Celebrate Spooky Season With Our 10 Favorite Horror-Movie Final Girls

Elissa Noblitt - Author
By

Mar. 10 2023, Published 5:14 p.m. ET

best horror movie final girls
Source: A24; Searchlight Pictures; Dimension Films

Spoiler alert: Some of the film descriptions for each Final Girl below contain spoilers for their respective movies.

Since the beginning of horror, women have been an integral part of the genre — especially through the concept of the "Final Girl." The Final Girl theory was first developed in 1992 by Carol J. Clover, an American film professor at the University of California, Berkeley. In her book Men, Woman, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, she defines the Final Girl as a young woman who is the sole survivor of her group and the only one left to tell the story of what happened (think Sally Hardesty of Texas Chainsaw Massacre). The definition has expanded over time, making room for both damsels in distress and badass women who confront and ultimately triumph over the antagonistic killers.

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Horror fans know and love the Final Girl, with early examples including Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) of Alien and the Final Girl of all Final Girls, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) of the Halloween franchise. Modern examples include Naru (Amber Midthunder) of Prey and Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) of Antebellum.

Now that we've established what a Final Girl is, let's take a look at our top 10 Final Girls in honor of Women's History Month!

10. Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) — 'I Know What You Did Last Summer'

Jennifer Love Hewitt as Julie James in 'I Know What You Did Last Summer'
Source: Columbia Pictures

Julie James is your classic Final Girl: young, tortured, and morally unambiguous, with a big ol' group of friends who may or may not survive until the end of the movie. When she finds herself confronted by a dark secret from the group's past, she's determined to get to the bottom of the mystery and save herself and her pals. And does she? Well, kinda.

Julie's sleuthing skills and uniquely nautical final chase scene make her one of our favorites.

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9. Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) — 'Barbarian'

Georgina Campbell as Tess Marshall in 'Barbarian.'
Source: 20th Century Studios

In Barbarian, Tess finds herself staying at a double-booked Airbnb ... which also includes a system of underground tunnels, rooms, and traps. While she can't figure out who to trust at first, she quickly becomes savvy and does exactly what she needs to do to save her own life. And boy, is it gross.

In our opinion, Tess's situation is one of the most horrifying on the list, which is why she definitely deserves a top 10 spot.

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8. Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) — 'The Shining'

Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrence in 'The Shining.'
Source: Warner Bros.

Shelley Duvall's Wendy Torrance is near and dear to every horror fan's heart, and out of all the ladies on this list, we think she got a pretty tough break. Imagine being chased by a murderer through a haunted hotel — now, imagine that murderer is your husband. Now, imagine your husband is Jack Nicholson.

While she ultimately doesn't end up killing her homicidal honey, she does escape him and save her son, and that's enough for us.

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7. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) — 'Halloween'

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in 'Halloween Ends.'
Source: Universal Pictures

Like we said before, Laurie Strode is probably the most iconic of them all. The babysitter-turned-badass has been through her share of horror movies, and like a true Final Girl, she's always lived to tell the tale. Oh, and *spoiler alert* she literally kills the unkillable Michael Myers. NBD.

However, because she's so highly praised already, we decided to keep her lower on the list to give some other Final Girls a chance to shine.

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6. Theresa "Tree" Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) — 'Happy Death Day'

Jessica Rothe as Tree Gelbman in 'Happy Death Day.'
Source: Blumhouse

Tree is part of the new generation of Final Girls on the list, and throughout Happy Death Day, she certainly proves herself worthy of the title. Her biting sarcasm, determination, and relatability (you know, aside from the whole living-the-same-day-over-and-over thing) have cemented her as a fan-favorite of the horror-comedy subgenre.

Using a time-loop to catch her college campus killer definitely earns Tree a spot on our list.

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5. Margot Mills (Anya Taylor-Joy) — 'The Menu'

The Menu movie
Source: Searchlight Pictures

The Menu's Margot is a master of manipulation, and she uses that skill to secure her safety — and a delicious-looking cheeseburger — from Chef Slowik. While she uses her brain to outsmart the movie's main antagonist, that doesn't mean there isn't a fair amount of bloodshed by her hand. She also has to deal with her pretentious date Tyler, which would make anyone desperate to escape.

Margot's ability to think her way out of such a scary situation deserves a spot in the top 5. Plus, who doesn't love Anya Taylor-Joy?

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4. Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o) — 'Us'

Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson in 'Us.'
Source: Monkeypaw Productions

Adelaide Wilson, played masterfully by Lupita Nyong'o, is certainly one of the most interesting characters on our list. We follow her and her family as their beach vacation turns deadly at the hands of their vengeful doppelgängers, and as she faces off in a dramatic final showdown against her creepy counterpart, we're rooting for her the entire time — only to find out in the end that she may not be who she says she is.

A Final Girl with a twist? Sign us up.

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3. Grace Le Domas (Samara Weaving) — 'Ready or Not'

Samara Weaving as Grace in 'Ready or Not.'
Source: Mythology Entertainment

Remember earlier when we said to imagine your husband is trying to kill you? Now, imagine it's your husband's entire family, and they're heavily armed. Just another day in the life of Samara Weaving's Grace Le Domas, who finds out on her wedding night that her new in-laws have a terrifying tradition to uphold. One that involves ritual sacrifice.

Grace, like any Final Girl would, takes it like a champ, surviving the night and ending a decades-old murder curse — all while wearing a wedding dress.

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2. Maxine Minx (Mia Goth) — 'X'

Mia Goth as Maxine Minx in 'X.'
Source: A24

In a movie as heavily inspired by '70s slashers as X, it's no surprise that we've got an iconic Final Girl on our hands with Maxine Minx. As an adult film star, she's a subversion of the archetypical "innocent" Final Girl seen in many classic horror movies. She does drugs, she has sex, and guess what? She survives (take that, Randy Meeks). Maxine is a dynamic, complex character who won't let anyone get in the way of what she wants.

With X sequel MaXXXine currently in the works, we can't wait to see how things play out for her.

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1. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) — 'Scream'

Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell)
Source: Miramax

OK, we know we said we gave Laurie a lower ranking because she's already received a ton of recognition for being an iconic Final Girl. So, what's different here? Why is Sidney Prescott our No. 1 pick? Well, aside from that fact that she's canonically killed four Ghostfaces, Sidney has reached a level of Final Girl-dom unmatched by any of our other top picks: the Wise Older Mentor. In Scream V, we see that she has mostly overcome the trauma caused throughout the franchise, and she ultimately passes the Final Girl torch onto Samantha Carpenter (Melissa Barrera).

We were super bummed that Sidney wasn't a part of Scream VI, and we have our fingers crossed for an appearance in the next film.

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