After several years of build-up and anticipation, it seems the release of new Friday the 13th movie has been pushed back indefinitely – once again. Instead, the October 13th slot has been given to the new Darren Aronofsky film starring Jennifer Lawrence called Mother!
Horror fans might be just about ready to give up on what would be the 12th instalment of this classic horror franchise; but we can’t help but wonder, if it does happen, who will have the honour of being the ‘Final Girl’ this time around? It’s a pivotal role after all. This long standing trope has come to define the slasher genre. She must be pretty, but unavailable; virginal, but have a strong sense of self; and above all else, she must be willing to fight like her life depends on it – because it does.
Slasher films (also known as “kill-the-pretty-girl-pictures” and, at times, “torture porn”) have historically relied on a relatively formulaic narrative structure. In the 1990s, Carol Clover deemed the Final Girl the most key factor in the success of these films. She argued that the Final Girl acted as a mirror for the teenage boy viewer. This character would inevitably be sympathetic for the killer until ultimately betraying him in favour for the Final Girl when she finally stands up and fights back. You see, the role of the Final Girl is not to simply survive, it’s to fight. And audiences love every second of it. Here are 15 of the most memorable Final Girls in horror history.
15. Jay – It Follows
It Follows is not a traditional slasher film, nor is Jay a traditional Final Girl. Nevertheless, she is a notable candidate for the way in which the film draws on a variety of slasher and final girl tropes to create one of the strongest and critically acclaimed horror films of the generation. The story follows Jay who is being stalked by a monster intent on killing her. She has “contracted” its attention through a sexual partner, who has figured out that the only way to escape the monster’s wrath is to pass it along like an STD. Although Jay is pretty passive about her condition at first, once she acknowledges the gravity of the situation, she becomes very proactive. In a nice homage to Nightmare on Elm Street, Jay and her friends set up an elaborate trap with which to fight the monster. However, also like Nightmare on Elm Street, we are left with an ambiguous ending that tells us she’s not quite out of the woods just yet.
14. Max – The Final Girls
In what was billed as a love letter to slasher films, The Final Girls blends homage and parody to create an exceptionally meta movie experience. In it, Max is coerced into attending a special film club showing of Camp Bloodbath, an old (fictional) slasher flick starring her recently deceased mother. When a fire breaks out in the theatre, Max’s fast acting has the unexpected consequence of sucking her and her friends INTO the movie. From the inside, Max is able to reconnect with a version of her mother, while her friends and the fictional cast fight for their lives against the Bloodbath killer. The film begs the question that all horror fans face at one time or another – with all your outside knowledge and savvy, could you survive a slasher? But the group soon realizes that the slasher rules are set in stone, and if they are going to survive, they are going to have to play by them. And since Max is the level-headed virgin, the leading role falls to her.
13. Dana – The Cabin in the Woods
Cabin in the Woods is another new age slasher film which heavily relies on the audience having prior knowledge of the genre. It uses tropes and stereotypes in order to subvert them, forcing the audience to both recognize and appreciate the inherent absurdity of it all. The characters are all shown to be more complex than the usual slasher line-up; however, once the killing commences it becomes crucial that they recognize to which archetype they are best suited. The biggest distinction between this film and the traditional slasher is that there is no one single killer out to get them. Instead, it is an entire external puppet-master system which mirrors the filmmaking process itself. Play the role, stay alive – maybe. Though Dana initially resists her role as the final girl, pointing out she is not a virgin, by the end of the film she has indeed fought hard, and is still standing. Though the film concludes with her inevitable death, she has indeed fulfilled her final girl role, and survived.
12. Alice – Friday the 13th
Friday the 13th was one of the first movies to establish the slasher genre, placing it in an original pantheon along with Black Christmas, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. The biggest misconception of the franchise is the idea that Jason is the killer. In fact, he does not slice and dice until the sequels. In the original, the killer turns out to be Jason’s Mother, a scorned and grieving camp employee who blames the counsellor’s for her son’s unfortunate death. While the other teens drink, play crude games, and have sex – Alice is intent on being the responsible one. And, of course, it saves her life. Being sober and undistracted by her hormones allows her to see what’s going on more clearly. This keeps her one step ahead of the killer and eventually, leads to a final showdown in which she beheads Mother! Alice may be a relatively boring character, but she sure makes a strong finale.
11. Jess – Black Christmas
The low-budget Canadian slasher flick Black Christmas has become a cult classic, and holds the honour of establishing many of the aspects of the genre we expect today. Most notably, it was the first scary movie to use the killer point-of-view shot, which is now often associated with Halloween (produced four years later). The film follows a group of college girls who are staying at their sorority house over the Christmas holidays. To their dismay, one sister has suddenly disappeared, and to make matters worse, some pervert keeps prank calling the house. Jess is an interesting character because she is the only one to note the calls as a form of sexual harassment and view them as a threat. She reports the calls and is intent on tracking them. What she doesn’t realize is… THE CALLER IS IN THE HOUSE. Fearing for her life and suspicious of everyone, Jess makes the ultimate decision to thrust the knife into her boyfriend, believing him to be the assailant. It’s a brave move – even if it was the wrong guy.
10. Kirsty – Hellraiser franchise
Kirsty might be the most atypical Final Girl of all time. It is not her purity or virtue that dictates her survival. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It is her willingness to be entirely self-serving that keeps her alive. Some might argue that her moral compass is a little off, but once we get over the shock of the lengths at which she will go – it’s difficult not to appreciate her. Like all Final Girls, she gets herself into some compromising positions, which can be so frustrating to watch. But she also has this femme-fatale quality that slasher audiences tend to associate with the attractive bimbo that gets axed just after an inevitable nude scene. Throughout the films, she is happy to make a series of bargains to save herself. She’s all about the brains and the plots. She may not be sweet and innocent; but it’s safe to say that her survival is always satisfying.
9. Sarah – The Descent
In The Descent Sarah is a very different Final Girl, mainly because she is not a girl at all. Sarah is a grown woman, overcoming the loss of her husband and child. When she embarks on an adventure with a group of women the story delves into very adult territory, dealing with issues of how women bond and what connects and disconnects them. When the women realize they are trapped in a cave with bloodthirsty cannibals, things kick into high gear. The choices they make are heavily influenced by emotions and survival instincts. Juno takes charge and is a perfect candidate for Final Girl at that point, although that shady sexual-betrayal in her past should be a flashing red sign. In the end, it is Sarah who is triumphant. Her emergence to Final Girl-hood (and out of the cave) is developed through the significant process of her coming to terms with so many things in her past. Like all Final Girls, it is her ability to find her strength that gives her that extra push.
8. Mia – Evil Dead
The most intriguing aspect of Mia as a Final Girl in the Evil Dead revamp is her ability to tread the line between antagonist and protagonist. She is immediately introduced as the anti-leading lady, what with her history of drug abuse and bad behaviour. She is setup as someone we are not to trust, and yet, we are forced to. She is the only one who seems fully aware of the dire circumstances she and her friends are in, and when she is brushed off as a paranoid junkie, it’s entirely frustrating. The audience is empathetic to her plight early on, and her possession thus becomes a thing with which we sympathize and in which we revel. It’s nice to see her stick it to all of those jerks who brushed her off. But it’s even better to see her triumphantly fight the demon. She becomes a sort of maniacal hero, which is exactly what the classical image of the Final Girl should be – out for blood.
7. Gale – Scream franchise
Technically, Gale is not considered the Final Girl of the Scream franchise, but she definitely deserves a big-up. Right from the beginning Gale is shown to be a self-serving, vindictive, ruthless go-getter who is willing to step on anyone, anytime. In many regards she seems just as twisted (if not more so) than the killers themselves. She may not be stabbing anyone, but she is metaphorically gutting our protagonist again and again. But it is exactly that me-first attitude of hers that gets her through the movie alive – four times! The two of them could almost be seen as a Final Girl duet, taking down the bad guys together. As much as we hate her, we can’t help but love her a little bit too. So, just like we do with Final Girls, we cheer on her survival. Of course, her opportunistic stubbornness is also what keeps putting her in the line of fire, but that has to be appreciated on some level.
6. Jaime – Halloween franchise
Often cited as one of the strongest films in the Halloween series, Halloween 4 took on a very literal approach to the term Final Girl. Young Jaime is only 8 years old when her deranged uncle, Michael Myers, escapes once again and sets his eyes on her. Still grieving the loss of her mother (Laurie Strode, who fought and won against Michael twice), Jaime is finding it difficult to establish a sense of self. Living with a nice foster family just isn’t enough, because she doesn’t feel as though she belongs. This is what accounts for such a dark and twisted ending to the film. After evading Michael’s attacks again and again, Jaime kneels over Michael’s “lifeless” body and recognizes a strange affinity. It has been said that all Final Girls sense this, but for Jaime it is stronger because he is the last of her bloodline. The thought nests itself inside of her, and the film ends with her eerily having taken up his persona. Throughout her career, actress Danielle Harris has been in a number of horror films, including the Rob Zombie Halloween franchise.
5. Laurie – Halloween franchise
Laurie just might be the character who springs to everyone’s minds first and foremost when we think about the Final Girl trope. Halloween employed a number of call-backs to the genre’s predecessor, Psycho, not the least of which was the use of Jaime Lee Curtis (Janet Leigh’s daughter). She was cast with publicity in mind, but it turned into a very strong piece of subversion within horror history. While her mother established the pretty-dead-blonde role, her work helped establish the pretty-girl-fights-back role, for which we are forever grateful. In the film, Laurie is attacked by her psychotic uncle while babysitting two small children on Halloween night. She uses everything at her disposal to fight him off including a variety of domestic household items such as knitting needles, a kitchen knife, and a coat hanger. She thinks fast, protects the children, and kills the bad guy. He comes back, but that is beside the point. Laurie is remarkably strong when necessary, and even though she is scared, she doesn’t let it prevent her from getting the job done.
4. Nancy – Nightmare on Elm Street
The A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has become a mega-phenomenon with Freddy Kruger an absolute horror icon. But when one thinks of Freddy, Nancy is not far behind. In many ways, Nancy established the modern Final Girl. Characteristically, she had more agency and was far more passive than Final Girls before her. She isn’t helplessly hunted and therefore forced to fight back. Nancy hunts Freddy. Right from the start she is suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her friend’s murder. Seeking answers, she launches into investigative mode, and even when no one will believe her, she trusts her instincts. When it comes right down to it, Nancy accepts that she cannot rely on the help and support of others, and decides to take Freddy on herself. She is self-aware, and self-reliant, and kicks ass. The montage of Nancy setting up traps all over herself and using herself as bait is so inspiring. She’s not just a survivor, she’s a hero. The ambiguous end is unfortunate, but there is still a sense she has come out on top.
3. Sidney – Scream franchise
After manifesting a stronger Final Girl than audiences had ever seen in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven approached Scream with the intention of creating the ultimate Final Girl. If the Ghostface killers and successors are unstoppable, Sidney Prescott is un-killable. From the moment Sidney realizes she is danger, she is just having none of it. Calling attention to viewers’ own expectations of the Final Girl, Sidney becomes a target of the killers first and foremost because she seems to fit the bill. With all of the traditional Final Girl qualities (shyness, chaste, childhood trauma), Sidney is a clear choice to torment. The killers believe that in the “real world”, a girl like that can’t actually win. But she surprises them by adapting to the scenario and morphing into the embodiment of the more capable Final Girl for which Wes Craven is known. With each sequel, she becomes stronger, faster, smarter. She’s always ready. And she always wins. She was born and bred to be a Final Girl, and no one can take that away from her.
2. Erin – You’re Next
In You’re Next we get an unexpected Final Girl. What separates her from the rest of the group being killed off is not some virtuous superiority, but rather she is out-casted by the fact that she is not a part of the family. If a family dinner attacks and you don’t belong, that’s a good indicator that you may be disposable. Instead, Erin is the heroine. Immediately, her survival instincts completely takeover and Erin becomes the quick and adept leader of the group. Under attack and terrified, everyone is willing to follow Erin who lays out plans with a fiery sense of self-assurance. Later, we find out her upbringing has prepared her for just this – to survive. People are dying left and right, but none of it shakes Erin. She is always two steps ahead of the attacker, and is ready for anything they throw her way, even a twist in the reveal of who the attacker really is. Erin is exactly who you want at all of your secluded, twisted, dinner parties!
1. Ellen Ripley – Alien
Alien is not exactly a slasher film, but it is a horror sci-fi that employs elements of the slasher. It’s for this reason no list of Final Girls is complete without Ellen Ripley. Ask anyone, even the academy – Sigourney Weaver actually won in the Best Actress category for this movie, which is a huge feat since horrors don’t typically receive any critical acclaim. But Alien could not be ignored, and neither can this outstanding character. Although she doesn’t seem like a main character at first, she is established as having a strong and notable presence. She doesn’t take any crap from the guys on board, makes the tough call to observe protocols at the expense of a peer, and rises to occasion when the xenomorph bursts out of John. She didn’t hide, cower, scream, or hide – she was all about action and survival. It’s no surprise the character’s arc over the film franchise took her from Final Girl, to Action Heroine.