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There was a time when seeing iconic horror movie villains such as Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees slashing up young, defenseless civilians was the genre’s main draw. However, these days, audiences have come to better appreciate the Scream Queens and Scream Kings who know how to hold their own against the likes of masked killers, vicious extraterrestrials, mischievous demons, and more. With that in mind, let’s take a minute to shine the spotlight on the clever and courageous heroes from the best horror movies of all time and point out what makes them worth rooting for.
Ash Williams (The Evil Dead Movies)
The Ash we meet in 1981’s The Evil Dead is completely in over his head, struggling desperately to defend himself against his possessed friends in whatever way he can find. However, by the end of 1987’s Evil Dead 2, when he replaces his severed hand with a working chainsaw, Bruce Campbell‘s most iconic role becomes one of the horror genre’s grooviest heroes… even if he is prone to a few flubs and mishaps here and there.
Laurie Strode (Halloween)
Out of all of the babysitters working in Haddonfield on All Hallow’s Eve, Laurie Strode is the only one who manages to survive the escaped Michael Myers’ killing streak in 1978’s Halloween. The young woman’s courage and avoidance of distracting vices in John Carpenter’s quintessential slasher made the character the ultimate “final girl” and Jamie Lee Curtis the quintessential Scream Queen.
Ben (Night Of The Living Dead)
Duane Jones made history as the first Black actor to play the lead hero in a horror movie with his role in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. Ben is the one character in George A. Romero’s groundbreaking thriller who manages to keep a level head when struggling to survive against hungry reanimated corpses.
Nancy Thompson (A Nightmare On Elm Street)
Played by Heather Langenkamp, Nancy Thompson certainly takes a little while to figure out how to defeat the subconscious-haunting Freddy Kreuger (Robert Englund) in writer and director Wes Craven’s supernatural slasher classic. Near the end of A Nightmare on Elm Street, when she realizes that bringing him into reality is the key, she turns the tables on him with a series of elaborate traps that predate Home Alone.
Ellen Ripley (Alien)
Sigourney Weaver’s career-defining role of Ellen Ripley became the sole survivor of 1979’s Alien and, as a result, one of the most inspirational female heroes in horror movie history. Her previous experience contending with the Xenomorph provided her with the resilience and wherewithal to ensure there would be more survivors in 1986’s Aliens, making her one of the greatest female action heroes of all time.
Sidney Prescott (Scream)
When you have been targeted by masked killers as many times as Sidney Prescott, you tend to pick up on a few helpful tips and tricks for survival. Even before the original Ghostface first struck in 1996’s Scream, the tragic murder of her mother a year prior prompted Neve Campbell‘s character to be prepared for such things.
R.J. MacReady (The Thing)
Easily one of Kurt Russell’s best roles is R.J. MacReady in John Carpenter’s The Thing. The pilot brings a well-conceived, no-nonsense approach to weeding out who among his fellow researchers is a shape-shifting alien in disguise while stranded at their outpost in the Arctic.
Elise Rainier (Insidious)
When your house (or, maybe, your child) is haunted, the first person you should call is someone with a direct line to the afterlife, such as Lin Shaye’s Elise Rainier from the Insidious movies. The medium comes to the Lambert Family’s aid after young, unwitting astral traveler Dalton (Ty Simpkins) flies too far into “The Further” — a spiritual realm she named herself.
Chris Washington (Get Out)
Jordan Peele made a point to have a protagonist capable of making intelligent decisions for his Oscar-winning directorial debut, Get Out. He achieved that goal beautifully with Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris Washington, with his adept suspicions of unusual circumstances and ingenious plan to escape the Armitage Family’s clutches.
Grace (Ready Or Not)
Samara Weaving’s newlywed in Radio Silence’s breakthrough hit, Ready or Not, proves to be an ideal Hide-and-Seek player when her in-laws forced her to play it to the death as part of a matrimonial ritual. While she does get spotted a few times, it is in those moments when Grace also proves to be quite the fighter.
Even the biggest fans of the Predator movies seem to forget that, when it comes to defeating the cunning, titular extraterrestrial, being the toughest, strongest, and best marksman is nowhere near as important as being the smartest. Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from the 1987 original) realizes this after becoming the last of his crew and taking him on with old-school hunting tactics.
Sienna Shaw (Terrifier 2)
Played by Lauren LaVera, the hero of Damien Leone’s sequel to his shockingly brutal, old-school slasher throwback, Terrifier, is not just a final girl by circumstance. As foretold in artwork crafted by her late father, it is Sienna Shaw’s destiny to cross paths with and defeat the sadistic Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton).
Clarice Starling (The Silence Of The Lambs)
Jodie Foster won her second Academy Award for her performance in Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, The Silence of the Lambs. Her role as Clarice Starling — an FBI trainee seeking help from a manipulative, cannibalistic psychiatrist (played by Anthony Hopkins) — is one of the most intelligent and inspirational heroes in cinematic history, regardless of whether or not you want to call the Best Picture Oscar winner “horror.”
Casey Cooke (Split, Glass)
In M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, it eventually becomes known that Casey Cooke’s calm demeanor and resourcefulness when she and her friends are kidnapped by a DID patient (James McAvoy) are the result of years of abuse from her uncle. Her trauma also allows Anya Taylor-Joy’s character to have a unique connection with her captors’ core identity, Kevin Wendell Crumb, that helps bring him back to earth in the 2019 sequel, Glass.
Randy Meeks (Scream)
The only original Scream cast member as resourceful as Sidney (if not more) is Randy Meeks, whose obsession with horror movie tropes allows him to, successfully, figure out at least one of Ghostface’s true identities. Even though Jamie Kennedy’s movie buff does not survive 1997’s Scream 2, his prime suspect in that sequel also turns out to be halfway correct.
Chief Martin Brody (Jaws)
Roy Scheider’s Brody is the one member of Jaws‘ heroic trio with the least amount of experience with sharks. Yet, he makes up for it with the courage and skill needed to rid the waters of that man-eating beast.
Erin Harson (You’re Next)
When masked assassins turn an already bitter family reunion into a bloody nightmare in You’re Next, the first one to take charge (and take out these adversaries) is Sharni Vinson’s Erin, who is dating one of the family members. It is later revealed that she was trained for situations like this when she was a child, having grown up on her father’s survivalist compound.
Peter Washington (Dawn of the Dead)
In the midst of the apocalypse, there is no one better to have in your crew than a member of SWAT, like Peter Washington. Ken Foree’s role in George A. Romero’s 1978 zombie movie classic, Dawn of the Dead, is not only a master at slaying zombies, but a devoted survivalist and clever strategist.
Mindy Meeks-Martin (Scream, Scream VI)
Like uncle, like niece. You would not be able to tell that Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown) never got to meet the slain Randy based on how remarkably similar she is to him, particularly in her wide range of horror movie knowledge that proves to be very beneficial for the Scream franchise’s new generation of targets.
Dr. Sam Loomis (Halloween)
In Halloween, Laurie Strode manages to defend herself against Michael Myers, but is unable to expect when, where, and how he might strike — unlike the killer’s psychiatrist. Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis is not necessarily one step ahead of his former patient, but is not too many steps behind him either, and there might have been fewer casualties in Haddonfield if more people actually accepted his advisement.
Marty (The Cabin In The Woods)
Fran Kranz’s character in the 2012 horror-comedy movie favorite The Cabin in the Woods, Marty, is chosen to represent the “Fool” archetype by The Organization, but they largely misjudged him. He is the first among his vacationing friends to pick up on the strange circumstances surrounding them and call them out on poor decisions often made in less self-aware horror movies.
Maddie Young (Hush)
In Mike Flanagan’s Hush, when a masked killer (John Gallagher Jr.) discovers his target, Maddie Young (Kate Siegel), is deaf, he takes advantage of that fact to intimidate, manipulate, and trap her in her secluded home. What he does not expect is that, as an author, she possesses a sharp analytical mind that keeps her one step ahead of her adversary.
In Dan Trachtenberg’s 2022 Predator prequel, Prey, Amber Midthunder’s aspiring Comanche warrior, Naru, proves her worth as a hunter by besting the greatest hunter in the universe. Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch from the original classic, she manages to take out the hulking extra-terrestrial with her wits.
The Janitor (Willy’s Wonderland)
Similarities between 2020’s Willy’s Wonderland and the popular Five Nights at Freddy’s series are allegedly coincidental, but there are some audiences who believe that said recent underrated horror movie is a better cinematic counterpart than Blumhouse’s official feature adaptation. The reason is that Nicolas Cage’s silent, unnamed drifter manages to absolutely lay waste to a rundown family entertainment center’s evil-possessed animatronics with his bare hands, all while cleaning the place up to an immaculate degree and scoring big in pinball.
Tess Marshall (Barbarian)
In 2022’s Barbarian, Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) wastes no time scoping out the strange man she finds staying in her vacation rental home (played by Bill Skarsgård) — asking for his ID, avoiding a drink he prepares for her, etc. — which is only the first sign of her wisdom. The most definitive sign is when she finds a creepy hidden room in the basement and, instead of taking a look inside, her first instinct is one big, “Nope.”
Scarlett Marlowe (As Above, So Below)
Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) proves her worth as a Final Girl hall-of-famer in one pivotal scene from the 2014 found footage favorite, As Above, So Below. She single-handedly runs all the way back through the, literally, devilish caverns she and her comrades have traveled through to find a mystical artifact that will save a man’s life.
The Abbott Family (A Quiet Place)
A post-apocalyptic world overrun with aliens that hunt by sound is the ingenious concept behind 2018’s A Quiet Place from director John Krasinski, who also stars alongside his real-life wife, Emily Blunt, as a family struggling to stay undetected. For the most, the Abbotts manage this pretty well with tricks like creating paths of sand for quieter walks, building a soundproof bunker for their newborn, and speaking exclusively in American Sign Language.
Lionel Cosgrove (Dead Alive)
While initially known for his clumsiness, Lionel (Timothy Balme) proves to be a real hero in Peter Jackson’s comedic classic, Dead Alive, by making mincemeat about out of a zombie horde with a makeshift lawnmower. What an ingenious idea!
Sang-hwa (Train To Busan)
It is no wonder Don Lee went on to star in Marvel’s Eternals cast after playing Sang-hwa in Train to Busan. Fewer characters might have survived the onboard outbreak in the South Korean zombie movie favorite if not for his remarkable skills as a strategist and a bare-knuckle brawler.
Cecelia Kass (The Invisible Man)
Writer and director Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man is an ingenious modernization of H.G. Wells’ novel for multiple reasons — including its narrative from the perspective of the victim, and a very bright and cautious one at that. Elisabeth Moss’ Cecelia Kass is one of the few horror movie characters who leaves absolutely no stone unturned in a fierce battle of wits against her adversary — in this case, her manipulative former husband, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), whom she suspects has figured out a way to stalk her without being seen.
What makes Blade — originally played by Wesley Snipes in his own trilogy — the ultimate vampire hunter? He technically is one himself. The Marvel Comics hero is known as a Daywalker, having been born with vampire blood and similar abilities that allow him to think just like his prey.
Tommy Jarvis (Friday The 13th Movies)
Few of Jason Voorhees’ targets have been about to successfully outsmart the hockey-masked killer like Tommy Jarvis. In his debut appearance in 1984’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, the young man (played then by Corey Feldman) shaves his head to appear like a young Jason, disorienting the killer and giving him a clear shot to defeat him.
Tired of watching horror movies and getting frustrated over the characters’ ill-advised decisions? You shouldn’t have that problem with these characters.