From Laurie Strode counting the days until Michael Myers returns in “Halloween” to a betrayed bride fighting off her in-laws with a shotgun in “Ready or Not,” final girls are found at the beating heart of the horror genre. In the black-and-white dichotomy of good-versus-evil, these heroes — yes, often leading ladies, but not always! — typically begin as victims in nightmarish scenarios that bloom into epic opportunities for them to best their villains and survive.
Coined and carefully considered by professor Carol J. Clover in her 1992 work “Men, Women, and Chainsaws,” the final girl trope was initially defined as the sole survivor of a slasher who confronted the antagonist in a last-act face-off and who was often ascribed some sort of moral superiority compared to other victims; virginity being the de facto example (which, yeah, yawn). Classic examples include Sally Hardesty in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and Jamie Lee Curtis’ legendary babysitter from the masterful “Halloween” franchise: widely credited with giving final girls the cunning edge modern movie-goers know and love them for.
Thanks to the groundbreaking feminism of Bob Clark’s “Black Christmas” in 1974 — it’s a pro-choice movie, people! — and the clever spin of horror comedies such as “The Cabin in the Woods,” the final girl gradually evolved into a kind of pro-woman/pro-underdog warrior for not just slashers but all of horror. The ’90s were a time of highs and lows for the final girl, with the introduction of all-time scream queen Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott in “Scream” but also the exhausting soapiness of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Julie James in “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” (She still made this list, if only because Julie is a camp icon and we give credit where credit is due.)
In the 2010s, “You’re Next,” “Ready or Not,” and “Midsommar” were among a slew of breakup battles as blood-spattered as they were venomously biting. All three of Jordan Peele’s popular horror films have featured final girl types with meaningful arcs that underscore what makes the auteur’s films equally effective in messaging and crowd-pleasing. “Scream” (2022) and “Halloween Ends” come to mind as the triumphant latest at-bats for Prescott and Strode: the reining final girl/scream queen hybrids who would top this list if it were ranked.
Listed alphabetically, in honor of IndieWire’s Seven Days of Scream Queens series, these are the top 25 (32 if you divide the teams) most memorably badass final girls in horror history.