Final Girl

A Term For The Survivor in Scary Movies

Usually a "Final Girl" is the one who survives in a horror or thriller movie - usually against great odds. The term literally means that this girl is the "final" character to confront the monster, killer or morbid phenomenon that has damaged or killed everyone else. In essence, the final girl is the "last one standing." She's often singularly, the only persona left alive to tell what happened to everyone else.

Final Girl Laurie Strode

Final Girl, Laurie Strode fending off madman Michael Myers!!     Picture courtesy Wikipedia Commons
Final Girl, Laurie Strode fending off madman Michael Myers!! Picture courtesy Wikipedia Commons

What it takes to be a Final Girl

The Final Girl is a serious TROPE in films and literature in the horror/thriller genre. As a trope, she's not what she seems, she's figuratively (metaphorically) something else...and then literally becomes The Final Girl by the end of the piece. Her character details in the film/literature are secondary - her role as FINAL GIRL out-trumps her name, location, her relationships to others in the film/literature, etc. She stands for something - "the last one standing."

Okay, well that was rather serial...... errrr, I mean serious above. Fine, she can be more to you than a role by the time the movie/book is over, but for our purposes here, the concept of TROPE (metaphors, figures) is very important.

  • Final girls are almost always in opposition to or in avoidance of the same vices that victims in the movie/literature possess.
  • Final girls are usually virginal or are sexually unavailable, particularly to whatever villain is at large.
  • Often, but not always, the final girl will share some history with the killer/villain.
  • Usually, the final girl has a unisex name (goes with the sexually unavailable feature).
  • The final girl exhibits curiosity and investigative skills.
  • The final girl exhibits intelligence.
  • The final girl is VIGILANT.

(this next point is really cool)

  • The final girl will invariably have a genderline cross whereby all viewers will/should relate to her.

Okay, the last point is a bit more complex, but has more to do with YOU, the viewer than the character - she's a trope, remember - she represents something and her character is FLUID, changeable, complex.

Why - why - and why?

Why does the final girl have to avoid vices? Why can't she enjoy what the others do?

The final girl has to avoid the vices of the other victims, partly because if she didn't the killer would just kill everyone - maybe her FIRST - and the movie would be really short and crappy!

More so, it (no sexuality) is perceived as a character strength by the villain, which goes along with the 'virginal' detail. Or, the villain can't "feel" the same way about our Final Girl as he does about the others he is about to kill.

She might be called 'square,' 'snob,' 'sissy,' or whatever else by the other relations in the piece but when we viewers see her as 'different than the others,' we cheer "woo hoo final girl." We usually notice her pretty quickly.

Why does the final girl have to be virginal or sexually unavailable?

It's necessary, not so much in relation to the 'sexual' aspect, but to ensure the 'unisex' or an almost 'non-gender' that the final girl is building into throughout the movie. It's a gender ambiguity thing more than a sexuality thing. We know a lot of final girls are sexually attractive - actresses Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode - Halloween), Ali Larter (Clear Rivers - Final Destination), Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson - Nightmare on Elm Street), Amy Irving (Sue Snell - Carrie), Vera Miles (Lila Crane - Psycho), Adrienne King (Alice Hardy - Friday the 13th I & II), Signourney Weaver AND Winona Ryder (Ripley/Alien(s) and Annalee Call - Alien Resurrection), Jodie Foster (Clarice M. Starling in Silence of the Lambs), the list goes on - BUT at some point they all become non-sexual, non-gendered, at least for a while. For long enough to make stuff happen and change the course of events that is controlled by the killer!

Why does the final girl have to share a history with the villain/killer?

She doesn't, it just helps. Don't worry, this feature may not mean much and it's not a 'must have' for a final girl. Often, the shared history aspect does NOT assist the final girl stay safe or anything

ie: shared history=the killer has been observing the final girl for months but she doesn't know this. If the Final Girl is unaware of the killer and his motives, it doesn't mean they aren't sharing a history. Technically, they don't have to have an interactive relationship to be considered as having a history. History is for the viewers - we usually know more than the characters do because we see/read about them, whereas not every character within a film/book is aware of the others. Hence, this history adds to plot but possibly not to the knowledge and experience of the final girl with respect to the villain character. If there is a shared history - bonus - if not, there are a few other features left that make the final girl character work.

Why does the final girl character have to have a unisex name?

She doesn't but many final girls have names or nicknames that are unisex OR masculinized ie: "Sid" from the movie Scream, Ripley from Aliens (First name, Ellen - feminine but never much used in the films), etc.

Why does the final girl have to be curious?

She just does, okay? She needs to be curious, needs to be the one in the group who will find the noise of the house settling INTERESTING while everyone else just says "Oh, it's an old house - that noise was just the house settling."

Why does the final girl have to have investigative skills?

She needs to have the tendency to 'check things out' while everyone else is listening to the house settle and is awaiting their turn to die.

Why does the final girl have to exhibit intelligence?

Doh! Well - because there are murderers on the loose and someone's got to think everyone else's way out of being murdered! Naturally as our final girl is sleuthing away, her peers will be engaging in bad behaviors and will likely call her 'smarty pants,' 'square,' 'snob,' and will generally disbelieve her theories or plainly just tell her to take a hike...right before they get killed...

Why does the final girl have to be vigilant?

She has to be vigilant because in a very short time - sometime during the last portion of the movie, she will not only be surviving but will be morphing gender roles, "troping' so to speak - becoming the metaphorical last one standing...she's got a lot to do, our final girl - that she is vigilant is planly necessary. *Also - her vigilance is something she shares with us, the viewers.

It's complicated: at the beginning of most horror flicks or narratives, we are often brought into the story via killer-eye-view...that is, we are given pieces of what the killer knows or we are observing all the characters with the killer in mind. Part of the final girl's vigilance helps us second-guess all the characters (like the final girl is doing) and be one in mind with HER, once we take note of her vigilance, late in the movie/book. We have to identify with THE FINAL GIRL whether we're male or female at the point of highest action (I didn't want to say 'climax' since our final girl is unisex or asexual - or should be at the point in which we identify with her) in order for the movie or literature to be most successful.

By the way, the 1990s ushered in a new type of final girl, with the likes of Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Sid (Neve Campbell) from Scream, and Julie James (actress Jennifer Love Hewitt) in I Know What You Did Last Summer (I & II). These final girls are more assertive and smarter than ever allowed in movies and literature before.

What does all this MEAN?

Final girls as we understand them now (Laurie Strode, Clear Rivers, Sidney Prescott, Buffy, Julie James, Ripley, Annalee Call, Buffy) were not possible 50 years ago - and final girls in any significant form used to be rare long ago. Women in film used to have very designated, determined roles, and these usually included making sure that a female was a making use of behavioral norms and such in film (and often in literature). Final Girl came about because we changed what we like (this is my theory) to see from women in film and in literature...because we are changing, ourselves, as viewers.

We are no longer satisfied to just watch a woman in a film and storyline get rescued by the male persona in the film. We want more developed characters who are intelligent, complex, and who are assertive.

Lastly - we may also be crossing a gender line or feeling ABLE TO cross lines of gender these days...this is apparent in what we demand of our Final Girl.

Final Girl works because she CROSSES GENDER when she acts smart, assertive, and fends for herself.

Final Girl often becomes masculine in her efforts to survive - which male viewers (good news) are very much accepting. Final Girl often picks up a phallic object - a knife, bat, two-by-four, in order to protect herself - which wasn't so much seen in movies or literature 50 years ago. Final girl acts masculine for a time in defending herself - she might be violent and equally as violent as the killer/attacker in a film/book and viewers/readers ARE LIKING THIS! This viewer response is like "permission to defend" in movies and literature for a change, for women, anyway. We no longer expect or allow women to perish if a white knight doesn't show up in time.

Part of the unisex nature, non-sexual effects, and the gender-crossing of the Final Girl are also pitted against something in the nature of the bad-guy which we are learning more about, too...many of the killers/attackers in film/literature have gender identity issues - Norman Bates in Psycho, Michael Myers/Halloween, Jame Gumb in Silence of the Lambs, Jason in Friday the 13th - have gender issues or sexual identity issues. When our Final Girls become unisex or asexual or at least non-sexual, sometimes the perpetrators notice and otherwise take it easy on our Final Girl...in the pause for pondering, our Final Girls often have a chance to make their escape or finish formulating their survival plans. At some point, this gender crossing or this non-gendering of character places the killer and our Final Girl, just for a moment, on even ground.

Match the Final Girl with The Movie

Finally

There's a whole field of study about "Final Girls Reinterpreted" or the way in which Final Girl characters and roles keep changing. Part of what we recognize as final girl attributes depend on us, the viewers. So far, we accept that men are stronger than women and that men are usually the attackers in horror/thriller movies. This mimics, somewhat, how we view as 'male and female' roles in our real world.

There's also a male "final girl" - rather - a "Final Guy" or Final Boy - but he's a really new role that we're not always able to pick out quickly.  Partly, we don't accept a male 'final personality' character very well and this is about our culture and norms, not about whether or not a final boy character would WORK or not in film and literature. Naturally, this role won't work if we viewers don't let it or if we don't see a need for it.

Just something to think about

Who Would Make a Great Final Boy?

Based on the features of a Final Girl, who would make a good Final Boy?

See results without voting

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Comments 10 comments

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

mythbuster

I don't particularly like horror films, but I find these observations interesting. I do remember Psych because I used to be a Hitchcock fan (maybe still am). I agree that female roles have changed and I rather like the strong woman figure probably dating back to Emma Peel in "The Avengers." I like Sarah McKenzie (Catherine Bell) in JAG and in some episodes she might qualify for your final girl rols.


mythbuster profile image

mythbuster 6 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide Author

Hi dahoglund - it is understandable if you don't enjoy horror films much but Final Girls are also in good thrillers that tend toward the dark side (not regular action-thriller genre, but psychological thrillers).

I'm looking up information on Emma Peel from The Avengers right now. It appears you're entirely correct about Emma Peel as a strong woman figure, just in a wrong genre to be considered a "Final Girl," that's all.

My statements on the hub pertain to specific genres where gender, related to power is shown as a huge issue for both movies/literature and the viewers/readers. The reason slash-films and horror exist isn't because the genre is so fantastic - it's because PEOPLE make the genre...people choose to make the movies and genre and people consequently WATCH/READ it. There's something dark in human nature - and in the complicated times we live in - that makes horror and related genres HUGE.

Your Emma Peel is in a more forgiving genre for women, dahoglund. There are a LOT of smart gals in suspense/sleuthing, crime-solving, detective and mystery shows that go waaaaaaaay, way back. The presence of little Nancy Drew way back when in the mid-1900's is proof that society LIKED smart gals in particular genres. Nancy Drew was developed (youth lit), perhaps, to ensure that youth had an EARLY role model - so that "smart, assertive girls" would learn to become smart, assertive women! Your Emma is in the "spy" genre and as I make a quick check, there seems to be more positive, strong females in this genre than in all others combined, including "romance" (where, often, women are still waiting on a white knight persona to whisk them away to happiness) genres.

Then again, these are just my ideas. You can oppose this stuff if you want - perhaps, show me a different way to think on these matters!

:)


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

Some very interesting observations about 'final girls' - though I've never understood why girls in horror films go seeking out the monster!!


mythbuster profile image

mythbuster 6 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide Author

CMHypno, maybe you're used to seeing girls wait to be rescued or stumble into the villian's traps. The whole point of final girl is that she has changed (we have changed what we expect females to do) how some women deal with danger and threat, especially when confronted with violence, stalkers, oppression, and power.

Sometimes, if the final girl has a history with the villian, she only has two choices - stalk or be stalked - there's nobody else to track and eliminate the villian/threats. If the history is known and interactive between villian and final girl, this can aid the final girl to oppose or rid herself of the villian and consequent danger. This is usually at a great cost to the final girl - ie: Sue Snell who survived in Carrie - was placed in an asylum and lost her sanity. Clarice Starling lived with knowledge that Hannibal was free and had intricate, intimate knowledge of both her location and psychological make-up. Clear Rivers in Final Destination lived with knowing she only evaded the force/fate which killed and it would always stalk her. Lt. Ripley always knew of the extraterrestrial life forms "out there" which science/gov't were planing on preserving - and that in 'life-years' she could never outlive science/gov't, etc.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

mythbuster

I have no desire to oppose your views. I was just giving impressions. I admit I avoid horror films for the same reason I avoid roller coasters.


mythbuster profile image

mythbuster 6 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide Author

I was hoping someone would oppose me, dahoglund lol to make me do more research on one of my fave 'multi-topics' ever! "Oppression-power struggle-gender-social behaviors and response."

So you avoid roller-coasters? Ah, then you're very pro-active about keeping yourself out of danger - good deal. Staying away from horror films is probably a good idea then, for sure...they say lack of sleep and such is not good for a person. I sleep with one eye open after heavy loads of research...probably shortens my life span considerably. I may not be a final girl type when juxtaposed with fate lol


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 6 years ago from Canada's 'California'

Everybody knows that the person who goes to check out that weird noise is toast...you know the one I mean, the "Stay here, I'll go see" person...the smart "Let's get out of here NOW" person is the one I'd bet on ;) but then, I don't watch much horror - too scary LOL!


I did the poll 6 years ago

It looks like Matt Damon would make the best Final Guy from the quiz results so far. Cool hub and quiz. Thx.


mythbuster profile image

mythbuster 6 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide Author

And what did you pick, "I did the poll"?


MrMidNight 6 years ago

Fee, fi, foe, final girl, dum, i smell the blood of a virgin who should have been done, hahahahahaha!!!!!!

Seriously this hub stinks, lol, stinks like how creatively written it was, it is brilliant to post info and the image of Laurie Strode as a final girl, seeing how she's the most high ranking, i enjoyed reading this hub, check out my new stuff, when you have the time....

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