Where shoot-em-up blockbusters have action heroes and crime noir has jaded detectives, horror icons tend to take the form of the genre’s villains. Whether they’re the heinous evil butchering innocent people in a slasher flick, beasts of sheer terror in a monster movie, or the blood-curdling presence in a psychological thriller, the fact of the matter is we tend to love horror films when they’re truly at their most horrific.
The only thing better than seeing the big bad in full flight is watching a hero rise up against the odds to give them a dose of their own medicine. From reluctant teenage survivors who stand strong against the serial killer to stunning super soldiers who can rack up a hefty kill count, these are the horror movie protagonists we want on our side when things start getting spooky.
Abraham Van Helsing — ‘Van Helsing’ (2004)
One of the most accomplished monster hunters in western literature, Van Helsing has always been a force to be reckoned with, but 2004’s Van Helsing saw the character re-invigorated quite significantly. With Hugh Jackman playing the part, he became as much an action hero as he was a horror legend.
Not content with seeing him battle Dracula alone, the film throws werewolves, Mr. Hyde, and Dracula’s brides at him as well. However, it is his final fight with Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) where he establishes himself as one of horror’s toughest protagonists, with the beastly brawl a destructive fight scene for the ages.
Laurie Strode — ‘Halloween’ Franchise
The embodiment of evil itself, Michael Myers is a ruthless mass murderer who racks up one hell of a kill count throughout the wild and confusing Halloween franchise. Ever since the first installment, though, there is one victim who has constantly eluded him.
It doesn’t matter whether Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a frightened teen doing whatever she can to survive or a hardened woman hellbent on revenge; she has always proved to be more than a match for her adversary. She may not be the first ‘final girl’ in cinematic history, but she did popularize the archetype and stood as one of the toughest figures in the genre.
Chris Washington — ‘Get Out’ (2017)
It’s up for debate if Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) can be considered a „final guy,“ given he was pretty much alone throughout the film. Still, he did bear the archetype’s most important trait: a complete refusal to yield to the antagonist. Jordan Peele’s acclaimed psychological horror sees Chris visit his white girlfriend’s (Ashley Williams) family for a weekend vacation.
The social awkwardness and uneasy tension in the air soon make way for an unprecedented horror when it’s revealed the Armitages have amassed their wealth with an abhorrent plot that robs black people of their lives and their autonomy. By outsmarting the family, Chris not only escapes but brings down their racist empire as well.
Erin — ‚You’re Next‘ (2011)
Few final girls have been as capable and composed as Erin (Sharni Vinson) from the 2011 slasher flick, You’re Next. When a gang of masked killers ambushes her boyfriend’s family gathering, she reveals herself to be more than capable of holding her own and even dishes out a bit of punishment of her own.
Having spent her childhood in a survivalist compound, Erin is a calculating survivor who takes care of all the killers herself. It doesn’t matter if she snares them in her traps or if she has to resort to bloody brutality to sort them out; she knows she is not one to be messed with.
Alice — ‘Resident Evil’ Franchise
Few could stand against the litany of mutated foes Alice (Milla Jovovich) has had to handle and come out the other side in one piece. From hellish beasts to genetically enhanced agents of the Umbrella Corporation, as well as legions of the undead, the Resident Evil franchise threw everything at the heroine, but it was never able to knock her down for long.
She proved she didn’t even need the enhancements of the ‘t-virus’ coursing through her veins to kick some ass in Resident Evil: Afterlife. Despite what audiences may think of the movies themselves, all we know is when the zombie apocalypse comes, we all want Alice on our side.
Ash Williams — ‘Evil Dead’ Trilogy
Regarding notions of heroism, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) could be considered unique. He’s a goofball, rather selfish, often submits to the craziness around him, and couldn’t be any more reluctant to be the one who saves the day, but if there are deadites to be dealt with, then he is ultimately the man to handle them.
From demonic possessions to battles back in time, Ash has seen and survived it all, with Campbell’s charismatic performance making him one of horror’s most iconic and exuberant heroes. With his chainsaw hand and famed boomstick, no one is as tough—or groovy—as Ash.
Nancy Thompson — ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ Franchise
Some final girls fend off serial killers, and then there’s Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), the girl who stood against the dream stalker and lived. A high school student whose nightmares are haunted by Freddy Kreuger, she watches helplessly as her friends are slain in their sleep, all while knowing she’s being targeted next.
After surviving her nightmare, she reappeared in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriorsas an intern at Westin Hills Asylum, working as a dream researcher to help others like her, but also with intentions of ending Kreuger’s reign of terror once and for all. A fighter through and through, her death still rubs fans the wrong way but does nothing to tarnish her legacy as one of the greatest girls of the genre.
Sidney Prescott — ‘Scream’ Franchise
While there have been plenty of memorable horror heroes, it’s a rarity for them to become more iconic than the villains they face, but that was precisely what happened with Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). The face of the franchise, she embodied the final girl archetype of the ’70s and ’80s but had a distinct ’90s feel, which made audiences of the time—and ever since—instantly love her.
The resilient survivor has had to face off against the Ghostface killer and his copycats time and time again, and she’s bested them all. From the delightful character development she’s experienced throughout to what Campbell herself brings to the films, the Screamfranchise will be lesser for not having Sidney as part of its future.
R.J. MacReady — ‘The Thing’ (1982)
Kurt Russell has been a Hollywood A-lister of the highest caliber for decades, starring in dozens of action blockbusters as one of the most underrated movie stars in film history. And yet, his defining role comes from John Carpenter’s horror classic The Thing.
He stars as R.J. MacReady, a helicopter pilot working at a scientific research station in Antarctica, where his crew encounters a deadly alien life form that can perfectly imitate other lifeforms. Keeping his cool as the terror and suspense mounts around him, MacReady is not only an iconic badass but also one of the toughest leads in horror movie history.
Ellen Ripley — ‘Alien’ Franchise
Since its release in 1979, Alien has been viewed as the pinnacle of horror filmmaking. From its slow, suspenseful build-up to the terror of the xenomorph, the film does a spectacular job of instilling genuine fear in the audience. But that was before we knew everything there was to know about Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver).
Handling one alien initially, then hundreds in the action-packed Aliens, Ripley is not only horror’s toughest protagonist but also one of cinema’s most iconic leading characters. Weaver earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in Aliens, a landmark achievement for the genre and a significant step for leading ladies in Hollywood blockbusters.