A far cry from the victims and damsels paraded around early horror films, Final Girls have revolutionized the horror genre. Sure, we're still likely to see young girls running up the stairs and tripping over nothing, but modern horror is filled with increasingly more women who go beyond being mere murder fodder. We're seeing young women who are heroes—who beat all the odds stacked against them to reign victorious over their tormenters.
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There are some obvious suspects for the most popular Final Girl: Sidney Prescott, Laurie Strode, and Nancy Thompson, for example. But what of the Final Girls who don't get enough credit for fighting back? From hidden gems to franchise reboots, here are eight underrated Final Girls of the horror genre.
Alice Johnson, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Master
Nancy Thompson seems to get all the love, doesn't she? It's not that she doesn't deserve it, she practically pioneered the Final Girl role. Of course, by the time the third film in the franchise rolls around, Nancy meets her untimely end, too. It's a total bummer... But it does make way for Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox) in A Nightmare on Elmstreet 4, who makes it through two Freddy Kruger scuffles alive. She is, in fact, the only living dream warrior in film canon.
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Though Alice begins her time on screen as a meek teenager, she develops a set of remarkable dream powers and grows into a fearless fighter. Alice had the power and duty to guard sleepers who dream. Beyond that, she is able to absorb the power of Freddy's recent victims, which makes her stronger as each tragedy passes. Able to defeat Freddy twice, Alice lost a lot along the way. However, she also gained the joy of motherhood and what we can optimistically assume is a happy ending.
Jessie Burlingame, Wrong Turn
After Eliza Dushku's spin as Faith in Buffy and beyond, it's hard to imagine her as anything but a kick-ass final girl. However, she earns the title doubly with her role as Jessie Burlingame in Wrong Turn. After her boyfriend breaks up with her, Jessie's friends take her on a road trip through the West Virginia mountains. But when the group drives over a barbed wire trap, they find themselves stranded and ruthlessly hunted by a group of cannibals. She's distraught as her friends are slaughtered one by one, but her rage only fuels her determination to survive.
While she needs to be rescued by the film's deuteragonist, Chris (Desmond Harrington), she doesn't stay stuck in the damsel role for long. This is entirely due to Dushku's real-life bad-assery, which had her push the film's creators to give Jessie more agency on screen. In the end, Jessie uses the cannibal's own tools of violence against them, firing off a bow and arrow and delivering a killing blow with an axe.
Jay Height, It Follows
The wonderful thing about Jay Height (Maika Monroe) in It Follows is that she flips the script on the pervasive sexual morality ingrained in so many horror films. While in more classic films sex seems to be unnecessarily framed as the final nail in the coffin for young women, this movie centers entirely around the threat of a sexually transmitted evil entity. After having sex with a man she thought she knew, Jay finds herself stalked by this very entity, which can take on the form of other people. Jay is perhaps more notable for her role in the concept of this film rather than her own characterization, as she's a little more passive than you'd expect a common Final Girl to be. However, as dangerous as her sexuality proved to be in the beginning, it stands to reason that her sexuality is just as big as a strength in the end...
Maddie Young, Hush
Is Maddie Young (Kate Siegel) really a Final Girl, considering she's really the only target in Hush? Maybe. Maybe not. But we're willing to bend some rules to include her on this list. Really, the only way Maddie could have been cooler was if she had been played by an actress who had the disability featured in the film.
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While most horror films rely on sound to deliver tension and terror to characters and audience members alike, Hush removed that element from the horror recipe. Maddie is a deaf woman who has secluded herself away in a cabin to get some writing done. Some people might think that makes her an easy target. They would be wrong. While Maddie has to rely on all of her other senses to get her through the night alive, it is this keen awareness and severe misjudgment from the villain that sees her come out victorious.
Thoomi (Simone Landers) isn't the kind of character that would first come to mind when you think about Final Girls. Then again, Cargo, a movie likely to make you sob all the way through, isn't exactly typical of the genre, either. Younger than most Final Girls, Thoomi is an aboriginal child surviving in the midst of Australia's zombie apocalypse. She becomes allies with Andy (Martin Freeman), a man desperate to find a safe place for his infant daughter, as he's been bitten and is running out of time before he turns. Struggling with her own losses in a cruel world, Thoomi goes through a lot of growth that is beyond a girl of her age. Her resourcefulness and determination make her one of the most interesting characters in horror cinema, and audiences can't help but feel empathy for her.
Needy Lesnicki, Jennifer's Body
Just because Jennifer's Body has one of the coolest villainous girls around, doesn't mean it can't have one of the coolest Final Girls, too. Was Needy Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) always the target of Jennifer's (Megan Fox) deadly hunger? No, but Jennifer isn't the kind of girl to hold back. And why stick to boys if she goes both ways?
In some ways, Needy is even more of a remarkable Final Girl for the fact that, in the beginning, she's not in any danger herself at all. It's her worry for the boys in town—and her worry for her best friend—that gets her thrust into the fray. After Jennifer is sacrificed to Satan by an indie band, her lack of virginity turns her into a calculating succubus. Needy tries to reel her best friend in, but in the end, Jennifer has just remorselessly killed too many people. Needy slays Jennifer, but she gets bitten in the process. Of course, taking down the demon her best friend became isn't enough for her. With her new demonic powers, she hunts down the band that started it all and makes them pay.
Natalie Simon, Urban Legend
The 1998 film Urban Legend has its fair share of loyal followers, as it has a pretty fun concept. At Pendleton University, students seem to be dying in ways linked to popular urban legends. Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt) tries to find the truth at the bottom of her school's dark history—a massacre 25 years ago. When one of her friends turns up dead, Natalie is the only one who thinks the threat is serious, while others believe it was a prank.
As the danger heightens and the looming threat of death hangs over head, Natalie dives head first into the conflict while others hesitate. Of course, Natalie has been a target all along, as she's more linked to the terror than she imagined. And while this movie may have a lot of false endings, Natalie is always ready to face the threat head on, and ultimately survives the ordeal—as far as we know...
Sam Carpenter, Scream (2022)
Maintaining a long-running franchise is hard enough, but to reboot it with a new central cast? Impossible. Unless, of course, it's Scream (2022). Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is a tough act to follow, but Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) does an incredible job.
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Killers have once again donned the Ghostface mask in Woodsboro, and the newest slate of targets are all connected to the original victims and survivors. When her teenage sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) is in the hospital after an attack, Sam returns to town after a long time away to keep her safe at all costs. Sam is focused and determined, and her love for her sister outshines everything, including their rocky relationship. She is skeptical of everyone and demands help from the veterans who know the ropes of these killings best. And in the end, she harnesses all her personal demons to be just vicious enough to make it out alive.