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The Best Classic Final Girls, Ranked

sally screaming her head off in the texas cahinaw massacre

It’s obvious, by now, that final girls are a key component to many of the horror movies we love. In classic horror, the final girl is often an incredibly memorable part of the movie. I’d argue Jamie Lee Curtis is just as iconic in Halloween as Michael Myers. That said, there are still final girls who aren’t interesting, are merely survivors by proxy, and won’t go down in horror history (at least not in a good way).

Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with the final girls who aren’t interesting. I’m going to go with the best of the best. And to do that, I’m going with the classic final girls, the OGs from the ’70s and ’80s. The final ladies from days gone by. These are the final girls who helped inspire the final girls from the ‘90s and onwards. And each of these girls will be ranked by their resourcefulness.

Note: Unfortunately, this list is very white and I wish there was more diversity to note. Heavy Sigh.

1. Nancy Thompson

nancy in class in ANOES
(New Line Cinema)

Franchise: A Nightmare on Elm Street 

Final girls don’t always show strength from the moment they appear. More often than not, their strength and survival instincts kick in later. But in Nancy (Heather Langenkamp)’s case, she speaks her mind and finds ways to survive quite quickly. Her brushes with Freddy (Robert Englund) are scary for her, but she still pursues the truth about him. Meanwhile, the adults around her are in denial about the danger the kids of Elm Street are facing. Even after the death of her friends and boyfriend, she keeps moving.  And in the end, she shows Freddy no fear, delivering one of the best lines in the franchise: I take back every bit of energy I gave you. Youre nothing. Youre shit.

Unfortunately, her journey technically ends in A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors, but she still kicks ass in both movies. 

2. Ripley

ripley looking bored in Alien
(20th Century Studios)

Franchise: Alien

As far as creature feature horror goes, not many people touch Ripley (Sigourney Weaver)’s status as a final girl. Her presence as a woman is very noticeable throughout the film. But essentially, that underestimation works in her favor. As nobody would expect her to be as resilient as she is. (Of course, if she were a woman of color then she wouldn’t have been taken seriously at any turn. But that’s another conversation.)

At the end of the day, Ripley doesn’t take bullshit from anybody and fights for her life (even going so far as to sacrifice herself in ALIEN³) like a bad bitch. Facing off with literal aliens that could rip your head off is courage level 10. 

3. Laurie Strode 

laurie with a knife in Halloween
(Compass International Pictures and Sony Pictures)

Franchise: Halloween 

The only reason Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) isn’t higher up on the list is that she becomes more of a badass in the later entries. Meanwhile, in the first two films, she’s not as much of a fighter. And didn’t have the bravery needed to fight Michael—even going so far as to drop the knife (so many times) in Halloween (1978). But out of respect, as she’s one of the OG final girls, she’s not going any lower than this. Laurie’s one of the final girls who was a blueprint for final girls to come (at the time). And deserves to be recognized forever in horror as a genre. We’ll soon see how her journey ends in Halloween Ends (2023).

4. Sally Hardesty 

sally screaming her head off in the texas cahinaw massacre
(Bryanston Distributing Company)

Franchise: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 

Managing to survive a literal chainsaw-wielding killer, a family of cannibals, and a night of madness is true resilience. While Sally (Marilyn Burns) wasn’t out there beating the shit out of Leatherface in the original, her desire to survive was high. And she was able to get into the back of a truck to escape death. Unfortunately, Texas Chainsaw (2022) was pretty disrespectful to her character and tampered with her legacy. But her character even predates Laurie as a final girl, so nothing can take away how she’s one of the first. 

5. Ginny Field

Ginny defending herself in Friday the 13th part 2
(Paramount Pictures)

Movie: Friday the 13th Part 2

Who knew that psychology would work against a killer? Ginny (Amy Steel) did! Her being a child psychology student absolutely played into her survival. She was able to manipulate Jason into not killing her. The way she literally fights back, keeps it moving, has barely any help throughout the events, and uses her studies against Jason is perfect. She’s genuinely one of the best final girls throughout Friday the 13th as a franchise. And deserves all the handclaps. 

6. Stretch

Stretch from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 screaming in terror
(Cannon Releasing)

Movie: Texas Chainsaw Massacres Part 2

Using what you got is sometimes good enough and Stretch (Caroline Williams) used her sexual desirability to stay alive. Since Leatherface is played like a horny teenager in this sequel, Stretch makes him think he has a chance with her. Which gets quite uncomfortable—as anything that looks subtextual is nonconsensual (the chainsaw against Stretch’s shorts scene in particular). While she doesn’t fully face off against Leatherface, she does fight his brother Chop Top (Bill Moseley) and prevails. 

7. Wendy Torrance

wendy in the shining
(Warner Bros. Pictures, Columbia Pictures and EMI Films)

Movie: The Shining (1980)

For a woman who had seemed meek and was talked down to by her abusive husband, she sure gathered herself as soon as it was time to. Wendy (Shelley Duvall) appears timid but as soon as Jack (Jack Nicholson) succumbs to the hotel, she’s revealed to be a fighter. Even going so far as to hit her husband down stairs, drag his body to the walk-in pantry, and leave him there. As everything unfolds in the hotel, keeping her son safe is all that matters. It truly takes a fighter to slice the hand of someone who is swinging an ax into your door. But one can’t forget that Shelley Duvall was put through the wringer while filming The Shining (1980). So it’s almost like she was experiencing her own personal horror movie. Which, unfortunately, contributed to why her character was played the way she was.

(featured image: Bryanston Distributing Company)

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Vanessa Maki (she/her) is a queer Blerd and contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She first started writing for digital magazines in 2018 and her articles have appeared in Pink Advocate (defunct), The Gay Gaze (defunct), Dread Central and more. She primarily writes about movies, TV, and anime. Efforts to make her stop loving complex/villainous characters or horror as a genre will be futile.