Sidney Prescott is the pinnacle of the final girl archetype and one of the few who is a fully developed character that has a life beyond the confines of the screenplay. And thus she is damn hard to beat. Just ask the string of Ghostface killers she’s left buried along the way.
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Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis)
Halloween (1978); Halloween II (1981); H20: 20 Years Later (1998); Halloween (2018)
But if Sidney Prescott is the pinnacle of the archetype, Laurie Strode is still nevertheless the definitive trendsetter. Played by Jamie Lee Curtis in the role that made her a scream queen legend, not to mention the true heir to her mother Janet Leigh’s Psycho legacy, Laurie is the young woman who stared into the face of evil and saw how disturbingly normal it can be. She then got the chance to kill it several times.
The beauty of John Carpenter’s Halloween is its simplicity. Ignore the sequels and take it as a one-off tale about a group of friends who are randomly and pointlessly targeted by a mass murdering stalker in a mask. There is no rhyme or reason for why he picked them; he just did so after being locked up for two decades following the senseless slaying of his older sister when he was a child. Michael Myers is the “Other” from Psycho and Texas Chain Saw brought home to suburban America’s backyard. His evil exists simply because. He’s literally credited in the film as “the Shape.”
In that sense, there is nothing to cheer or sneer about. Carpenter made the definitive slasher movie without realizing he was drafting a formula. Ergo, the three young women being stalked are relatively normal and believable people. Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie isn’t spared because she’s a virgin. She survives because unlike her friends she’s aware of her surroundings and has the ability to notice in time that someone is standing behind her.
read more – Halloween (2018): The Feminist Slasher Movie
It is admittedly a reactive performance: Michael chases her down the street and keeps trapping her in smaller and smaller places until she is finally saved by Donald Pleasence as a modern day Van Helsing. But unlike a number of performers on this list, Jamie Lee Curtis is a terrific actress and sells the horror of her situation in a way that makes that crumbling closet a little too real.
Plus in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Laurie gets the Scream treatment and has learned and grown from her trauma—she now is a very paranoid prep school dean with a drinking problem. She is also a helicopter mother, which proves to be a wise thing since her evil older brother (as retconned into the canon in Halloween II) returns from the dead 20 years later to try to kill her and her teenage son. Instead, Laurie chases him down and takes off his head with an axe.
Sure, Halloween: Resurrection (2002) later ruined this perfect ending to the Michael/Laurie feud and even kills off Laurie Strode. But like many bad sequels, it can be left to the dustbin of forgotten cash-in failures. Especially now–since this article was first published–David Gordon Green’s Halloween has corrected that mistake and offered a truly great ending to the Laurie/Michael Myers dynamic by going back to the randomness of it… and making Laurie the Shape who hunts Michael. The final girl archetype came full circle with the victim being the hero, and the binary conflict of male monster and female victim being brilliantly turned on its head by the definitive final girl. Make that final hero.
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Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver)
If you noticed up above, I did not include the long list of Alien sequels that Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley has appeared in. As great as James Cameron’s follow up is, that film and its successors were action movies. Just as this list will not include Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor or Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, it also is not focused on how Cameron turned Ripley into an action icon.
Nonetheless, before she was Cameron’s Ripley, she was the heroine of Ridley Scott’s psychosexual sci-fi thriller where she is the sole female survivor at the end of a film that sees all of her friends and colleagues slaughtered by an incomprehensible force. In short, Alien definitely qualifies as a horror movie, and henceforth Ripley is automatically the very best final girl the trope has ever produced.
read more: Are Alien and Blade Runner in the Same Universe?
Depicted as just another member of the space trucking crew, Ellen Ripley’s gender and sexuality are inconsequential. Indeed, Ripley was originally written to be a male role. However, this is not a case of a woman acting in a masculine way; this is an example of a smart and quick-thinking woman who is simply the best amongst her peers.
When her captain attempts to bring an injured crewmember aboard with an alien parasite grasped to his face, Weaver’s Ripley coldly and astutely attempts to prevent this breach of protocol. This alien parasite might endanger the whole crew—and it does. While everyone else panics, and a company stooge in the form of a robot (Ian Holm) secretly covets the alien species as a pricy corporate prize, Ripley follows the book and is already one-step ahead of her compatriots.
After the infamous chest-bursting scene, the film’s false hero (Tom Skeritt) quickly succumbs to the alien’s mysterious prowess and acidic capabilities. But Ripley figures out the crew’s cat is a lighthouse beacon that warns of the horror and she uses it as an alarm while fighting her way to being the sole survivor off the ship—she even gets to jettison the creature into deep space.
This role made Weaver a star and for good reason. She is unnervingly natural amongst a group of equally committed actors. Their parts are minimally written, but director Scott and his cast imbue them with great authenticity and life. And the one with the greatest desire to keep it is Ripley, who is played with unforgettable intensity by Weaver. She may not have gotten an Oscar nomination for the role until Aliens, which admittedly added a heartbreaking backstory to Ripley’s travails (in the director’s cut), but her performance was never more real or terrifying than when she locks eyes with both the H.R. Giger demon or Holms’ robotic machinations here. And then they blink first.
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So there are the 13 Best Final Girls! Unless you think we missed one. If so, then let us know in the comments!
David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.
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