Top 20 Badass Horror Movie Heroines
VOICE OVER: Kirsten Ria Squibb
These leading ladies kick ass! For this list, we'll be looking at the female protagonists in horror films who are arguably tougher than the villains. Our countdown includes “Friday the 13th” Franchise, “28 Days Later”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” Franchise, “Halloween” Franchise, “Scream” Franchise, and more!
Top 20 Badass Horror Movie Heroines
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Badass Horror Movie Heroines.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the female protagonists in horror films who are arguably tougher than the villains. While the genre itself can expand beyond straightforward horror, we won’t be considering characters who have innate, superhuman abilities, so you won’t be seeing the likes of Carrie White or Alice from “Resident Evil.” Since we’ll be hailing their climactic exploits, there will be spoilers.
Which of these final girls would you least like to meet in a dark alley? Let us know in the comments!
#20: Gale Weathers
“Scream” Franchise (1996-)
Don’t let the pseudo-meteorologist name fool you: Gale Weathers is one tough cookie. Though she began as something of an antagonistic figure, she evolved into a fan-favorite character in her own right through sheer tenacity. Even though the various killing sprees don’t primarily center around her, she utilizes her go-getting reporter techniques to tackle the mysteries head-on and uncover key information. This of course puts her directly in the crosshairs of Ghostface, but she welcomes danger with aplomb and proves quite scrappy when the chips are down. Plus, if multiple sequels are any indication, she’s really, really hard to kill.
#19: Alice Hardy
“Friday the 13th” Franchise (1980-2009)
Oftentimes looks can be deceiving, and Alice Hardy is the perfect example of that. Kindhearted and demure, Alice isn’t necessarily the person we’d pick to come out of a mass killing spree, especially since the character we thought we’d be following gets iced early on. Still, she stands out among her fellow counselors that all get unwittingly killed by actually standing toe-to-toe with her attacker, even if her attacker is an unassuming, middle-aged woman. Still, Mrs. Voorhees’s insanity makes her quite the dangerous opponent, and Alice defies expectations by taking a machete to her head. Sure, Jason has Alice go out with a whimper in the sequel, but she remains the only character in the franchise to kill a Voorhees for good.
#18: Meg Penny
“The Blob” (1988)
Long before she was the uber-hateable Amanda in the “Saw” movies, Shawnee Smith was displaying final girl characteristics in the 1988 remake of “The Blob.” After her date is horrifically consumed by the titular creature, Meg sets out to make sure the town is prepared. She’s of course met with severe skepticism, but once the secret’s out, she saves lives anyway, starting with her little brother Kevin. Still, the whole town is gonna need to send her a thank you card when she discovers the Blob’s weakness to cold. Teaming up with bad boy Brian, Meg manages to lure the Blob over to canisters of liquid nitrogen, the explosion of which freezes the monstrosity for good.
#17: Dana Polk
“The Cabin in the Woods” (2011)
What is it with horror movies and virginity? “The Cabin in the Woods” may not be the only horror film to poke fun at the genre’s tropes, but it does it with style as our designated “virgin” serves as the principle heroine. As one member of a group of college students who are tapped to die to ensure the world’s continued existence, Dana is unwilling to play along and all hell breaks loose. Though some may argue that sacrificing yourself is the heroic route, we think that rebelling against a system of torture and death earned her place here.
#16: Kirsty Cotton
“Hellraiser” Franchise (1987-)
You’ve gotta be a badass if you’re gonna go up against interdimensional demons like the Cenobites, but thankfully, Kirsty is and then some. Initially suspicious of her step-mother Julia and uncle Frank, Kirsty uncovers their evil pact and seeks to thwart them. Though she inadvertently summons the Cenobites, she uses them to her advantage by turning them onto Frank. Once he and Julia are dealt with, Kirsty gets an applause-worthy moment when she banishes the Cenobites back to their dimension. Her badassery isn’t limited to the real world, however, as in the sequel, Kirsty takes a few names on the Cenobites’ home turf, too.
#15: Jennifer Hills
“I Spit on Your Grave” (1978)
Now here’s a character who almost makes like a slasher villain to get the job done. After she’s continuously assaulted by four men over a long period of time, the young Jennifer resolves to find catharsis the old-fashioned way: revenge. Though the movie’s brutal nature makes it difficult to recommend, it’s still sickly gratifying to watch as Jennifer dispatches her attackers one-by-one, including cutting off the ringleader’s… well, you know. Though we don’t necessarily condone any of her actions, it’s hard to look at her hoisting up an axe, speeding along in a motorboat and not think, “I am woman. Hear me roar.”
“28 Days Later” (2002)
Twenty-eight days may not seem like a long time to survive in the zombie apocalypse, but this ain’t your average zombie apocalypse. Indeed, you need to have a steady resolve to do what needs to be done, which Selena exemplifies when she unflinchingly dispatches her fellow survivor Mark when he’s bitten by an infected. Sure, Selena can be considered cold, but it’s that hardness that also keeps her other survivors alive. Though it’s ultimately Jim that gets to go beast mode in the big finale, Naomie Harris’s staunch performance as Selena makes us want to see more of her.
#13: Haley Keller
Most heroines on this list only have flesh-and-blood killers to deal with, but Haley Keller has to go up against a freaking hurricane and a slew of angry alligators. Attempting to locate her father in the wake of the storm, Haley finds him in the crawl space along with the deadly reptiles, and from there must find a way to survive as the house becomes progressively more flooded. Thankfully, Haley’s a swimmer with the University of Florida Gators - heh, irony - and a nascent badass to boot. Though we’d probably do infinitely worse in this situation, Haley’s not only able to kill a couple alligators, but she manages to save her dad and his dog before finding rescue. Now that’s a badass.
#12: Theresa “Tree” Gelbman
“Happy Death Day” Franchise (2017-)
Dubbed the “coolest girl in horror” by Style Island, Tree Gelbman is a university student and sorority girl who relives the day before her death over and over until she discovers the identity of her murderer. We know what you’re thinking: “Happy Death Day” sounds like “Groundhog Day,” but with a decidedly morbid twist. Of course, the black comedy slasher is all that but also much more, thanks to Jessica Rothe’s performance as Tree. Of course, like most of horror’s final girls, she’s badass; but she also changes as a person throughout both films, learning lessons through the repeated experiences she goes through and subsequently sharing them with others in the process.
Another book you shouldn’t judge by its cover, Jen proves there’s a lot more to her than a beautiful exterior. After a weekend in the desert goes wrong, Jen is left for dead by her boyfriend and his friends. However, she survives a straight-up impalement, and doggedly pulls herself back together. The landscape forcing her to go back and confront the three men, Jen gets her titular revenge by taking out her tormentors one-by-one. Though the movie is very “I Spit on Your Grave” in that sense, Jen’s story is primarily one of survival, which she achieves solely through quick thinking and persistence. All along, she was a survivalist and didn’t even know it.
#10: Sarah Carter
“The Descent” Franchise (2005-09)
This film unfortunately flew under the radar upon release, but should be necessary viewing for any true horror fan. Sarah’s story first breaks your heart and then has it beating a mile a minute. Recently suffering the tragic loss of her daughter and husband in a horrible car accident she survived, Sarah goes spelunking to forget her troubles – as you do. Sadly, this woman just can’t catch a break. Met with horrible, deadly life forms that eat the unlucky ones who come across them, Sarah scrambles to survive, and what a dramatic survival it is. Well, depending on which version you saw.
#9: Marybeth Dunston
“Hatchet” Franchise (2006-)
Danielle Harris was already a horror movie scream queen for playing Jamie Lloyd in the “Halloween” movies, but damned if she didn’t grow up to be a badass one in the “Hatchet” movies. Though Harris doesn’t play Marybeth in the first “Hatchet” movie, she takes over the role and stars in the next two. Marybeth initially enters the Louisiana swamp looking for her lost father and brother, only to discover they’d been killed by the vicious spirit of Victor Crowley. Twice more does she return to the swamp, seemingly killing Crowley both times. Though Crowley keeps coming back Jason Voorhees-style, it takes a lot of badassery to kill a being that’s technically already dead.
#8: Nancy Thompson
“A Nightmare on Elm Street” Franchise (1984-)
When Wes Craven created Freddy Krueger, one of film’s scariest serial killers was born. And every scary serial killer needs a brave heroine to terrorize. Despite her young age, Nancy uses her intelligence and bravery to seemingly defeat Freddy at his own game, which unfortunately is not always standard for the genre. An important enough figure in the series’ lore that Heather Langenkamp was even tapped to play herself in a meta sequel of sorts, Nancy set the standard for anyone hoping to defy Freddy’s will. She’s the horror heroine of our dreams.
#7: Mia Allen
“Evil Dead” (2013)
When “Evil Dead” was remade/rebooted for a new generation, it was very clear that recasting Ash was a thankless job. So the filmmakers crafted Mia, a new character to serve as the protagonist. An addict who chooses what should be a peaceful cabin retreat to go cold turkey, Mia has much worse things to contend with than mere withdrawal. When an evil begins possessing her and her friends with tongue splitting, blood-curdling results, she summons her inner strength and becomes the only character to survive the film. Thus, she confronts her inner demons and actual demons all at once.
“You’re Next” (2011)
When brothers Crispin and Felix hired goons to invade their house and kill their family for the inheritance, they didn’t exactly count on Crispin’s girlfriend Erin on having grown up in a survivalist compound. So when the masked assailants do arrive, Erin is quick to action, setting up a series of traps. She ambushes and ultimately kills all three of them, making us wonder who the real predator is here. Not only that, but she ultimately does away with Felix, his girlfriend Zee, and even Crispin when she learns of their treachery. While she doesn’t come out unscathed, Erin is just too badass to be killed, though maybe too badass for her own good.
#5: Clarice Starling
“Hannibal Lecter” Franchise (1986-2007)
Whether you consider these films more thrillers than horror movies, we dare you to describe the basement scene in “Silence of the Lambs” as anything other than horrifying. Clarice Starling is introduced to audiences as a headstrong FBI trainee who’s flung into the frying pan when she’s assigned to pick the brain of notorious, incarcerated serial killer Hannibal Lecter in order to find active one Buffalo Bill. Of course, Starling’s sharp-wittedness allows her to keep up with Lecter, but it’s her killing of Bill and rescuing his captive that makes her truly badass. Though Julianne Moore is no Jodie Foster when playing the character in the sequel, she makes an impression anyway when she saves Lecter from an even more sadistic individual.
#4: Laurie Strode
“Halloween” Franchise (1978-)
In the history of cinema, there have only been a handful of true scream queens. With her turn in this series of films, Jamie Lee Curtis ensured her inclusion on that list – in fact, she’s practically a founder member. The biological sister of the murderous madman Michael Myers, Laurie Strode is a paragon of virtue standing in defiance of a force of death and destruction. We can only assume that a fragment of what makes her sometimes brother such a lethal adversary lives inside of her, allowing Laurie to survive several run-ins with such a savage determination - with her being strong enough to face him even forty years after his original killing spree.
#3: Cherry Darling
“Planet Terror” (2007)
Granted, this ode to grindhouse cinema is playing on an entirely different level than our other entries, but Cherry Darling rises to the challenge through sheer conviction and vigor. A go-go dancer who loses a leg to a pack of zombies, Cherry has every reason to give up. However, she turns her disability into an advantage by using her wooden leg and eventually assault rifle leg to mow down her enemies. Yeah, you heard that right: she has an assault rifle attached to her leg and it is glorious. You could argue that there’s not much more to this movie than awesome visuals, but with an awe-inspiring character like this, we’re hardly complaining.
#2: Sidney Prescott
“Scream” Franchise (1996-)
Created by Kevin Williamson for Wes Craven’s “Scream” series, Sidney again and again finds herself in the crosshairs of the Ghostface killers - through no fault of her own, really - but keeps her wits about her, discovers their identities and survives. This is made all the more impressive given the genre-obsessed nature of her assailants, who aren’t likely to fall for the typical scary movie traps that beat so many villains. Consistently tormented by people she’s close to, Sidney outmanoeuvres them all while remaining a kind-hearted person, which may be her most courageous act.
#1: Ellen Ripley
“Alien” Franchise (1979-)
For any of you that think the “Alien” franchise doesn’t count as a horror series, we defy you to watch these films and not be terrified beyond belief. Beginning as a warrant officer, Ellen Ripley becomes a total badass in her own right through her encounters with the eponymous creature. Whether it’s the heart-stopping tension of the first film, the high-octane action of the second film, or the insanity of the third and fourth, Ripley is at the heart of it all. Dispatching Xenomorphs left and right, she stands toe to toe with an Alien Queen and comes out on top. If that doesn’t ensure her place atop this list, nothing will.