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The idea of the “final girl” has changed over time. Originally coined by Carol J. Clover in her influential 1992 study of horror titled Men, Women, and Chainsaws, the final girl was originally defined as a very distinct archetype. She is the character who, specifically in slasher movies, lives to the end. More than that, she is intelligent, resourceful, and uncommonly observant when compared to her friends. She is not necessarily a virgin, but she is not sexually active during her film’s run time. She is a “victim-hero” who outlives her friends and finds the courage fight back, sometimes merely escaping but often “killing” the killer (until the villain returns in the sequel).
While Carol J. Clover’s analysis is still valuable and interesting, the evolution of slasher movies means that her observations couldn’t possibly describe the modern application of “final girl” (and frankly, there were lots of exceptions even when the observations were made). In modern usage, “final girl” has become such an all-encompassing term that it seems to include any surviving female character in any horror movie with even just a modest body count. Regardless, the stereotypical trappings of what constitutes a final girl are easily recognizable to fans and filmmakers alike. This article is based on those stereotypes which are used to trick viewers into making assumptions about who will and who won’t end up surviving. It is about final girls who are killed.
Some of the entries in this list are of false protagonists. That is, a character who audiences would immediately recognize as the movie’s main character (which, in slashers, would be a role often filled by the final girl), but who is killed and replaced by a different main character. Other entries might describe a supporting character, but the characteristics they are given fall in line with traditional final girl attributes (smart, observant, kind, etc.) so heavily that viewers would easily identify them as the eventual survivor. Other entries are simply unique exceptions to the “rules” of slasher movies.
This list does focus solely on final girls in slasher films (and maybe a few closely related exceptions) since it is in slashers where the term originates. Final girls with ambiguous fates like Jess in Black Christmas (1974) and Julie James in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) are left out since we don’t see them die despite being in close proximity to a killer when the movie ends. Also, considering that this list is about characters who die, it should go without saying that the entire article is one huge spoiler.
Final Girls Who Don’t Survive One Movie
From the moment she is first seen towards the beginning of Terrifier, Tara perfectly fits the role the audience assumes will be the film’s final girl. She’s been out drinking with her friend Dawn, but Tara is responsible enough to take away Dawn’s car keys and suggest they go get something to eat so they can sober up before driving home. Tara is also perceptive, seeing Art the Clown before Dawn and immediately understanding that this weirdo in a clown costume is dangerous. She is also implied to be sexually conservative (in contrast to Dawn), and she is resourceful enough to call for help when she and Dawn realize they are stranded with a flat tire. Tara also escapes from Art and fiercely fights back… up until about halfway through the movie when Art the Clown shoots her death. Not only is this final-girl death heartbreaking, but its blunt suddenness makes it extremely unsettling.
To be fair, this Friday the 13th reimagining plays around with its narrative structure quite a lot in an apparent attempt to keep slasher aficionados guessing about its twists. It begins with an extended 23-minute prologue that sets up Whitney (Amanda Righetti) as the final girl, but that ends with Whitney appearing to be killed. In the main story, Jenna (Danielle Panabaker) is marked as the final girl. She is kind, and she is constantly annoyed by and apologetic for her obnoxious boyfriend. Jenna is also very helpful when Clay (Jared Padalecki) shows up looking for his missing sister Whitney. After a while it looks like Jenna and Clay will be the final survivors, but shortly after Whitney is found and rescued, Jenna is dispatched by Jason and his machete. That leaves Whitney as the default final girl, though even her fate is uncertain since she is in the middle of a surprise Jason attack when the movie ends.
Hilary has a rough time in Fender Bender. She starts by learning that her boyfriend is cheating on her. Then she gets into a fender bender when a mysterious man intentionally runs into her car from behind. And then, Hilary’s parents are so mad at her that they ground her and force her to stay home while they go on a trip Hilary’s been looking forward to for months. The worst is yet to come though, because even though Hilary clearly represents the very definition of a slasher movie’s final girl, she is eventually stalked, stabbed, and told directly to her face that her life is meaningless before the masked killer finishes her. It’s brutal.
Betsy is the most sympathetic and interesting character in Madman, and it’s not even close. She is a counselor at a summer camp, and she is shown to be caring towards the children she helps watch. Betsy is also in a relationship with a possessive guy, but even when their personal drama becomes public, she handles the situation with poise. As people start to go missing (aka, being killed by campfire-tale boogeyman Madman Marz), Betsy leads the camp’s children onto a bus and sends them away to safety. But, deciding she can’t leave any of her friends behind, she heads into a creepy house in the woods armed with a shotgun. Betsy is unable to put up much of a fight and is repeatedly stabbed by Marz. In her dying moments, Betsy stabs the madman, but she also accidentally sets a fire that kills her (if she didn’t already die from blood loss). Unfortunately, Betsy’s sacrifice is for nothing, because Madman Marz still roams the woods.
Kelly is different from the other final girls on this list. As you’re watching Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, it’s fairly clear that Kelly isn’t the final girl of the movie. That spot is reserved for Taylor (Angela Goethals) who is the film’s female lead. Rather, Kelly is the final girl in the eyes of Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), a masked killer who is the subject of a documentary Taylor is making. Leslie picks Kelly as the final survivor of the slasher-style murders he plans to commit, but when Taylor and her crew decide they can’t stand by and watch people get killed, Kelly ends up dying by her own actions when she leaps out of a second story window. In truth, Taylor was the real final girl all along, and Kelly was the fake-out final girl meant to be a misdirection for Taylor.
It’s arguable that there are two final girls in Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022). Lila (Elsie Fisher) and Melody (Sarah Yarkin) both live until the end, and they both have moments of surviving and fighting against Leatherface. However, out of the two, Melody is more clearly defined as the movie’s main character. Melody is the person who realizes the mistake she and her friend Dante (Jacob Latimore) made when they evicted an old woman from her home. Melody is the first person to escape from Leatherface, and she is the one who tries to get everyone who is still alive to safety. Melody is also the more effective fighter, but Elise is the only person who actually lives. Melody is on her way out of town with Elise when Leatherface decapitates Melody mere seconds before the movie ends.
Splatter University uses a tried and true setup for a slasher movie: a murderous mental patient escapes from a hospital. The patient’s identity is hidden as they kill a college professor. The next semester, students are being killed at the university as the replacement professor, Julie Parker, is trying to settle into her new surroundings. Julie is quickly established as the movie’s main character, and her personality is right in line with what you might expect from a traditional final girl. She’s kind and caring as a teacher, and she puts up with the strangeness happening around her in an affable manner. That’s why it comes as a complete surprise when, very late in the movie, Julie is killed right at the moment audiences would expect her to fight back.
Wrong Turn 2: Dead End is about a group of people gathered in the woods to take part in a reality show. Mara is part of the crew rather than the cast, but she is thrust in front of the camera when one of the contestants doesn’t show up (because she was killed). Mara is reluctant, but her jerky boyfriend takes advantage of Mara’s accommodating personality and convinces her to participate. Mara is the main focus of the movie so far, and early in the film she overcomes her timid nature to complete a physical challenge as part of the show. You might expect this to be a sign of her growth on a path towards leading the fight against the backwoods killers stalking everyone, but alas, no. Just a few minutes later Mara takes a hatchet in the head and dies as she is trying to escape her inbred pursuers.
Whether or not you’ve seen the original A Nightmare on Elm Street from 1984, you might have been tricked into thinking Kris was going to be the final girl in the 2010 remake. In the original, Tina (short for Christina) is the first of Freddy’s victims we see, but the final girl, Nancy, has nearly just as much screen time in the early part of the film. In the remake, Kris (short for Kristina) has much more solo screen time. She gets the story moving by introducing Freddy and hinting at his connection to Kris and her friends’ past. Kris is also involved in scenes that can be seen as parallels to scenes Nancy has in the 1984 movie, such as a nightmare during class and questioning her mother about her childhood. Kris is absolutely meant to misdirect fans of the original, making them think that maybe Kris is going to be the new final girl. But no, Kris is slashed to death about thirty minutes into the movie, allowing Nancy to take over the lead role.
With the way writer/director Rob Zombie likes to focus on killers just as much or more than victims in his movies, you could be forgiven for not recognizing a clearly distinct final girl as you’re watching House of 1000 Corpses. Denise is a final girl by default, mostly just because she is the final survivor of her small group of friends rather than because of any other traditional “final girl” distinctions she may or may not have. Even so, Denise is the most sympathetic of the Firefly family’s victims. She also has her father looking for her, which for a brief moment could make the audience believe she might be saved. But her father is killed and his face is made into a mask. Later, Denise nearly escapes in an extended sequence that is a cross between a haunted house attraction and Sally’s escape in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), but Denise is caught and taken to Dr. Satan’s lab where she is to be tortured and killed.
Amy (Danielle Harris) is a final girl who is too kind for her own good. She is just finishing her shift as a morgue technician when she and her coworkers see a news report about a local mass murder by Jacob Goodnight (Glenn Jacobs aka Kane). So, Amy cancels her planned birthday celebration and stays at work to help with the influx of bodies. Goodnight is one of the bodies they bring in, but, as many slasher villains do, Jacob Goodnight rises to kill again. Now Amy, her coworkers, and her friends (who decided to bring Amy’s birthday celebration into the morgue) are all targets of the hulking murderer. Amy is smart and capable, and it seems like a given that she will survive… but Goodnight catches her and ends her life on her birthday. If only she were a little less concerned with being a good coworker and a nice friend, and she had left at the end of her scheduled shift, she might still be alive.
Lost After Dark is a fun, underseen Canadian slasher movie set in the 1980s. It’s about a group of high-school friends who plan to sneak away from their parents for a weekend at a cabin in the woods. Among the group is Adrienne, a demure girl who has a crush on a boy, is worried about strange noises, and is uncomfortable about lying to her dad about where she’s going to be this weekend. She also doesn’t like the fact that her friends stole a school bus to drive everyone out to the cabin. When the bus breaks down, one of the group goes missing and is later found alive but wrapped in barbed wire. Adrienne runs over to help, and that is when this clearly distinguished final girl is murdered by the movie’s mysterious killer. Thus, the final girl is the first girl killed in her group.
Student Bodies is a slasher parody, so you would expect it to play around with audience expectations. It does so in extremely goofy ways, making the movie arguably both funny and eye-rolling in equal measures. Some of the things Student Bodies parodies are the stereotypical tropes of the slasher genre which were already being recognized (and overblown) at the time the movie was released in 1981. It’s this kind of commentary that seals the fate of final girl Toby Badger. Toby lives to the end of the movie, surviving a chase that turns out to be a dream. Or is it a dream? When Toby finally decides she’s ready to consummate her relationship, her boyfriend turns out to be the killer from her dream. Maybe. It doesn’t really make sense, but that’s probably the point. What is more clearly the point is that Toby is killed because she decides to have sex. Toby gets revenge though. As her boyfriend/killer places flowers on her grave, Toby’s arm pops up from the dirt and grabs him by the throat in an homage to the ending of Carrie (1976). It’s really silly.
Since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is a prequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), it’s not surprising that no one survives. Still, seeing final girl Chrissie go through hell only to be killed is a rough way to go. Her ordeal begins with a car wreck, after which her friends are all kidnapped. Chrissie shows her bravery and resourcefulness by attempting to save her friends, but that doesn’t go very well. In the end, Chrissie is the last person alive. She is in a car, and in the distance she can see the lights of a police car. As she drives towards salvation, Leatherface appears in the back seat and chainsaws her through her torso. As she dies, the car swerves out of control, killing two additional people standing by the road and further boosting Leatherface’s kill count.
The Cabin in the Woods is so clear about Dana Polk’s status as a final girl that it explains her role to the audience in detail. The ending of The Cabin in the Woods reveals that yearly sacrifices are made to appease entities known as the Ancient Ones. The sacrifices are different around the world, but the sacrifice Dana is a part of must include character archetypes including The Whore, The Athlete, The Scholar, The Fool, and The Virgin. The Virgin, aka Final Girl, must outlive her friends and will either live or die as fate determines. The Fool, Marty, is still alive though, and Dana and Marty decide the world isn’t worth saving if their friends have to die. So, the ritual is a failure, and the Ancient Ones rise to kill everyone, including the fool and and the “virgin.”
Final Girls Killed in a Sequel
Killing off a beloved character can make for an incredibly powerful moment when done correctly. Many films have brought well-earned tears to people’s eyes with a nicely planned and well executed death scene featuring a character close to their hearts. And then there’s Halloween: Resurrection. In one of the most egregious mishandlings of a final girl and a legacy character ever, Laurie Strode is killed at about fifteen minutes into the movie after kissing her brother on his masked lips. It’s an aggravating scene that is best skipped whenever viewing Halloween: Resurrection. Thankfully, Jamie Lee Curtis and Laurie Strode received another chance at a proper sendoff in David Gordon Green’s Halloween requel trilogy. The results of those movies are also debated by fans, but at least Laurie lives.
Laurie Strode’s second on-screen death in the Halloween franchise (she was killed off-screen in the Halloween 4 – 6 timeline) is an interesting case. Like Schrödinger’s cat, Scout Taylor-Compton’s version of Laurie is both dead and alive until you decide which version of Halloween II you want to watch. In the theatrical cut, Laurie is wearing her brother Michael Myers’ mask before she kneels down in front of police and is taken to a mental hospital. In the director’s cut, Laurie picks up her brother’s blade and stands over Loomis, prompting police to shoot her. Both versions end with Laurie in a long white room where she sees her birth mother and a white horse, but in the director’s cut these are merely the last thoughts of a dying woman.
The Halloween franchise has a regrettable habit of killing its final girls. That started when Rachel Carruthers, the older foster sister of Jamie Lloyd, survived Halloween 4 only to be unceremoniously killed early in Halloween 5. Rachel’s death was likely meant to be a shocking moment designed to unsettle the audience, but it really only makes the movie less interesting than it could have been. Wendy Kaplan does her best as Rachel’s friend Tina by becoming a kind of stand-in for the role Rachel should have played, but Tina’s relationship with Jamie just isn’t the same. Halloween 5 is a perfect example of when shock value backfires.
After appearing in the two previous movies, Halloween 4 and 5, Jamie Lloyd had become a well-loved character. That’s one of the many reasons why Jamie’s death in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers is so bizarre. Other reasons involve the movie’s ludicrous story choices. It begins with Jamie giving birth to a baby after being impregnated while held prisoner by a mystical cult, the Cult of Thorn, for six years. Jamie escapes with her newborn child, but she is followed by her uncle Michael Myers. Jamie manages to hide her baby (who is found later by Tommy Doyle), but while leading Michael away Jamie is caught and brutally killed. Jamie survives longer in the superior (but still silly) producer’s cut of the film, but she still dies a death unfitting of such an important character in the franchise.
Sally Hardesty is recognized as one of the prototypical final girls in horror. She outlived her friends and brother in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and she fought back to escape torture and imminent death at the hands of Leatherface and his family. Fifty years later, Sally, now a Texas Ranger, confronts Leatherface after hearing of his reappearance in the town of Harlow. Sally has a point-blank chance to shoot and kill Leatherface, but her desire to have him understand the decades of pain he caused causes her chance for revenge to slip away. Shortly after, Leatherface murders Sally with a chainsaw in her abdomen. For Sally, it was an ill-conceived act of vengeance. However, it is an impressive feat that, when you include Melody’s death, Texas Chainsaw Massacre manages to kill two final girls in a single movie.
Clear Rivers is unique as a final girl. Most final girls have a moment where they stop running and fight back against the person or monster that is trying to kill them. But when the killer is the intangible presence of Death who concocts Rube-Goldberg-like scenarios to murder people by “accident,” there’s nothing to fight against. So, in Final Destination (2000) Clear can only run, and she is saved in the end by the sacrifice of Alex, who also survives but later dies off-screen. Clear is a final girl simply due to the fact that she is the last surviving female in the movie. In Final Destination 2 (2003), Clear is found sequestered in a padded room to protect her from Death, but when a new group of people get caught in Death’s plan, she agrees to help them. She probably should have stayed locked up though, because her actions play directly into Death’s plan. Clear opens a door in a hospital that unplugs a machine that causes a spark that ignites oxygen canisters, blowing up her and the person she was checking on.
It might be a valid criticism to blame Friday the 13th Part 2 as the movie that started the trend of killing off final girls in slasher movie sequels. Alice is an iconic final girl who helped shape the stereotype of what a slasher-movie final girl is (or rather, what they used to be). In Friday the 13th (1980) Alice is kind and helpful to her friends, she shies away from the advances of the men around her (though it’s clear she has a thing for Bill), and she tries to check on her friends when she notices that they’re missing. Alice even fights back and chops off the head of her would-be killer, Pamela Voorhees. But, in the sequel, Alice is killed in the opening scene by Mrs. Voorhees’ son Jason after she finds the rotting head of Pamela in her refrigerator. Was it really necessary to kill Alice?
Though certain other major slasher franchises have a hard time dealing with the legacies of its final girls, A Nightmare on Elm Street at least gives its final girls a sendoff that means something. Kristen Parker survives A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors thanks to her ability to pull her friends into her dreams (and a little outside help involving holy water and Freddy’s bones). In A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Kristen’s dream power becomes a liability when Freddy uses it to trick her into pulling her friend Alice into her nightmare. Kristen is the last of the Elm Street kids, but by pulling Alice into her dream with Freddy, Freddy is now able to enter the dreams of people beyond Elm Street. With her use to him complete, Kristen is promptly killed by Freddy… but not before passing her dream power to Alice who goes on to become the Dream Master.
Nancy’s death is a tough one to watch. But, it’s because she is such a strong character, and because her death is equally tragic and heroic, that her death resonates so strongly. Nancy is the original final girl of the Nightmare on Elm Street series. She defeats Freddy through the power of her wits and her will, as well as a series of self-constructed booby traps. Years later, Nancy interns at the Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital where the last of the Elm Street kids are all being observed. Nancy wants to help the teens, but Freddy is already after them in their dreams. Nancy leads the charge against Freddy, encouraging the Elm Street kids to embrace the power of their dreams to help each other and defeat Freddy. Nancy helps successfully save three of the kids, but in doing so she is killed by Freddy in a heartbreaking trick where he pretends to be her dying father. Her legacy lives on though, with her teachings passing in succession to the two final girls who follow her, Kristen and Alice.