In the book Men, Women, & Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, author Carol J. Clover coined the term “the final girl” to describe the well-known character trope of the last woman left standing in any horror film.
Of course, Clover's in-depth definition of what a Final Girl was entailed that she had to be virginal and usually would wind up wielding a “phallic” object – like a machete or a chainsaw – in order to “penetrate” her attacker as a metaphor for “sexual frustration.” Being a Final Girl – or a Survivor Girl, if you will – often meant that one had to not only abstain from sex, but also alcohol and drugs (sometimes even smoking). This is obviously what led to slasher films becoming a warning for the dangers of premarital sex.
Since the release of Clover's book in 1992, the times have changed... and with it, so have the rules of the genre. The definition of what it means to be a Final Girl now seems to mean, plainly and simply, the surviving female of any horror flick. With positive reviews pouring in for the indie-sensation The Final Girls and with the series premiere of Ryan Murphy's Scream Queens lurking just around the corner, it's time for us to get in the mood for something spooky and spectacular as we rank the ten greatest Final Girls in television and film!
EDIT - This list has been updated since its original posting on August 30th, for reasons that are explained when a new Final Girl is listed. I do believe in artistic integrity and hate the idea of changing anything that's written after it's already gone up live... HOWEVER, the ranking of #1 completely changed due to a massive oversight on my part (sue me, I'm a very busy boy). With that being said, there are two honorable mentions that had originally ranked in at #10 and #9 respectively.
HONORABLE MENTION - LAURIE STRODE – HALLOWEEN FRANCHISE
This is, surely, going to rile up the feathers of horror enthusiasts, but in reality – out of everyone on this list – Laurie Strode probably is the weakest Final Girl of them all. An iconic character all by herself, Laurie Strode was easy to relate to and also likable, something missing from horror films nowadays. Part of the success of Laurie Strode's character was due to how she was portrayed by Jamie Lee Curtis. Curtis portrayed her so well that she transcended the genre and became a legend in her own right thanks to other roles in horror films such as Prom Night and Terror Train.
Unfortunately, the star power of Curtis is not enough to make up for the fact that Laurie is kind of weak compared to the competition. Was she a byproduct of the times? That's up for debate, but the fact remains that she needed saving from Dr. Loomis to get away from Michael Myers and didn't really grow a fierce backbone till twenty years later... after faking her death (if we follow Halloween 4 and 5 canon) and changing her name.
Sure, the shock of being stalked by someone like Myers and finding your friends massacred would definitely rattle you, but let's be real here, there were other heroines Laurie's age that were facing just as lethal threats and actually taking a more aggressive role in vanquishing their foes (or at least fending them off for the inevitable rematch). That's why Miss Strode comes in at number ten on our list... that and the fact that she thought it would be a tremendous idea to hide inside of a closet.
HONORABLE MENTION - RACHEL CARRUTHERS – HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS
While a lot of the focus is on Jamie Lloyd throughout this film – the daughter of Laurie Strode and the niece of Michael Myers – the often over-looked Final Girl of this film is Rachel, Jamie's older foster sister. In the beginning, the boy-crazy Rachel is your average American female teenager... meaning she's totally unlikable and completely insensitive to the fact that Jamie requires special attention due to her family history.
As the film progresses though, we see how much Rachel actually cares for her foster sister, even if she is somewhat resistant to show it. This is demonstrated when she puts her own life on the line to keep Jamie away from Myers (who returned to help save this franchise after the "fish-out-of-water" sequel Season of the Witch), putting Jamie on her back as they traversed the rooftop of the sheriff's house and then using cables to lower Jamie to safety from atop. Unfortunately, Rachel – who had softened extremely by the time part five rolled around – met her end at the hands of Myers.
10. - CHRIS HIGGINS – FRIDAY THE 13th, PART III
The beautiful Christine Higgins lands on the countdown at number eight, having escaped Jason Voorhees on two separate occasions (once before the events of Part III). In her film debut, Chris has the distinction of being the first Friday Final Girl to combat Jason after he brandishes his legendary hockey mask.
In her second encounter with Jason, Chris manages to catch him by surprise on several occasions, showing off her cunning and wit... she even manages to drive an ax right into his head (not an easy feat for someone who has to willingly come face-to-face with the campground killer), of course, that's after she tosses him from the open window of a barn and hangs him. I don't remember Laurie Strode hanging Michael Myers, do you?
Oh wait, she did... but she died in the process. Chris lived to see another Friday (no, not the Ice Cube movie, more like Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) and presumably lived happily ever after... well... as happily as one can live after a lot of trips to therapy.
9. - ALICE JOHNSON – A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET FRANCHISE
When we first encounter Alice, she's a definite wallflower; she's quiet and... well... sorta creepy, I'll be honest.
But, when best friend Kristen Parker succumbs to the murderous ways of Freddy Krueger, Alice gains Kristen's dream warrior abilities, able to bring others into her dreams and also gaining an advantage in facing down the Springwood Slasher. As the film progresses, Alice's confidence grows and she comes into her own as a feisty heroine as her brother and their friends fall one by one.
In the fifth installment of the franchise, Alice fights to protect her unborn child from the possession of Freddy's spirit using more of her abilities, even invading the nightmare of her new bestie (wow, Alice, you move on quick) Yvonne by spearing Freddy with a pipe as he tries to kill Yvonne. Capable and creative, Alice proves to be a strong woman readily available to protect her friends (or attempt to, in the case of comic book artist Mark and aspiring model Greta) and family at any cost. More importantly, she had sex... and survived!
8. - SIDNEY PRESCOTT – SCREAM FRANCHISE
Another Final Girl, like Alice, who had sex... and lived!
Sidney Prescott is one of the most balanced Final Girls of all time, after all, it can't be easy finding out your mother is a whore who gave up your brother for adoption, who coerced your boyfriend to slaughter your mother upon the discovery that she was banging his (your boyfriend's) father... ultimately causing the deaths of several innocent bystanders such as Sarah Michelle Gellar (seriously, exactly why did CiCi Cooper get thrown off that balcony?) and Cotton Weary's girlfriend Christine (collateral damage?).
Sidney eventually found peace and turned her tragedy into triumph in the form of a best-selling book. Not only that, but she defended herself on several occasions, facing down not one, not two, but SEVEN different killers over the course of her adulthood. Chris only had to face Jason, Alice only had Freddy, and Laurie only had to see her brother on holidays... while poor Sid had to contend with Billy, Stu, Mickey, Mrs. Loomis, Roman, Jill, and one of the Culkin brothers.
And don't forget, Sid gets extra points for having to put up with Gail and Dewey. Looking back, it's amazing she didn't wind up being the killer after the first three films with them.
7. - GINNY FIELD – FRIDAY THE 13th, PART II
If we're talking about Final Girls... it doesn't get more hardcore than Ginny, the fair-haired female who not only brought the fight to Jason throughout the entire film using a chair, a chainsaw, a pitchfork, a car door, and a well-placed kick to the nuts!
On top of all of that, Ginny was able to have sex with her boyfriend and enjoy alcohol at a local tavern and still managed to survive, although she was declared mentally unfit while being stretchered out of the camp by paramedics. But probably the greatest achievement of all for this Final Girl was her willingness to manipulate Jason by pretending to be his mother, after putting on the dead woman's sweater after coming face-to-face with Mrs. Voorhee's severed head.
Now that's a broad who really wanted to live.
6. - KIRSTY COTTON – HELLRAISER FRANCHISE
Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees... they're all pretty scary in their own right. But probably the granddaddy of all horror film monsters is the General of Hell's Army himself, Pinhead. Of course, there has only been one person to continuously escape Pinhead's grasp and that person is none other than our fourth Final Girl, Kirsty Cotton.
What's more hardcore than Ginny Field putting on the grotesque sweater of Jason's mother's corpse to fool him? How about Kirsty putting on the skin of her wicked stepmother and lip-locking a cenobite just to save someone's life and escape Hell? How about Kirsty solving the Lament Configuration to send the Cenobites back to Leviathan? More importantly, how about Kirsty bargaining with Pinhead and sacrificing her scheming husband, his mistresses, and his partner-in-crime in exchange for her soul?
In respect to the Final Girl, if I'm going to be in a horror film, I want to be with the Kirsty's and the Ginny's of the world.
5. - NANCY THOMPSON – A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
Nancy Thompson was sweet and well-mannered at the beginning of Nightmare, rebuffing a young Johnny Depp's sexual advances simply because she was more concerned about best friend Tina's well-being (and also because there could only be one slut in the film, and that was Tina).
As the movie progressed, however, Nancy became the inspiration for Home Alone, discovering that she could bring Freddy Krueger into our realm and devising traps for him all over her house. Sure, Kirsty and Ginny were able to go to Fear Factor gross-out levels to cement their survival, but Nancy – who was all of, what, seventeen? - actually mapped out a way to attack Freddy at every turn in the climax to their showdown in the real world, even using home-made explosives in the comfort of her own living room!
What's even more amazing is the fact that she was able to do do all of that without waking up her alcoholic mother or getting a notice from the HOA.
4. - SARAH CONNOR - THE TERMINATOR FRANCHISE
She's the mother to end all mothers, Sarah Connor. Originally, Linda Hamilton's iconic character was not on this list. I debated over several hours with my friends about her inclusion because many of them see The Terminator as science-fiction rather than horror... even though, to me, the idea of a killer robot traveling from the future to kill me would be, uh, kind of terrifying. I still get leery about shady Austrian men arriving at my door inquiring about my name.
With a few writers commenting that Sarah Connor should get inclusion, I've edited the list to feature her because... hell, when fellow writers and movie buffs think she should be on, it's just further validation that one's gut feelings are always on-point.
Why should Sarah Connor join this list? Well, it can't be easy carrying the future of humanity on your shoulders knowing that you're going to give birth to its salvation! Not only does Sarah take a chance on some random guy claiming to be from the future, she actually does away with the Terminator and even manages to utter something witty in the process. Sarah's star really shines in the amazing follow-up, T2: Judgment Day, where she is hardened and more of a bad-ass, wielding heavy artillery with precision (doing anything to protect her son) and initiating one of the greatest escape sequences ever!
Some people want Cyborg Vs. Ronda Rousey... give me Sarah Connor in her prime (not from the television show, not from the confusing reboot) versus the "Rowdy One" and I'll be good to go!
3. - ELLEN RIPLEY – ALIEN FRANCHISE
“Get away from her, you BITCH.”
It's probably one of the best lines ever uttered and it's done so with gusto from Sigourney Weaver's space-faring lieutenant, Ellen Ripley. Alien and all its sequels may be considered science-fiction, but there's nothing more horrifying about the idea of something impregnating you through the mouth, its seed bursting from your chest, and then that seed killing your entire crew.
Despite its science-fiction roots, the film definitely earns a place in the horror genre where Ripley annihilates swarms of aliens throughout the franchise and manages to do so while saving her cat and a twelve-year-old girl. Aside from all of that, Ripley has the distinction of being one of the very few Final Girls to be brought back from the dead (via clone, no less), being the mother of the main antagonist (her original body spawned an alien queen), and also saving the entire planet (destroying the alien threat before it could reach Earth).
2. - BUFFY SUMMERS – BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
Like Ripley, she has been brought back from the dead – although, not through a clone – and has saved the world (or at least an entire town) on more than one occasion. No tea, no shade... but Buffy was Final Girl-ing for seven seasons on a major scale while most only had to deal with their supernatural killers for, what, a day... two days, tops? She also has indulged in alcohol and has had sex (with vampires, naturally), having lived to fight another day.
More importantly, Buffy's antagonists vary greatly, facing almost every variant of creature and ghoul from the supernatural realm. Not just limited to crazed stalkers and machete-wielding murderers, Buffy has had to tangle with people from alternate dimensions, a dark version of her best friend Willow (rivaling that of the Dark Phoenix), demons, devils, and even Dracula himself! She also has managed to face down challenges with her signature sense of humor and also a killer fashion sense... something that none of the ladies mentioned above have been able to accomplish.
When it comes right down to it, in terms of the Final Girl, it's always best to bet on the house that Joss Whedon built. But there is one woman who beats out all the ladies on this list... and that is my own retconned #1...
1. - ALICE PARKS - RESIDENT EVIL FRANCHISE
You might be asking WHY Alice was not on my original list. Simply put, I forgot. In my haste to rank everyone and make sure I spelled people's names correctly, I had completely forgotten about Alice... that also could be because I haven't watched a Resident Evil film past part three, I have an aversion to films adapted from video games (can you blame me?) but that still doesn't change the fact that Alice is the most bad-ass of all Final Girls.
Even though I have only sat through the first three films in the franchise, the character of Alice has always been depicted as strong, capable, and resiliently tough... even as she fought through a fog of amnesia in her introductory film. It's almost as if Alice was an amalgamation of every Final Girl on this list. There are shades of T2 Sarah Connor when it comes to her brutal physicality, homage to Ellen Riply who was constantly saving people (not just herself) and wielded a high intellect, and even a supernatural element - ala another Alice on this list - as she gained powers after being injected with the T-Virus. Even Buffy can't hold a candle to Alice, who has faced just as many varied - and scarier - creatures.
Also, while Buffy kicked butt for seven seasons, Alice has been going strong for thirteen years and will be going on her final adventure (allegedly) in January of 2017. That also makes Alice the only Final Girl on this list to reach six films. An accomplishment in of itself, seeing as how most heroes (and more often, the heroines) get cycled out.
So what do you think? Are there any other Final Girls you wish could have made the list instead? Who would you put down as an honorable mention? Sound off in the comments below! But before you do, make sure to check out the trailer for The Final Girls!