Horror movies are among some of the most iconic films that become ingrained in our pop culture and society throughout history. Many times the faces of the villains and of the lead heroes become etched in our memories for the rest of their career. However, when you have a female heroine in a horror movie, they are often even more memorable. You don’t seem to see a strong female lead in a quality horror film very often, so when you get a glimpse of one, we hold on to that character for eternity.
For some women, their roles in horror movies may be the most successful parts of their career. For others, it is the beginning of a long and successful career. Being a female in general is tough, but being one that has to find a place in a male-dominated industry is even harder. There are very few notable famous female horror movie directors and writers, which means there’s probably going to be fewer roles for females in these films as well. But it’s ladies like the ones on this list that are changing things for future generations.
A lot of times, it can also be difficult to break out of a typecast or stereotypical role as well. When you see women on screen in a horror genre, it’s likely that they’re overly sexualized and known for screaming and crying very loudly. But most of these ladies on this list were able to break out of that stereotype and create something new and incredible. Here are our 15 favorite horror movie heroines, then and now.
15. Neve Campbell- Scream
Neve Campbell played the role of the heroine Sidney Prescott in the Scream series. The original protagonist of the movie was supposed to be Drew Barrymore’s character, however, due to scheduling conflicts, they decided to offer a bigger lead to Neve. Neve was actually hesitant to even take the role in the first place. She feared that doing a second horror movie, her first being The Craft, might hurt her career. It was her first lead role in a big movie, so she decided to stick with the role. Her decision was a good one, as she, to this day, has a rather successful acting career. Since her long career in the horror film franchise, she has gone on to have several roles in films and television series. Her most recent role is in the the Netflix series House of Cards.
14. Linda Blair- The Exorcist
We don’t really seem to see Linda Blair as much other than the little girl, Regan, who was possessed by a demon. Although she did go on to have plenty of other roles in film, Linda Blair has struggled with breaking out from her original role as the possessed little girl. Since her time in the film, she’s maintained an acting career though she is mostly passionate about animal activism. She is a vegan and often discusses her dietary choices, even writing a book about it. She is also known for giving most of her life savings towards various charities that help rescue and care for animals. Although she has made a career for herself with animal rights, it will be hard for us forever to view her as anything but the little girl who crab- walked down the stairs.
13. Jamie Lee Curtis- Halloween
Jamie Lee Curtis is one of the biggest female faces of horror movies. She starred in the movie as just a teenager, but has been able to make a strong name for herself ever since, even leading to her role on the current television series Scream Queens. At the time of shooting the movie, Jamie thought that she did absolutely horribly in the role. Director John Carpenter called her up after the first night of shooting to tell her that she did amazing, much to her surprise. She was reportedly only paid $8,000 for her role in the film. That’s a small sum compared to her now $35-million net worth! She’s been able to prove that her talent alone carried her from a small horror movie role into the forever face of the Halloween franchise. And probably also the face of yogurt meant to help you poop…
12. JoBeth Williams- Poltergeist
JoBeth Williams played the matriarch, Diane, of a family who gets terrorized by a poltergeist after moving into a haunted house built on ancient Native American burial grounds. The film changed the way we view poltergeists as well as haunted houses in general. Jobeth played a role that was a little different than the usual matriarch in a haunted house. She was more aware of what was going on and willing to admit that the things happening to them were definitely supernatural. After appearing in the film, she went on to maintain a rather successful career. Although she did get many roles on various TV shows and other movies, we still remember her most as the mother in the movie Poltergeist. Unfortunately, JoBeth played the role of the matriarch so well that she’s mostly been seen as the motherly type for a lot of the roles she’s been given.
11. Shelley Duvall- The Shining
Shelley Duvall is the bright-eyed face of the heroine Wendy in the chilling horror movie, The Shining. Unfortunately, Shelley’s performance in the movie actually earned her a Razzie nomination for worst actress. She is one of the ladies on this list who has had a rather unsuccessful acting career after starring in the film. She hasn’t had an acting credit since 2002. It’s pretty sad considering that Shelley, Jack Nicholson, and even director Stanley Kubrick himself all claimed that playing the role of Wendy was one of the hardest roles they’ve seen an actor play. Shelley suffered a lot of psychological and emotional abuse from Kubrick during the filming, although she now says that she appreciates how hard he was on her. Perhaps her lack of a successful career was due to Kubrick’s psychological torture, or instead maybe the Razzie awards ruined her chances of finding another lead role in a film.
10. Mia Farrow- Rosemary’s Baby
The gorgeous Mia Farrow is the second actress on the list to undergo some harsh treatment during her filming as Rosemary on Rosemary’s Baby. Mia had to wear a pregnancy belly for most of her shoot, something that can be difficult in itself. But during the filming, there is one scene when she walks out into a busy street in New York City. Roman Polanski forced her to walk into the street without stopping any traffic, stating that “no one is going to hit a pregnant woman.” Her performance on the film was incredible, and earned her a Golden Globe nomination for best actress. Although her performance in Rosemary’s Baby is still the most notable, she still went on to find success in other acting roles as well. She’ll always be the face of Rosemary Woodhouse to us, however.
9. Jessica Harper- Suspiria
Jessica Harper played the gorgeous Suzy in the Italian horror movie, Suspiria. She was one of those actresses that we hadn’t seen in much before watching the film, and she isn’t in much after the film either. She definitely has had her fair share of other acting gigs since being in the movie, but not as many compared to some of the ladies on the list. Her latest role will be in the remake of the film, though she will not be playing the same character. Since being in the movie, she’s turned a lot of her focus towards being a good mother to her two daughters. Now that they are older, and with the remake of her famed movie coming up in 2017, perhaps she will attempt to revive her career and take more roles as an actress.
8. Heather Donahue- The Blair Witch Project
Heather Donahue is most remembered for her role in The Blair Witch Project. Fans watched as she ran around the forest terrified in her gray beanie, not afraid to show viewers right up her nostrils as tears ran down her face. She’s probably the least successful actress on the list after her time on the movie, with less than 10 years total as an actress and only 15 credits on IMBD.com. Since her time as an actress, she has turned her attention towards a greener substance, marijuana. She now grows medical marijuana and even wrote about her experiences with the drug. Even with the newest installment of The Blair Witch franchise, it’s surprising to find that she has no part in it whatsoever! After being part of such a successful film, a person probably has plenty of options for their future career, so it makes sense she chose the path she did!
7. Sigourney Weaver- Alien
Sigourney Weaver is definitely one of the most successful actresses to appear on the list. She’s been in plenty of different horror movies, but the one we remember her most for was for her role as Ripley in Alien. The role was actually written for a male part, but the producers decided to go with a female lead instead, a choice that was obviously the right one. Meryl Streep even auditioned for the role, but ultimately they decided to go for Sigourney. Since being on the film, Sigourney’s career has only seemed to flourish with many other successful roles. Her acting career is stronger than ever as well, as she is cast in the next three installments of the Avatar franchise. Our favorite role of hers, and the one that we’ll always remember, however, would have to be her portrayal of Ripley on Alien.
6. Heather Langenkamp- A Nightmare On Elm Street
Heather Langenkamp won over our hearts as the beautiful Nancy in A Nightmare On Elm Street. Heather was actually able to beat out over 200 other actresses who auditioned to play the role of Nancy! The most notable among those who auditioned were Demi Moore, Courteney Cox, and Jennifer Grey. It’s pretty surprising how talented she was during the movie, as she stated the only horror movie she saw before her performance was Burnt Offerings! Little did she know that she would go on to be a major face of one of the best horror movies there is! Since being in the movie, she hasn’t seen that much success as an actress, though she has had over 20 credited roles, one of them being a small part on American Horror Story. Although she didn’t go on to make a hugely successful career, there’s no doubt she’s already achieved plenty as the female heroine of the Freddy Kruger movies.
5. Sissy Spacek- Carrie
Sissy Spacek is remembered for her role as the wide-eyed “scary Carrie” in the horror movie Carrie. When you have a movie named after the lead character, it’s hard to not put their face with the image of the movie during an actor’s career. However, Sissy Spacek was able to find herself many other successful roles after filming Carrie- in both movies and television series. She almost didn’t get the role, as it was originally going to go to her costar in the film, Amy Irving. Linda Blair had actually also been considered for the role, but had decided to turn it down as she feared she would be typecast. During Sissy’s time acting in the movie, she was known for taking on the characteristics of Carrie, often being antisocial and secluded towards the rest of the cast. Her method acting paid off quite a bit, as we’ll always remember her incredible performance in the horror film.
4. Virginia Madsen- Candyman
Virginia Madsen might have the most active career of the stars on this list with over 100 acting credits after her role as Helen on Candyman. The film wasn’t quite as successful as some others on the list, although it definitely still starred one of our favorite female heroines. Throughout the film, audiences relate to Helen the most as she has the task of not only finding the man trying to kill her, but also trying to clear her name as a murderer. The role actually almost went to Sandra Bullock, who was unknown as an actress at the time of filming. Virginia did great in her role; however, she put herself in some danger! She is actually allergic to bees, and if you’ve seen the movie, you know that there are plenty of those insects throughout the movie. Her hard work definitely played off, as she’s maintained a successful career as an actress since.
3. Shauna MacDonald- The Descent
The Descent was probably one of the hardest films to watch on the list, as the characters go through quite a bit of torture throughout the movie. That makes Shauna McDonald, the actress who played the lead role of Sarah, all the more admirable. It’s not often we get to see a horror movie full of strong female characters, so watching Shauna and the rest of the cast was all the more exciting. Part of Shauna’s acting performance has to be due to the fact that she actually is rather claustrophobic, making it slightly easy to act scared and nervous while shooting underground. Since being in The Descent, Sarah has had a slightly successful career with many other acting roles. This is also one of the newer films on the list, so she still has plenty of time to continue having a successful career, as she even has two movies that haven’t come out yet!
2. Ivana Baquero- Pan’s Labyrinth
Ivana Baquero is the second youngest on the list, but also was the youngest during her time filming Pan’s Labyrinth as the character Ofelia. Ofelia was a curious child that we loved watching on screen during her adventures in Spain. The original role was actually for a child who was eight or nine, a role too young for the 11-year-old Ivana. Guillermo Del Toro was actually so impressed with her, however, that he actually decided to change the role and suit it for Ivana’s age! Even more impressive than Heather Langenkamp, Ivana was able to land the role after over 1,000 other girls auditioned for the part! Since being in the movie, Ivana has maintained a successful film and TV career, with most of her credits being for Spanish productions. She’s a rather young actress still, so having such a successful career as a child actress only gives hope that she’ll maintain a long run.
1. Lina Leandersson- Let The Right One In
Lina Leandersson is the youngest actress on the list and is best known for her role as the vampire Eli in the horror movie Let the Right One In. She was the second youngest actress on this list, to Ivana, during her time filming the movie. One thing that many viewers might not have caught in the movie was that Eli was actually supposed to have played a young boy who was castrated at the same time he became a vampire. Lina was chosen to play this role as she had a very androgynous look. The voice you hear in the movie isn’t her own either, as a voice actor was hired to give her a deeper sounding voice. Since her incredible role in the film, Lina has only been in two other productions! She is the youngest on the list, however, so having such a strong performance on her resume will have to lead to a successful career as an actress, if she so chooses.