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The 9 greatest scream queens in all of horror
Who are the ladies that have forever made an impression on the horror genre?
Early autumn is all about leaves falling and pumpkin carving, but the fall season is also a time when we revisiting of the best of the horror genre. Watching or rewatching some of the all-time best jump-scares and gross-outs is a time-honored tradition, and if you watch enough horror movies you can't help but come away with a huge appreciation for the women of horror. Whether they've run terrified from the boogeyman, or turned around and slit his throat, there's a whole array of actresses in cinema who have crafted some of the most memorable characters and seminal moments in the genre that we just love to revisit time and time again.
If a groundhog can get a day for sorta predicting the weather, why haven't we picked a day in late September or early October to specifically honor the women who help us enjoy the Halloween season just that little bit more? Until we can all decide on the best date, SYFY WIRE has compiled our 2022 list of women who have embodied the "Scream Queen" title with great dignity and frequency. To make our rankings, the ladies in question should have appeared in multiple horror titles and have helped carry their films to infamy based on their prodigious talents.
9. Dee Wallace
A lot of moviegoers best remember Dee Wallace for playing Elliot's mom in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. But, if you've watched some horror films from the late '70s or the '80s, then you know she's a foundational face in the genre. She kicked off her run of amazing titles in 1977 with The Hills Have Eyes, and she's since starred in such classics as The Howling (1981), Cujo (1983), and Critters (1986). She's never stopped working in the genre, appearing in everything from the NBC series Grimm up through the recently released, Jeepers Creepers: Reborn. Her hallmark in the genre is always being able to bring her vulnerability to the forefront of her portrayals. There's a sweetness she exudes, but there's also a grit and resilience. Even when hell is coming down upon her, you root for her to crawl out of the often terrible situations her characters find themselves in and survive to the bitter end.
8. Maika Monroe
One of the most consistent actresses in the new era of horror, Maika Monroe burst onto the scene with 2014's It Follows, where she spends the entire film trying to evade a mysterious entity doggedly chasing her down. She has continued to stay in the genre making smart choices playing very interesting characters in more independent titles including The Guest (2014), and two films this year, The Watcher and Significant Other. A throughline for her characters in the horror genre is their distrust of what others take at face value. If there's something simmering under the surface, her characters are often the keen observers of something that ephemeral quality that is just a little bit "off" which means she's often forced to become her own best advocate in surviving what others do not.
7. Mia Goth
Actress Mia Goth is another modern face of horror, the muse of filmmakers who use her pixy-like visage as an entryway into some very dark scenarios. Director Ti West has created an entire horror trilogy around her with X, Pearl, and the upcoming MaXXXine. She boldly took on a role in Luca Guadagnino's remake of Suspiria and crafted very interesting characters in The Survivalist and A Cure For Wellness. Goth stands out because there's an otherworldly quality to her innocent face but also a ferocity she has no problem unleashing when needed. She can flip between demur and feral in a moment, and that's a useful tool to have in the horror genre.
6. Naomi Watts
Way back in 2001, Naomi Watts helped David Lynch reveal the horrific underbelly of Hollywood in Mulholland Drive. The following year, she became the tortured heroine of the English adaptation of the Japanese horror franchise, The Ring. Another actress with the gift of grounding the heightened reality of horror films with her gravitas and the expressiveness of her face, Watts is a competent woman who gets dragged into terror and she makes us want to go along for the ride. As she's grown up in the genre, she's continued to partake in reimaginings like Funny Games (2007) or Goodnight, Mommy (2022), which allow us to explore the boundaries of family, aging, and death in thoughtful and spine-chilling ways.
5. Heather Langenkamp
Heather Langenkamp earned her forever horror stripes playing Nancy Thompson, Freddy Krueger's nemesis in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. But she's also a genre VIP for co-creating the special effects house, AFX Studio. In front of and behind the camera, she's had a big impact on the horror we've seen on screen since the '80s. She's also jumped franchises, appearing in a Hellraiser film (2018), and made some very memorable cameos in series like American Horror Story and JJ Villard's Fairy Tales. As of Oct. 7, she's back at it again, co-starring in Mike Flanagan's adaptation of Christopher Pike's The Midnight Club.
4. Sarah Michelle Gellar
The '90s were the horror playground of actress Sarah Michelle Gellar. As the lead in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gellar lived all of the horror tropes and metaphors as The Chosen One battling evil in Sunnydale, California. On the big screen, if there was a horror franchise of note, she appeared in it. From I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) to Scream 2 (1997) and The Grudge (2004), Gellar gave a whole new generation the willies as her characters battled the supernatural and serial killers alike. She's returning to the genre with full intent in 2023 with the series, Wolf Pack, where she'll introduce another generation to the monsters that stalk us in the shadows.
3. Neve Campbell
In 1996. Wes Craven put an adrenaline shot back in the arm of the horror genre with Scream which starred Neve Campbell as heroine Sidney Prescott. She became the face of the franchise and the resurgence of the genre in the '90s and 2000s. Over 25 years, Campbell has top-lined five Scream movies and has earned her position as one of the grande dames of genre. And, she knows her worth, as Campbell is not signing up for the next Scream sequel because the studio isn't paying the Queen what she deserves.
2. Janet Leigh
Alfred Hitchcock invented a new era of horror with Psycho (1960) and the brutal shower knifing of Marion Crane. As one of his muses, actress Janet Leigh was the personification of the icy, femme fatale. Watching her get violently massacred by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) changed the power of the genre, and how we feel about showers, forever more. The slasher genre was literally born from Leigh's performance. As an actress, Leigh continued to only dabble in horror here and there, mostly with her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, in John Carpenter's The Fog (1980) and in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998). But quantity doesn't matter when you earn GOAT status the first time out of the gate.
1. Jamie Lee Curtis
Born of horror royalty, Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her mother's mantle and has run with it ever since she became our avatar for escaping terror in Halloween (1978). As girl-next-door Laurie Strode, Curtis created the template for the woman who gets relentlessly pursued by the devil himself, but she never gives up. In the early '80s, she was ubiquitous in the horror genre appearing in every now classics like Prom Night (1980) and The Fog (1980). While she moved away from the genre for some time, she's always returned even in the TV series, Scream Queens. But, her return to the character of Laurie in the latest Halloween trilogy, has made her a survivor for the ages and a horror icon that has evolved with the times. She's a terrorized girl no more. Michael, you better run.