In a film genre that has often been criticized for producing shockingly anti-feminist movies and using women as the targeted subject for misogyny and male rage, it can often be difficult to find female characters we love in horror movies. This list is for you if you want to get a good scare in time for Halloween without watching something that would make the feminist in you want to scream in anger.
- Jennifer Check, Jennifer’s Body
Megan Fox has had her fair share of memorable roles; however, her looks have often outshone the characters she has been given to work with. Thankfully, this is not at all the case in Jennifer’s Body. Fox is perfectly cast in the role of Jennifer Check, a beautiful and popular high schooler turned man-eating succubus. With her powerful on-screen presence and obvious beauty, Fox turned Jennifer Check into a sexy, feminist, and powerful character who is sure to have a lasting impact on pop culture.
2. Dani, Midsommar
A24 is no stranger to churning out great female-led films as well as visually stunning – albeit terrifying – horror films, so it is always a treat when these two tropes are combined. In Midsommar, amidst a deceivingly scenic setting, Florence Pugh masterfully plays the role of Dani, a college undergraduate student who has recently undergone an extremely traumatic event and is in a relationship with a man who seemingly wants nothing to do with her. Despite the sinister and gory tale that Dani soon becomes the center of, we, the audience, are still entranced by her in a manner that is due to fear, relatability, and grudging respect.
3. Annie Graham, Hereditary
In another A24 classic, Toni Collette shines as Annie Graham, a mother who has recently lost her own mother and is trying to keep her family together amidst a series of sinister and mysterious occurrences. Colette breathes life into a character that, played by the wrong actress, would easily have become merely a background character in the film. Annie Graham is fiercely poignant, with the darkest and most unhinged parts of her seemingly balanced by her love for her family.
4. Carrie White, Carrie
There is a reason why Stephen King’s 1974 novel has been adapted into TV shorts, blockbuster moves, feature films, and plays, time and time again. There is a popular trope in horror films of the shy, outcasted, and bullied character turned monster; it’s a character the audience – even amidst disgust at their actions – can get behind, because we understand that at the core of their evil lies a broken heart.
5. Adelaide Wilson, Us
Despite some controversy around the character, Lupita Nyong’o’s portrayal of Adelaide Wilson in Us can be credited to the success of the film. Artfully playing both a protagonist and an antagonist, Nyong’o presents Adelaide as a woman who lives in a confined state of cautiousness due to undergoing a traumatic experience in her childhood. We enter Adelaide’s world through her eyes, and watch her story unfold in a speechless state of shock.
6. Casey Becker, Scream
Casey Becker: you might recognize her from one of the most iconic scenes in the Scream franchise, featuring Drew Barrymore sporting a blonde bob, giggling on the phone and twirling a kitchen knife in her hands, unaware that she is mere minutes away from being the Ghostface killer’s first on screen victim. Although her role in Scream is limited, Casey Becker’s effect on horror cinema is long-standing, launching the “first girl” trope that has become synonymous with slasher films.
7. Elaine, The Love Witch
In literature, film, there has been a longstanding history of associating witchcraft with a form of feminism, holding a place among the tropes of the misunderstood woman and the woman scorned. In The Love Witch, Samantha Robinson plays Elaine Parks, a seemingly normal woman who turns to paganism upon the loss of her husband. Elaine brings new meaning to the phrase “boy crazy”; she uses her powers of witchcraft, mysterious liquids, and strange spells to entrance men, ultimately killing them. Elaine is not concerned about the men who fall hopelessly, hypnotically in love with her; and while her actions are not defendable, they are sure fun to watch.
8. Laurie Strode, Halloween Franchise
We have Jamie Lee Curtis to thank for many things – aging flawlessly, for one – but her portrayal of Laurie Strode takes the cake. Tormented by Michael Myers since her childhood, we see Laurie Strode face her arch-nemesis time and time again throughout the film series, always praying for her survival, and breathing a collective sigh of breath each time she lives to see another day. Despite being riddled with PTSD and struggling with her familial relationships, we love Laurie through it all for the absolute badass she is.
9. Clarice Starling, The Silence of the Lambs
Clarice Starling, – the role that would earn Jodie Foster an Academy Award – the protagonist of The Silence of the Lambs, first appears on-screen as an eager and determined FBI student. As the film progresses, we learn about her childhood, and what led her to her current circumstances: being face-to-face to a cannibalistic killer. Clarice Starling is as important to the film genre as a character like Casey Becker, albeit in a completely different way. There is nothing ditzy or flighty about her; she is not the first girl to die a gruesome and painful death, nor is she a sexy but evil seductress; she is a woman on a mission, as fearless as she is fearful.
10. Ellen Ripley, Alien
In Alien, Sigourney Weaver plays Ellen Ripley, which is arguably her most iconic and notable role to date. Ripley is the warrant officer aboard a spaceship en route to Earth and is the only crewmember to escape the spacecraft following its infiltration by hostile creatures and explosions. Ripley is easily one of the most culturally shifting and significant female protagonists in the history of science fiction cinema, representing a woman that is strong, but above all else, honest. She makes mistakes, she learns from them, she fights, and sometimes, she loses. Weaver’s iconic role served as much-needed proof that yes, women could lead horror and science fiction films without being killed off within the first twenty minutes.