Olivia Hussey portrayed Jess Bradford in Black Christmas (1974), an early example of the final girl.

The final girl is a trope in horror films (particularly slasher films).[1][2] It refers to the last girl(s) or woman alive to confront the killer, ostensibly the one left to tell the story. The final girl has been observed in many films, including Psycho, Voices of Desire, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, Alien, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, and Train to Busan.[3] The term was coined[4] by Carol J. Clover in her article "Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film" (1987).[5] Clover suggested that in these films, the viewer began by sharing the perspective of the killer, but experienced a shift in identification to the final girl partway through the film.

Usage of the term

The original meaning of "final girl", as described by Clover in 1987, is quite narrow. Clover studied slasher films from the 1970s and 1980s (which is considered the golden age of the genre)[6] and defined the final girl as a woman who is the sole survivor of the group of people (usually youths) who are chased by a villain, and who gets a final confrontation with the villain (whether she kills him herself or she is saved at the last minute by someone else, such as a police officer), and who has such a "privilege" because of her implied moral superiority (for example, she is the only one who refuses sex, drugs, or other such behaviors, unlike her friends).

Trope concept

A common plot line in many horror films is one in which several victims are killed one-by-one by a killer amid increasing terror, culminating in a climax in which the last surviving member of the group, usually female, either vanquishes the killer or escapes.

The final girl trope has evolved throughout the years, from early final girls most often being damsels in distress, often saved by a strong male (such as a police officer or heroic stranger), to more modern final girls who are more likely to survive due to their own abilities. According to Clover's definition, Lila Crane from Psycho (1960) is an example of a female survivor and not a final girl, due to her lack of moral purity, who is saved by a male (Sam Loomis, not to be confused with the Halloween character of the same name) at the film's ending. Laurie Strode from Halloween (1978) is a final girl, but one that is saved by someone else (also named Sam Loomis).[7]

On this basis, Tony Williams argues that, while 1980s horror film heroines were more progressive than those of earlier decades, the gender change is done conservatively, and the final-girl convention cannot be regarded as a progressive one "without more thorough investigation." [8] Furthermore, in many slashers, the final girl's victory is often ambiguous or only apparent. The fact that she is still alive at the end of the movie does not make her a victorious heroine. In many of these movies, the end is ambiguous, where the killer/entity is or might be still alive, leaving viewers uncertain about the future of the final girl (a notable example being Jess Bradford in 1974's Black Christmas). The viewers wait for a send-off or sequel bait, and are felt that they are left with an apparent victory. Tony Williams also gives several examples of final girls in the heroines of the Friday the 13th series, such as Chris Higgins from Part III. He notes that she does not conclude the film wholly victorious and is catatonic at the end of the film. Williams also observes that Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter does not have a final girl, despite Trish Jarvis surviving at the end. Additionally, Williams notes that final girls often survive, but in the sequel they are either killed or institutionalized. A notable example is Alice Hardy who survives Friday the 13th (1980) only to be killed in the beginning of Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981). Derek Soles argues that the tragic destiny of such final girls represents an expression of patriarchal society where capable, independent women must either be contained or destroyed.[9] In more recent films, this has started to change, with the final girl no longer being always doomed, a notable example being the Scream series.

According to Clover, the final girl in many movies shares common characteristics: she is typically sexually unavailable or virginal, and avoids the vices of the victims like illegal drug use. She sometimes has a unisex name such as Avery, Chris, or Sidney. Occasionally the final girl will have a shared history with the killer. The final girl is the "investigating consciousness" of the film, moving the narrative forward and, as such, she exhibits intelligence, curiosity, and vigilance. Another trope of slashers (particularly in the 1980s) is "death by sex", where sex scenes are shortly followed by violence, with the participants being murdered in gruesome ways.[10] More recent horror movies challenge more of these tropes. Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the words of Jes Battis, "subverts" the final girl trope of B-grade horror films.[11] Jason Middleton observes that although Buffy fulfills the monster-killing role of the final girl, she is the opposite of Clover's description of a final girl in many ways. Buffy is a cheerleader, a "beautiful blond" with a feminine first name, and "gets to have sex with boys and still kill the monster".[12]

One of the basic premises of Clover's theory is that audience identification is unstable and fluid across gender lines, particularly in the case of the slasher film. During the final girl's confrontation with the killer, Clover argues, she becomes masculinized through "phallic appropriation" by taking up a weapon, such as a knife or chainsaw, against the killer. The phenomenon of the male audience having to identify with a young female character in an ostensibly male-oriented genre, usually associated with sadistic voyeurism, raises interesting questions about the nature of slasher films and their relationship with feminism. Clover argues that for a film to be successful, it is necessary for this surviving character to be female because she must experience abject terror, and many viewers would reject a film that showed abject terror on the part of a male. The terror has a purpose, in that the female, if she survives, is "purged" of undesirable characteristics, such as relentless pursuit of personal pleasure.

Notable characters


Mari Collingwood

Main article: Mari Collingwood

While the character Mari Collingwood in the original 1972 version of the film The Last House on the Left has been viewed as primarily a victim, the 2009 remake of the film portrays the Collingwood character as more aligned with the "final girl" archetype. In Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas notes that the 2009 version of the character manifests traits of the trope.[13]

Diane Adams

One pioneering example of the "final girl" trope occurs in Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972), whose main protagonist and narrator Diane Adams, portrayed by Mary Woronov, has been cited by multiple commentators as displaying the characteristics of a "final girl," with Rosie Knight of WomenWriteAboutComics even positing that she is arguably the first documentable example of this character type.[14][15][16] Conversely, in her own review of the film, Rebecca McCallum of Attack from Planet B contends that the film "follows the then more typical presentation of the hysterical woman or submissive mistress as opposed to the final girl trope which would be cemented in Sally Hardesty of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."[17]

Jess Bradford

Main article: Jess Bradford

Another early example of a "final girl" can be found in the film Black Christmas (1974), where Jess Bradford, played by Olivia Hussey, is a well-developed character who refuses to back down against a series of more or less lethal male antagonists.[18]

Sally Hardesty

Main article: Sally Hardesty

Sally Hardesty from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), created by Tobe Hooper and portrayed by Marilyn Burns, has been regarded as one of the earliest examples of the final girl trope.[19]

Laurie Strode

Main article: Laurie Strode

According to Clover, Laurie Strode (from Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Halloween Resurrection, Halloween (2018), Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends) is another example of a final girl. Tony Williams notes that Clover's image of supposedly progressive final girls are never entirely victorious at the culmination of a film nor do they manage to eschew the male order of things as Clover argues. He holds up Strode as an example of this. She is rescued by a male character, Dr. Samuel Loomis, in the ending of Halloween.

Ellen Ripley

Main article: Ellen Ripley

Sigourney Weaver, who portrayed Ellen Ripley.

Before the release of Alien 3, Clover identified Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise as a final girl. Elizabeth Ezra continues this analysis for Alien Resurrection, arguing that by definition both Ripley and Annalee Call must be final girls, and that Call is the "next generation of Clover's Final Girl". In Ezra's view, Call exhibits traits that fit Clover's definition of a final girl, namely that she is boyish, having a short masculine-style haircut, and that she is characterized by (in Clover's words) "smartness, gravity, competence in mechanical and other practical matters, and sexual reluctance" being a ship's mechanic who rejects the sexual advances made by male characters on the ship. However, Ezra notes that Call fits the description imperfectly as she is a gynoid, not a human being.[20]

Christine Cornea disputes the idea that Ripley is a final girl, contrasting Clover's analysis of the character with that of Barbara Creed, who presents Ripley as "the reassuring face of womanhood". Cornea does not accept either Clover's or Creed's views on Ripley. While she accepts Clover's general thesis of the final girl convention, she argues that Ripley does not follow the conventions of the slasher film, as Alien follows the different conventions of the science fiction film genre. In particular, there is no foregrounding in Alien, as there is in the slasher film genre, of the character's sexual purity and abstinence relative to the other characters (who would be, in accordance with the final girl convention, killed by the film's monster "because" of this). The science fiction genre that Alien inhabits, according to Cornea, simply lacks this kind of sexual theme in the first place, as it has no place in such "traditional" science fiction formats.[21]

Sue Snell

Main article: Sue Snell

In Brian De Palma's 1976 film based on Stephen King's 1974 novel, Carrie, Sue Snell (played by Amy Irving) is the sole survivor of Carrie White's telekinetic outburst of destruction at a high school prom.[22]


Ginny Field

Main article: Ginny (Friday the 13th)

The character Ginny Field (from Friday the 13th Part 2) has often been viewed as an example of the trope. In The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, Barry Keith Grant stated that, "Ginny temporarily adopts Mrs. Voorhees's authoritarian role to survive. Although circumstances necessitate this, she clearly uses her enemy's strategy to become a phallic mother herself. This posture really questions the positive image of the Final Girl." He then called her "not victorious" when she called out for her boyfriend at the end of the film saying that it was done in a "non-independent manner".[23] John Kenneth Muir references Ginny in Horror Films of the 1980s, Volume 1, saying "Amy Steel is introduced as Ginny, our final girl and heroine, and the only person who seems to have an inkling of the nearby danger. She's more resourceful than Alice and nearly upstages even Laurie Strode during the film's tense finale, wherein she brazenly dresses up as Jason's dead mother and starts barking orders at the confused serial killer."[24] In Blood Money: A History of the First Teen Slasher Film Cycle, Richard Nowell said "The shift in characterization of the female leads was also trumpeted during Ginny's self-confident entrance (Amy Steel) in Friday the 13th Part II. Where the makers of its predecessor introduced Alice as she prepared cabins while dressed in denim jeans and a shapeless lumberjack shirt, the sequel's conventionally attractive lead is established immediately as combining masculine traits with feminine attributes. Ginny exits a battered VW bug in a flowing fuchsia skirt and a low-cut t-shirt."[25] Ginny's adoption of the monster's own strategy, in Part II, brings into question whether the final girl image is in fact a wholly positive one.[8]

Nancy Thompson

Main article: Nancy Thompson (A Nightmare on Elm Street)

The character Nancy Thompson (from A Nightmare on Elm Street and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) has often been regarded as one of the most influential horror movie heroines. In his book Horror films of the 1980s, John Kenneth Muir[26] references Nancy Thompson.


Sidney Prescott

Main article: Sidney Prescott

The character Sidney Prescott (from the Scream films) is widely recognized as one of the most iconic and popular horror film heroines. Ana Horvat describes Sidney Prescott as "embodying the most important characteristics of the Final Girl".[27][28]

Gale Weathers

Main article: Gale Weathers

The character of Gale Weathers (also from the Scream films) is recognized as "one of the most seminal character arcs in horror movie history".[29] Often cited as a foil to protagonist Sidney Prescott, her character development over the course of the series has led many critics to acknowledge her as a prominent final girl as well.[30][31]

Julie James

Main article: Julie James (I Know What You Did Last Summer)

In the Kevin Williamson 1997 slasher film based on Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Julie James (played by Jennifer Love Hewitt) and her boyfriend Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr.) are the only main characters to survive a vengeful killer. [32]


Dana Polk

Characters in the 2011 horror film The Cabin in the Woods explicitly discuss Dana's role as the final girl after a zombie attack on her and her friends. As part of a human sacrifice ritual that mirrors various horror film traditions and requires the deaths of five slasher movie archetypes: "the whore," "the athlete," "the scholar," "the fool," and "the virgin," the equivalent of the final girl who can die last or survive.[33][34]

Victoria Heyes

Heyes from the 2016 slasher film Terrifier has been observed by some critics to be a darker depiction of the "final girl" archetype. Having been driven insane by the events in the film, Heyes becomes a killer herself.[35] An analysis by Brendan D. describes Victoria as a reflection of Art—"Our most recent final girl is Victoria from Terrifier, and what makes her so unique is her post-final girl status. Most final girls appear in the sequel or following situation as a capable guide for the next group of cannon fodder to demonstrate the villain's return. Instead, the trauma corrupts Victoria; she becomes monstrous like Art, with a disfigured appearance; and the brutality of a live-show death when a talk-show host mocked her. She is not a heroine but a dark reflection of the atrocities Art the Clown committed, fit for ridicule and loathing."[36]

Tree Gelbman

Main article: Tree Gelbman

John Squires[37] of Bloody Disgusting described Happy Death Day's Tree Gelbman as a modern example of the trope and contrasts her to Friday the 13th's Alice Hardy.


Maxine Minx

The character Maxine Minx (from X films), manages to escape the farm alone where she and her friends have endured horrors under the elderly couple during the night. Attempting to ignore her own resemblance to Pearl—the elderly farm owner—by yearning to be a star, Maxine kills Pearl and drives away from the farm. ScreenRant says that "As her friends are killed off in increasingly creative ways, Maxine emerges as the film's Final Girl.".[38]

Samantha Carpenter

Being the estranged daughter of the late Billy Loomis, Samantha Carpenter (from Scream (2022)) becomes the new target of the new generation of Ghostface killers. Throughout the film, it is revealed that she has been haunted by her father's past and struggles with the legacy he left behind. Her survival and eventual triumph over the killers further subverts the traditional Final Girl trope, as she is not presented as a purely innocent or virginal character. Instead, she is a "flawed and complex individual who is ultimately able to use her past trauma and inner strength to overcome the killers".[39][40]

See also



  1. ^ Clover 1992, pp. 35.
  2. ^ Harper 2004, pp. 31.
  3. ^ Rogers 2002, pp. 118, 120.
  4. ^ Totaro 2002.
  5. ^ Clover 1987, pp. 201.
  6. ^ Kerswell, Kerswell, J. A. (Justin A.) (2012). The slasher movie book. Chicago, Ill.: Chicago Review Press. ISBN 9781556520105. OCLC 761851819.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Clover, Carol J. (1993). Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691006208.
  8. ^ a b Williams 1996, pp. 169–170.
  9. ^ The Essentials of Academic Writing, by Derek Soles, pg 374.
  10. ^ Linz, Daniel; Donnerstein, Edward (1994). "Dialogue: Sex and violence in slasher films: A reinterpretation". Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 38 (2): 243–246. doi:10.1080/08838159409364261.
  11. ^ Battis 2005, pp. 69.
  12. ^ Middleton 2007, pp. 160–161.
  13. ^ Heller-Nicholas, Alexandra (2011). Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study. McFarland. pp. 92–93. ISBN 9780786449613.
  14. ^ Knight, Rosie (December 13, 2016). "Merry Scary Christmas: The Raddest and Baddest Festive Final Girls". WomenWriteAboutComics. Retrieved November 3, 2023.
  15. ^ Murray, Noel (October 20, 2018). "Silent Night, Bloody Night is the Perfect Streaming Slasher for Halloween Fans". The Verge. Retrieved November 3, 2023.
  16. ^ Van Horn, Shawn (October 1, 2022). "From Jessica Harper to Camille Keaton, the Best Final Girls of the 1970s". Collider. Retrieved November 3, 2023.
  17. ^ McCallum, Rebecca (December 5, 2019). "SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (AKA NIGHT OF THE DARK FULL MOON) (1972, USA) REVIEW". Attack from Planet B. Retrieved November 3, 2023.
  18. ^ Piepenburg, Erik (October 22, 2015). "In Horror Films, the 'Final Girl' Is a Survivor to the Core". The New York Times. Retrieved October 24, 2015.
  19. ^ "Marilyn Burns: The First 'Final Girl' - Bloody Disgusting". bloody-disgusting.com. October 2, 2014. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  20. ^ Ezra 2008, pp. 73–74.
  21. ^ Cornea 2007, pp. 150–151.
  22. ^ "Short Cut: Carrie's Final Girl and the Precariousness of Survival - Horror Movie". Horror Homeroom. February 2, 2016.
  23. ^ Grant, Barry (2015). The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0292772458.
  24. ^ Muir, John (2012). Horror Films of the 1980s, Volume 1. MacFarland. ISBN 978-0786455010.
  25. ^ Nowell, Richard (2010). Blood Money: A History of the First Teen Slasher Film Cycle. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 210. ISBN 978-1441188502.
  26. ^ Muir, John (2012). Horror Films of the 1980s, Volume 1. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-78645-501-0.
  27. ^ Horvat, Ana. (2018). Final Girl: Analysis of the Slasher Film Trope (MSc). University of Zadar.
  28. ^ Clover, Carol J. (1987). "Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film". Misogyny, Misandry, and Misanthropy. 20: 187–228. doi:10.1525/9780520327306-010. ISBN 9780520327306.
  29. ^ "Gale Weathers is a Classic Final Girl". Dread Central. June 15, 2022.
  30. ^ "Why Scream's Gale Weathers Can Be Seen As A Strong Final Girl Too". Game Rant. March 19, 2022.
  31. ^ "Who Are The Ultimate Final Girls in Horror Gallery: From 'Laurie Strode', to 'Sidney Prescott' & 'Dorothy Gale'". Deadline. October 25, 2022.
  32. ^ "Do Ray And Julie Die In I Know What You Did Last Summer?". Game Rant. February 27, 2023.
  33. ^ "5 Horror Movies that Subvert the "Final Girl" Trope". Paste Magazine. April 5, 2017.
  34. ^ "From Laurie Strode to Sidney Prescott: Horror's best final girls". The Telegraph. October 31, 2017.
  35. ^ "FILM REVIEW: TERRIFIER". Fear Forever. March 27, 2018.
  36. ^ D., Brendan (July 22, 2021). "The Final One: An Analysis of Horror Character Tropes". The Membrane's Journal. Retrieved January 5, 2022.
  37. ^ Squires, John (February 14, 2019). "'Happy Death Day' Heroine Tree Gelbman is the Perfect Survivor Girl for a Whole New Generation". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  38. ^ ""The 10 Most Iconic "Final Girls" in Horror Movie History". Screen Rant. October 6, 2022. Retrieved December 19, 2022.
  39. ^ Zweiman, Benjamin (March 9, 2023). "What is the relationship between Sam Carpenter and Billy Loomis?". DraftKings Nation. Retrieved March 14, 2023.
  40. ^ "Scream's Sam Carpenter Shows The Final Girl Doesn't Have To Be Nice". TheGamer.com. March 14, 2023. Retrieved March 14, 2023.


Further reading