Top 10 Final Girls
There are some cinema tropes that transcend their typical audience and become a central part of modern storytelling. Running to a departing loved one at the airport, for example, is a trope from Romcoms well known to all.
Strangely, one of the best recognised aspects of horror movies tends to only be known among fans of the genre. The horror community, whilst lively and welcoming, are somewhat insular. The ‘final girl’ is a widely discussed storytelling trope among the genre, and for those uninitiated we have collected some of the best examples that fit or directly challenge the convention.
In order to explain the trope, here’s one of the defining examples…
Played by Jamie Lee Curtis
In the performance that launched her career, and role she has reprised a number of times in the forty years since, Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter laid out the rules for the ‘Final Girl’. We see here Laurie being established as intelligent, dedicated and having strong morals. Instead of the usual depiction of shy wallflower, these traits are established by Laurie being a solid friend and good person. The teenager characters get separated out for getting picked off when Laurie takes on double duty on babysitting so her friends can hook up.
Laurie ticks many boxes that make up the Final Girl resume. She survives to the end, overcoming the male villain with his own tricks and weapons, she finds the previous victims while trying to make an escape, and she’s resourceful without becoming an unrealistic action star. She did survive dying in the first sequel, to be revived into the franchise 20 years later and then another 20 years after that.
Played by Neve Campbell
Following up the original we pivot to the first mainstream work to directly acknowledge the stereotype and provide commentary on it. Director Wes Craven leaned into the trope during the 1980s, then turned it in on itself in the 90s prompting a new trend of reflective, meta horror movies.
Sidney Prescott is every part of the final girl. She’s a bright, independent and self-aware high school student who is forced into her narrative destiny when a horror-movie obsessed murderer starts stalking her. It’s a fun way of approaching an increasingly silly and maligned genre.
You’re Next (2011)
Played by Sharni Vinson
Whilst Scream provided commentary on the trope, You’re Next set out to smash it. We join the most awkwardly hostile and passive aggressive family in horror history for an uncomfortable dinner, with Erin meeting her boyfriend’s family for the first time. Things go from uncomfortable to terrifying when a group of masked hunters lay siege to the house with the intent of killing the family.
At this point Erin reveals a bit of her past to her boyfriend – she was raised by survivalists. When the heavily armed and trap-setting trio of killers make their intentions known, Erin readies herself to fight back. She’s resourceful, level-headed in a crisis and more than a match for her opponents. As Erin goes to war and the family get taken out bit by bit we uncover a couple of wild twists that keeps the pace nice and brisk.
Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Played by Kristen Connolly
This excellent riff on horror tropes comes with one of the most intentionally specific Final Girls on the list. The events of Cabin in the Woods concerns a constructed horror scenario used to sacrifice a group of teens by plunging them into a horror movie nightmare. As her friends fall, Dana is left as the “pure”, intelligent and moral thinking Final Girl, but only then she learns the truth.
Although she survives her ‘horror movie’, the rug is pulled out from under her when she descends into the facility beneath the cabin. Already toughened by her experience with the Redneck Torture Family, Dana is yet to control the importance of the horror ritual and her important role as part of the system. All you need is Sigourney Weaver to turn up with some exposition.
Friday the 13th (1980)
Played by Adrienne King
Friday the 13th is best known for the psychotic Jason Voorhees, his hockey masked image being an icon of horror. Strangely enough he didn’t get that look until the third movie, he barely featured in the original. The madperson hunting teens in this genre defining classic is Jason’s movie Pamela and she meets her end at the hands of Alice.
Possibly the absolute image of the innocent Final Girl, Alice abstains from promiscuity, drugs, tobacco and alcohol in contrast to her peers. She’s not especially fleshed out, but she completes a comprehensive routine of finding bodies and turning the tables. She doesn’t survive long into the sequels, but Jason tended to bring a new Final Girl to the table each time. A close runner up for best is the telekinetic Tina.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Played by Heather Langenkamp
We’ve touched on the profound impact Wes Craven had on the horror genre with Scream, but that wasn’t the first time he pioneered a major change in the canon. With A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven brought to light two major game changers. The villain needs to be memorable and distinct, and the Final Girl needs to win on her smarts. Heather Langenkamp was perfectly cast as the unassuming Nancy, the girl who manages to outwit the dream demon Freddy Kruger.
In spite of her literal nightmares, Nancy pushes against Freddy every step of the way. She researches, hypothesises, tests her monster and comes up with a plan to bring him down. In spite of obstacles, Nancy persists and banishes Kruger, only to return and face him again later down the track. These days Langenkamp works in practical effects, and provided a good deal of the work for Cabin in the Woods.
A Nightmare of Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Played by Mark Patton
One of the most drastic variations on the Final Girl trope comes by way of Nightmare‘s original sequel. Jesse Walsh finds himself being tormented by Freddy in the demon’s attempt to return to our world. With the heavy LGBQT+ representation of coding within the movie, Jesse isn’t just our protagonist…he’s the original male Final Girl.
Jesse fulfils all the same cliches as the next Final Girl, with his sexual naiveté playing heavily into his character arc. Initially actor Mark Patton was uncomfortable with how his lead performance was being interpreted. In more recent years he has come out as LBGQT+ and embraced his place in horror history.
Hellraiser Series (1987 – 2002)
Played by Ashley Laurence
Kristy Cotton gets put through more horrific situations than other folk on this list, yet she manages more film appearances than most. Kristy comes into the story as the niece of Frank Cotton, whom her step-mother is bringing back from the dimension of the Cenobites. These mutilated beings force people to confront the limits of ‘pleasure and pain’, and are not something you’d typically want to contend with.
After fending off their first incursion into our world, Kristy returns to battle the Cenobites and their worshipers in another 2 sequels (with a cameo in a third). This involves solving the puzzle box that allows the Cenobites to travel through interdimensional portals, and Kristy is often forced into a battle of wits to obtain and decode the box.
The Descent (2005)
Played by Shauna Mcdonald
Sarah Carter is one of a group of friends heading out to do some recreational spelunking. This is all in aid of helping Sarah move on from the deaths of her husband and daughter in a prior accident, and her friend Juno is keen to make it special. This is how they wind up lost in an unexplored network of underground tunnels…and that is only the beginning.
Director Neil Marshall soaks us in a cold sweat scenario for the first half of this movie. The risks of being trapped in the cold dark, the potential chasms and cave-ins and the reality that they may not see the sun again is simply awful and possible. Then the ghouls turn up to make things much, much worse. Sarah Carter has already become a survivor, and she’s not going to let Gollum rejects entomb her.
LT. ELLEN RIPLEY
Aliens Franchise (1979 – 2014)
Played by Sigourney Weaver
To wrap things up we want to honour the most badass Final Girl in cinema. Starting out as just one of the crew of the Nostromo, and becoming the unexpected hero after the death of Capt. Dallas, Ripley has faced down the most deadly create in horror. When a xenomorph gets lose on their ship the crew are taken apart by the relentless terror. Ripley becomes the only survivor, escaping in a stasis sleep after blasting the beast into space and destroying the Nostromo.
From here Ripley joins an armed battalion of marines returning to the xenomorph’s point of origin. Again she raises to the occasion to meet the threat head on, building from a resourceful officer to a pulse-rifle wielding pillar of strength. She survives this massacre, another in a prison, dies, comes back…Ripley is as unstoppable as the monsters she battles.