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What Is The Final Girl Trope? 5 Films You Need To See This Halloween

what is the final girl trope

This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s fall editorial intern Celeste MacMurray. Find her on Instagram at @clsmsanchezx. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at thezillennialzine@gmail.com.

It’s officially Spooky Season, meaning it’s time to kick back and put on some of your favorite horror movies to commemorate the season. Or even give a chance to new horror movies you haven’t seen before to celebrate the upcoming holiday season. You never know; you might discover a new favorite.

The horror genre is a very diverse one that contains a wide variety of different subgenres, such as paranormal, found footage, psychological and even slasher films. You’ll even find that horror films are much more complex than you think. There are common tropes, criticism and even theory when it comes to analyzing horror films. You’ll find that a common trope in horror movies, especially slasher ones, is the final girl, but who is she?

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The final girl is the main, female character who survives till the end of the film and manages to defeat the evil she’s running from. The final girl who makes it to the end of the movie is typically innocent in contrast to other characters because she shies away from sex, drugs and alcohol. The term “final girl” was coined in 1992 by Carol J. Clover in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender In The Modern Horror Film. In order to survive, the final girl must adapt, she must be quick and she’s got to be smart so she can make it out alive. Her overall arc is one of transformation because by the end of the movie she has become a different person—one capable of survival.

The final girl is a complicated figure as many debate whether they believe the character to be feminist or not. The term “the male gaze” is often used incorrectly within online circles as a catch-all term to describe objectification in real life, but that wasn’t the original use of the term. The male gaze was originally a term in film theory meant to explore the idea of the eyes behind the camera lens. Essentially, we’re meant to ask: who is doing the looking? Why did a camera focus on this shot at this angle? Why did it linger on this body part of a character? The male gaze is often used to refer to the objectification female characters often experience in film, and this can absolutely be applied to the final girl trope.

The final girl is given clearance to survive, but why? Because she is a virgin, she’s innocent and because she doesn’t involve herself with the taboo of drugs, sex and alcohol. The final girl shows us, then, what is believed to be valuable and worthy of survival in the early stages of the trope. Since the 70s, slasher films have developed the final girl trope immensely as they have become more complex over time.

If you’d like to observe this progression over time yourself, here are five films that can show you who the final girl is while also providing you a fun activity this Halloween season.

Halloween (1978)

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One of the most iconic final girls to boot, Laurie Strode is considered as one of the originals. Following the escape of Michael Myers from the sanitarium, he goes on a killing spree in his home town where no one is safe. Babysitter Laurie Strode is put to the test as she must protect two children from Michael’s reign of terror on Halloween night. She must be daring and she has to be cunning if she wants to make it out alive, and that’s exactly what she does to protect herself and these two children.

Friday the 13th (1980)

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Yet another iconic film in the slasher genre, because who doesn’t know Jason and his easily recognizable hockey mask? This is just a testament as to how horror films have really cemented themselves within pop culture.

Taking place on the tragic land of Camp Crystal Lake, a group of camp counselors must fight for their lives as they are slowly hunted down by a masked killer. Alice is the final girl of this film as she manages to make it out alive following the attack of Jason Vorhees. There’s mystery and suspense throughout this film as the truth behind the tragic events that closed this camp down as revealed to us as the story unfolds. We can’t help but realize that nothing is as it seems.

Scream (1996)

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One of the most memorable films of the 90s, Scream single-handedly jump started the slasher film revival as the genre had been dying out for years. What people loved the most about Scream was its self-awareness and the way it played with horror movie tropes in its favor to create a compelling and witty story. Sydney Prescott shows the beginning development of the final girl because her story is no longer about survival, because as she develops throughout the franchise, she becomes a strong, certified badass. Sydney’s past is intermingled within the events of Scream as she comes to term that her life is not what she thought it was, both past and present.

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

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Jennifer’s Body is my Roman empire, because had this film been marketed differently and had it been released to, it would have been a major box office hit. Even if Jennifer’s Body didn’t perform well at its release, today it has become a cult classic among women. Following the friendship of Needy and Jennifer, the two soon find their relationship complicated after Jennifer is transformed into a man-eating succubus following a ritual gone awry.

This creates trouble in paradise as Needy can’t support Jennifer’s actions, but she still loves her. Needy, as the final girl, transforms from a shy and timid girl into a strong and outspoken one capable of standing up for herself. She knows she has to do the right thing—even if it’s hard—and put an end to Jennifer’s spree.

X (2022)

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What makes X so interesting is the way it completely turns everything we know about the final girl on its head. The typical associations we know the final girl by are virginity and an aversion to substances, but Maxine isn’t afraid of these things at all. She and a group of friends travel to a remote farm in Texas in hopes of shooting an adult film, but their plans are thwarted as they’re hunted down one-by-one throughout the night. Maxine isn’t your typical final girl at all, because she refers to herself as a “sex symbol” and drinks and does drugs throughout the film. She is a full-180 within the final girl trope because her spunkiness is what helps her survive in the first place. She is set on reaching her dreams of becoming a star, so if that includes surviving the night on this farm of terrors, then so be it.

Do you have any other final girl favorites? Let us know and tell us why you think they’re the best ones!

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