Female characters are staple stars of the horror genre and range from Final Girls to villains that are just as terrifying as their male counterparts. That said, not every female horror character is made equal. Some are more iconic than others. Here are just some of the most iconic female horror characters we’ve seen in movies and video games over the past couple of decades.
Iconic Female Horror Characters in Movies
Whether they’re killers or victims, women get a lot of screen time on the big screen. Many of them go on to become influential in the genre. Countess Marya Zaleska from the 1936 film Dracula’s Daughter skirted the Hays Code’s restrictions on depicting homosexual relationships in films while serving as an early example of how horror can be used to explore the tensions between female sexuality and social expectations of how women should act.
The following decades brought us Rosemary of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), a woman who’s plagued by a demon but more so by her lack of bodily autonomy, and Pamela Vorhees from Friday the 13th (1980) whose character is a callback to the mythological theme of the monstrous mother. While these legendary horror ladies come from earlier eras, the past two decades don’t lack iconic female horror characters.
1. Samara Morgan from The Ring (2002)
Samara Morgan is a vengeful spirit that serves as the main antagonist of the 2002 film The Ring. She’s the ghost girl who crawls out of your television, emerging from a well before reaching her arm into the real world and dragging you to your death. It’s such a classic scene in horror that just about anyone is familiar with it, even if they haven’t seen the entire film.
If the name “Samara” doesn’t ‘ring’ a bell, that’s because you might know this character better from the original 1998 film Ring, where she was named Sadako.
2. Jennifer Check from Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Female characters of horror films are usually either just survivors or villains, but Jennifer Check from Jennifer’s Body (2009) manages to be both and become horror’s ‘It’ girl at the same time. Hot, popular, and a bit of a mean girl, Jennifer is extremely comfortable with her body and sexuality. But her confidence bites her in the ass when the band she agrees to leave a bar with captures her and uses her as a sacrifice to the Devil in exchange for fame.
You don’t need a degree in film analysis to see how Jennifer became a cult sensation. So much of her character plays with themes of female sexuality, sexual assault, and queer longing, making it an easy favorite for a lot of horror fans.
3. Esther from Orphan (2009)
Orphan (2009)’s Esther takes our usual fears of having our home invaded by a stranger and turns it up to 11. While your typical slasher would have the killer emerge relatively out of the blue, Orphan plants Esther in the home of the Coleman family as their newly adopted daughter.
The Colemans, naturally, trust Esther and see her as nothing more than a little girl until they quickly discover that she’s not just having trouble adjusting to her new life as they thought but is actually an adult woman with violent tendencies.
4. Amy Dunne from Gone Girl (2014)
Amy Dunne and her Cool Girl monologue made their mark on our collective consciousness with the 2014 release of Gone Girl. Amy’s cutting criticism of the way she’s been treated by the men in her life and the roles she’s forced to play has made her the poster girl of feminine rage. So while you’re not likely to see a woman in real life pull off the same thorough takedown that Amy did to her husband, part of why she’s become so popular is how deeply she’s resonated with female horror fans.
5. Elaine Parks from The Love Witch (2016)
The Love Witch’s Elaine Parks is easily an icon with just her ’60s-inspired outfits. Though her entire character revolves around the fantasy of being adored by men, Elaine never loses her independence and agency in the story. It’s very clear that she just enjoys being loved and loving people, despite not wanting to stick around and be bogged down by long-term relationships. Her character is a fresh and feminine twist on the male serial killer archetype we typically see in horror films.
6. Dani Ardor from Midsommar (2019)
When it comes to female horror characters in movies, who could ever forget Dani Ardor? The Midsommar (2019) lead character is one of the most recognizable faces in horror within the past decade.
Dani struggles to cope with the death of her entire family and has no one left to cling to but her boyfriend, an emotionally inattentive man who drags her along with him to Sweden. While there, they become part of a commune that turns out to be a cult. Depending on how you read the movie, though, Midsommar may be a horror only for the other characters. Dani? She’s enjoying a newfound sense of belonging with her cult family.
Iconic Female Horror Characters in Video Games
Women play central roles in the horror genre of video games just as much, if not more often, than they do in film. The interactive nature of video games changes the way we experience these female horror characters, making them feel even more menacing or more active in the story’s events.
1. Lady Dimitrescu from Resident Evil Village (2021)
Lady Alcina Dimitrescu broke the internet back in 2021 with her appearance in Resident Evil Village. Like Pamela Vorhees, she’s a twisted mother figure who rules over a fictional European village with an iron fist…in the modern era. She maintains her control of the town through her terrifying reputation, which involves cannibalism and murder, and the fact that the village doesn’t exactly let people leave that easily.
Lady Dimitrescu may be the most popular female character in the game, but she’s far from being the only one. There’s her daughters Bela, Daniela, and Cassandra, as well as her fellow monstrous overlords, Donna Beneviento and Mother Miranda.
2. Ellie from The Last of Us (2013)
Netflix’s adaptation of The Last of Us makes it easy to forget that the original game it was based on was a survival action horror that pitted players against zombies made by the Cordyceps virus. What is hard to forget is the show and the game’s lead female character, Ellie.
Ellie is introduced at the beginning of the story as a child who is immune to the effects of the Cordyceps virus. After navigating the apocalypse on her own, she stumbles into Joel and forms a father-daughter bond with him. We get to know Ellie more and see how headstrong and funny she can be. Part of her appeal as a character is that we witness her grow up from a child to a young woman, making her feel like she’s also our found daughter.
3. Claire Redfield from Resident Evil 2 (1998)
Resident Evil’s Claire Redfield first appeared in the game series’ sequel, Resident Evil 2 (1998). She has since become a constant fixture of the series and a playable character that players can choose to play as alongside male characters. Claire has a somewhat playful demeanor but is no less smart and capable than the other protagonists.
4. Ada Wong from Resident Evil 2 (1998)
Ada Wong is easily one of, if not the, most recognizable character from the Resident Evil franchise for an obvious reason: she’s a sexy spy. Ada began life as a refugee of the Vietnam War before eventually becoming part of crime organizations and starting her career as an intelligence agent.
Ada has a rather complicated relationship with Leon Kennedy, so it’s a delight to see the two of them fight, flirt, and sometimes collaborate in the games.
5. Heather Mason from Silent Hill 3 (2003)
Heather Mason was first introduced in Silent Hill 3 (2003). Though she appears to be a regular teenage girl with a love of fashion and shopping, it’s later revealed that she’s one of the many women in a line of people created by a cult to “birth” their god into our plane of existence. It would have been easy for the game to make Heather a damsel in distress that needs saving from a father figure or a romantic interest, but Heather is the heroine of her own story, and her feminine softness is shown in a positive light as the source of her sense of justice.
6. Alice Liddell from Alice: Madness Returns (2011)
Alice: Madness Returns (2011) is a favorite of many horror video game players for its twisted take on the story of Alice in Wonderland. In Alice: Madness Returns, the titular Alice Liddell is a young woman who is scarred and traumatized by a house fire that kills her entire family and leaves her in the care of an asylum where she is subjected to all kinds of abuse. Sure, it’s hard to tell whether her adventures in Wonderland are real or if she’s just going cuckoo, but her refusal to take her abuse lying down makes her a compelling character to play as.