First, defined in Carol Clover’s book, Men Women and Chainsaws, the final girl is a trope that is a staple of the horror genre. The final girl is an easily recognizable and pretty self-explanatory trope; she is the girl who is the last one standing at the end of the movie and is often tasked with killing the main villain. Mostly seen in slasher flicks, the final girl is expected to have a certain set of characteristics: she is normally a virgin, avoids drinking or doing drugs, occasionally she may have a connection to the killer, and will sometimes have a unisex name. However, more recent horror movies have seen the trope subverted, with many final girls being allowed to be sexually liberated, while also being able to save the day. Horror has seen many final girls throughout the years, and I am here to give my TOP 13 MOST ICONIC FINAL GIRLS (plus 5 honorable mentions). I will be talking about some of horror’s most recognizable final girls as well as some girls who I believe deserve more time in the spotlight. This list is in chronological order of when the movies starring the final girls were released. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
1. Sally Hardesty- Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Sometimes credited as horror’s first final girl, Sally Hardesty (played by Marilyn Burns), must face the Sawyer family, a group of cannibals. Sally is forced to endure the death of her brother and friends, and is tortured by the Sawyers. Quick on her feet, Sally is resourceful and willing to do whatever it takes to survive, and as a result is able to escape the clutches of the family.
2. Sue Snell- Carrie
An uncommon choice for a final girls list, Sue Snell is the sole survivor of her school’s prom after Carrie White burns it down. The only reason Sue survives is because she does not attend the prom after giving up her date so Carrie can go instead. Sue is one of the few people in the movie who was actually nice to Carrie, and tried to stop the prank that got played on her. Her use of kindness over violence sets her apart from other final girls, and earned her a place on this list.
3. Laurie Strode- Halloween (1978), Halloween 2 (1981), Halloween H20 (1998), Halloween Resurrection (2002) Halloween (2018)
A movie with one of the most recognizable horror villains and final girls, Halloween sets killer Michael Myer against babysitter Laurie Strode. I will be discussing the character as she is played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Laurie Strode appears in five out of the eleven movies. Although having died twice, (only to have been revived later in alternate timelines), Laurie has shown herself to be extremely capable, throughout her appearances, as she continues to escape and put down Michael Myers. Curtis, aged 60, was able to play Strode as an overly prepared and badass character in 2018’s Halloween, an uncommon role for an older woman to play in Hollywood.
4. Ellen Ripley- Alien 1-4 (1979, 1986, 1992, 1997)
Although very different from the other classic horror movies on this list, Alien is a legendary movie in the genre that has an equally legendary final girl. Played by Sigourney Weaver, Ellen Ripley is forced to survive on her spaceship as a dangerous alien starts killing off the rest of the crew. A natural leader willing to make the tough decisions, Ripley’s instincts and badass nature makes her an iconic final girl in horror history.
5. Alice Hardy- Friday the 13th (1980)
Since its premiere in 1980, the Friday the 13th movie has spawned 10 sequels and one reboot, making it one of horrors most well known franchises. Everyone who knows horror (and even some who don’t) knows about Jason Vorhees. I’m here to shine a light on the first final girl of a series that would be host to many more. Alice Hardy (played by Adrienne King) is your traditional final girl, who is able to outlast all of her peers and defeat the killer.
6. Nancy Thompson- Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
The most iconic final girl in the entire Nightmare on Elm Street series (and arguably in all of horror), Nancy Thomson is often seen at the top of Final Girl Ranking lists. Appearing in two movies, (as Heather Langenkamp plays herself in the meta movie Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) Nancy is extremely resourceful and smart when it comes to battling the dream demon Freddy Krueger. A high school student in the first movie, and a grad student working with kids in a psychiatric hospital in the third, Nancy will find out how to defeat Krueger, no matter how much coffee or how many Sta-AwakeTM pills it takes.
7. Jesse Walsh- Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Okay, so technically Jesse is a final boy, but he still gets to be on this list. Well known as one of the first gay protagonists in a slasher movie, Jesse adequately fufills the role of the final girl. Although never officially out (and ending up with the girl at the end) Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is an inherently queer movie full of queer subtext, and Jesse takes his role as the first final boy with pride.
8. Sidney Prescott- Scream 1-4 (1996, 2000, 1997, 2011)
Easily one of horrors most iconic final girls, from one of the most iconic movie series, Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell) survives the entire Scream franchise, lasting four whole movies. Aware of the tropes found in horror movies, Sidney is able to escape her attacker and fight back. A likeable and realistic final girl, it is easy for viewers to see themselves in Sidney, and it’s even easier to root for her.
9. Erin- You’re Next (2011)
The first slasher film I ever watched, You’re Next is about a dinner party gone wrong as a group of murderers crash and pick off members of the family one by one. Erin however, is not so easy to kill. Extremely prepared due to growing up in a doomsday prepper cult, Erin is able to fight back against each of her attackers in gory and creative ways. I remember cheering at the screen as Erin continues to kick ass throughout the entire movie, and it is extremely fun to watch.
10. Nica Pierce – Curse of Chucky (2013) Cult of Chucky (2017)
One of my favorite final girls (who in my opinion is critically underrated), Nica Pierce (Played by Fiona Douriff) is the final girl of the two latest movies in the original Child’s Play/Chucky series. Paralyzed from the waist down, Nica is often underestimated by her family in the first movie and is seen as incapable to live on her own. However, she is able to prove her family wrong as she survives not only one movie fighting against the infamous killer doll, but two. Extremely smart and likeable, you have no choice but to root for her.
11. Adelaide Wilson- Us (2019)
A movie that came out earlier this year, Us is Jordan Peele’s second horror movie, that in my opinion, lives up to the legacy of his first go at the genre, Get Out. Played by Lupita Nyong’o, Adelaide is the matriarch of the Wilson family, and when faced with a gang of doppelgangers, is ready to fight to save her loved ones. With an amazing crafted plot twist of a past, Adelaide is an extremely complex character who fits perfectly in this equally complex movie.
12. Grace- Ready or Not (2019)
The most recent release on this list, having come out at the end of August, Ready or Not is an excellent horror comedy that I highly recommend. Grace, our final girl (played by Samara Weaving) is excited to get married, however, she ends up spending her wedding night running from her husband’s family in a satanic deadly game of hide and seek. Extremely funny and smart, Grace is a joy to watch on screen.
1. Jess Bradford- Black Christmas (1974)
Often credited as the first modern slasher, Black Christmas stars Olivia Hussey as Jess Bradford. Independent and unwavering, Jess is able to stand on her own, confront her awful boyfriend, and outlast her sorority sisters when they are attacked by a serial killer.
2. Clear Rivers- Final Destination (1999) Final Destination 2 (2003)
The only character to appear in two Final Destination movies, Clear Rivers (played by Ali Larter) is an extremely smart final girl who was able to cheat death (for some time anyway). Clever enough to see the signs of death, Clear is able to outlast every initial survivor from the first movie. Tragically she died in the sequel, but makes it long enough to save a couple others along the way.
3. Taylor Gentry- Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, is a meta mockumentary that takes place in a world where all your favorite slasher movies are real. The movie follows the journey of Leslie Vernon as he strives to be the next great slasher villain. Our final girl is Taylor (played by Angela Goethals), a journalist investigating the world of horror. Willing to put herself in danger to get the story and to help others, Taylor translates the classic final girl trope into the modern era, while still fitting into its mold.
4. Michelle- 10 Cloverfield Lane (2010)
When Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead– who also plays final girl Wendy in Final Destination 3) suddenly finds herself trapped in an underground bunker during the apocalypse, she is forced to prove how strong a final girl must be. Smart, resourceful and rightfully suspicious, Michelle is able to solve the mystery of the bunker, launch an escape plan, and find her way out.
5. Maddie Young- Hush (2016)
Hush stars Kate Siegel as Maddie Young, a deaf/mute author who has isolated herself in a cabin in the forest as she tries to write her next novel. One night, Maddie comes face to face with a home invader hell-bent on killing her. Maddie has what she calls a “writer’s brain,” which allows her to run through plans in order to find the ending where she survives. Her creativity sets her apart from the other characters in the movie and helps her to outsmart her attacker.