When you think of horror movies, this popular trope most likely comes to mind: a masked killer hiding in the darkness which is picking off unsuspecting victims one by one. Then, our main hero (usually a young woman) fights the killer and walks away victorious.
That protagonist is our "Final Girl."
She is one of the surviving characters in the movie to see another day. (Or, it's fighting an evil spirit, a zombie army, supernatural creature. You get the idea.)
Viewers are typically pulled through their POV to root them on.
While this archetype is known more for horror movies, Final Girls are a staple on TV too!
Though, there are some noticeable differences. Like, their battles aren't confined to a single night of terror. Sometimes it'll spread across multiple TV plotlines or an overarching season.
This means we get more time to meet our Final Girl, learn about her backstory, and see her develop before fighting the villain.
Each Final Girl is different, but what connects them is their resourcefulness, their inner push for good, and their bravery in the face of evil. And, in rare cases, they have a weird connection to the killer or supernatural ability.
Below, we've picked out TV's best Final Girls who dominated the small screen and conquered the evil that came their way.
Author's Note: Spoiler warning! Details discuss plots from the series and what the characters faced. Also, some shows are still airing, so while the character's final fate might still be up in the air, the character fits the archetype and survived significant parts of their journey.
Check out the list below!
Emma Duval of Scream (MTV)
Emma is the closest you'll get between a horror movie series and a TV Final Girl.
She faced three serial killers who targeted her for varying reasons. The killers tormented her, picked off her friends one by one, and even tried to finish her off in the climactic "killer reveal" scene. Even when her friends were targeted, all roads led back to Emma.
Much of Scream's first two seasons (and Halloween mini-arc) focused on Emma's story. And similar to the film series, her connection to the killers became a main plot point.
Emma was inquisitive, risked her life to save her friends, and showcased her resourcefulness to defeat the killers.
While Audrey and Brooke also survived the ordeals, they aren't the Final Girls due to how much Scream was heavily narrated around Emma. Audrey fits more of the "horror movie fan" and "rebel" archetype while Brooke is the "rich/popular girl." Based on horror movie rules, they were more likely to be fodder.
Brooke Thompson of American Horror Story: 1984 (FX)
Brooke is the epitome of the Final Girl in American Horror Story.
She fits some of the clearcut tropes that were present during '80s slashers: tormented backstory, naive virgin, chase scenes, and she's the main target of the serial killer. (Well, at least two of them.) But, what earned her the title was her redemption storyline to seek justice against the killers who wronged her.
When push came to shove, she mustered the bravery to fight the killers directly. This wasn't even a single instance; we're talking years of build-up before Brooke got her finale moment.
Even the characters directly in the show called her the Final Girl!
Brooke fits the role. (Who are we to disagree with Donna?)
Elena Gilbert of The Vampire Diaries (The CW)
Elena's journey as a Final Girl stretched across two phases in his life. The first was during her time as a human, and the second was when she became a vampire.
In both instances, Elena's inquisitive personality brought her deeper into the supernatural world. And when you consider that she always jumped into action to protect her friends, Elena spent a lot of time putting herself in danger.
Katherine. The Originals. Werewolves. Vampires. These were just some of the enemies she had to face who wanted her dead.
The Vampire Diaries, at its core, dealt with rooting on Elena's survival as she encountered evil.
That is, also, to the love triangle plot and the storylines of her friends. (Regardless that Nina Dobrev left the show after The Vampire Diaries Season 6.)
Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The WB & UPN)
Buffy breaks the mold for what you'd expect a Final Girl to be. Instead of cowering away from the monsters in the dark, she sought them out and fought them head-on.
The trope of the horror icon is flipped on its head.
Buffy Summers has faced it all, from vampire lords to demonic gods. Let's not even forget the iconic meeting with Dracula! If you can think of a horror story, she has seen it all.
Even though Buffy died twice during the series, fates brought her back into the fold to fight another day. When it all came down to it, she stood victorious as her greatest enemy's plan (The First Evil), and the town of Sunnydale crumbled to the bottom of the Hellmouth.
Buffy changed the game for Final Girls, and she stands as one of the leading examples of a horror (and empowerment) icon from TV.
Grace Gardner of Scream Queens (FOX)
Scream Queens is an interesting show on this list because characters who would've typically been killed off in horror movies ended up surviving and/or becoming the main focus on the show.
Scream Queens kept the final survivor rate pretty high. Though, even amid the changing body count, there still emerged characters who fit a few key archetypes. Like, the mean girl, the nerd, and of course, the Final Girl.
Upbeat sorority pledge Grace was the main Final Girl of Scream Queens Season 1.
As with many examples on this list, the Kappa Kappa Tau plot connected to Grace's main narrative. Sure, the Red Devil killers were going to enact their murder spree regardless, but in true horror fashion, the main character coincidently had a backstory that tied to their revenge plot.
Grace used her resourcefulness and investigative skills to expose the killers' backstories. Plus, her fate at ending up at a mental asylum fits right at home with many of her '80s Final Girl counterparts.
Zayday Williams of Scream Queens (FOX)
Zayday's journey as a Final Girl spread across two seasons, from her early days at the Kappa house to working at the hospital.
Beyond the Chanels, Zayday is one of the constant characters who helped to push the plot forward and conquer the killers. Even when she got captured (both times!), Zayday found a way to break free and ensure her survival. But it's her tenure during Scream Queens Season 2 where she assumed full Final Girl status.
Without Zayday's constant vigilance and investigative skills, the killers' plot wouldn't have been revealed. She cared more about helping people and stopping the killers once and for all, which is a noble trait many Final Girls hold to their hearts.
As compared to the Chanels, Zayday never felt like fodder. Chanel #1, #3, and #5 always seemed to be at the killers' mercy and made decisions to put their survival first, regardless if it killed someone in the process.
Betty Cooper of Riverdale (The CW)
Come on, Betty Cooper is THE Final Girl of Riverdale!
Betty has faced serial killers, solved murder-mysteries, investigated crimes, and dived deep into the darkness of the town. Plus, she also explored her own supernatural/mental connection to the darkness that threatened to ruin her life.
When Betty became the target of both The Black Hood and The Farm, she cemented her status as a horror icon.
The narrative was focused through her eyes as she discovered body-after-body, and the killer tormenting her with her grief. As the evil grows around her, Betty is resourceful and finds a way to survive.
Riverdale High dances will never be the same again.
Sarah Bennett of Slasher: The Executioner (Netflix, Chiller, and Super Channel)
Slasher Season 1 had a look and feel that tied closely to a slasher movie. A large number of suspects, the bloody body count, and a faceless killer with a creepy mask made up the mystery. At the core of this killing spree was Sarah Bennett.
Sarah is an artistic and conflicted character who has a dark backstory involving the killer.
Once she moved back to town, the killings started happening again, and she became the main focus. Sure, The Executioner targeted sinners first, but the history of the crimes stemmed from Sarah's backstory. It was only a matter of time before the killer sought to kill her to finish off the plan.
Sarah used her wits to survive at every encounter, she explored deeper into the mystery, and she eventually took down the killer. Plus, she walked away with a greater understanding of herself and the secrets of the past.
Saadia Jalalzai of Slasher: Solstice (Netflix)
Saadia's Final Girl status didn't emerge from the get-go like her Slasher Season 1 counterpart. Her journey took a few episodes and victims before the narrative switched to her plight for survival.
The Druid picked off people in the apartment building to mark the horrors of the previous year. But, Saadia is an introverted and kind character who kept to herself; the story of sneaking out to the rave is an opportunity pushed by her friends.
So, how was she connected to it all? Barely, that is. Saadia could've avoided it all had she stayed to herself; however, her horror role wouldn't let that happen.
Saadia searched for clues about the killer, encountered bodies, and tried to save everyone from death. And once both her friend and love interest were revealed as the killers, she mustered the strength to fight and win.
Spencer Hastings, Hanna Marin, Aria Montgomery, and Emily Fields of Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family / Freeform)
The four main leads of Pretty Little Liars each have countless stories of blackmail, torment, and instances where they've explored creepy locations. And let's not forget the many times they've fought against "A" or one of their accomplices!
Much of the chaos stemmed from the lies that The Liars told, and the extents at which they went to keep their secrets hidden.
It's hard to choose between any of them as the Final Girl of PLL because they're all the Final Girls.
The journey focused on each of them, and when faced with A's evil plans, they survived. This also includes whenever the mysteries lead to a pivotal moment where someone tried to kill them.
Spencer, Hanna, Aria, and Emily did what they could to defeat A, even when their secrets got released in the process.
Eleven of Stranger Things (Netflix)
Eleven is an interesting case on this list. She isn't the type of Final Girl who was thrown into the chaos by happenstance or developed the power to defeat the enemy over time. Eleven had the ability within her all along.
She sought out the evil corporation and the enemies of The Upside Down instead of cowering away from them.
Think of her position like Buffy Summers: she dived deeper into the mysteries, became stronger as she came to terms with her role/powers, and defeated the monsters with her inner ability. Plus, she knew when to run away and play it smart whenever the situation threatened to harm her loved ones.
Nancy Wheeler could also be deemed a Final Girl on Stranger Things, but her intentions tend to be self-serving at times. She's cared more about her romantic relationships, writing news stories, or overcoming her guilt about Barb's death.
Abby Mills of Harper's Island (CBS)
Abby Mills survived not just one serial killer encounter, but two instances in her life. Both of them plaguing her birthplace on Harper's Island, a quiet, idyllic fishing island off Seattle.
After surviving a near encounter during her teens that killed her mother, Abby returned to the island years later for her best friend's wedding. And, in typical horror fashion, a killer starts picking off the wedding guests one-by-one.
Abby is introverted, kind, and brave, but she's also sullen due to her past trauma.
Abby takes matters into her own hands by rallying the guests for survival, albeit with a few questionable solo adventures. She jumps into each situation to fight the killer, especially after deducing her connection to the murder spree that took place years prior.
Sookie Stackhouse of True Blood (HBO)
Sookie is the curious and inquisitive voice that pushed many of True Blood's plots. Right from True Blood Season 1 Episode 1, the lure of the supernatural world pulled her in, much to the dismay of her friends around her.
Vampires, werewolves, witches, fairies, cult members, and of course, a serial killer were par for the course of Sookie's history.
If something terrible happened in Bon Temps, there's no doubt Sookie would be close behind to inspect. Or, the story would find its connection to Sookie.
On a high body count show like True Blood, there was always one constant: Sookie would survive. Even when her friends, enemies, and strangers were being killed, Sookie would be the last one standing.
Plus, it also helped that Sookie would go out of her way to save people when she could.
Alex Portnoy & McKenna Brady of Light as a Feather (Hulu)
A simple game of "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board" shouldn't have amounted to the terror it did. But, that's what happens when the supernatural is brought in to deliver a deadly curse.
Both McKenna and Alex fell victim to Violet's manipulation by playing the game and becoming targets in the curse's hit list.
They lost friends along the way and eventually survived their first encounter with the curse. Unfortunately, they jumped back in to play the game yet again when the curse affected new victims. McKenna's life was threatened, Alex was hunted by a killer, and new schemes were afoot that nearly took their lives.
While McKenna's traumatic past was explored more during the series, both faced harrowing evils before they eventually conquered their horror story.
Have they truly survived the curse? Time will tell, but for right now, they're free to live another day.
Lydia Martin of Teen Wolf (MTV)
Lydia had one of the biggest character developments throughout Teen Wolf's run. She started as the typical shallow popular girl before growing into a self-sufficient hero that can stand on her own to help the heroes.
It wasn't until Lydia encountered her biggest enemy that her true strength and abilities emerged.
Starting with Teen Wolf Season 2, her path toward embracing her banshee side led her into caring more about others, owning her intelligence, and stepping in to help when the group needed. She wasn't the best fighter compared to the werewolves and hunters, but her abilities made a huge difference and aided in plenty of plots.
Plus, Lydia experienced many of the standard horror moments you'd expect where a horror victim would die. However, she pushed through to make it to the end.
Sabrina Spellman of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix)
Just like Elena, Sabrina's path as a Final Girl covered two phases of her life: (1) before she signed the Book of the Devil, and (2) after she signed the book. From evil witches to supernatural demons, everyone had it out to kill or corrupt Sabrina.
Sabrina made the ultimate sacrifice to save the town, but even after assuming her full witchy powers, the horror story continued around her.
Sabrina Spellman is a great Final Girl because she adapts to every changing situation around her. Even though some of her decisions are questionable, they come from a genuine place with the intent to help everyone. She wants to keep doing good and save her friends, regardless of her demonic responsibilities.
Though, the few times where she has accepted her dark side, it hindered her heroic legacy. Like, faking killing Agatha or becoming Queen of Hell.
It's a complex situation that isn't so cut and dry. (She is the daughter of the Devil, after all!)
Veronica Mars of Veronica Mars (UPN, The CW, & Hulu)
Veronica Mars is one of the few characters on this list who doesn't appear on a horror TV series. The show is more crime-noir episodic and involves her solving crimes in her affluent town. Though, the situation has turned deadly on many occasions.
Veronica faced criminals, blackmailers, and, most importantly, a few killers during her tenure.
Thanks to her resourcefulness and wit, she took down Lily Kane's murderer, the bus crash bomber, and the Hearst College rapist, to name a few. She made bold moves to hunt down the criminals, and she carried the narrative throughout each case.
But even in the thick of things, Veronica knew to play it smart, albeit with a solo and cavalier attitude.
When it was time to run, she ran like hell to put space between her and the killer. And, we rooted her on for survival whenever she found herself trapped in a dangerous situation with the Big Bad nearby.
Clary Fairchild of Shadowhunters (Freeform)
Clary falls into the same group as Buffy and Eleven. Her Final Girl status is filled with many supernatural enemies and heroic victories in battle.
Her original pursuit of being an art student got turned upside down when she discovered that she was a Shadowhunter. After that moment, she got thrown into battle and had to face a growing army of enemies. Like, her evil father, an evil sibling, and demons from hell.
Clary used her fighting skills and a sense of justice to save her life.
The plot didn't always work out in her favor; the villains got the upper hand a few times in their battles. And she did lose her memory at the cost of making a powerful move. However, when presented with a big decision to stop an evil enemy, she chose what would help the greatest number of people.
Clare of The Stranger (Quibi)
Clare's run as a Final Girl took her through a night of hell. While the other entries on this list covered a few days, each episode of Clare's journey spanned an hour of panic and fright.
The horror started with a rideshare encounter, but the cause of the terror was a stalker turning things deadly.
Part of Clare's experience was her inconsistent narrative. Many clues given were led to believe that we shouldn't trust Clare and that Carl E. might be a figment of her imagination. But, even with that season-long mystery hanging over our heads, the threat of a potential killer was still high.
Clare conquered and defeated (a very real) Carl E. to live for another day.
Donna Hayward of Twin Peaks (ABC)
Donna doesn't have the most conventional story in her horror experience. Which makes sense when you think about how unconventional Twin Peaks is as a TV series.
Her best friend Laura Palmer gets murdered, her new friend gets murdered, and more suspects are increasing around town. Agent Cooper and the sheriff's station are on the case, but Donna can't help only standing by as the killer runs free.
Part of Twin Peaks' story follows Donna as she, Maddy, and James search for the truth about Laura's murder.
Donna is a resourceful, intelligent, and caring person. Her curiosity leads her to explore many of the town's dark secrets and hidden corruption.
What cements her place on this list is her close encounter at almost being a Twin Peaks victim.
She narrowly avoided being murdered by Leland Palmer, and she dodged many of the nefarious actions of the town's corrupt citizens. Without Donna's help, the mystery wouldn't have been solved.
Liv Moore of iZombie (The CW)
Liv may be undead, but we were living for her story.
Being a zombie didn't deter Liv from living her life or trying to find a cure. She utilized her new special ability wherever she could, from solving cases to saving lives to finding a cure for the zombie curse. Liv threw herself into the mystery to get the job done.
The cases sometimes put her at risk against dangerous criminals, but she embraced each new mystery to do some good where it counted.
The zombie apocalypse might've ravaged Seattle and cost thousands of lives. However, Liv eventually got her happy ending and overcame anyone who worked against her.
Diana Bishop of A Discovery of Witches (Sky One, AMC, & BBC America)
Diana's complete horror story is far from over, especially since there is a second and third season coming for the series. Though, just from A Discovery of Witches Season 1 alone, Diana has survived A LOT!
The bewitched manuscript that bestowed untold power on Diana opened the floodgates of evil upon her life. She became the target of everyone seeking power and a malevolent fight between witches/vampires sparked in its place.
Part of it is also due to the forbidden romance between her and the handsome vampire Matthew Clairmont. (Seriously, Matthew Goode is so sophisticated and charming! It is well worth the price to pay.)
Diana is brave, a scholar in her field, and capable of fighting her own battles. Regardless of what evil vampires and witches have thrown her way, she has succeeded to live another day. If she can make it through that, the odds are in her favor.
Vic McQueen of NOS4A2 (AMC)
Victoria "Vic" McQueen is a reluctant Final Girl on this list. Similar to Diana, her story is far from over, but based on NOS4A2 Season 1, she proved to be a capable hero against the immortal villain, Charlie Manx.
Her aspirations to be an artist (there might be a theme here...) were put on hold as life got in the way. The biggest concern with that was a supernatural kidnapper holding children hostage and feeding off their souls.
Plus, with her supernatural ability, she's developed a strange connection to Charlie and can track him down.
Vic would've rather gone to school to be an artist, but she channeled her strength to fight Charlie in the hopes of saving the missing children. She is brash, a loner, and cares for others all at the same time.
Vic conquered her first horror story with Charlie, but with more episodes on the way, their sequel could be more intense than the last.
Daphne & Velma of Scooby-Doo (Cartoon Network and many iterations)
We couldn't forget Daphne and Velma from this Final Girls list! Before horror found a scary place on TV, the Mystery Machine was driving around and solving crimes before bedtime.
Daphne and Velma have seen it all, from ghosts to vampires to zombies and more. Sure, many schemes were petty criminals trying to steal money or gain power using urban legends. But, there were instances where the legends turned out to be true.
The two leading ladies of Mystery Incorporated each have their strengths within the team. Velma has a knack for capturing the baddie while Daphne plays bait or puts her investigative skills to good use. Along with Fred, Shaggy, and Scooby, they've put an end to many scary cases.
Both Daphne and Velma faced the supernatural and won.
Now, it's your turn, TV Fanatics!
Which Final Girl is your favorite from the list?
Did we miss anyone? Who would you add?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Justin Carreiro is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.