8 Badass Female Characters in Horror Films

Gwendolyn Kiste

February is Women in Horror Month.   In honor of this momentous occasion, here are eight horror movie characters who prove being a girl doesn’t mean you’re not ready for war, even if said combat involves a maniac serial killer, an army of aliens, or a horde of zombies.   As a female badass, you just get to look better doing it.

Alice from the Resident Evil series

Unscrupulous corporations.  Evil clones. Zombie dogs.  Is there any enemy Alice hasn’t decimated?

Over the course of five movies (and another one on the zombie-plagued horizon), the Resident Evil series has never shied away from tough women.  But despite the awesomeness of Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, and Ada Wong, Alice is the one who never says die, even when the ravages of amnesia and the undead annihilate the internal and external landscapes.  As the would-be champion first of Raccoon City and eventually the entire human race, she combats foe after foe, and though the video game origins are never far from these big boss fights, Milla Jovovich injects every scene with a visceral urgency and raw pain where other actresses would just use a double. Not too shabby for a former fashion model and star of Return to the Blue Lagoon.  Some people use horror as a stepping stone in their careers.  Milla made it her destination.

Resident Evil Retribution

Barbara from Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Aw, what a difference two decades can make.  In 1968, Judith O’Dea whined and twitched throughout Romero’s iconic undead masterpiece until our should-be Final Girl bellyached right into the clutches of her original hipster brother.  But when effects maestro Tom Savini got around to updating the film in 1990, the intervening years had seen a whole female lib movement that made the first Barbara harder to stomach than a bucket of zombie intestines.

In lieu of rehashing the same simpering ninny, Savini’s version rewarded audiences with a Barbara for our post-modern, I-am-woman-hear-me-roar tastes.  Although the film opens with the prospect of another panicky leading lady, Patricia Tallman sees her Barbara quickly adapt to the apocalyptic situation and ultimately persevere as a survivor.  But with those haunting end credits and the suggestion that the living can be worse monsters than the dead, it’s hard to know exactly what kind of world was left for her to fight for.

Dr. Sarah Bowman from Day of the Dead

George Romero may have been to blame for the awful incarnation of Barbara, but he also gave audiences Dr. Sarah Bowman, so the cinematic cosmos can probably call it even.

Despite her sometimes steely exterior, it’s almost impossible not to root for Sarah.  She’s well-educated (hence the whole doctor title), resourceful (zombie bite? Let my giant machete take care of that!), and a true survivor in every sense of the word (desert island getaways rock!). And unlike some of the ladies on this list, Sarah doesn’t start out fragile and in need of a warrior woman transformation.  From the get-go, she epitomizes level-headed thinking and unwavering resolve, even among the increasingly depraved company of wayward army men.  While her recurring nightmares reveal obvious fears about the zombie apocalypse, bad dreams are the weakest this girl gets in the whole film.  Even on an average day in an average world, most people can only wish for that kind of fortitude.

Dr Sarah Bowman and Private Miguel Salazer in Day of the Dead

Tina Shepard from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

When the installments of a series pass the half dozen mark, ideas are almost by default getting rather stale.  And though the seventh part of the Crystal Lake saga is best remembered for the inaugural appearance of Kane Hodder, Tina’s telekinetic wunderkind gives the film some real heart along with a protagonist that can beat Jason at his own game.  Think your preternatural strength and endurance is something, little Voorhes?  This girl can uproot half the lake in response to a slight, even if the intended victim is her own father.

If they hadn’t been so busy trying to outclass each other, Jason and Tina could have spent some serious time bonding over parental traumas.  She had an abusive dad she drowned in the lake.  He had an overbearing mother who went loony after he drowned in the lake.  Pity she’s so emotionally-scarred and he’s less than monosyllabic.  Their shared therapy sessions could have been epic.


Alice Johnson from Nightmare on Elm Street 4 & 5

Purists, try not to revolt. Nancy’s admittedly the more obvious choice from the series, but it’s still hard to get over her ridiculous death in Dream Warriors—posing as her dad is like a patented Freddy move.  So, with no disrespect intended toward Ms. Langenkamp, let’s go with another character who appeared in two films and actually survived.

Alice debuts in Dream Master as a rather mundane wallflower, the type who traditionally must endure a horrific makeover montage.  But Mr. Kruger’s not much for facials, so Alice discovers her inner-strength instead. With this jolt of spunkiness, she pursues a new boyfriend and lays waste to Freddy—in that order.  Unfortunately, as Nancy and the Dream Warriors learned before her, defeating the Man with the Golden Claw once doesn’t preclude another attack, so one year later, they were at it again in the arguably inferior Dream Child.  The indomitable Alice manages to persevere, though her football star boyfriend isn’t so lucky.

The denouement of the fifth film does feature an overly positive teen pregnancy subtext, but with the death of her friends and family over two installments, Alice certainly paid a pretty high premium for premarital sex.  So give her a break, and let her enjoy a lifetime trying to explain that Freddy Kruger murdered her baby’s daddy.  Because the Department of Social Services outside of Springwood isn’t like to buy that sob story.


Lieutenant Ellen Ripley from Alien/Aliens

The pluralistic second film might feature a giant xenomorph mother, but the title of true queen bee in the Alien franchise will always belong to Ripley.  Originally written as a male character for Ridley Scott’s 1979 exodus into acid blood misery, our beloved lieutenant proves that warrior transformation is no boy’s club.

Regrettably, as a major killjoy of the series, Alien 3 attempts to dash all hopes, not to mention plotlines, set up in the first two films. And in a total misogynistic turn, Ripley gets a virtual personality transplant, being relegated to a bald-headed alien-stroking fool who copulates with the first non-rapist denizen she finds on the prison planet. Sorry, David Fincher, but that would never happen.  If she didn’t find time to get busy on LV-426 with the awesome-in-every-way Hicks, then Charles Dance’s doctor-in-exile can just forget about it.  The existence of beautifully destructive Giger aliens—that’s something the audience can buy.  But out-of-character choices simply because the hackneyed screenwriter says so?  Suspension of disbelief only goes so far.

Rene from Undead

If you ever experience a concurrent penchant to watch an alien movie and a zombie flick, then worry not because Undead has got you covered.  Often panned for its bizarre genre-blending and unapologetic diversions into random humor, the 2003 Australian sci-fi/horror concoction will undoubtedly make the cut for my list of underappreciated zombie films.

For now, though, let’s just revel in Rene, the film’s tough-as-nails female protagonist. Played with aplomb by Felicity Mason, our lead starts out as a luckless small town beauty queen. But when the apocalypse arrives in the form of zombie-creating meteorites, Rene subverts the usual damsel-in-distress horror tropes in favor of shotguns and gas masks.  And at risk of spoiling the finale for the uninitiated, suffice it to say that when the end of the world descends, we should all be so fortunate to have such a savvy, uncompromising woman as leader.  If only we could be so lucky in a non-apocalypse too.

Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs

Before Jeffrey Dahmer became the Cannibal Next Door, another man-eat-man stole our high-protein hearts.  But despite Mr. Lecter’s quotable wit and insatiable appetite, Clarice is the one who emerges from the film a true fighter.  Everything a female horror heroine should be, this is not a girl who needs a romantic paramour to soften her, though many shippers still root for the old Clarice-Hannibal coupling.

Released—aptly enough—on Valentine’s Day, the movie just turned twenty-three but despite two prequels, a sequel, and a television series since, The Silence of Lambs stands strong at the top of the flesh-noshing heap. Yes, that means Hannibal need not apply here.  A night goggle-wearing Buffalo Bill in his basement of pain is closer to touching Foster’s Clarice than Julianne Moore could manage in an entire two-hour film.  Sometimes, even when sequels are passable, they’re nowhere near as quintessential as their progenitors.  And no nice Chianti will ever be able to assuage those woes.

Clarice Starling

Who’s your favorite female badass from the list?  Who would you add to the roster?  Let me know in the comments!



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      1. kXnPunk February 15, 2014 at 8:19 pm

        Katharine Isabelle- Ginger Snaps
        Danielle Harris-Halloween are way badass too.
        And yes, Karen Black and Ingrid Pitt are much more badass than any of these featured, They’re a class apart. 😀

      2. Chacon88 February 15, 2014 at 8:55 pm

        Jennifer Hills in I spit on your grave

        • kXnPunk February 15, 2014 at 10:28 pm

          OH H3LL YESSSsss!!! 😀

      3. Tiago February 15, 2014 at 8:57 pm

        Jannicke from the first 2 Cold Prey movies, Marybeth from Hatchet trilogy and Baby Firefly from 1000 corpses and Devil’s Rejects.

      4. Riley (@FlapjackRiley) February 15, 2014 at 9:53 pm

        You’re not picking Nancy because she died? Does New Nightmare mean nothing?
        Kirsty from the Hellraiser movies is a badass too. As is the main character in You’re Next.

        • Tiago February 15, 2014 at 10:34 pm

          I also disagree with Nancy’s dead being stupid. Very Freudian deep stuff that death is.

      5. Chuck February 16, 2014 at 1:37 am

        I ‘m curious. In almost every zombie film, you have at least one character who is unable to process what’s happening and that character ends up shutting down. Why is it such a terrible thing that in the original NOLD, that character is a woman? Why does that make her a terrible character? I think it made for a suspenseful movie that was much more true to human emotions. Ben had to act as protector, while also dealing with Barbara’s breakdown.
        I don’t bellyache that Sarah in DOTD was the strong one while her boyfriend, Miguel, melted down and ended up getting the compound overrun.
        Other than this minor quibble…good list!

        • Gwendolyn February 16, 2014 at 3:36 am

          This is an interesting point. Anytime I complain about Barbara (and I often protest her), it’s less that the “breakdown” character is a woman and more that Barbara offers little in the way of actual personality outside of her freak out. I’ve written about Miguel before too, and for as terrible as he is, the audience can at least imagine a vague outline of what he was like before the zombie apocalypse. In my mind, Barbara was probably whiny and annoying even on an average day.

          Thanks for the really well-thought comment!

        • Chuck February 16, 2014 at 3:59 am

          I will agree with you there. Barbara’s character doesn’t get fleshed out before she goes over that cliff and I think we meet Miguel about a month or two too late to find out what finally clicked in his head.
          I just think we need those characters to round out a pretty diverse cast of characters.
          I wonder if Romero was making amends for a weak female character with Sarah or if he really thought about it all that much.

        • Chuck February 16, 2014 at 4:13 am

          I looked at my original post, and I regret the word “bellyache”. I really didn’t see that in your article and it seems rather harsh on my part. Disregard, please. : )
          Again, good article.

      6. 00ghoul00 February 16, 2014 at 2:57 am

        Lucie in Martyrs played by Mylène Jampanoï.

      7. szawu February 17, 2014 at 7:29 am

        Baby Firefly

      8. Zander February 17, 2014 at 9:27 am

        Youre next!!!??? that Australian chick made that whole movie, so legit

      9. Miss Jane February 21, 2014 at 1:39 pm

        Take out all the ones where she still has to get her tits out, or wear a tight revealing costume in order to be accepted as a lead woman – and THEN I think you’ll have the list!

      10. Bella Swan March 7, 2014 at 7:41 am

        Nancy Thompson in Nightmare on Elm Street

      11. Death886 April 14, 2014 at 4:41 pm

        Yeah, Nancy Thompson.
        Oh, Laurie Strode in Halloween H20!
        The girl in the Evil Dead remake!

      12. soyungato April 26, 2014 at 8:27 pm

        what about Cybil Bennet in Silent hill??