Ranking the greatest scream queens in film history

Ranking the greatest scream queens in film history

From Neve Campbell to Barbara Crampton, from Mia Goth to Janet Leigh, here are the women (and sometimes the girls) who made an indelible mark on horror movies

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Neve Campbell (screenshot via Miramax), Janet Leigh (screenshot via Paramount Pictures), Jamie Lee Curtis (screenshot via Compass International Pictures), Danielle Harris (screenshot via Dark Sky Films), Heather Langenkamp (screenshot via New Line Cinema)
Neve Campbell (screenshot via Miramax), Janet Leigh (screenshot via Paramount Pictures), Jamie Lee Curtis (screenshot via Compass International Pictures), Danielle Harris (screenshot via Dark Sky Films), Heather Langenkamp (screenshot via New Line Cinema)
Graphic: Libby McGuire

Whether they’re called scream queens, final girls, or some other variation on the term, the actresses who face off against horror’s most frightening creatures are most of all survivors—of the legacy of the films in which they have appeared, if not always in the films themselves. For every Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or Freddy Krueger, there’s at least one performer—typically female—who lives long enough to win moviegoers’ hearts, even after theirs has been excavated, quite rudely, from their chest. They’re our proxies, our objects of affection, and sometimes our best selves, not simply enduring but prevailing over forces that frequently seem too evil or powerful to defeat.

With all deference and respect to the amazing Barbara Crampton (and any other performers who prefer not to be called by this would-be term of esteem—they are considered royalty, after all), The A.V. Club has decided to rank the greatest scream queens of all time. Some of these are the people for whom the name was invented, and some have been instrumental in redefining it for new generations; but if they made this list, it’s because their work on screen has become synonymous with—and in some cases, has surpassed—the monsters they’ve faced.

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25. Shawnee Smith

25. Shawnee Smith

Saw II (2005) Official Trailer #1 - Horror Movie

The image remains indelible. Shawnee Smith, as Amanda Young in Saw, wakes up terrified in a reverse bear trap, a contraption placed on her by big, bad John Kramer (Tobin Bell), a.k.a. Jigsaw. Plucky and determined, Amanda passes Jigsaw’s test by digging into a victim’s body to retrieve the key before the trap can rip her jaw from her face. Smith sweeps the audience along for Amanda’s terror and bravery. Amanda endures yet another insane trap in Saw II, involving a pit of hypodermic needles, only to be revealed as—massive spoiler—Jigsaw’s protégé. It’s a shocker because everyone believed Amanda was a survivor.

In Saw III, Amanda is Jigsaw’s equal, perhaps even worse. Amanda and John/Jigsaw become conflicted about their actions, scenes played powerfully by Smith and Tobin. Smith would be a worthy Scream Queen just for the Saw franchise (she returned for VI), but also counts among her credits the cult favorite The Blob, an episode of The X-Files, Repo: The Genetic Opera, The Grudge 3, The Stand, a cameo in The Shining miniseries, and 30 Days Of Night: Dust To Dust. Beyond her horror exploits, Smith has enjoyed success as a singer and also excelled at comedy with extended runs in Becker and Anger Management. [Ian Spelling]

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24. Sarah Michelle Gellar

24. Sarah Michelle Gellar

Scream 2 (1997) Cici Death

On television, Sarah Michelle Gellar achieved horror icon status as Buffy Summers. On the big screen, however, this Scream Queen went from slayer to getting slayed. Gellar’s first demise unfolded in 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, where her character Helen Shivers gave the hook-wielding Ben Willis a run for his money. Cornered in her family’s department store, Helen escaped through an open window before being gutted mere steps away from safety.

Gellar didn’t fare much better as Cici Cooper in Scream 2 that same year. Slasher Ghostface stabbed the Windsor College student multiple times before throwing Cici off the balcony of her sorority house and to her death. Next up, Gellar starred in 2004’s The Grudge, an American remake of the Japanese film Ju-On. Her character Karen, a nurse living in Tokyo, became exposed to a supernatural curse personified by the vengeful spirit Kayako. Karen barely survived that initial encounter, but quickly succumbed to the evil entity in the 2006 sequel, The Grudge 2, again falling to her death from the top of a building. [Bryan Cairns]

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23. Adrienne Barbeau

23. Adrienne Barbeau

The Fog (1980) - Official Trailer

Adrienne Barbeau was already a star—thanks to her role as Bea Arthur’s daughter on Maude and a Tony nomination for originating the role of Rizzo in Grease—when she took on the mantle of Scream Queen in the 1970s. Barbeau and director John Carpenter fell in love while making the 1978 television thriller Someone’s Watching Me! and they subsequently collaborated on The Fog and Escape From New York, before divorcing in 1984. Early on, Barbeau established her horror character template: smart, tough, determined, often scantily clad, and no one’s victim.

She appeared in Swamp Thing, Creepshow, Two Evil Eyes, and more before emerging as a go-to television guest star, recurring actress, voiceover artist, and series regular in everything from Batman: The Animated Series (as Catwoman/Selina Kyle), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and The Drew Carey Show as well as HBO’s Carnivale, Grey’s Anatomy, General Hospital, Sons of Anarchy, and the upcoming Harlan Coben’s Shelter. Now 77 years old, Barbeau seems happy to revisit her horror roots, popping up in the recent Swamp Thing and Creepshow series, as well as the films Gates Of Darkness, Unearth, and Hellblazers, plus, quite appropriately, American Horror Stories. [Ian Spelling]

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22. Jennifer Love Hewitt

22. Jennifer Love Hewitt

I Know What You Did Last Summer —- What Are You Waiting For Huh? 1997 HD

Similar to her Party Of Five co-star Neve Campbell, Jennifer Love Hewitt found success in the horror genre. The post-Scream flick I Know What You Did Last Summer focused on Hewitt’s character Julie James and three friends who were stalked by hook-wielding fisherman Ben Willis after a car accident that supposedly left him for dead. Despite his best efforts, Julie emerged as a feisty final girl. But what made Hewitt stand out were some truly decibel-defying screams, not to mention Julie’s noteworthy challenge to Willis, where she belted out at the top of her lungs in the middle of a street, “What are you waiting for, huh? What are you waiting for?”

Hewitt returned in the appropriately titled 1998 sequel, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. Stranded at an island resort, Julie and her pals once again took on Ben Willis, along with his twisted offspring. The 43-year-old actress subsequently went on to communicate with restless spirits as Melinda in the TV series Ghost Whisperer, further cementing her Scream Queen status. [Bryan Cairns]

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21. Ashley Laurence

21. Ashley Laurence

Hellraiser (1987) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

In 1988’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II Pinhead returned, of course, as well as the other villains from the first movie. Ashley Laurence’s Kirsty, who stood up to the hell demons, also came back, and got an even bigger role in the sequel as a reward, where she once again uses her intelligence and bravery to keep her soul intact, seemingly even earning Pinhead’s respect in the process.

While other horror heroes, like Ash from Evil Dead, are constantly beaten up, Laurence’s character is mentally tortured throughout the two films; at one point she even has to don the skin of the woman who killed her father just to save the life of a borderline stranger, something not often required of her contemporaries. Laurence would return for cameos in two more entries, giving their entries a bit of extra class they otherwise might not have earned, and putting her in rarified air alongside Heather Langenkamp and Neve Campbell as genre heroes who are just as loved by the fans as the bad guy who is front and center on the poster. [Brian Collins]

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20. Samara Weaving

20. Samara Weaving

READY OR NOT | Red Band Trailer [HD] | FOX Searchlight

Samara Weaving’s alter ego in Ready Or Not was chased down by her in-laws over the course of one night, all in the name of a sick and twisted game, but it was enough to cement her as a worthy scream queen. As the bride, Grace Le Domas is subjected to a perverse round of hide-and-seek so her new family can survive an apparent curse. It leads to Weaving running around the mansion in the dark in her wedding dress, battling for survival.

Weaving is a natural who brings the terror and the fighting spirit to life. And that beautiful final shot of Grace lighting a cigarette after finally defeating the family is instantly iconic. It helps that Weaving has genre experience with horror comedy Mayhem and the Netflix slasher franchise The Babysitter. Not surprisingly, she’s signed on to star in Scream 6 next. [Saloni Gajjar]

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19. Mia Goth

19. Mia Goth

Pearl | Official Trailer HD | A24

Mia Goth puts on a clinic in Pearl. As the titular horny girl with stars in her eyes, Goth is funny, scary, and heartbreaking in a performance so tonally balanced and surprising that it already feels underrated. As Pearl, Goth gives such a scorched-Earth turn that it’s easy to forget that she gave a wildly different, equally impressive special effects-driven performance in X, which also came out this year. Director Ti West’s belief in Goth and her versatility is so confident and so effective that it appears easy, even run-of-the-mill, when it is anything but. This is what you want out of a horror performance.

Maybe it’s because the word “unhinged” got such a workout in the last two years that we no longer know how to adequately praise the amount of emotional honesty and plain human ugliness that Goth works into X and Pearl. We owe her respect for her willingness to mine the depths of her horror, sexuality, and humor for a character that’s also incredibly stylized and an homage that’s specific and modern. Pearl is all contradictions, and Goth reminds us how human that is. Complex doesn’t even begin to describe Goth’s work. [Matt Schimkowitz]

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18. Jane Levy

18. Jane Levy

Evil Dead Official Green Band Trailer (2013) - Jane Levy Horror Movie

At just 32 years old, Jane Levy can claim 32 film and television credits, perhaps most notably the acclaimed shows Suburgatory and Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. A striking redhead, Levy can do it all, from comedy to drama, from singing to … screaming. Fede Alvarez put her through hell in two hard-core horror excursions, burying her alive (among other indignities) in his unnerving remake of Evil Dead and stringing her up in the truly disturbing white-knuckle flick Don’t Breathe. She sought laughs in the misguided dud Monster Trucks and the semi-amusing zombie horror-comedy Office Uprising, and obsessed over all the morbid goings-on in the Stephen King-inspired Castle Rock. Her character’s name in Castle Rock? Jackie Torrance, niece of the tormented central character in The Shining. “I guess, I hope, there’s a quality in me that is vulnerable yet strong, which is a really funny thing to say about yourself,” Levy told GQ in 2018. “I am a huge crybaby, but I’m also really tough.” Sounds about right to us. [Ian Spelling]

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17. Anya Taylor Joy

17. Anya Taylor Joy

The Witch | Official Trailer HD | A24

An unconventional scream queen for a less conventional species of horror, Anya Taylor-Joy got her start in film with Robert Eggers’ The Witch, where her wide-eyed, expressive face served as a final battlefield between spiritual evil and a comically out-of-their-depths Puritan family in 1630s New England. A year later, she solidified her spooky bona fides in M. Night Shyamalan’s scattered Split, which, for all its pretensions to superhero narrative—something Shyamalan doubled down on for 2019 sequel Glass—is never more successful than as a two-hander between Taylor-Joy’s survivor and James McAvoy’s constantly shifting antagonist.

If there’s one thing that unites Taylor-Joy’s horror roles (which you could also extend to Edgar Wright’s Last Night In Soho, the twisty black comedy Thoroughbreds, and even, with a squint, long-delayed X-Men flick New Mutants) it’s an eternal resistance to paying even lip service to victimhood. A Taylor-Joy horror protagonist is always going to seize agency, one way, or another—rising above the opposition and likely living deliciously as she goes. [William Hughes]

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16. Maika Monroe

16. Maika Monroe

Watcher - Official Trailer | HD | IFC Midnight

If Neve Campbell ignited the rise of the postmodern Final Girl with Scream, then Maika Monroe picked up that torch and reclaimed it as her own for the 21st century. In 2014 she established herself with a duo of knockout performances in It Follows and The Guest, and recent work like Watcher and Significant Other prove she hasn’t lost any of her simmering magic.

Great horror performances are often reactive, informed by the choices and expressions each character makes as a dark force pursues them, and with It Follows, Monroe proved herself a master of the form. As Jay, she spends much of that film facing reveal after reveal, pushing her body and mind to new limits as she flees from an endless pursuit, and yet her performance never becomes redundant or reduced to a collection of rote eye movements and screams. In It Follows, as in later efforts like Watcher, she demands your attention through often wordless expressions of fear, curiosity, and overall determination. Whether she’s facing a supernatural, shapeshifting stalker or a maniac with a knife, our eyes always go to Maika Monroe. [Matthew Jackson]

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15. Vera Farmiga

15. Vera Farmiga

The Conjuring - Official Main Trailer [HD]

However you may feel about the real life Lorraine Warren, Vera Farmiga’s portrayal has been a bright spot across all three Conjuring films (plus one of the Annabelle spinoffs), someone audiences root for simply because she’s a decent and loving person. But she’s also racked up an impressive three credits playing moms to homicidal characters, in 2007’s Joshua, 2009’s Orphan, and five seasons of Bates Motel, playing the iconic Norma Bates. Throughout these performances she’s run the entire gamut of “How would YOU deal with your child if they were murderous?”, from skeptical (Joshua) to being the only one to believe it (Orphan) to ... well, pretty much everything in between on Bates. And through them all, she often steals scenes from her villainous co-stars, delivering A-level performances in films that might have settled for central casting when all eyes would be on the pint-sized evildoers. You know why Orphan: First Kill is a prequel? Because no one would dare suggest Farmiga’s climactic and fatal kick to Esther’s face in the first film wasn’t sufficient. [Brian Collins]

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14. Drew Barrymore

14. Drew Barrymore

Scream | Official Trailer (HD) - Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Drew Barrymore | Miramax

A majority of the ladies on this list made their names in horror as the sort of attractive young adults who draw the attention of murderous men. Not so with Barrymore, who made her feature (and horror) debut in Ken Russell’s Altered States, which came out when she was five years old. Four years later, having become a child superstar thanks to E.T., she really made her horror mark in two Stephen King adaptations. First, as the pyrokinetic Charlie, she memorably set George C. Scott ablaze in Firestarter. She followed that in the anthology Cat’s Eye, as a girl menaced by a small troll and defended by a feline friend. The original, for-the-screen segment by King strongly resembled the infamous Zuni fetish doll finale in the TV movie Trilogy Of Terror, but amped up the jeopardy by having the young Barrymore in place of a far more capable-seeming Karen Black. In both King adaptations, Barrymore’s wholesome innocence was key, whether playing it up to save her kitty, or menacingly undercutting appearances with fire powers.

Though she notably played menacingly sexy and against her usual vibe in 1992’s Poison Ivy, Barrymore mostly retained the down-to-earth, All-American Girl persona since, which she’s used in her sporadic returns to horror. As the initial victim in Scream, she’s treated like genre royalty and an A-list cameo showcasing her trivia knowledge, and as an accidental flesh-craving zombie in Santa Clarita Diet, it’s the fact that we’d never ordinarily imagine her as a monster that works so well. [Luke Y. Thompson]

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13. Olivia Hussey

13. Olivia Hussey

Black Christmas (1974) - Official Trailer (HD)

As Jess Bradford in Bob Clark’s holiday horror classic Black Christmas, Olivia Hussey simultaneously helped set the template for slasher cinema’s Final Girl and pushed back against the borders of what that template would become. A sorority sister in a house stalked by a mysterious killer, Jess is not the virginal innocent so many fans would come to associate with Final Girldom. She’s sexually active, and even planning an abortion against the wishes of her boyfriend, a choice that makes Black Christmas stand out from the slasher pack even today.

But it’s not just the script that pushes Jess, and by extension Hussey, into the ranks of horror immortality. There’s an intense gravitas lingering behind her eyes, something she first displayed in her breakthrough performance in Romeo & Juliet, that makes Jess’ survival throughout Black Christmas all the more convincing. As her friends die around her, Jess becomes the de facto mistress of the house, facing a killer and the potential loss of her own future simultaneously, adding fresh depth to the notion of Final Girls not just for the 1970s, but for the whole of horror history. She didn’t have to add other horror efforts, like Stephen King’s It and Psycho IV: The Beginning, to cement her status as horror royalty, but we’re glad she did. [Matthew Jackson]

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12. Marilyn Burns

12. Marilyn Burns

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Official Remastered Trailer (2014) - Horror Movie HD

Though she did appear in a few other key horror films, including Tobe Hooper’s wild swamp slaughter Eaten Alive, Marilyn Burns will forever be known for her singular effort in Hooper’s breakthrough classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. As Sally Hardesty, one of the five youths who head out on that hot summer day and end up in the clutches of Leatherface, Burns is the narrative and psychological driving force of the story, and she bears that role with a certain subtle grace, right up until the movie forces her to strip all that grace away.

What makes Burns one of horror’s great Scream Queens, and one of the defining Final Girls in all of slasher cinema, is what she’s able to do in the absolute lunacy that is Chain Saw’s final act. In the real world, she was stuck in a stinking, un-air-conditioned old house for hours on end with a group of people dressed up like human monsters, which meant that in the world of the film, it couldn’t have been hard or her to feel like she really was going through some kind of torture. What she does with that environment is one of the most convincing horror performances of all time, and it’s no wonder her primal, maddened scream-laugh as she drives away in the film’s final seconds has become one of slasher cinema’s definitive moments. [Matthew Jackson]

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11. Linda Blair

11. Linda Blair

THE EXORCIST - Trailer - (1973) - HQ

Linda Blair in The Exorcist is perhaps the most extraordinary child performance ever given. Across the film’s two hours, Blair and director William Friedkin deliver a parent’s nightmare: The blessing of the perfect child, who is warm, charismatic, thoughtful, and emotionally intelligent, and the curse of watching them degraded, dehumanized, and turned into an object of macabre humor for a demon’s delight. And Blair never seems phased by any of it. Whether acting as a conduit for Mercedes McCambridge’s smoker’s cough voice or masturbating with a crucifix, Blair plays Regan with a startling intensity beyond her years, influencing the type of grounded fantastical horror performances that we see in Hereditary and Carrie. Blair has us fall in love with her and then rips our hearts out of our chests.

Playing such a role hindered Blair’s prospects, as she could never shake the role that defined her, so she stayed in horror, where her talents were appreciated. Of course, it can’t be easy doing your best work at 12, but there are worse things—like being possessed by a demon. [Matt Schimkowitz]

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10. Dee Wallace

10. Dee Wallace

The Howling (RARE)

Most people know Dee Wallace as the mom in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, but she asserted herself as a scream queen before and long after that 1982 sci-fi classic. Wallace made her screen debut in 1975’s creepy The Stepford Wives. She had a more substantial role in Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, in which her family is attacked by hillbilly degenerates in a remote desert. In 1981’s The Howling, she plays a TV news reporter who gets entangled with a werewolf pack and has an unforgettably transformative final scene. She has more problems with canines in 1983’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Cujo, in which she’s trapped in a broken-down car with her son as a rabid Saint Bernard tries to tear them apart.

A string of horror films of various quality followed (Popcorn, Alligator II: The Mutation, The Frighteners, and more) until she again played “the mom”—specifically, the adoptive mother of Laurie Strode—in Rob Zombie’s violent 2007 remake of Halloween. She must have gotten along famously with Zombie, who cast her as a satanic witch in 2011’s The Lords of Salem and as Greta in 3 From Hell. In 2017’s seasonal slasher Red Christmas, Wallace plays a family matriarch whose aborted fetus from decades earlier returns to terrorize her family. The enduring scream queen and “forever mom” always elevates the material—her extended cameo in the opening sequence of 2022’s otherwise shoddy Jeepers Creepers: Reborn is a bloody-good example of that. [Robert DeSalvo]

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9. Danielle Harris

9. Danielle Harris

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) - The Laundry Chute Scene

Unlike most of her final girl sisters on this list, Danielle Harris is one of the few we saw grow up from a fledgling Scream Princess into a full-blown Scream Queen. At the young age of 11, she made her big-screen debut in 1988’s Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers where she played Jamie Lloyd, the daughter of Laurie Strode and niece of the titular boogeyman. One year later she reprised the role again in Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers, delivering a stellar performance that saved the much maligned sequel from being total dreck (to see why she made such an impression with her child acting, just check out the traumatizing laundry chute scene above).

After a brief stint away from the genre, Harris made a welcome return to horror in 1998’s Urban Legend and even went on to reunite with her masked nemesis when she played Annie Brackett in Rob Zombie’s 2007 Halloween remake and its sequel. Since then, she’s appeared in over a dozen horror projects and has shared the screen with the biggest titans of the horror pantheon, including Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger!), Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees!), and Tony Todd (Candyman!). Not only that, but she went on to direct two horror flicks of her own (one of them co-directed by Scream Queen sister Heather Langenkamp). With years of devotion and dedication to the genre, and with no signs of stopping anytime soon (seriously, just check out her Instagram, she’s always up to something spooky)—it’s no wonder she was inducted into Fangoria’s Hall of Fame in 2012. [Gil Macias]

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8. Daria Nicolodi

8. Daria Nicolodi

Deep Red (1975) | Trailer | David Hemmings | Daria Nicolodi | Gabriele Lavia

A key creative and personal partner in the life and work of Italian maestro Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi was a fierce, chameleonic force both in front of and behind the camera. With Argento, and with fellow horror luminaries like Mario and Lamberto Bava, she established an instantly compelling screen presence, and a sense of constantly shifting mystique that could be applied to just about any character.

Though she had preferred collaborators and a look that persisted across much of her work, Nicolodi never fell into a particular character type like many of her fellow Scream Queens. She could be the Final Girl, the dogged investigator, the mysterious supporting character who provides a crucial clue, or even the unhinged villain, imbuing each role with the power inherent in her dark eyes and knowing smile. Her versatility is reason enough to celebrate her contributions to horror, but within that versatility was the even more compelling sense that you could never really tell which persona Nicolodi would inhabit in any given film until she revealed it to her audience. She could contain all of those potential roles at once, and unleash any one of them at any given time. Throw in her work as the co-writer of the 1977 classic Suspiria, and it’s no wonder fans of Italian horror still revere Nicolodi. [Matthew Jackson]

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7. Linnea Quigley

7. Linnea Quigley

The Return of the Living Dead (1985) - Official Trailer (HD)

One of the OG 1980s Scream Queens, Linnea Quigley embraced her reign like few before or after her. Quigley’s acting CV is at 170 credits, most of them horror or sci-fi B- (or C- or D-) movies, and many of them banking on her name to secure a look-see. A pretty, blue-eyed blonde, Quigley could scream with the best of them and was willing to play victims and disrobe, a perfect storm at the time for any aspiring Scream Queen. Among her most memorable early horror outings: Silent Night, Deadly Night (impaled on antlers), Return of the Living Dead (dancing naked on a tombstone), Night of the Demons, and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.

Quigley also possesses a funny bone, and has starred in numerous horror comedies (including Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama), and, in 1990, Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout, a guilty-pleasure spoof of celebrity workout videos in which she stretches in fishnet stockings and a metal-studded leather bar, muses about life as a queen of scream, and dances poolside with zombies. As of 2022, Quigley has also written three books, produced nine of her own projects, and attended countless horror conventions, all while still popping up in three or four movies a year. Now, excuse us while we order a Cameo from Quigley (just $100!). [Ian Spelling]

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6. Heather Langenkamp

6. Heather Langenkamp

Nightmare On Elm Street 3 Dream Warriors Nancy’s Death

As one of the original Scream Queens, Heather Langenkamp clawed her way into horror with A Nightmare On Elm Street. The 1984 cult hit centered on her character Nancy, a teenager tormented by dream demon Freddy Krueger and his razor-sharp bladed glove. After a brief absence, Langenkamp reprised her role in A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The third installment focused on an older, weathered Nancy stepping up to protect young patients in a psychiatric hospital from Freddy. Unfortunately, Nancy fell victim to Freddy, but not before she stabbed him with his own glove.

Langenkamp returned to the franchise in 1994 for Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. The meta-slasher film followed Freddy Krueger haunting the cast and crew making movies about him. One of those individuals included Langenkamp, who portrayed herself. In this reality-fantasy bender, she confronted the disfigured villain in order to save the soul of her son, Dylan. Although Langenkamp would go on to guest-star in various projects, she and her husband, Oscar-winning make-up artist David LeRoy Anderson, formed and ran make-up FX firm, AFX Studio. However, the 58-year-old actor recently starred in Netflix’s spooky The Midnight Club as Dr. Georgina Stanton, a woman who runs a hospice for terminally-ill young adults. [Bryan Cairns]

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5. Fay Wray

5. Fay Wray

King Kong (1933) - Trailer in 1080p

Before Fay Wray, scream queens didn’t even have a name. Perhaps that’s because her scream in King Kong is so unforgettable that it immediately formed a template that she didn’t even know that she was establishing. The Canadian-American actress would also appear in Doctor X (1932) and Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933), before her tete-a-tete with the tragic Kong immortalized them both. In addition to providing a constant scale for the prehistoric primate’s size, it’s her abject terror that communicates the power and majesty of the stop-motion beast, who has has fascinated us for almost a century as one of cinema’s greatest creatures. [Todd Gilchrist]

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4. Neve Campbell

4. Neve Campbell

Scream | ‘Where Are You?’ (HD) - Neve Campbell | Miramax

Sidney Prescott is a survivor. It’s the one fact the Scream franchise has drilled into the audience from the first film in 1996 through to the fifth in 2022. Neve Campbell has transformed Sidney from a grief-stricken teen to a resolute fighter—a feat she accomplished in the original Scream itself. Yet, over the last two and a half decades, Campbell’s approach to Sidney became increasingly uninhibited. The actor and her iconic character have stood the test of time (partly thanks to the long gaps between Scream 3, Scream 4, and Scream 5). Each time Campbell stepped into Sidney’s shoes, she got fiercer and had a little more fun. Her dialogue delivery of “I’m bored” to Ghostface in the last movie drew a hearty laugh from viewers; of course Sidney Prescott is done with yet another person in a mask attempting to gut her. She’s faced off nine different killers and survived, which makes her one of the ultimate final girls. It’s a shame we won’t see more of Campbell in next year’s Scream movie, but rest assured, our girl is out there thriving. [Saloni Gajjar]

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3. Janet Leigh

3. Janet Leigh

The Shower - Psycho (5/12) Movie CLIP (1960) HD

Janet Leigh technically wasn’t the first scream queen, but her role as Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is one of the most iconic in movie history. Hitchcock was brilliant to establish Marion as the leading lady in the 1960 movie only to pull the rug out from underneath the audience 47 minutes in during the infamous shower scene. Leigh screams her lungs out as Norman Bates—dressed as his mother—stabs her to death in a shower at the Bates Motel. Between the quick camera cuts that make you think you’ve seen more than you have and Bernard Hermann’s screeching violins, the scene shocked audiences and set the high bar for slasher movies for decades to come.

Leigh was never typecast as a scream queen, but she did appear in a few more horror movies. In 1972’s unintentionally funny Night of the Lepus, Leigh is on the run from a horde of giant mutant rabbits. In 1980’s The Fog, Leigh got to star opposite her own scream queen daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, in an atmospheric ghost story directed by John Carpenter. Leigh would appear opposite Curtis one more time, in 1998’s Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, where she plays administrative assistant Norma Watson. In the Easter egg-loaded sequel, Leigh comments on the drain in the girls’ bathroom being “clogged” and exits the movie by getting into the same car she drove in Psycho—presumably to drive off to Scream Queen Heaven. [Robert DeSalvo]

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2. Barbara Crampton

2. Barbara Crampton

JAKOB’S WIFE Trailer (2021) Barbara Crampton Vampire Horror Movie

Barbara Crampton dislikes the term Scream Queen. She argues that it diminishes such performers’ work and often results in typecasting. And we get it. That’s happened to numerous actresses, several of whom—Crampton among them—could/can really, truly act. Crampton—a gorgeous, buxom blonde with the most emotive blue eyes and the best scream in the business—leaped from soap operas to the horror scene in the 1980s with Re-Animator, Chopping Mall, and From Beyond. Putting a spin on the lemonade from lemons cliché, she has made Bloody Marys from all the blood spilled in her movies, starring in more than two dozen fright films and television shows, several at the behest of filmmakers who, in their formative years, idolized her. Among them: Trancers II, Castle Freak, You’re Next, The Lords of Salem, and the Creepshow series. Her career has spanned decades—an extended early 2000s break aside—and she remains an in-demand, beloved, gracious figure at horror conventions across the world. Even better, now in her sixties, she’s still showing the young ones how it’s done on screen and producing, too, including the likes of Beyond the Gates, Jakob’s Wife, and the upcoming A Suitable Flesh. [Ian Spelling]

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1. Jamie Lee Curtis

1. Jamie Lee Curtis

Every Horror Film By Jamie Lee Curtis

When Jamie Lee Curtis made her film debut in 1978’s Halloween, she had no idea that her character, Laurie Strode, would create the template for horror-movie final girls for decades to come. After a lot of screaming and a prolonged cat-and-mouse chase with masked maniac Michael Myers, she tearfully admits that “It was the bogeyman” at the end of the movie. Between her film debut in 1978’s Halloween and her return as Laurie in 1981’s Halloween II, Jamie Lee Curtis made it clear that she was the reigning scream queen of cinema by starring in three horror films (The Fog, Terror Train, and Prom Night), all released in 1980. The best of the three is The Fog, which reunites Curtis with her Halloween director, John Carpenter. The Fog is the first on-screen pairing of Curtis and her mother, Janet Leigh, of Psycho fame. They would star together again on-screen one last time in 1998’s Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, which is almost how long it took for Curtis to reclaim her “scream queen” crown after mostly moving away from horror films for two decades.

The success of Scream motivated Curtis to reprise the role (she appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly sitting on a throne and wearing a crown of knives), but H20’s satisfying conclusion was retconned with 2003’s abysmal Halloween Resurrection, in which Michael finally kills Laurie in an opening-sequence cameo. Fast-forward to 2018’s Halloween, which is a sequel to 1978’s Halloween and ignores all the other sequels. David Gordon Green’s trilogy of Halloween, Halloween Kills, and Halloween Ends shows Laurie as a survivalist who lives in a heavily armed compound and prepares for Michael’s return. People will debate about the directorial choices made in Halloween Ends for years, but as an emotional sendoff for horror’s supreme scream queen and most-enduring final girl, it feels like Curtis has closed a circle 44 years in the making and can give her formidable lungs a well-deserved vacation. [Robert DeSalvo]

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