The role of women in horror films has always been a hot topic for debate. Some argue that horror films marginalize women and paint them as hypersexual beings with no depth. The opposing argument is: that the existence of a ‘final girl’ as opposed to a ‘final guy’ in most horror films is a testament to female empowerment and that horror films celebrate women and their role in the cinematic universe. There is merit to both sides of the argument, but we are more interested in spotlighting some standout female characters in genre film that have positively portrayed women and showcased them as being as tough or more so than their male counterparts and challenged some of the stereotypes attached to women in film. Below are ten of our favorite badass ladies.
Alice in the Resident Evil Franchise
Alice is a pioneer for ass-kicking ladies. She is one of a select few female heroines in an action franchise – albeit an action, horror, and sci-fi mash-up. Milla Jovavich is relentless as Alice. She hits the ground running in the first entry in the franchise and has been fighting for survival in a zombie-infested reality ever since. She will take on The Umbrella Corporation and save Raccoon City from total destruction without even breaking a sweat.
Erin in You’re Next
Once she picks up an axe and starts dealing justice, all bets are off. It’s a shame that the female empowerment angle of You’re Next wasn’t part of the pricy advertising campaign that LionsGate rolled out for the film weeks before its release. Ryan Turek of Shock Till You Drop pointed out in an insightful editorial that the film might have fared better than it’s disappointing $7 million dollar opening weekend total had it set itself apart from the countless other home invasion thrillers already available by marketing the film as painting the female lead as a powerhouse and force to be reckoned with.
Mary in American Mary
Mary Mason is a great testament to Katharine Isabelle’s ability to win over an audience. Isabelle has taken a character that was written with virtually no redeeming traits and endeared audiences to her nonetheless. American Mary is a cinematic triumph and makes a strong feminist statement without getting bogged down or causing the viewer to drift. In the short time since the film’s release, Mary has already become something of a cult icon and the film has garnered much praise for its portrayal of Mary as a strong, capable, resourceful, and intelligent woman.
Ripley in Alien
Ripley is a very early example of a female character that was just as capable, even more in fact, than her male counterparts. Sigourney Weaver really became an icon as a result of her standout performance in the Alien franchise. She is cool under pressure, tough as nails, and refuses to back down to anyone or anything that stands in her way. Ripley has inspired countless characters in horror and sci-fi films since the 1979 release of Alien.
Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street
Wes Craven’s daughter was reportedly the one who pushed him to cast Heather Langenkamp in the role of Nancy and we are certainly glad that he listened. Langenkamp played Nancy as a survivor and brought a bit of herself to the role. She brought even more of herself to the role when she played a fictionalized version of herself in 1994’s New Nightmare.
Selene from the Underworld Series
Though I am not personally a diehard fan of the Underworld franchise, I have an infinite amount of respect for the Selene character and Kate Beckinsale’s unflinching portrayal of her. Selene does battle with the lycans and she kicks an unprecedented amount of ass whilst doing so. She is another great example of a female character that has carried a successful film franchise.
Mandy in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
We knew that Mandy was a survivor, but we don’t learn just how far she would go until the final moments of the movie when the audience was exposed to a somewhat controversial twist. The twist worked for us and we thought that Amber Heard was the perfect choice for the role of Mandy. Heard played Mandy as tough but still vulnerable and the end result played out very well. The film waited seven years for a US release, but the wait is finally over. Mandy Lane will receive a limited theatrical release after a VOD run that is set to begin September 6th.
Ginger in Ginger Snaps
This was a breakout role for Katharine Isabelle and the primary reason she was tapped by the Twisted Twins to play the titular role in American Mary. Ginger was a young girl coming in to womanhood and simultaneously realizing that she was a werewolf. The film used Ginger’s lycanthropic transformation as a metaphor for puberty and did so without being kitschy or condescending to its audience. Isabelle did a bang up job of bringing Ginger to life in a way that made audiences connect with the character and painted her as a major force to be reckoned with.
Juno in The Descent
Really, all of the women from Neil Marshall’s 2005 film belong on this list. The entire cast sent a message of female empowerment and that is to be commended. But when forced to single out one performance, the standout for us was Natalie Mendoza (Moulin Rouge!) as Juno. Juno was like the ringleader of the group of adventurous young women. Mendoza played Juno as having a rough exterior and she doesn’t always put others first but it’s impossible to deny that she’s a total badass. She made a surprise reappearance in the film’s direct-to-DVD sequel.
Carrie from Carrie
Carrie White is one of the most legendary names in both literature and cinema. After being pushed to the very brink of insanity, Carrie snaps back with a vengeance. She unleashes all of her telekinetic rage on her high school classmates and the results are devastating. Though the case is a bit extreme, Carrie can be seen as somewhat of a cautionary tale against bullying and Carrie is the hero or the antihero, depending upon how you look at it. The upcoming remake is said to be sticking closer to the Steven King novel. Audiences will be able to make up their own minds on that this October 18th when the film hits theaters.
A Very Honorable Mention to: Jennifer Hills from I Spit on Your Grave (1978 ) and Cherry Darling from Death Proof.