Famous American mythologist and the author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell summed up ‘a hero’s journey’ as such: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” Horror movies usually feature common, everyday folks who encounter supernatural and often super-powered malevolent beings. As evil and nefarious as those beings may be, they are definitely a source of wonder. Most horror movies tend to have one character who overcomes the most insurmountable odds and emerges triumphant (or at least alive) at the end. At the end of the movie, such horror movie heroes stand tall in the face of adversity and their life becomes an example for other people to learn from and follow. These horror movie heroes don’t have a stereotype. Men, women, kids, scientists, doctors, anybody with a strong resolve and a will to survive can be a hero. This post will talk about such people.
Here are the greatest horror movie heroes of all time:
Ellen Ripley, Alien (1979)
How can we kickstart the greatest horror movie heroes list with anyone else but Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver). Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic, Alien is essentially a slasher film shot in space. It was the first movie of the long running Alien series of movies. It was also the first movie to introduce the world to the ass kicking Warrant Officer of the spaceship Nostromo, Ellen Ripley.
Answering a possible distress signal, some of the crew investigate a downed and derelict spacecraft and return with a very unwelcome stowaway. When the Alien emerges in the films iconic “chestburster” scene, it grows quickly and swiftly murders the entire crew. However, the alien monstrosity can’t do anything about Ellen Ripley. She springs into action, accessing the ship’s computer system MOTHER, finding out that one among them is not whom he seems, and ultimately manages to blast the Alien into outer space. In the process, Ellen Ripley prevents the murderous alien from reaching the Earth and wreaking havoc among human beings. In the process, Ripley also rescues her pet cat Jones.
Tommy Jarvis, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
One of the most underrated traits of horror movies is, featuring kids or adolescents as the ultimate protagonist/survivor. It’s one of the main reasons for the genre’s enduring and everlasting appeal. By utilizing youngsters as the protagonist, filmmakers give the audience (which typically first experience horror films at the same age as the characters they’re viewing up on the screen) someone to not just root for, but also to relate to. And the archetypical child horror movie hero is probably Friday the 13th’s Tommy Jarvis.
Unlike most kids, Tommy Jarvis doesn’t fear monsters. As played by Cory Feldman, Tommy has a room full of monster paraphernalia and delights in donning masks to scare his sister. When the ultimate monster, Jason Voorhees, threatens Tommy and his sister, the kid takes decisive action. He shaves his head to resemble a young Jason and confronts the unstoppable killer head on. As he hacks at Jason repeatedly with the killer’s own machete while yelling “Die!”, young Tommy courageously accomplished what no one in the series had thus far been able to do – decisively end the menace of the Crystal Lake killer for good this time.
Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, The Horror of Dracula (1958)
For as long as there’s a Count Dracula, there will always be a Van Helsing – an unwavering nemesis determined to send the Dark Prince back to Hell. Van Helsing is a vampire hunter who appeared in Bram Stoker’s original source novel, and many actors have brought the character to the screen. One of the greatest and earliest incarnations of Van Helsing was Peter Cushing’s portrayal opposite Christopher Lee’s count in Hammer Film’s Horror of Dracula. That portrayal was so awesome that we had to include it on the greatest horror movie heroes list.
Cushing played Van Helsing (or a descendant thereof) five times for Hammer, and three of those outings were opposite Christopher Lee as Dracula. But it’s the duo’s first go-round together where Cushing is most impressive. He plays Van Helsing like an action hero, and his final confrontation where he chases Dracula throughout the castle, dodges a hurled candlestick, pushes off an attempted strangulation and then leaps across two tables and onto a curtain to expose the Count to sunlight is as exhilarating a final battle as you’re likely to see.
Marybeth Dunston, Hatchet (2006)
Marybeth Dunston (played by Danielle Harris) is not playing around when she first appears in the Hatchet (2006) franchise. She heads into the swamp to look for her missing father and brother, putting her own safety at risk in order to find her family. But she doesn’t come empty-handed: she has a gun and knowledge about the legendary Victor Crowley that supposedly kills anyone who enters the swamp.
Despite being scared, Marybeth never gives up and is a very active character, using both her brains and physical strength. She’s willing to put herself on the line not just for her family but also for others, as she does when Ben goes searching for gasoline to set Crowley on fire. Even when she finds her family dead, Marybeth doesn’t lay down and die but instead goes after Crowley with a vengeance. Such grit and gumption definitely gets her a spot on the greatest horror movie heroes of all time list.
After going through such a horrible ordeal, you would think Marybeth would want to never go into a swamp again. But she returns in Hatchet II (2010) with a bunch of trained gunmen to put an end to Victor Crowley. At the end, she has her heroic moment when she repeatedly chops Crowley’s head using a hatchet and then shoots him in the face with a shotgun.
Dr. Sam Loomis, Halloween (1978)
Dr Loomis is perhaps the unlikeliest of horror movie heroes. A short, stocky child psychologist pushing retirement age who had the misfortune of being assigned to treat a 6-year-old boy who murdered his older sister one Halloween night – a boy who in Loomis’s estimation embodied pure, unadulterated evil.
When grown up, Michael Myers escapes Smith’s Grove Sanitarium to return to Haddonfield, Illinois, the place where he committed his initial crime. Dr. Loomis, played wonderfully and indelibly by Donald Pleasance, trails his charge and attempts to warn the authorities and residents of Haddonfield that “death has come to your little town….” However, Dr. Loomis is more than just a balding version of Chicken Little. Loomis doesn’t just raise an alarm, he is also indulges in a relentless and dogged pursuit of the sororicidal slasher. He ultimately ends up shooting Myers and saving the life of the killer’s ultimate prey. Who was later revealed to be his younger sister Laurie Strode (another great horror hero).
Mike Pearson, Phantasm (1979)
It’s hard being one of the pre-pubescent horror movie heroes. You’re at that awkward stage where you’re too old to be believed or succored when you tell ghost stories, but too young to do many of the things needed to do if said story turns out to be true. That’s the dilemma young Mike (played by A. Michael Baldwin) finds himself in in Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm.
To add to his woes, Mike’s parents perished in an automobile accident and he’s being raised by his older brother Joey, who unfortunately seems to take more of an interest in playing guitar with his ice-cream vendor best bud Reggie than in his younger sibling.
So when Mike witnesses the nefarious Tall Man (played by the late Angus Scrimm), the town’s local mortician, single-handedly hoisting the casket of Reggie and Jody’s late friend Tommy into a hearse, his suspicions are confirmed that the mortician is not only up to no good, but is probably responsible for that death as well. Now he just has to convince others to believe him while pursuing The Tall Man and putting himself in potential mortal peril in order to retrieve evidence which will convince Jody and Reggie that, yes, the Tall Man is indeed real.
Nancy Thompson, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Nancy Thompson is no final girl who just manages to survive the ordeal somehow. She is the protagonist, the hero, the one who takes it to the dream-invading, child-molesting, pepperoni-pizza faced antagonist Fred Krueger in Wes Craven’s seminal slasher A Nightmare on Elm Street. In fact, in a neat subversion of audience expectations, Nancy’s alpha-male, football playing boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp as one of the slightest high-school footballers you’ll ever see) is neutered and helpless against the fedora-wearing menace. It truly befalls upon Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) to save the day. Her character firmly belongs into every greatest horror movie heroes list.
Also of little assistance are Nancy’s estranged parents – her police lieutenant father and her alcoholic mother. It’s no accident that before Nancy faces her final battle with Fred, Craven shows her tucking her mother into bed, passed out in an alcoholic stupor. Nancy booby-traps her house and enters into the dreamworld to confront the killer (whom ironically was created by the very same parents of the children of Elm Street who now are completely ineffectual in protecting their offspring) and bring him into the real world where is vulnerable and powerless.
Erin, You’re Next (2011)
The strongest aspect of this movie is the strength of its heroine, the competent and highly capable Erin (portrayed by Sharni Vinson). You’re Next (2011) is a relatively new horror movie about the Davison family. Erin goes to her boyfriend’s family reunion and they are attacked by a group of masked killers. Right from the beginning, Erin remains calm and takes many steps often missed by characters in horror movies. She secures the house and texts 911.
Erin’s skills stem from the fact that she grew up on a survivalist camp and learned martial arts. She thwarts the many attempts made on her life throughout the film. When the killer in the Tiger Mask tries to kill her, she kills him with a meat tenderizer. When the killer in the Lamb Mask seems about to kill Drake, Erin stabs him with a screwdriver and later kills him. She also sets up an ambush in the basement and successfully takes care of the man in the Fox Mask.
When she discovers Drake planned the murders, he tries to bribe her but Erin manages to kill him. It’s unfortunate she’s shot in the shoulder by a cop, who thinks she murdered Drake in cold blood, but she still manages to survive… and accidentally kills the cop with a trap she set at the front door. Not the best ending for her, but it was her ingenuity that ultimately saved her life at the cost of others. And all of that is enough to make her one of the greatest horror movie heroes of all time.
Ash Williams, Evil Dead II (1987)
One of the greatest horror movie heroes of all time, Ash Williams is a Boomstick bearing, chainsaw-handed, wisecracking rapscallion who continually finds himself in a whole heap of trouble and knee deep in Deadites. However, instead of being overwhelmed and overrun, Williams always manages to get the upper hand on those wretched spawns.
The character of Ash evolved tremendously between the first and the second Evil Dead, and it is in Evil Dead II where he coalesces into the kickass hero whom we all know and love (really, in the first Evil Dead, Ash is not that heroic) Who you gonna call when Deadites come a-knocking? Definitely not the Ghostbusters. Ash is the man amongst men who is gonna send those bastards back to Hell, and he’ll do it with style and a grab-bag full of one-liners. And at the end of the day, good guy, bad guy, it don’t matter…he’s the man with the gun! Come get some!
Kirsty Cotton, Hellraiser (1987)
Kirsty Cotton (played by Ashley Laurence) survives several Hellraiser films. She’s an extraordinary woman who is a master at the art of the deal, one of the greatest horror movie heroes of all time. In Hellraiser (1987), after witnessing her stepmother Julia kill a man and then her Uncle Frank, now skinless, eat him, Kirsty manages to escape with some quick-thinking, throwing the Lemarchand’s box out the window to distract her uncle. When she later solves the puzzle box and accidentally summons the Cenobites, Kirsty’s able to make a trade, offering them her uncle’s life instead of her own.
Like a lot of horror movie survivors, the trauma of the events from the first film was a major burden for Kirsty to bear. So in Hellraiser II (1988) she is stuck in a psychiatric institute. She is pitted against the head doctor of the institute, Channard, who becomes a Cenobite. Like last time, Kirsty is able to escape the Cenobites clutches by showing them they were once human. She also disguises herself in Julia’s skin to trick Channard, getting him accidentally killed by Leviathin.
In her final appearance in Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002), her husband, Trevor Gooden, is the protagonist of the film. He suffers amnesia from a car accident that he thinks killed Kirsty. Trevor learns he constantly cheated on Kirsty and was planning to kill her with the puzzle box. But Kirsty, once again making a deal with the Cenobites, offers them five souls instead of her own. She kills Trevor’s three mistresses, his friend, and then Trevor himself, pinning all of the murders on him. Her impressive ability to constantly outwit others, saving her own life countless times, make her a pretty cool horror movie survivor.
Michelle, 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
In 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) gets into a car accident and is brought into a shelter by two men, Howard and Emmett, who claim their world is undergoing a chemical attack and the only way to survive is to stay in their underground bunker. Most of the film revolves around Michelle trying to outwit Howard and escape the bunker, and becoming one of the greatest horror movie heroes of all time.
Howard is a domestic abuser who pretends to be Michelle’s altruistic savior; he threatens her when she breaks his rules, more interested in controlling her than understanding her. Michelle has experience with abusers, her father being one and destroying her courage at a young age, making her often respond to arguments (like the one she has with her fiance in the film) by running away. She is an intelligent character who puts aggressive plans into action to attempt to escape the controlling Howard and his bunker. She manages to escape, but finds herself now facing the outside world that, while not totally poisonous, is being invaded by aliens.
Michelle valiantly fights back against the abuse in her life, both before and after the incident in the bunker, and instead of running away to a “safe zone,” the movie ends with her heading to Houston to confront the alien intruders. Her bravery in the face of the petrifying horrors in her life makes her a very admirable and memorable character.
Barbara Blair, Night of the Living Dead (1990)
If Night of the Living Dead had not been remade, Barbara would not be on this list. The woman referred to in the famous line “They’re coming to get you Barbara,” does not survive George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). She even shuts down over the course of the movie, guaranteeing her eventual death. However, in Tom Savini’s remake of Night of the Living Dead (1990), Barbara Blair (played by Patricia Tallman) begins as a meek individual who adapts and turns into one of the greatest horror movie heroes of all time because of the zombie apocalypse.
Unlike pretty much every other character involved, Barbara survives to the end of this movie. For most of the film, she and a group of survivors were holed up in a house. In a last ditch effort, Barbara runs from the house and searches for help. Not only does she find it, but she actually comes back in the hopes that her newfound friend Ben will still be alive. Unfortunately he is now undead. The scumbag who is partially responsible for his death is still alive and well, though, which Barbara rectifies by shooting him in the head. Not something you should look up to, but movie-goers were pleased to be rid of that headache-inducing character.
R.J. Macready, The Thing (1982)
R.J. MacReady (played by Kurt Russell) is a highly resourceful and intelligent helicopter pilot in the sci-fi horror classic The Thing (1982). He is one of the people who takes charge of research scientists as an alien creature begins killing and assimilating members of their group. This creates a lot of paranoia among the characters, and MacReady makes it his mission to figure out the identity of the Thing. He takes cautious steps, quarantining members of the group who may be infected.
MacReady also shows off his flamethrower skills when he torches the aliens on several occasions. When he’s suspected of being infected by the Thing, he threatens to blow everyone up with dynamite if they don’t back off. Not taking any chances, MacReady ties up the members of the group and figures out a way to test whether someone is infected. He tells the group to give blood samples and to poke them with a hot piece of wire, as the creature’s blood will most likely react to defend itself. MacReady then arms people with weapons when they pass the test. At the end of the film, MacReady helps destroy the site with dynamite to prevent the Thing from returning. His methodical thinking and proficiency with flamethrowers and dynamite make MacReady a staple on every greatest horror movie heroes ever list.
Jennifer Corvino, Phenomena (1985)
Phenomena by Dario Argento is a beautiful (as all early Argento films are) tale of a girl, played by a very young and beautiful Jennifer Connelly. In the movie, she is sent by her movie-star father to study in Switzerland at the Richard Wagner Academy of Girls. Jennifer is no ordinary student, however. She is prone to bouts of sleepwalking and has the ability to telepathically commune with insects.
When students from the academy are found murdered, Jennifer teams up with local entomologist John McGregor (and his helper monkey Inga) to uncover the culprit. What makes Jennifer one of the greatest horror movie heroes of all time is her absolute agency and resilience in the face of every obstacle. She’s mocked by her fellow students, and the authority figures at her school attempt to stymie her, but she remains headstrong and defiant. Even when McGregor (Donald Pleasance) is killed by the black-gloved culprit and she’s well and truly alone; even when she’s swimming in a pool infested with maggots and corpses; Jennifer never, ever appears helpless. This is one strong girl who can take care of herself and will do whatever it takes to ensure that she’s still standing.
Nada, They Live (1988)
In a nod to Sergio Leone, the late pro-wrestling legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is a man with no name in John Carpenter’s late-80s masterpiece They Live (although he is listed in the credits as Nada: Spanish for nothing). Piper plays your true everyman, a migrant worker who stumbles into the conspiracy to end all conspiracies and then has to (paraphrasing here) kick ass and chew bubblegum while suffering from a dearth of bubblegum. Such an incredible performance lands Nada bang on the greatest horror movie heroes list.
Upon donning a pair of sunglasses which reveal the world as it truly is – populated by grey-skinned, bulbous-eyed aliens who endeavor to keep society under control by propagating messages such as “Obey” and “No Independent Thought”- Nada must take decisive action, including recruiting his friend Frank to the cause by besting him in the one of the greatest fights in the history of cinema.
Sidney Prescott, Scream (1996)
In the Laurie Strode mold, but with a distinct spin all her own, Scream‘s constant final girl, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) starts out as the typical somewhat helpless lead scream queen. A general expectation from her is to just barely come out on top, and manage to survive by the skin of her teeth. However, as the plot unravels, Sidney Prescott definitely transforms from a hapless victim to a formidable warrior. As the series continues, and other characters get killed off, Sidney remains the steadfast puncher of Ghostface’s lights. Even in the fourth movie, where you’d assume the old guard would die off, she still somehow remains the victorious one. One of the greatest horror movie heroes of all time.
Laurie Strode, Halloween (1978)
The slasher movie trope of the “final girl” is a well worn one at this point, but we can’t forget really where it started as we know it — in the heroine of John Carpenter’s seminal knife-and-mask flick, Halloween. Laurie Strode, as played by Jamie Lee Curtis, survives because she’s smart, savvy, and pays attention to her surroundings. Unlike her oblivious friends, who shirk responsibility (and common sense) to go bone in empty houses, Laurie manages to save two little kids and herself by not being helpless. She goes on to become one of the greatest horror movie heroes of all time.
Ginny Field, Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
The heroine of Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Ginny Field (played by Amy Steel) is one of the smartest and mentally strongest survivors of the Friday the 13th franchise. She is the second-in-command to her boyfriend Paul at a summer camp counselor’s training seminar, but she proves to be his equal because of her intelligence and confidence as a leader. She also breaks the rules, drinking, cursing and having sex, something that usually spells out death for a horror movie character. Here, it makes Ginny a character who is not naive and familiar with the machinations of the real world. Ginny is also the only one who took the legend of Jason seriously and actually sympathized with him. When she walks into a darkened room, she knows something is off and she doesn’t just ignore it. Ginny’s athletic talents also help in her fight against Jason. She even successfully fended off the fearsome Jason and saves her boyfriend’s life. Her true stroke of genius is dressing up as Jason’s mother to keep him from killing her. Definitely one of the greatest horror movie heroes of all time.