We've come a long way since Carol J. Clover coined the term "final girl" to describe the lone female survivor of horror films ubiquitous in the slasher films of the 70s and 80s – think Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode in Halloween or pretty much any survivor from the Friday the 13th series. These female characters were typically white, teenaged, and met antiquated notions of virtue. Thankfully, a lot has changed in the last 40 years.
With the release of Halloween Kills, Curtis is back and a new generation is finding strength in the iconic Laurie Strode. After all, 1.6 million U.S. households streamed Halloween Kills in its first six days on Peacock, along with the $73.1 million grossed at the box office as of October 24. In addition, 994k U.S. households watched the original Halloween (1978) during that same streaming window. It’s safe to say, Laurie’s battle against the Boogeyman has staying power.
With more than 40 years between the two films, we can’t help but think about how far horror has come in that time. More specifically, the genre’s favorite survivor – the final girl. But as horror becomes more inclusive, a new term will surely be needed. And we’re here for it.
The last decade especially has seen more diverse, multidimensional characters surviving. And Laurie Strode, who began as a teen babysitter in 1978, is a prime example of this shift. In 2018’s sequel to the original film, and again in Halloween Kills, Laurie is a complex survivor – a one-time “final girl” now in her 50s with two failed marriages, a complicated relationship with her daughter, and a history of trauma stemming from her first confrontation with Michael Myers.
And, she’s not alone. In just the last two months, a number of new horror films have been released across multiple streaming networks telling stories of protagonists who look and act much differently from the ones who first emerged with the “final girl” moniker.
We took a look at a handful of these recently released horror films to see how viewership stacked up, who was watching, and what this might mean for the future of the genre. While throughout the 20th century, horror was known to attract an audience that skewed younger, and was typically white and male, that is no longer the case. Here are a few of our top takeaways.
Of the films we looked at, all six over-indexed for households with female viewers and under-indexed for households with male viewers. While horror once drew a primarily male audience, female viewers have responded to this new breed of horror.
Of the six films, households with female viewers over-indexed most (11%) for No One Gets Out Alive, a Netflix film in which the protagonist is an undocumented Mexican immigrant. Households with female viewers also over-indexed by 10% for both There’s Someone Inside Your House (also on Netflix) and Amazon Prime Video’s Bingo Hell. The former has many of the workings of a conventional teen slasher, but with a more diverse cast, and the latter centers a group of elderly protagonists taking on the horrors of gentrification.
Historically, horror featured very little by way of representation – Black characters often took on supporting roles, or were the first to die. For a history of race in horror, watch the documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror.
While the history of the final girl (and horror in general) has been overwhelmingly white, this has begun to change in recent years. In fact, households with Black viewers watched all six films at a higher rate compared to the U.S. overall.
Of the six, households with Black viewers over-indexed the most for Bingo Hell by 145% and Black as Night by 143%. Both films feature diverse casts and non-white female protagonists. Households with Black viewers also over-indexed for Halloween Kills by 49%, but under-indexed for the original Halloween (1978) during that same period of time by 8%.
Historically, final girls were typically teenagers – think of pretty much any slasher film made from 1970 to 2000. And, while you’ll still find a healthy dose of teen horror, filmmakers are now telling more diverse stories and audiences are responding.
Like Laurie Strode in Halloween Kills, adults are increasingly taking on the role of horror protagonist and turning final girls into final women. Of the six films we looked at, half feature protagonists over 50 – Halloween Kills, Bingo Hell, and The Manor. The last of which takes place at a nursing home where a new resident suspects supernatural forces at play.
What does this mean for viewership? While The Manor does skew older with adults 65-74 over-indexing the most (21%), the other two films actually drew a younger audience.
Viewership of Bingo Hell skewed towards those under 25, while Halloween Kills over-indexed for households with viewers under 45. Since the latter is a multigenerational tale, with Laurie sharing the spotlight with her millennial daughter and teenage granddaughter, it makes sense that this audience would be mixed. And the former, while featuring an older cast, tells a story of neighborhood gentrification – a social issue of interest to all ages.
And while this analysis is limited to the future of women in the genre, gender has similarly been explored in recent horror. The most memorable example of a horror film with a male protagonist may be Jordan Peele’s Get Out. More recently, Halloween Kills gives Tommy Doyle (the now-grown child Laurie was babysitting in 1978) a leading role and perhaps even more screen time than Laurie herself.
From Halloween Kills picking up where it left off 40 years ago to a rewriting of what it means to be a final “girl,” audiences are responding to more inclusive horror films. And if this analysis proves anything, it’s that this Halloween is the perfect time for a scary movie marathon full of complex, diverse protagonists. After all, everyone’s entitled to one good scare...
Get more insights into representation on TV and how female-led programming draws diverse audiences.
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