who has shaped the new generation quite a bit.
The criminally underrated Sharni Vinson brought Erin to life, and boy, did she give us something totally fresh. Not only did Erin come in with a great vibe, but when the situation became intense, she quickly stepped into a significant leadership position. Giving the character a survivalist background brought her skills to new levels, taking down foes swiftly…something our final two entries took time to do. Erin is truly one of a kind, earning her this top three spot.
2. Laurie Strode
Jamie Lee Curtis is a horror legend. For someone who doesn’t even love to watch the genre, she’s somehow won us over for decades with her Halloween final girl, Laurie Strode. Even if there were women before or after her, Laurie is the template all others followed.
What also helps Jamie Lee Curtis’s status as one of the best is the sheer amount of movies she’s fought Michael Myers in. We’ve seen Laurie Strode grow into a legend from the classic original Halloween to its sequel to the recent Blumhouse trilogy. Not every appearance has been great, with every other Halloween movie seemingly getting what to do with Laurie. And at least this character is equally vital in her remakes, which is something others can’t say.
1. Sidney Prescott
No remakes, no fakeout deaths, just pure ass-kicking. That’s why Sidney Prescott is the great final girl in horror history. With five appearances out of 6 films, 4 of which were starring roles, there’s almost no competition. The Scream franchise knows what to do with its final girl.
Outside of the statistics, Neve Campbell’s iconic turn as Sidney Prescott shifted how we looked at final girls. This wasn’t a character terrorized until the final moments of each film when she somehow knows how to fight back; no, Sidney is a fighter and a survivor from the moment Ghostface appears. Sidney Prescott grew over time, becoming stronger and wiser with each outing. Also, until recently, she knew how to keep the most survivors out of all the final girls.
We appreciate all final girls, whether they are fighting space aliens or masked killers. Horror would be nothing without these badass women carrying us to the end.
Share your favorite final girl by reaching out via our social channels @FlickeringMyth…