9 of the best ‘final girls’ in horror
Don’t mess with them.
Without the Final Girl, there would be no good horror films. She is the heart of horror. Throw all the CGI and billion dollar marketing campaigns you like at a film, but the Final Girl is the thread that holds it all together. First coined by Carol Clover in her 1992 book Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, the term “final girl” means, at base level, the last character left alive at the end of a movie, usually a slasher flick. But over the years, Final Girl became synonymous with a virginal, screaming character with a victim complex and not a huge amount of character development, personality or substance.
But for every two dimensional, blonde, buxom, blood-stained scream queen, there are FGs who defeat the monster, have sex without being brutally killed (because only virgins live in horror movies), save themselves and live to tell the tale. At least until the sequel.
1. Laurie Strode - Halloween
In all cinematic tropes, there is an archetype, a leader who inspires all those who follow her. In terms of horror and Final Girls, this archetype is Laurie Strode. Without Laurie and her tireless attempts at defeating her murderous, boiler-suit wearing brother Michael Myers -- seriously, there have been so many of these films and still she never stops mid screaming chase scene to be like “why does this keep happening to me?” -- there would be no Sidney Prescott, no Buffy Summers. Laurie Strode never becomes a victim of her own trauma, never laments how shit it is to be born into a family where her blood relative has an inexhaustible thirst to murder her. She keeps fighting back.
2. Sidney Prescott - Scream
If Laurie Strode was the 70s archetypal FG, then Sidney Prescott was the 90s equivalent. The Scream franchise’s protagonist seems, at first, like your typical horror victim; an unassuming virginal character who watches her friends get brutally slain around her. In fact, by the time she finally has sex with her boyfriend (later revealed to be the first Ghostface, sorry for spoilers) the audience are sure she’s gonna die. After all, those are the rules of horror: you have sex, take drugs or rebel in any other way against the rules of femininity and you’re dead. By the end of the first film though, Sidney has transformed herself into the heroine she never knew she was, subverting the stereotypes we had come to expect from women in horror. By the sequel, she had no time for bad boyfriends or masked murderers. We stan.
3. Gale Weathers - Scream
While Sidney Prescott was the Scream franchise’s ultimate Final Girl, there would be no Sidney without Gale Weathers saving her life multiple times over the course of four films (of varying quality). An unapologetically brash reporter, Gale Weathers won’t be murdered by Ghostface because, to be honest, she doesn’t have the time. The real beauty in Gale’s character -- played by Courteney Cox with a terrific feathered nineties bob and professional passion bordering on religious fervour -- is that she’s often not very likeable. She’s not the shrinking violet, pure innocent victim either. She proves that in horror, as in life, women don’t have to fit in with the stereotype of being demure, passive, pious to survive.
If the Final Girl exists because there needs to be a character to tell the story of the villain’s carnage, then there’s no FG better than Gale Weathers. She always gets her story.
4. Buffy Summers - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
As far as teenage supernatural assassins go, you don’t get much more hardcore than Buffy. Killing vampires, defeating evil, stopping supernatural forces from killing her friends and turning her magical boyfriend(s) against her, and all before 11 on a school night. The glory of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s episodic format -- 144 episodes in three years! How! -- is that it reinforces the finality of the Final Girl with every weekly triumph over evil. Villains come and go, but Buffy is forever.
5. Needy - Jennifer’s Body
I know what you’re thinking. Surely anyone who willingly prefers ‘Needy’ as a nickname over their real name (Anita) isn’t going to make it to the end of this movie. Needy comes across as just that -- needy. She cowers behind Megan Fox’s Jennifer and for most of the movie it seems dubious that goodness will prevail over her millennial succubus BFF. But Needy, in all her wide-eyed, angelic blonde, bunny slipper-wearing glory, pulls through. She kills the bad guy (girl) and breaks out of the mental institution she’s been cruelly trapped in as punishment for her misguided crime. Even better, the film ends with her setting out to murder Low Shoulder, the band that ruined her beloved best friend and turned her into a demon in the first place. Which seems fair, they were much worse than anything Jennifer ever did. And their music sucked.
6. Sarah Bailey - The Craft
The Craft isn’t your typical slasher flick. Instead of having to fight off monsters or knife-wielding maniacs, protagonist Sarah has to fight off three girls who were formerly her friends and members of her coven. Obviously main antagonist Nancy is supposed to be the one we hate, but, much like the lead duo from Jennifer’s Body, honestly any of the Craft gals could be left as the film’s FG and audiences would’ve have been happy. Yes, Nancy went off the deep end a bit and got quite murderous, but honestly, they were all powerful amazing teenage witches and I loved them all. They also really knew how to work that Catholic school uniform.
7. Ripley - Alien
It’s unfortunate that for most FGs, the plotlines of their film usually treat them quite badly before they eventually prevail as the heroines. Like, there’s a lot of stabbing and attacking and loads of bloody body horror. The best thing about Alien though, is that despite what Ripley might go through in her heroic quest, at least doesn’t have to give birth to a disgusting alien baby through her chest cavity. This horrific take on labour is instead bestowed upon a male character. Good, tbh.
8. Dawn O’Keefe - Teeth
Most FGs get the title because they’re chased by a horrible monster or madmen and spend a lot of time screaming before fighting back. Dawn is different. She’s not a slasher victim, she’s a girl with an unusual health complaint: she has teeth in her vagina. While at first she’s horrified by the discovery, Dawn soon learns that she has been graced with the ability to literally bite back at the world’s injustices, which tend to manifest themselves in the form of awful men who want to have sex with her. She spends the rest of the film mastering her unusual gift, embracing sexual autonomy and leaving a trail of bloodied, horrified, penis-less men behind her. Who among us has never fantasised about the same trajectory?
9. Amy Dunne - Gone Girl
Gone Girl isn’t your typical slasher film, but ask any man who’s seen it and they’ll tell you it’s a horror. While the beginning of the film sets Amy Dunne up as a tragic victim, it quickly becomes apparent that she’s actually a criminal mastermind and evil genius who ruins her dumbass husband’s life to teach him a lesson and delivers some of the most iconic monologues in cinema history in the process.