The best horror films subvert norms and expectations, using dread to compel audiences to keep watching. In these slasher movies, the strongest characters are those who live through their tortuous onscreen ordeals by using physical prowess, intellectual power, and problem-solving skills to outwit their aggressors. As Nancy Thompson declares in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, "I'm into survival."
Intense and tenacious, the characters on this list adapt to their circumstances and do their best to save those around them from the terror lingering in the corner. Blood-soaked, emotionally traumatized, and palpably scarred, these final girls and boys sabotage genre expectations by enduring. While some of them deal with supernatural entities and events, others are thrown into frightful, real-life circumstances they must fight their way out of, and boy, do they fight.
Which of these characters are the strongest? Who would be on your team in the event your life becomes a scary movie?
What She's Up Against: Warrant officer Ripley squares off against the vicious extraterrestrial xenomorph. This salivating alien with corrosive blood uses the humans aboard the Nostromo as reproductive hosts. Deep in space, the ship's crew must combat the monstrous creature as it lurks in air ducts and shadows.
How She Survives: Ripley, like the alien chasing her, relies on the configuration of the industrial spaceship she's stuck in to aid in her survival. Using the technology and tools at her disposal, Ripley is soon the only crew member left alive. She's forced to put the Nostromo in self-destruct mode and avoids the explosion by retreating to the ship's shuttle just in time.
Close Call: Once she's on the shuttle, though, Ripley soon discovers the xenomorph has followed her on board. Resourceful Ripley sucks the alien out of the shuttle by engaging the airlock. While it's latched to the shuttle's exterior engine, holding on for dear life, she ignites the exhaust and blasts it into space.
Who She's Up Against: The boogeyman made flesh. Babysitter Laurie is pursued on Halloween night by the masked madman, Michael Myers, who, as a child, slayed his older sister 15 years prior on the same night. Now, the Shape has returned to continue his bloody Halloween tradition.
How She Survives: Laurie is one of the original final girls, an innocent woman stereotype employed to either add or undermine moral agency in horror movies. Despite being young, Laurie is not naive, and she's forced to prove herself throughout the course of the movie. While all her coupled friends meet Michael's large knife, Laurie manages to stay a step ahead of him until Michael's psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis, appears and takes out the deranged slayer.
Close Calls: Michael and Laurie get too close for comfort many times. He corners her in a hallway and chases her up the stairs of the Doyle house, where she's babysitting. She transforms quickly into a skilled survivalist once she realizes what she's up against.
Who She's Up Against: A maniac in a joke Halloween mask and cape who likes to make prank calls about scary movies. Coinciding with the anniversary of her mother's passing, Sidney's tormentor could be anyone or everyone around her. It turns out, though, that Sidney's boyfriend, Billy, and his best friend, Stu, are really behind all the slayings, even confessing to taking out her mother. First love is really a drag for poor Sidney.
How She Survives: It's to Sidney's advantage she's not a big fan of scary films. "You've seen one too many movies!" she tells Billy and Stu at the climax of Scream. Sidney is a no-nonsense character, who survives because she doesn't lose her cool in the midst of the chaos and loss around her. Her girl power is put on full display, and she's able to take out her crazed ex and his BFF.
Close Calls: Throughout most of the movie, Billy and Stu pursue Sidney and her friends in classic slasher style: lurking in bathroom stalls, breaking into houses, and hiding in plain sight. When Billy and Stu finally reveal their convoluted plot after the rest of the cast is removed, Sidney's future looks grim.
Who She's Up Against: The insane genius of the cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter, as well as the basement-dwelling, moth-loving, skin-suit-tailoring Buffalo Bill. Clarice must also navigate the convoluted organizational structure of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
How She Survives: The young trainee from West Virginia learns how to play the games demanded of her in order to track down the person taking and slaying women. From institutionalized Hannibal Lecter's riddles to the clues left behind by Buffalo Bill, Starling becomes a master decipherer of madness. She goes with her gut while using her education to guide her investigation.
Close Call: In a terrifying sequence, Starling finds herself alone in the pitch black basement of Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb, the slayer she's been after for months. With his night-vision goggles, Gumb watches Starling move through the darkness, and as he clicks his revolver, the observant and braced Starling is able to open fire before Gumb can barrage her.