While horror films have been around for several decades, the term "final girl" was coined more recently than most people may think. Originally created in 1992 by author Carol J. Clover in her book "Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film," the term refers to a common trope in horror movies in which the last female character(s) alive confront and defeat or escape the killer, essentially becoming the only people left to tell the story. Characteristics of a final girl include a refusal to indulge in drugs, alcohol, and sex in order to survive the film. Though not always depicted as the smartest character, more modern versions of the final girl are clever, resilient, and, in some cases, downright fearless.
Characters who fall under the final girl banner gained a tremendous amount of popularity in the '80s and '90s, which saw a surge in slasher movies that saw the main female protagonist return for at least one sequel. Some of the famous franchises that have featured a recurring final girl include "A Nightmare on Elm Street," "Scream," "Halloween," and "Alien."
This list takes a look at many great female characters who have played the role of the final girl over the past several decades. A final girls' ranking will be based on how many appearances her character in her respective franchise, her survival skills, and her influence on the slasher film landscape.
Karla Wilson — I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
While the sequel to the hit 1997 slasher film "I Know What You Did Last Summer" isn't quite as good as its predecessor, it does elevate the story in some ways. First, it diversifies the previously all-Caucasian cast by adding Brandy Norwood, Mekhi Phifer, and Jennifer Esposito to its ensemble. Taking place exactly one year after the events of the original film, "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" was one of the earliest horror sequels to deal with the PTSD that comes from surviving a massive traumatic event like the one Jennifer Love Hewitt's character, Julie James, did in the original. Norwood's character, Karla Wilson, is Julie's new bff and is aware of Julie's tragic past, therefore becoming sensitive to her plight.
However, Karla is also the one who tries to get Julie to live life to the fullest. When the two find themselves traveling to a tropical island for a vacation, Karla encourages Julie to let her guard down. People start dropping dead as soon as Julie relaxes, and it's Karla who tries to help Julie stay calm.
Once the killer pursues Julie and Karla, the two become separated and Karla becomes part of one of the tensest chase scenes in modern horror history. Though Karla is feisty and tough, it's her ability to think fast that helps her avoid the killer and stay alive long enough to see her friend again.
Tina Shepard — Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood
There are over a dozen final girl characters that belong to the Friday the 13th franchise, but none have left quite as big of a mark as Lar Park Lincoln's Tina Shepard in "Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood." Born with "Carrie"-like telekinetic powers, Tina is a teenager who has been bullied by her peers and is dealing with the guilt of accidentally causing her father's death before she finally comes to face-to-face with Jason Vorhees.
Overcoming all of the emotional obstacles in her way to channel the memory of her deceased father, Tina is as resilient as they come. Using her powerful abilities, she electrocutes Jason, collapses a house onto his body, and sets fire to a cabin while Jason is still inside. However, for the piece de resistance, Tina uses all of her energy to conjure her father's spirit, who gladly drags Jason's body underwater.
Erin Harson — You're Next
The 2011 slasher film "You're Next" thought outside of the box when it came to its final girl. Erin Harson, played by Australian actress Sharni Vinson, is a young woman who accompanies her boyfriend on a trip to his family reunion. This starts out harmless enough, but quickly turns into a bloodbath as masked killers descend on the family estate and start picking off victims one at a time.
However, in a genuine twist on the final girl trope, Erin was raised in a survivalist compound where she learned combat and survival skills. So, as the killers close in around her, Erin rigs the house with booby traps, using anything she can to kill those who would do her harm, including a kitchen blender and several screwdrivers. She later uncovers a plot between her boyfriend and his brother to kill the rest of the family in order to inherit the family fortune, and is forced to fight them as well.
Vinson plays the character to perfection. Thanks to her quiet determination, there's no doubt about who will come out on top of this deadly game of cat-and-mouse.
Alice Johnson — A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Like the Friday the 13th franchise, the Nightmare on Elm Street series is full of several final girls. However, a couple who stand out from the rest. One of them is Lisa Wilcox's Alice Johnson, who first appeared in 1988's "A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master." Alice was the best friend of original protagonist Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette), who passed her dream powers to Alice before being killed by Freddy Krueger. Alice, who already had her own abilities, became even more powerful after receiving Kristen's power, making her the eponymous Dream Master.
Alice gained the "dream powers" of Freddy's other victims as well, making her one of the most formidable opponents Freddy has ever faced. After defeating Freddy at the end of the fourth movie, Alice starts a relationship with Dan Jordan (the other survivor) and ends up becoming pregnant. In the sequel, "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child," Freddy returns and picks off Alice's loved ones, hoping to be reborn in the body of her unborn son.
Originally, Alice was set to return for "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare," though plans were to kill her off early in the film, making her son, Jacob, the main protagonist. However, this idea was later scrapped and the character never reappeared, except during flashbacks in Freddy's introduction in 2003's "Freddy vs. Jason."
Jamie Lloyd — Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers
When Jamie Lee Curtis decided to leave the "Halloween" franchise after the 1981 sequel, the studio needed a new final girl to go up against Michael Myers. It found it in Danielle Harris' Jamie Lloyd. Introduced in 1988's "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers," Jamie is the daughter of Curtis' Laurie Strode, who died off-screen in a car accident. Jamie is adopted by the Carruthers family who, coincidentally, also live in Haddonfield. Over time, Jamie develops a psychic connection to her deadly uncle and is able to see through his eyes as he goes on his killing sprees.
As in the previous films, bloody chaos ensues as Michael Myers tries to track down his long-lost niece. The end of "Halloween 4" features one of the franchise's most shocking moments as Jamie follows in Michael's footsteps by attacking her foster mother. Harris reprises the role in "Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers," in which the mysterious Man in Black returns to free Michael from the clutches of the local police.
Jamie returns in the next installment, "Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers," but is played by a different actress and is killed off early on in the film. The character never reappeared in the live-action franchise; she was going to be mentioned in 1998's "Halloween H20: 20 Years Later," but the namedrop was ultimately cut.
Tree Gelbman — Happy Death Day
"Happy Death Day" (2017) is an underrated gem of a movie that deftly blends "Groundhog Day" with "Scream." A large part of what makes this film work is its charismatic lead character, Theresa "Tree" Gelbman, played by Jessica Rothe. Created by famous X-Men writer Scott Lobdell, Tree finds herself repeatedly killed on her birthday while she figures out her killer's identity and tries to stop her death from occurring in the first place.
While Tree started out as a carefree teenager, she became bitter following the death of her mother, who lost her battle with cancer three years before the film begins. Tree has had trouble coping with her mother's death and struggles to live everyday college life. After being killed on her birthday and mysteriously waking up the day before her death, Tree races against time in order to find out who her killer is and how to save herself.
While "Happy Death Day" was a hit, its 2019 sequel, "Happy Death Day 2U," expanded the franchise by having Tree's friends also travel back in time with her. In one of the more emotional time-rewinds, Tree's mother never died of cancer and is briefly reunited with her daughter. A third installment to the "Death Day" franchise is currently in the works, although it experienced a slight delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Julie James — I Know What You Did Last Summer
Jennifer Love Hewitt followed in her "Party of Five" co-star Neve Campbell's footsteps by diving into the horror genre in 1997's "I Know What You Did Last Summer." Based on the 1973 novel of the same name, the film follows four friends who cover up a car accident in which they killed a man, which comes back to haunt them. Hewitt stars as the franchise's final girl Julie James, who returned in 1998's "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer."
Hewitt's portrayal of Julie is infamous in pop culture history, particularly her "What do you want from me?!" scream, which was parodied throughout film and television. However, while many criticized Hewitt's acting, she did a tremendous service to the character by having Julie not be as one-note as some film final girls can be. Julie is highly resourceful; she's a survivor even if she doesn't always want to be, and that's more realistic than anything else we had seen in a horror film in a long time.
Sarah Connor — Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Every so often, a final girl comes along who is so influential that her character development spans decades. "The Terminator" hero Sarah Connor is a prime example. Originally portrayed by Linda Hamilton, Sarah first appeared as a damsel-in-distress in 1984's "The Terminator," but became one of the main protagonists in its sequel, "Terminator 2: Judgement Day." In "T2," Sarah is a hardened warrior who has sacrificed in order to prevent a techno-apocalypse — in other words, she's a total badass. After a brief departure from the franchise, Hamilton returned in 2019's "Terminator: Dark Fate," serving as a mentor who protects her young protegee from her destiny.
While there have other actresses have assumed the role of Sarah Connor, including "Game of Thrones" stars Emilia Clarke and Lena Headey, Hamilton's turn as the Connor matriarch is the one most closely associated with the character. Her transformation from a weak and relatively defenseless young woman to the jacked fighter and expert marksman we see in the sequel is one of the most remarkable character changes in cinematic history.
Upon her return to the franchise in "Dark Fate," Hamilton easily resumed her role as the headstrong heroine. Though Sarah has become slightly cold on the inside, she also offers warmth to those who she thinks need it, which makes her just as much of a hero as her fighting ability.
Kirsty Cotton — Hellraiser
Long before Buffy Summers battled the forces of darkness in Sunnydale, Ashley Laurence's Kirsty Cotton was kicking demon butt in 1987's "Hellraiser." Created by author Clive Barker, Kirsty is a young girl who finds out that her family is in bed (literally) with some demonic, flesh-eating demons known as the Cenobites. The Cenobites use a puzzle box, called Lemarchand's box, to travel between dimensions, and Kirsty must figure out how to use it to put an end to their murderous rampage.
Laurence reprises the role in the 1988 sequel, "Hellbound: Hellraiser II," has a cameo in the third installment, and returns as a supporting character in 2002's "Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker." Kirsty is one of the rare characters on this list who also appears in other types of media, including novels as well as comic books. She most recently appeared in Boom! Studios' "Hellraiser" comic series, set approximately 20 years after the events of the first movie. By issue 8, Kirsty becomes a Cenobite and then a female Pinhead, as the original Pinhead becomes human again.
Gale Weathers — Scream
While Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott is the main final girl of the "Scream" franchise, but Courteney Cox's Gale Weathers has also earned that title. Though her motives are sometimes portrayed as dubious, the strong-willed journalist ultimately becomes friend with Sidney and marries Dewey Riley (David Arquette), proving that she is officially on the side of good.
It's usually Sidney who ends up taking down whichever deranged serial killer happens to be after her, but it's actually Gale and Dewey who do a lot of the investigative work in order to find out who that killer really is. Gale and Sidney don't always see eye to eye, but they eventually become allies, and eventually friends.
Actresses such as Brooke Shields and Janeane Garofalo were offered the role before Cox, who absolutely made the snarky character all her own. Cox is reuniting with Campbell and Arquette for next year's "Scream 5," which is apparently going to serve as a soft reboot to the franchise.
Deena Johnson — Fear Street
The most recent final girl to debut on the list, Deena Johnson is played by Kiana Madeira and is the main protagonist in Netflix's "Fear Street" horror trilogy. The trilogy is based on the "Fear Street" book series from R. L. Stine and follows a group of teenagers in a town called Shadyside, which is terrorized by an ancient evil that's responsible for a series of brutal murders that have cursed the town for centuries. The film is set in 1994, but its two sequels feature flashbacks to both 1978 and 1666.
Deena is the rarest of protagonist in the horror genre: She is both gay and a woman of color, making her appearance on this list all the more important. Deena is brave, passionate, resourceful, and determined to save the life of her girlfriend, who has been possessed by the evil that permeates their town.
The main thing that sets "Fear Street" apart from other teen slasher films is the cast — everyone pulls their weight, with no weak links in sight. The performances, the horror elements, and the fidelity to the source material make this horror trilogy a must-see.
Nancy Thompson — A Nightmare On Elm Street
Nancy Thompson, played by Heather Langenkamp, is the first and most memorable final girl in the "A Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise. First appearing in 1984's "A Nightmare on Elm Street" as a teenager who is hunted in her dreams by a psychotic serial killer named Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), Nancy's arc continued for almost a decade. She returned as a supporting character in "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" and serves as main protagonist once again in 1994's meta "Wes Craven's New Nightmare."
Nancy also experiences significant character development throughout the films, growing from a timid high schooler to a psychiatric intern who helps guide the children in her care. Langenkamp embodies an all-American, girl-next-door vibe as Nancy, and it's nice to see her lighten up a little bit when it comes time to play a version of herself in "New Nightmare."
Rooney Mara played a reimagined version of Nancy in the 2010 "Nightmare on Elm Street" remake, and the character remains an important part of the horror genre, appearing in video games, toy lines, comic books, and fan art.
Ellen Ripley — Alien
In 1979, Ridley Scott introduced the cinematic masterpiece "Alien" to the world, and along with it, Sigourney Weaver's magnificent portrayal of Lt. Ellen Ripley. From the beginning of the film, viewers are aware that Ripley is the smartest person in the room, though most probably didn't expect her to be the last one standing by the end. Until Ripley, only male action heroes survived science fiction films, so Weaver's performance challenged the gender norms at the time.
Weaver helped launch one of the most successful sci-fi franchises in history, reprising her role in 1986's "Aliens," 1992's "Alien 3," and the often-overlooked "Alien Resurrection" in 1997. Her performance in "Aliens" garnered Weaver both an Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for best actress, making her the third horror actress in history to receive the honor. She was also a co-producer on the third and fourth film installments of the franchise, and, although they were less successful critically, Weaver's performance was always on point.
The character lives on in pop culture history, appearing in comic books, graphic novels, video games, and toy lines.
Sidney Prescott — Scream
Lightning in a bottle was created the day that Neve Campbell landed the role of Sidney Prescott in "Scream," and it's hard to imagine the Scream franchise without her. Sidney is, of course, a resilient and tough final girl, but Campbell always toed the line between being vulnerable and being a fighter extremely well. A survivor through and through, Sidney has survived multiple attacks on her life, starting in 1996's "Scream" and lasting up through 2011's "Scream 4" (she'll also be appearing in the upcoming "Scream" reboot, which is set to debut in 2022).
Sidney is the final girl that all modern final girls are judged by. Despite the horrible life that she's had, Sidney is still compassionate towards others and still tries to find the light in all of the surrounding darkness. She's probably one of the most inspirational final girls on this list.
Laurie Strode — Halloween
If Neve Campbell perfected the role of a final girl with Sidney Prescott, then Jamie Lee Curtis's Laurie Strode is responsible for creating the trope to begin with. Curtis' Strode was a final girl way before the term existed, making her debut in 1978's "Halloween" and returning for several sequels thereafter. Laurie is another example of someone who has received significant character development through the years — she started as a brave, young girl and grew up to be a badass who came to terms with her tragic past.
In 2018's "Halloween," a soft reboot of the franchise, Laurie is now a grandmother, and is constantly preparing for Michael Myers' inevitable return. By this time, Laurie has taken a proactive approach to defeating Michael, even if it costs her a relationship with her daughter and extended family.
Curtis has done a remarkable job reclaiming both her past as an actress as well Laurie's tragic past in order to become the warrior Laurie knows she needs to be. Curtis will reprise the role of Laurie Strode in two more installments of the "Halloween" franchise, "Halloween Kills" and "Halloween Ends."
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