5 Must-Watch Modern Final Girls for Classic Horror Fans

Most horror films need an audience proxy character — someone to sympathize with amid the senseless violence, feelings of helplessness, and overall cruelty of the situation. Evil takes many forms, including contagions, alien invasions, demonic monstrosities, and sometimes worst of all, malicious humans intent on killing others.

No matter the threat, one of the most enduring and celebrated figures in horror is that of the final girl. The final girl, as the name implies, is the lone survivor who eventually overcomes the threat of her would-be killer.

Plenty of the seminal ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s classics introduced us to a number of final girls whose impacts on the genre are so large, they’re getting sequels, reboots, and continuations (plus occasionally maligned imitations in the case of ill-fated recastings and revivals like Rob Zombie’s Halloween or the newest Texas Chainsaw Massacre film). But for every odds-defying final girl from decades past, there’s a new and modern survivor whose journey honors and even homages what came before.

If you’re looking to broaden your awareness of must-watch recent horror films with tenacious final girls you love to root for, check out these five films perfect for fans of the original slasher icons.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Naru (Prey)

For fans of: Ellen Ripley (Alien)

Geeks love to debate whether the original Alien is classified as more of a horror or sci-fi flick, but one thing everyone can agree upon is that Ellen Ripley is one of the most beloved, if more unconventional, final girls out there. The film perfectly captures the cat-and-mouse tension of a slasher as the lone Xenomorph stalks her through the Nostromo. Throw in the terror of androids and the vastness of space, and you have a winning formula for fright.

And we all know how much Xenomorphs love to hunt their equally alien foes, the Predators (or Yautja if you’re feeling fancy). You’ve likely already made the jump from Alien films to Predator films, so Prey is an easy recommendation in this case. No disrespect to Dutch and company, but muddy commandos do not a final girl make. That’s where Naru, played by the stellar Amber Midthunder, comes in.

War Chief in the Making

Similarly debated as sci-fi versus horror, the recent historical Predator film Prey gives us another capable tactician fighting for survival against the technological trophy hunter. Naru is a young Comanche woman looking to prove her skills to her tribe, ultimately coming toe-to-toe against a terrifying Predator.

Trading the space station vibes for North American plains, this film offers wider vistas and still captures the tightness and tension of a struggle between two skilled hunters. Plus, Naru has to fight back against French fur trappers and must adapt to technology the likes of which Earth has never seen in the 1719 setting.

Sam and Tara Carpenter (Scream V/VI)

For fans of: Sidney Prescott (Scream)

During a time when horror films were losing traction with audiences, Scream came out and revitalized the genre thanks to its metatextual take on horror. The film asked, what might happen if a new killer arose in a world where the classic films all existed and were inspiration for would-be slashers? Final girl Sidney Prescott challenged her villains with the solid knowledge that her life wasn’t like a movie, and murders had consequences. The series proved its staying power as it continued to evolve through the rise of copycat killers, caller ID, social media fame, and toxic fandom.

While Sidney Prescott has been present through Scream films 1-5 (with Neve Campbell departing Scream VI over unfair wages), the series’ fifth installment introduced fans to a new generation of savvy survivors who will be taking to the silver screen again in the latest series outing — most notably, sisters Samantha and Tara Carpenter.

Sister, Sister

Decades following the Woodsboro murders in the first Scream, Tara Carpenter considers herself a fan of “elevated horror.” In this universe, she’s aware of the Stab films, an in-world franchise based on the original Woodsboro murders and serving as their analogue to the Scream films (meta, anyone?), but Tara dismisses them as traditional stock slashers. She ends up the first attack of the legacy “requel” killings, but manages to subvert audience expectations when she ultimately survives. And like Sidney, she manages to take charge in fending off the Ghost Face® killer. Tara is now set to continue the legacy in Scream‘s sixth franchise entry.

Samantha Carpenter is Tara’s older maternal half-sister. Estranged by the time of the new killings, she has had a troubled past and is ultimately revealed as the daughter of Billy Loomis, one of the first Ghost Faces. (This also makes her the granddaughter of Nancy Loomis, another Ghost Face.) During the “requel” killings, Sam becomes the primary target and is intended to be framed for the murders as the daughter of a serial killer. She reconnects with her sister and ultimately uses her tenacity, protectiveness, and strategic mindset to survive. Of course, Sidney also steps in to help — connecting two generations of scary movie survivors.

Ziggy Berman (Fear Street Part 2: 1978)

For fans of: Alice Hardy (Friday the 13th)

Admittedly, Alice Hardy gets left off a lot of “best of” lists for final girls. She survives the premiere film in the franchise but is quickly killed off in the sequel as Jason Voorhees’ official first blood. To some, Alice just isn’t as memorable as other famous final girls appearing in multiple franchise entries. Still, she didn’t escape Pam V’s killing spree by accident — she was resourceful, appropriately cautious, and wasn’t afraid to swing a machete when it came to fighting back.

A lot of summer camp slashers have followed in Friday the 13th‘s bloody wake, each with their own unique twists or unending homages. But for another bonfire final girl with a little more fight in her, modern horror fans won’t want to miss Fear Street Part 2: 1978‘s introduction of Christine “Ziggy” Berman.

Shadysiders are Cursed

Played by Sadie Sink of Stranger Things fame, Ziggy’s introduction in the second part of this incredibly stellar trilogy has great impact on the overall Fear Street film series. She’s a camper from Shadyside, the town that has a curse on it, and is tormented by the more privileged Sunnyvalers. When Camp Nightwing turns into the next site of slaughter thanks to the curse of Sarah Fier, she spends a long night fearlessly fending off her bullies and the cursed Tommy Slater, who has become a bag-headed axe murderer in the same vein as Jason Voorhees.

Her ultimate fate has some exciting twists we won’t spoil here, but her resilience and determination to break the witch’s curse plays a big role throughout all three time periods the trilogy visits: 1999, 1978, and 1666.

Tess (Barbarian)

For fans of: Sally Hardesty (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

Before the slasher subgenre library grew in acclaim following the late ’70s introduction of Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre set the stage for much of what would follow. Tobe Hooper’s violent vision sees Sally Hardesty, her brother Franklin, and some of their friends fall prey to a family of cannibals in their Texas homestead after a road trip gone wrong.

The claustrophobic setting, grueling summer heat, and grotesque nature of the killer create a visceral viewing experience for audiences that has as many artistic visuals as it does horrific moments. However, Leatherface has some sympathetic qualities as a misunderstood and even fearful figure simply trying to survive his own terrifying family.

Still, Sally Hardesty isn’t interested in the sob story as she attempts to escape without being turned into mincemeat. While the recent horror sensation Barbarian isn’t exactly set in the same rural world as TCM, its homebound horror should engross (and gross out) audiences in a similar vein. Final girl Tess finds more than she bargains for when stopping at a rental house during travel for a job interview.

Home Sweet Horror

Tess Marshall is put to the test when she has to spend a work-adjacent trip in a double-booked Detroit rental home. Her housemate Keith causes her discomfort, especially as she finds her bedroom door open in the middle of the night. However, Tess discovers there’s something even more sinister lurking inside the home — a deformed woman called the Mother, who is a monstrous byproduct of the home’s original owner who abducted women and forcibly inbred with them and their children.

Like Leatherface, the Mother is a bit sympathetic despite the violence and fright. But ultimately, the viewer sides with Tess as she endures capture, torture, and terror even through the most frustrating of horror movie choices (just run away!). She is put into a position of making difficult decisions, seemingly unable to pull herself away from the rental home, just as Sally Hardesty was trapped by her circumstances and made to survive a stomach-churning dinner with the Sawyer family (arguably worse than in-laws).

Jamie “Jay” Height (It Follows)

For fans of: Laurie Strode (Halloween)

When horror fans think of final girls, Laurie Strode of Halloween is perhaps the ultimate example of the trope. She set the blueprint for many more to follow in her footsteps (not you, incredibly slow-walking but inescapable Michael Myers). The “final girl circuit” has become an intrinsic part of the heroine’s trials and trauma — being chased by the killer through a central location, forced to discover the corpses of the other victims, often her close friends.

But it’s not Laurie’s merit alone that sets the record. Her silent tormentor also established many staples of the genre as well, including inexplicable supernatural attributes, a relentless pursuit, and a seeming inability to die (after all, we need sequels!).

Well, It Follows has many of those elements with a ruthless modern twist. And Jamie Height may claim the title of final girl for the film, but hers is a struggle that never really ends (even if it can be passed off to doom other souls in its wake).

No Protection from the Monster

After a sexual encounter that ends with Jay being chloroformed and tied to a wheelchair, her date Hugh reveals that he has passed on a sort of curse — a mysterious entity will now forever be slowly walking towards her no matter where she is. If it catches her, it will kill her and then resume stalking the previous person on its list. And the only way to transfer the entity’s focus is to have intercourse with another individual.

Like Michael Myers simply being referred to as “the Shape” in his original premiere, this pale, nameless entity takes on a number of ghastly stalker forms, like a naked woman, a tall man, and even Jay’s friend Yara. The entire concept of this entity and its transference is gut-wrenching from start to finish while also uniquely commenting on the idea that a final girl has to be virginal and pure to survive her story. The minimalist horror and interesting execution of It Follows is sure to stalk you all the way home.

There are many more modern final girls worth watching, as the frightening genre continues to innovate while honoring the past. The classics still hold up for a reason, of course. However, new-age horror flicks are working hard to give modern audiences continual nightmares, so it’s important not to sleep on any of the films featured above.

So, what’s your favorite scary movie? Did we miss any other recent must-watch final girls? Continue the conversation at side.show/geekgroup and share off your horror collectibles with fellow fans — and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!