The killer queen warrior woman is a hallowed horror trope that, hopefully, will remain as immortal as the vampire that’s the second entry on this list. Men and women alike can’t seem to get enough of take-no-prisoners heroines (and villains) who often run the show in the most popular horror movie franchises. Hitchcock could be termed the father of modern horror, and if you agree with that, you’ll agree that he had a habit of inserting strong women into his stories. They aren’t quite the types of women we’ll list below, but ladies like Janet Leigh and Tippi Hedren created a new archetype for women in horror, simply by being at the forefront of the action, even if they were victims.
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Fast-forward to the present and horror movies can’t get enough leading women. But nowadays, they’re far less well-dressed than the Hitchcock blonds and they generally carry way more heat. Like we said above, not every lady on this list is a heroine — some are big, big villains. But they all have one thing in common — they’re all forces to be reckoned with, be those forces of good or evil. They can all stand on their own and beat back enemies without any help from anyone. Depending on who you are, that can be a pretty terrifyingly awesome thing.
15. SELENE (KATE BECKINSALE) IN UNDERWORLD
Duh, of course Selene’s on this list. We could make a list of just Selene’s baddest moments in her franchise, and maybe one day we will. But for now, we’ll just focus on this vampire’s first appearance in Underworld. In the franchise’s debut, Selene a warrior fighting in the seeming eternal war between vampires and Lycans (Team Vamp, btw). It throws a wrench into things when she falls in love with the human, Michael (Scott Speedman) who eventually becomes a dope vampire/Lycan hybrid.
Selene is a Death Dealer, which is essentially a vampire whose job it is to assassinate Lycans. She’s under the impression that Lycans killed her family, until her sire, Viktor, admits that he did it. So what does she do? KILLS him and flees with Michael, because damned if she’s gonna take that kind of crap. And that’s just the first movie.
14. BUFFY (KRISTY SWANSON) IN BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know less people like this movie better than the series, but that’s not Buffy’s fault! Kristy Swanson’s Buffster is way more of a vapid Valley Girl at the outset of this movie than Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy ever was in the series. It makes her transformation from cheerleader into vampire-slaying cheerleader all the more entertaining.
Plus, she doesn’t have the Scooby Gang to help her out with anything. All her friends abandon her when she starts training with her watcher, so aside from Luke Perry and her watcher (Donald Sutherland), it’s just her against an army of vamps. She emerges victorious against all of them (including Pee-Wee Herman) and does most of it in a prom dress. The lesson here? Don’t hate the slayer, hate the game.
13. SIDNEY PRESCOTT (NEVE CAMPBELL) IN SCREAM
Oh, man oh man oh man oh man do NOT mess with Sidney Prescott. Okay, you can maybe mess with Sidney Prescott circa, like, the first 15 minutes of the first Scream — actually, not even then. This lady got terrorized for her mother’s crimes by one psycho after another and she took each and every one of them down. And she had the best lines while doing it (“Pansy-ass momma’s boy,” anyone?).
THEN, when her bratty cousin tried to steal her place in the horror pantheon by staging some sort of warped remake, she shut that sh*t down, too. The great thing about Sid was her unending resilience. Her life would’ve put even the most seasoned haunt seekers into therapy for the rest of their lives, but not Sidney Prescott. Everything she endured just made her stronger.
12. MARY SANDIN (LENA HEADEY) IN THE PURGE
The fun thing about Cersei Lannister is that anytime you get really, really sick of her antics, you can pop in any number of other Lena Headey projects that’ll put a better taste in your mouth. There’s 300, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and, of course, the 2013 sleeper hit, The Purge. She plays Mary Sandin, Ethan Hawke’s wife, and while she isn’t as active a hero as some of the other women on this list, she’s still no slouch.
Despite the fact that her husband doesn’t make it (mostly his fault for installing a faux security system like a DOPE), Mary manages to survive ordeal after ordeal without ever sacrificing her moral code. She doesn’t sacrifice anyone else for her own gain and still manages to make it out alive. Strength isn’t always physical, kids.
11. CLARICE STARLING (JODIE FOSTER) IN SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Clarice Starling gets serious points for hanging out with Hannibal Lector, following his lead to a storage unit packing a severed head and catching a serial killer ALL BY HER DAMN SELF. Oh, this is all while she’s still an FBI trainee. She is smart, she is compassionate, she is capable and she achieves every single one of those amazing things we mentioned above while she is terrified for her life.
It’s trite AF, but bravery isn’t the lack of fear in the face of danger. It’s the presence of action in the face of fear. Clarice Starling is such a remarkable heroine because she has every reason in the world to run at almost every turn and she doesn’t. She remembers her training, screws her courage to the sticking place and saves the day.
10. DANA (KRISTEN CONNOLLY) IN CABIN IN THE WOODS
The Cabin in the Woods, like Scream, is a brilliantly self-referential horror flick. Five college students head off to a — wait for it — cabin in the woods for a weekend. Everything feels extremely, extremely cliché until it’s revealed that the students are all part of an ancient (though modern-run) ritual that involves the sacrifice of five young people that fit certain, familiar archetypes (strumpet, jock, nerd, clown, virgin) to appease a demon. If the demon isn’t appeased, all of humanity is sacrificed.
Joss Whedon wrote and produced the film, and his fingerprints are all over it. The “virgin,” Dana, is steelier than anyone might have expected, and she manages to beat the ritual guys at their own game and break out. Granted, she probably gets humanity wiped out in the process, but she’s still a testament to resilience all the same. Hell, she outlives basically everyone.
9. THE GRAND HIGH WITCH (ANJELICA HUSTON) IN THE WITCHES
If you read or watched The Witches and were not abjectly terrified of the Grand High Witch, please have yourself checked for robot-ism. The Roald Dahl story and later Nicholas Roag film are set in a universe populated by demonic witches whose sole mission it is to wipe out all children on the planet. They walk among us posing as normal women, but all the while they’re looking for ways to off tiny children. What. The. Actual. Frick?
Even more terrifying? Their leader, the Grand High Witch, is an actual demon who wears the face of a beautiful woman, making it all the more easy to poison, incinerate, make disappear, what have you, whatever children may cross her path. Anjelica Huston plays her in the film, and she is icy, gorgeous and utterly terrifying. As villains go, she could eat the Wicked Witch of the West for breakfast.
8. JENNIFER (MEGAN FOX) IN JENNIFER’S BODY
Boy, oh, BOY has every girl secretly believed some brat in her class was legit possessed by an actual demon. Jennifer’s Body breathed brilliant life into that rage fantasy and gave a lot of us a very, very satisfying outlet for our inevitable, though probably misplaced, resentment. Amanda Seyfried plays Needy, a nerd with a bitchy, popular best friend named Jennifer (Megan Fox) — and that’s before Jennifer’s possessed by a demon.
Thereafter, Jennifer, who is now a succubus, starts making out with and then murdering all the boys in school until Needy finally stops her. That makes Jennifer an actually bad horror babe, but this is an equal opportunity heroes and villains list, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t give the demon her due.
7. SARAH (SHAUNA MACDONALD) IN THE DESCENT
This lady deserves whatever medal they give out for going through the most crap a person can go through in a single movie. After her daughter dies, she goes spelunking with her friends, the stupidest of whom decides to take them all on an uncharted route through a very deep, dark cave. Unfortunately, in this particular cave, not only do they get lost (DUH), they encounter the lethal cave mutants who live there.
Shauna manages to survive her grief, her friends AND the cave mutants. If it’d been possible to make it out of that cave, we’re pretty sure she would’ve found a way. Unfortunately, she winds up sliding down into the cave equivalent of a Sky Cell, but the upside is that she hallucinates that her little girl is there with her. It looks terrible, but the sequel establishes that she makes it out two days later. Hooray!
6. CLARICE STARLING (JULIANNE MOORE) IN HANNIBAL
In Hannibal, Clarice Starling’s career isn’t going so well. She’s hit the glass ceiling at the FBI, and her last chance at glory crops up when creepo Mason Verger taps her to find Hannibal Lector and she gets back on the only case she should ever have been working on. She finds him, and when it becomes clear the FBI is in Verger’s pocket and using her to procure Lector for his private revenge, she goes rogue to rescue… Hannibal Lector.
Clarice Starling is such a bad horror babe she made the list twice, though for very different reasons. She’s still brave and noble and dedicated, but in Hannibal, she’s fighting demons who pretend they’re on the side of good and she’s not afraid to call them out. Nor is she afraid of protecting those same demons when a cannibal eats their brain while they’re still alive. #BEAST
5. CHERRY DARLING (ROSE MCGOWAN) IN PLANET TERROR
Ain’t no one can hunt zombies like a one-legged stripper — and there ain’t no one-legged stripper like Cherry Jones. In the second half of Quentin Tarantino’s horror-pulp double feature, Grindhouse, McGowan plays a stripper trying to reform when her town gets exposed to a virus that turns almost all of them into zombies.
Cherry’s leg is ripped off, and for awhile, she makes due with a table leg. But in a zombie attack, a peg leg is really only going to slow you down. So, her ex-boyfriend outfits her with an assault rifle and a grenade launcher. THAT is how you fend off a zombie apocalypse, MR. GRIMES. Maybe if you’d thought about that, poor Herschel’d still be alive. (Please see our extensive The Walking Dead coverage if that reference didn’t land.)
4. TIFFANY (JENNIFER TILLY) IN BRIDE OF CHUCKY
If there’s one thing you can say for Tiffany — she’s co-frigging-mmitted. Ten years after her serial killer boyfriend became a living doll, she snags his “body” from police custody and brings him back to “life.” When he’s resentful and admits he was never going to marry her, she locks him in a cage. Then he gets out, murders her and traps HER in a doll, too. L’amour amirité?
While the two are on a mission to get human bodies back, Tiffany murders two con-artists. Chucky’s so impressed with her skill, he finally asks her to marry him. To sum it up, Tiffany waits for her serial killer doll boyfriend for 10 years, continues to stay with him after he murders her, puts her soul into a doll, and, still gets her man! Well, before he tries to kill her again. But still… it’s impressive.
3. SELENA (NAOMI HARRIS) IN 28 DAYS LATER
When it came out in 2002, 28 Days Later changed the face of zombie horror movies. Gone were George Romero’s slow-moving walkers and the convulsive, lightning-quick Infected took their place. Cillian Murphy’s Jim wakes in a hospital to discover the world as he knows it has ended. The first friend he makes in post-apocalyptic London is Selena, a woman alone and on the run just like him.
Selena gets him back on his feet and shows him the ropes of their new zombie nation. Not only is she more than capable of taking care of herself, she takes care of him and later young girl Hannah after her father Frank dies. Once they get taken in by some psychotically horny soldiers, Selena takes action to make sure Hannah won’t remember any sexual assault they’ll endure (don’t ask, it’s a solid decision). The Infected should fear her.
2. ALICE (MILLA JOVOVICH) IN RESIDENT EVIL
In her introduction in the first Resident Evil, Alice is an amnesiac who wakes up in a mansion controlled by computer known as the Red Queen. Eventually we find out that she was a commando working for the corporation that built the computer, but was trying to undermine her employer who was manufacturing a zombie-makin’ virus (lot of that going around). Obviously, it didn’t go as planned, and Alice winds up having to fight her way out of the mansion, all while trying to make sense of her past life and what she was doing there in the first place.
Unfortunately, when she does make it out, it’s only to discover that the virus has already gotten out and ravaged Raccoon City. But she doesn’t let that get her down — she just grabs a shotgun, hops into a police car and rides off into a franchise.
1. LAURIE STRODE (JAMIE LEE CURTIS) IN HALLOWEEN
Jamie Lee Curtis is the undisputed queen of horror for good reason — she’s the most enduring heroine in one of the most enduring horror franchises of all time. Halloween was pioneering in the terror game — no one had ever seen a villain like Michael Myers before… so no one had ever seen a heroine like Laurie Strode. Like Clarice Starling, Strode isn’t necessarily fearless — the opposite, in fact. She’s as terrified of Myers as the audience is.
But that doesn’t stop her from beating that masked, psychotic weirdo who should really, REALLY get a life time and time again. She’s as resilient as the Halloween franchise (or maybe the franchise is as resilient as her). Either way, she might just be a babysitter, but do not, under any circumstances, underestimate her.
Who is your favorite final girl? Let us know in the comments!
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