The iconic horror movies paved a foundation for the genre’s “final girl” with characters like Halloween‘s Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Scream‘s Sidney Prescott (Snow Campbell). These women, who also reprised their roles in recent sequels, set the bar for what it means to survive a horror villain.
A modern-day final girl is no damsel in distress chosen by default because everyone else fell victim before her. Today’s final girls are hungry for survival that do anything and take out anyone to get through to the end, sometimes becoming the villain to those who left them for dead. While there are plenty of examples of campy, poorly executed final characters that seem to survive by insurmountable luck, these women earned their right to live with logical thinking and skill sets.
Samara Weaving – ‘Ready or Not’ (2019)
Your wedding day is supposed to be the happiest day of your life unless you’re marrying into the Le Domas family. For each new addition, the Le Domas family initiates a game as innocent as chess with the newlywed drawing a card from an antique box. For Grace, excellently portrayed by Samara Weavingshe draws hide-and-seek which turns out deadly for all involved.
As she realizes she’s being hunted by her in-laws, Grace doesn’t hide and wait out the storm, she’s constantly evading their attacks. She isn’t shy about injuring or attempting to kill those whom she thought would welcome and love her. Even when her husband turns on her, she continues to fight down to the last drop of blood. As she comes out on top, audiences rally behind her as the closing credits roll while she enjoys a well-deserved cigarette.
Elizabeth Moss – ‘The Invisible Man’ (2020)
One of the genre’s scariest spurned lovers terrorizes Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) pre- and post-breakup. Her abusive ex happens to be a scientist who stages his own death in order to stalk and prey on her. The kicker? He invented a machine that makes him invisible so no one believes Ceilia as she seeks help from those around her.
Critics and audiences loved the film’s variation of its inspiring source material, a novel of the same name by HG Wells. Like any strong heroine, Cecilia doesn’t give up fighting even when her loved ones can’t or won’t believe her or when she gets locked down in a psych ward. She uses ingenuity to successfully outwit the invisible man. Her story is one of survival from both a horror villain and a real-life abuser.
Florence Pugh – ‘Midsommar’ (2019)
Unsettling and grotesque, Midsommar rocked horror fans in 2019 with a minimal, but unsuspecting plot surrounding a group of travelers and a Swedish mid-summer festival. Following a family tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) follows her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends on a European trip despite their relationship hanging by a thread. What seems like a picturesque retreat turns sinister as the festival progresses.
With Pugh’s powerful performance, we see Dani channel her dependent and fragile energy into strength and disdain for Christian. A characteristic of a final girl means finding strength in the horror of your situation and that’s exactly what Dani does. Her role shifts to what can be argued as a villain as she becomes the lone survivor of her group and becomes fully emersed in the cult behind the festival.
Janelle Monáe – ‘Antebellum’ (2020)
While critics and audiences couldn’t get behind the vision of directors Gerald Bush and Christopher Renz’s Antebellum, Janelle Monáe‘s performance as final girl Veronica / Eden earns her a spot among the genre’s best. In an attempt to mimic Jordan Peele and Get Outthe film follows successful author Veronica as she’s thrust into an intense and horrifying reality with a twist.
The film makes attempts at horror and social commentary that fell flat with a majority of viewers. The heroine’s determination to escape her captors and return to her family is admirable even if the execution was subpar. Monáe is no stranger to fearless, capable characters and brings her strength to this role.
Taissa Farmiga – ‘The Final Girls’ (2015)
While mostly comedy with a side of horror, The Final Girls pokes fun at the horror genre and its common flaws. The film addresses the concept of a final girl and what it means to be her as a group of teens is transported into a campy slasher film. Taissa Farmiga plays Max, the film’s heroine and subsequent final girl as the group battle their way through Camp Bloodbath.
Max’s only flaw is her inability to let go of her deceased mother who had a starring role in the slasher film and fights by Max’s side until the end. Once Max is able to truly move on from her mother’s death inside and outside of Camp Bloodbath, she takes on the final girl role with ease. She doesn’t let a love interest or the death of fellow friends stop her from killing the villain. Even with a teaser to a sequel, Max is ready for round two.
Anya Taylor-Joy – ‘Split’ (2016)
Flexing the intelligence of a final girl and that action isn’t always the key to survival is Anya Taylor Joy‘s Casey Cooke in Split. After being kidnapped by Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder, Casey is the only one of three girls to survive Crumb’s multiple personalities, the final one being The Beast, a monstrous being with an elevated physicality.
Throughout her captive time, Casey attempts to befriend the personalities that are less threatening like Hedwig. She’s no stranger to surviving as she suffered abuse at the hands of a family member following her father’s death and is the victim of self-harming. During the film’s final showdown, she’s not shy or scared to use the gun and doesn’t back down when The Beast confronts her. Casey makes it out alive and returns as a strong proponent in the film’s sequel and crossover film Glass.
Jane Levy – ‘Don’t Breathe’ (2016)
Jane Levy is a thief turned final girl as Rocky in the horror-thriller Don’t Breathe. When Rocky and two fellow Detroit thieves break into a blind man’s (Stephen Lang) home, they are surprised by an onslaught of retaliation efforts as he takes out his burglars.
Stealing as a means to escape a detrimental home life places Rocky in a battle for her life against a man that can’t see her. From the start, she questioned the integrity of robbing him, and as the movie progresses her character shifts from a villain to a heroine. As she makes a terrifying discovery in the basement, Rocky fights even harder to survive the ex-military man, every breath counting, as she doesn’t hold back on her attempts to make it out alive, not shying away from pulling a final trigger .
Ha Seung-Ri – ‘All of Us Are Dead’ (2022)
Netflix’s Korean zombie series All of Us Are Dead gave birth to a few strong final girls, but perhaps the most underrated is Jang Ha-ri (Ha Seung-Ri). As captain of the archery team, Jang Ha-ri possesses the skills to slay her infected classmates and teachers. She has the back of those who stick with her, never succumbing to fear.
Her leadership and age come into play as the students struggle to formulate a strategy to make it out. Even after the death of her brother whom she fought so valiantly to reconnect with, Jang Ha-ri keeps moving and protecting the survivors. While she can’t be labeled the show’s sole final girl, she is still an admirable addition to the genre as a supporting final girl with the potential to see more action if the show is renewed for additional seasons.
Sharni Vinson – ‘You’re Next’ (2011)
Turns out having high-strung survivalist parents isn’t such a bad thing if your boyfriend’s family comes under attack by masked slashers. When Erin (Sharni Vinson) comes home with her boyfriend Crispian (AJ Bowen) to celebrate his parent’s anniversary, the remote getaway home is surrounded by hitmen as various family members are slaughtered.
Erin takes matters into her own hands, guiding remaining family members in survival methods as they attempt to thwart the attacks. With a twist that the assault was orchestrated by two siblings to earn a hefty inheritance, Erin stays true to herself and doesn’t fall for a desperate “I love you” from Crispian and continues to fight back, setting traps and taking out various assailants .
Maika Monroe – ‘The Guest’ (2014), ‘It Follows’ (2014), ‘Villains’ (2019)
A regular final girl in various films, Maika Monroe expertly portrays her characters in the genre that it’s no wonder directors call on her to make it to the ending scenes. Her ability to bring skepticism and logic to her roles allows makes her a foundational modern-day final girl.
Whether she’s facing off a demon of many forms in It Follows or an unhinged ex-military man in The GuestMonroe isn’t afraid to pull the trigger or step into a character arc from villain to hero in Villains. Final girls aren’t afraid to ensure their movie monster is dead and Monroe is no exception to the rule at no point playing the damsel in distress.
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