Ten Women Who Defined and Evolved Horror’s Final Girl Trope
8. Laurie Strode – Halloween (1979)
Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), first appearing in John Carpenter’s Halloween, is the most defined final girl up until this point, borrowing traits from both Sally and Jess to create a hybrid version of the two.
Laurie is the embodiment of the type of final girl that would go on to become prevalent in the years to come. From the very beginning, she sets herself apart from her friends. In contrast to the sex-driven and ditsy Linda, and loud-mouthed, reckless Annie, Laurie is painted as level-headed, virginal, and intelligent: the quintessential good girl. Her assumed moral superiority by not engaging with drugs or sex is what allows her to survive. It’s clear at this point that the final girl can’t just be any kind of girl. There are rules, and Laurie helps us to understand that, in slashers, only certain girls are allowed to live.
Laurie is one of the most enduring final girls, having appeared in numerous sequels in the Halloween franchise and most recently, Halloween Kills (2021). She goes from sweet, virginal teenager to badass, gun-toting grandma, who takes matters into her own hands. Michael Myers may be impossible to kill but so too, it seems, is Laurie Strode.
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7. Ellen Ripley – Alien (1979)
Like Jess Bradford from Black Christmas, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is a final girl ahead of her time and has since been hailed as one of the greatest female characters – ever.
Since Ripley was originally written as male, her character isn’t bogged down by the casual sexism and stereotypes that plagued women in both horror and action films of the time. Ripley manages to illustrate how women are just as strong and capable as men. Carol J. Clover says, “Slasher films present us in startlingly direct terms with a world in which male and female are at desperate odds, but in which, at the same time, masculinity and femininity are more states of mind than body.” Ellen Ripley is the embodiment of this and so much more.
Ripley is an integral part of the team. In fact, she’s a senior officer. Ripley is level-headed and calm, even when facing a seemingly impossible threat. She’s an early example of a female character that doesn’t survive merely by getting lucky. No one comes to save her. Instead, Ripley uses her skills and intelligence to finally escape.
Ripley plays an active role in saving herself, something that our next final girl definitely knows a thing or two about.
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6. Nancy Thompson – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Wes Craven’s final girl for his campy slasher A Nightmare on Elm Street was partly inspired by his daughter Jessica’s annoyance at his treatment of women in his earlier films. Thus, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) was born; a courageous and resourceful heroine who plays an active role in defeating Freddy Krueger.
While she doesn’t do drugs or have sex – something that ends up getting her best friend Tina viciously murdered – Nancy is not a reactionary character. She isn’t passive or unassuming. Nancy actively seeks out Freddy in order to destroy him and end her horror once and for all. Nancy goes to great lengths to outsmart him, and she doesn’t give up – not even when everyone thinks she’s crazy. Nancy doesn’t just survive, she fights back.
Although Nancy’s fate is ambiguous and she eventually sacrifices herself at the end of A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors, her legacy has endured, with her character appearing in various comic books, video games, and novelizations. Her appearance in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare – a precursor to Scream – and continued popularity, reminds us that Nancy isn’t a victim – she’s a hero.
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