As most of you know, February is Women in Horror Month, celebrating the many, many talented women in the horror industry, on and off the screen. From writers to directors, to actresses and artists, these countless women help bring what we love to life, and the characters we see before us. Here is my updated list for 2019, showcasing twenty of my favorite fictional female horror film characters, who demonstrate the epitome of intelligence, strength, and sheer bad-assery in their portrayals on the silver screen. As with all of my lists, there is no particular order to these characters – I generally tend to start strong and end strong.
Clarice Starling: SIlence of the Lambs (1991)
Being one of my favorite crime thrillers, Silence of the Lambs houses the character of Clarice Starling, one of my favorite Jodie Foster roles. Starling is independent, intelligent, and strives for success in her heavily male-dominated career field, and pushes her way through sexist commentary and ignorant actions to solve the case. As a character, she represents a strong lead, with some of the best on-screen chemistry between protagonist and antagonist in film history.
Marge Gunderson: Fargo (1996)
Fargo is one of my favorite films of all-time, which also happens to showcases one of my favorite characters of all-time: Marge Gunderson. Yes, this is technically a thriller/comedy, but the character that actress Frances McDormand brings to life is sheer brilliance. Marge is the perfect balance between “Minnesota nice” and headstrong intellect through her job as being chief of police. She’s focused and gets the job done, all while being pregnant.
Erin: You’re Next (2011)
Fast-paced with a refreshing plot, You’re Next houses tons of twists and turns, modern iconic killers, and one of the most badass female genre leads within the last decade. Erin is intelligent, highly skilled and ready for action, making due with whatever weapon or object happens to be available while being knee-deep in a hectic situation.
Ofelia: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Though a young lead, Ofelia is capable and demonstrates the amount of cunning and dedication she provides in order to try and keep her mother safe at all costs. The amount of pain and suffering she experiences at such a young age, and her will to conquer and overcome makes for such a deep and loving protagonist within this beautifully crafted del Toro masterpiece.
India Stoker: Stoker (2013)
From its impressive production and sound design to its mysterious character development, Stoker is a creative gem with a unique, elaborate premise, with Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker stealing the show. India represents a complexity of emotions, ranging from sadness to strength, and apathy mixed with comprehension. This is a character that isn’t afraid to take life into her own hands.
The Woman: The Woman (2011)
This wild woman is a force to be reckoned with and shows her durability in this brutal and almost revenge-based horror film. This is a movie that raises a lot of great points towards sexism and the mistreatment of women, with a very violent and satisfying ending to boot.
Selena: 28 Days Later (2002)
This may come as a surprise, but the zombie genre is not my favorite, but I absolutely love the character of Selena and the concept of 28 Days Later. This film allowed for a new type of outbreak, presenting a different take on the traditional zombie. Not only is Selena a fierce, yet compassionate badass in the film, the same can be said of her character within the comics- she’s quick, astute, and does not back down easily.
Mary: American Mary (2012)
Definitely a favorite flick from 2012, American Mary showcases a deadly and independent medical student that falls into the underground world of body modification while trying to avoid financial debt. She thrives on being detached and dominant and takes the notion of revenge to a whole new surgical level.
Tiffany: The Bride of Chucky (1998)
The Bride of Chucky is one of my favorite films in the franchise solely based on its ridiculousness, fun horror atmosphere, and the introduction of the lovely but lethal Tiffany, played by Jennifer Tilly. Let’s face it, we’ve all been in love with an asshole, and Tiffany is no exception. She is just a little more assertive when it comes to letting that special someone know how she really feels in the heat of the moment… usually with sharp objects.
Sidney Prescott: Scream Franchise
Being unique for its time through the use of black comedy combined with the essence of a slasher film, Scream presents us with the character of Sidney; a strong and insightful high school student, who goes through hell and back throughout the entire franchise. But, she still perseveres and overcomes every situation she’s forced into, allowing for a different kind of female lead for its time.
The Girl: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Shot beautifully in black and white, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night fuses several different film genres together, while focusing on a lonely female vampire who exhibits female empowerment by taking out the male trash, so to speak.
Beverly Sutphin: Serial Mom (1994)
Definitely one of the most enjoyable John Water’s films, Serial Mom portrays a not-so-average housewife with murder on her mind. This movie is chock-full of gruesomely funny death scenarios, and showcases the legendary Kathleen Turner as serial killer Beverly Sutphin. Just remember to never wear white after labor day.
The Coven: The Craft (1996)
When these four come together, it is all at once dangerous and beautiful. This cult hit from the 90s personifies the struggles of being a teenage girl, while also dealing with heavy subjects such as death, racism, broken homes, low self-worth, and abusive men. But, when working together as a unit for the greater good, their spiritual powers can overcome all.
Aubrey: Starfish (2019)
With its theatrical release set for early this year, Starfish was a film that blew me away while making its rounds in the festival circuit last year. There were no doubts that the character of Aubrey would make my updated list- she’s vigorous, sharp, and prevails through a powerful journey of self-acceptance wrapped in artistic metaphors. Her character expresses great development through undergoing several forms of love and loss, and becomes awakened and free through the heat of it all.
Elisa: The Shape of Water (2017)
Guillermo del Toro has a gift for creating some of the best female leads in film history (in my opinion), with Elisa from The Shape of Water being one of the greats. She is incredibly complex and full of the deepest kind of passion and understanding of everything around her. She battles through the patriarchy of society through love and determination, all to accomplish what is right and to show her undying feelings towards what she cares about most.
Wit Neary: Preservation (2014)
I find this to be a fairly underrated and unheard of film, but one that I think all genre fans will enjoy. It demonstrates survivalism to its core and shows the endurance one possess when faced with a life or death situation, and the character of Wit is presented with just that. Every trait that she never knew she had comes to a head while battling for her (and her unborn child’s) life against three apathetically psychotic killers that hunt her like sport in the wilderness.
Jess: Black Christmas (1974)
Black Christmas still remains to be one of the great holiday horror films of its time. There is so much I love about this movie, with the protagonist Jess being at the top of the list. She’s a very strong female lead for a 1970s slasher, showcasing her heavy stance towards her convictions, and does what is best for her, despite her controlling boyfriend’s input. Her wits are kept about her through the film’s entirety and genuinely cares for her sorority sisters, doing whatever it takes to make sure they are safe from harm.
Laurie Strode: Halloween Franchise
I don’t think enough can be said about the fierceness of character Laurie Strode within the Halloween Franchise (particularly the first one). Jamie Lee Curtis’ portrayal as Laurie demonstrates a character who will do whatever it takes to protect herself and the people around her, despite how terrifying and dangerous the surroundings are. She is the babysitter you’d want to have when a masked murderer comes knocking at your door.
Ripley: Alien Franchise
Sigourney Weaver also stands strong as being one of the best powerhouse female actresses around, with her portrayal as Ripley being my ultimate favorite. This is a character that never gives up, and looks death in the face without thinking twice. She’s constantly up against out-of-this-world forces, and men who love to dismiss her input, but remains to be a total badass through power and intellect and can really pack a punch.
Rosemary Woodhouse: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
I feel writer Ira Levin created one of the most relatable fictional characters of all-time when he wrote Rosemary’s Baby back in 1967. His ability to depict the subtle progression of being gas lit is spot-on, and Mia Farrow really brings that character and her struggles to life on screen. We as women have all been in Rosemary’s shoes at least once (probably more) in our lifetime; that feeling of knowing something is wrong, but constantly being denied is so relatable, with Farrow making it feel very natural and terrifying. Levin’s story really depicts the struggles of being a seemingly helpless housewife in the 60s, and Rosemary following her instincts to unravel and pursue the truth she knows is happening around her.