Slasher queens who redefined the 'Final Girl' trope

Scream’s Sidney Prescott started the trend of redefining the Final Girl stereotype.
Slasher queens who redefined the 'Final Girl' trope

Sidney Prescott, played by Canadian Neve Campbell, is back in Scream 5, a full 25 years after 1996’s game-changing horror flick Scream (stream now on Crave) flipped everything we knew about women in bloody slasher flicks on its head. Part Laurie Strode from Halloween, part Ellen Ripley from Alien, Sidney was a break-away from what we had previously come to expect from that last girl standing, aka the “Final Girl.” 

In the 1970s and '80s, the stereotypical "woman as the damsel in distress" role was challenged with movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, and Jamie Lee Curtis’ iconic turn as Laurie in Halloween. In these movies, the terrorized women known as "Final Girls" were left to fight off the murderous rampaging villain themselves through nothing but cunning wit, ingenuity, and a huge chunk of luck.

Common traits of the Final Girl were that she was virginal (meaning she was unencumbered by the trappings and distractions of sex, leaving her clear-headed to fight or run), mostly innocent (god forbid a woman be flawed or just not a nice person!) and almost exclusively white. Over the years, slow progress has been made one slasher queen at a time.

See below for an ode to the slasher queens who defied and redefined the limiting tropes set before them. Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Sidney Prescott - Scream

In a genre that takes immense pleasure in showing violence against women, Scream’s Sidney changed all of that by subverting the stereotype and forever changing the way women could be portrayed in a largely regressive genre. 

Scream was directed by the late great horror master Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street) who sought to dismantle the very horror tropes he helped create. “There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie,” Sidney’s high school friend Randy (Jamie Kennedy) announces. “For instance, number one: You can never have sex. Sex equals death!”

Sidney Prescott starts off as virginal; telling her friends that boyfriend Billy, played by Skeet Ulrich, has been "so patient with me with all the sex stuff" and even asking him if he'll “settle for a PG-13 relationship.”

Later, Sidney chooses to have sex with Billy, and when she finds out he and his best friend Stu (Matthew Liliard) are the killers, they even taunt her with the rules. “Now, you're no longer a virgin. You're not a virgin. Now you got to die,” Stu joyously yelps. But Sidney controls her own narrative and once she’s violently destroyed her tormentors, she even has the last word.

Sidney showed us that our heroines can be flawed and we don’t always have to side with them on their motives or tactics. We learn her mother was murdered, and Sidney implicated a man named Cotton Weary during the trial. We come to find out that she knowlingly falsely identified him. 

For that brief moment, we see Sidney differently – could she have a sinister, vengeful side? --  and that complicated narrative has bled into contemporary slashers and horror flicks.

The Final Girls

Scream's "movie-critiquing-the-movies" framing has spawned quite a few offshoots in contemporary horror like 2015’s aptly titled The Final Girls which also lampooned the sexist trope where sexually-active women die automatically. In this romp, a gang of friends is magically transported into the story of a 1970s slasher flick that stars one of the gang’s moms.

“Everyone who has sex in this movie dies!” they exclaim as they watch the characters come to life at Camp Bloodbath, choosing to stick with the movie's Final Girl in order to survive.

Jay Height - It Follows

The Final Girl in It Follows wins in the end because she embraces sexual activity, rather than shying away from it. Our heroine Jay (Maika Monroe) is pursued by a paranormal force that spreads death by – you guessed it – sex. This makes the “virgins-always-live, harlots-always-die” trope a literal character in the movie. But instead of choosing chastity and celibacy, Jay uses sex to her advantage, weaponizing it, and ultimately freeing herself.

Riley - Black Christmas (2019)

Sophia Takal’s 2019 loose remake of 1974’s Black Christmas (stream now on Crave), modernizes the original Final Girl with the character Riley (Imogen Poots), who fights back against a fraternity of blood-thirsty men intent on making sure women are seen and not heard. They target her specifically because she refuses to keep quiet about her own sexual assault.

“Women who are willing to be obedient, like your friend here, will be spared. Those of you who refuse to be compliant will face the consequences,” one of the villains tells Riley once they’ve captured her. Not only does she refuse to sit down and shut up, she fights back with a bevy of diverse survivors (both in race and gender). “You messed with the wrong sisters,” Kris (Aleyse Shannon) says before unleashing the fury of the women upon the fraternity of murderous frat-zombies.

Cecilia Kass - The Invisible Man

In The Invisible Man (stream now on Crave), Elisabeth Moss’s Cecilia is tormented by her ex-partner Adrian (who abused her for years) even though he is supposedly dead. Suspecting he’s alive and using technology in the form of an invisible suit, she lures her tormentor out, and when she finally is able to remove the suit from him, we discover it’s not Adrian at all, but another tormentor. Cecilia then uses the invisible suit herself to kill her assailant, but the film never fully comes down firmly on her side, making Cecilia both the heroine and the villain at once.

Thomasin - The Witch

Thomasin (Anya Taylor Joy) in Robert Eggers’ The Witch is a virginal, naive teenaged girl who’s repressed by her strict, religious, fundamentalist and pious 1630s colonial community. Fear of her burgeoning sexuality causes her family to shun her as a villain, even going so far to accuse her of bewitching her own brother. But Thomasin, although innocent at the beginning of the movie, ultimately decides to give in to the rumours, join Satan, and actually become a bewitching force.

"I am that very witch. When I sleep my spirit slips away from my body and dances naked with the devil,” she says, taunting her family. This allows her to claim full agency over her body, empowered by her sexuality, in the film’s notably orgasmic climax (pun intended).

Assassination Nation

Assassination Nation (stream now on Crave) follows a group of diverse high schoolers—including transgender model Hari Nef and Black singer Abra—who become a collective of Final Girls that find themselves under attack by local men over their supposedly loose morals. In the aptly-named town of Salem, where they once hung and burned witches, social media is used to destroy the lives of teenage girls.

"So here’s the thing that really bothers me. Who sees a naked photo of a girl and their first thought is, 'Yo, I got to kill this b*tch?'" they ask. They not only survive— they violently turn the tables on their attackers, calling on all the other girls to join them in overthrowing the patriarchal terrors they face. 

Assassination Nation, like Black Christmas, also provides us with a multi-ethnic, multi-diverse set of characters as the Final Girls, reminding us that it’s not just sexism our final girls are battling— it’s also racism, queerphobia, and classism.

Maureen - Scream 2 (... sort of)

The Final Girl is almost always white, middle-upper class, living in a quiet, sleepy suburban neighbourhood that is set up as an idyllic, affluent place to live. In Scream 2 (stream now on Crave), Wes Craven makes sure Sidney confronts the audience with their own assumptions that the purity of our Final Girl must be conflated with whiteness

Jada Pinkett Smith, who co-stars as Maureen in Scream 2, even has lines about the “Black guy dies first” trope in horror movies that often revel in brutalizing Black bodies: “All I'm just saying is that the horror genre is historical for excluding the African American element,” she says in the opening scene. Omar Epps’ Phil Stevens is slaughtered within the first few minutes of the movie, and when Jada Pinkett Smith’s character Maureen is murdered in her seat in a crowded movie theatre, no one rushes to her aid.

Sidney watches her best friend Hallie (Elise Neal), who is Black, slaughtered right in front of her to teach her a lesson, reminding us that the Black girl is almost never the Final Girl. But it would be years after that 1997 sequel that Black girls finally had the last word.


Oscar-winning director Jordan Peele, whose previous horror effort Get Out first showed us a glimpse of social horror (i.e. how white society brutalizes Black bodies), was also the mastermind behind Us. The film overthrows horror’s predominantly white viewpoint through Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Adelaide.

She’s an exception—a Black Final Girl—who’s been assimilated into white society through her wealth and affluence. When that comfort is threatened by an otherworldly collective  (a group of murderous doppelgangers known as “The Tethered”) it highlights just how much Adelaide has participated in creating the horror she now faces.

“If it weren't for you, I never would've danced at all,” her Tethered counterpart says to her. However, as the movie goes on, we realize in a surprise twist that the Adelaide we know is actually a member of “The Tethered,” while her double is the one who really belongs in our world. This challenges us to ask who we side with—white, wealthy society, or the downtrodden? Adelaide is both a villainous monster and victimized Final Girl simultaneously. By Peele framing her story so that we both sympathize with her and are horrified by her, Us forces us to confront the social paradigms that are the true foundation of the horror.

The stereotype of the Final Girl has come a long way. She is no longer defined by victimization, but is a much stronger, much more complex, intersectional heroine who isn’t interested in making the fight of good vs evil pretty. It’s not just about defeating the scary boogeymen knocking at her door; it’s about finding her strength within.

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