For nearly as long as there have been horror movies, there has been the Final Girl.
Although her title has not always been clearly defined (the term wasn't officially coined until 1992's Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by academic Carol J. Clover), the role she plays is fairly conventional. In short, she's the last woman standing, usually the only survivor remaining from her group of friends. She resists many of the vices that her peers succumb to early on in the film, and she's also observant enough to avoid a grisly fate multiple times. Ultimately, she escapes death -- whether by vanquishing the killer personally or by getting away only partially unscathed.
There's a lot about the Final Girl that's been surprisingly progressive over the years, and one of Clover's primary arguments is that her role is to evoke viewer sympathy -- at least when it comes to American horror films, in which the female victim is typically pursued by a male killer (with some exceptions). We're intended to ally ourselves with the Final Girl, to cheer her on in her struggle for survival. Maybe that's the reason most horror fans tend to remember the names of both the iconic killers and the Final Girls all in the same beat.
As we count down the days until Halloween, we've rounded up a list of our top 10 favorite Final Girls. (This list is in no way ranked from best to worst or vice versa.)
Laurie Strode (Halloween)
In many ways, Laurie is the traditional epitome of the Final Girl. Juxtaposed against her friends, she's the one least likely to go out and smoke pot - or engage in premarital sex, for that matter. (Honestly, her friends are pretty much jerks and she's probably better off without them, but that's besides the point.) Laurie ticks off a lot of boxes on the Final Girl checklist - including a somewhat twisted personal connection to the murderous Michael Myers. And although she was seemingly killed off in Halloween: Resurrection, it was confirmed this year that actress Jamie Lee Curtis will be reprising her role as Laurie in a new Halloween film - proving that the Final Girl may have just as much longevity as the killer after all.
Ellen Ripley (Alien)
The Alien franchise may be labeled more under the umbrella of science-fiction than horror, but Ellen Ripley is undoubtedly its Final Girl. The first film was famously marketed with the tag line of "in space, no one can hear you scream," which chillingly encompasses Ripley's terror of being trapped on a small commercial space vessel as the rest of her crew gets picked off one by one. She manages to hop a shuttle to freedom (with Jones the cat, no less), but Alien proves to be merely the first installment in Ripley's repeated entanglements with the species dubbed Xenomorphs.
Alice Hardy (Friday the 13th)
Alice falls within the category of the innocent Final Girl, albeit in a different setting than previous horror offerings: summer camp. Alice didn't necessarily partake in underage drug use or cabin sex, but she at least found time to play a game of strip Monopoly before people started losing their lives. Alice is memorable not simply because she was the first Final Girl in the long-running Friday the 13th series, but also because she sort of launched the trend of the Final Girl from the previous film getting offed in the next installment. That, coincidentally, leads us directly into our next pick.
Ginny Field (Friday the 13th Part II)
When it comes to the Final Girls of the Friday the 13th franchise, Ginny is a notable upgrade from her predecessor. Not only is she the first one to directly encounter and face off against Jason, but she manages to equip the use of a little psychology paired with her knowledge of his backstory to get him to back down. Of course, this also meant she had to put on Mrs. Voorhees' disgustingly bloody sweater from the previous film, but survival at all costs, right?
Nancy Thompson (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Nancy's arc differs somewhat from that of the traditional Final Girl; her battle with Freddy Krueger is, for the most part, a psychological rather than a physical one. In fact, Nancy spends the majority of the first Nightmare on Elm Street film trying to pull Freddy into the real world in order to defeat him. With all of her friends dead, Nancy is forced to exact her own plan against Freddy; a series of booby traps eventually leads to his undoing and Nancy taking back the energy force he'd seized from her via her dreams.
Sally Hardesty (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre)
Sally doesn't have much in common with the other Final Girls on this list, but if there's one personality trait that does link her with the rest it's her resilience. She faces a sequence of horrors at the hands of Leatherface and his kin that culminate in her tied to a chair at the dining room table, screaming while they mock her. The film ends on the iconic image of Sally, covered in blood and sitting in the back of a pickup truck, laughing hysterically as Leatherface swings his chainsaw in futility. Sally suffers, but she survives.
Julie James (I Know What You Did Last Summer)
Julie's story is pretty relatable when you think about it: you're chilling with your friends on the beach, you start driving after having had one too many and you inadvertently hit a fisherman walking on the side of the road. Of course the logical next step (according to Julie and her friends) is to dump the body of the person they think is dead, but it turns out trying to cover up a murder totally messes with your psyche. Julie ultimately outlasts the killer fisherman with a hook to live another day (along with her boyfriend, luckily enough).
Sydney Prescott (Scream)
One of the best parts about the Scream movies is their meta commentary on the horror genre as a whole - but beyond that, they elevate the role of the Final Girl to a degree where she can actually, y'know, have a normal teenage life and not entirely suffer for it. She definitely has a lot of trauma in her past - and it doesn't help that her boyfriend winds up being the one killing people - but Sydney typifies the version of the Final Girl who has started to evolve beyond the traditional tropes, and in essence redefine the horror genre moving forward.
Sarah Carter (The Descent)
As a Final Girl, Sarah best represents the adaptation aspect of the trope: she's forced to become like what's hunting her in order to survive. In the realm of The Descent, this is symbolized by the Crawlers down in the cave - and the more frequently Sarah gets pitted against her terrifying enemy, the more ruthlessness she has to resort to. Depending on which version of The Descent you watch, her fate changes; either she gets out of the cave and runs into the forest, or her escape was all a hallucination and she's still trapped down there. Her outcome is less ambiguous in the follow-up film.
Dana Polk (The Cabin in the Woods)
Dana embodies the continuation of a new trajectory for horror's Final Girls, one that can be traced back to Sydney Prescott. It involves acknowledging the conventional stories that have come before and finding a new way to flip them on their head. This time around, Dana is thrust into the archetype of the Virgin even though she hasn't exactly been celibate - but in the words of Sigourney Weaver's Director, "we work with what we have." Dana still finds a way to fulfill the role of the Final Girl by refusing to participate in the sinister divine plan that's been laid out for her; she's going to do things her own way, no matter what the personal cost.