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Who is horror’s best Scream Queen?

What is horror without the Scream Queen? And just what exactly makes a Scream Queen? It usually starts with the Final Girl – the girl who lives until the very end of the horror movie and usually ends up slaying the killer. If they’re iconic enough (or have survived enough sequels), they’re crowned as a Scream Queen.

But Scream Queens have gone way beyond just those who survive. Some of the ladies on this list didn’t survive their run-ins terror, but because their performances are so damn iconic and memorable (or simply because of how many horror movies they’ve been in), they still get to hold the title of Scream Queen. Here are the seven best Scream Queens in horror history, some you will already know, but a few you might not expect.

7. Jenna Ortega – Horror’s newest Scream Queen

Jenna Ortega gets attacked by Ghostface
Paramount Pictures

Notable Films: Scream (2022), Scream VI, X, Studio 666, Insidious: Chapter 2

Currently starring in Netflix’s Wednesday and in upcoming spooky films like Beetlejuice 2 and Scream 7, Jenna Ortega has become one of Hollywood’s hottest stars … and she’s created much of her fame through the horror genre. Her horror career began in 2013 when she landed a role in Insidious: Chapter 2 at just 11 years old.

But Ortega would really become a horror icon in 2022 when she starred both in the highly-anticipated Scream sequel and the Mia Goth-led horror movie, X. Both movies became hits. Later that same year she took on the iconic role of Wednesday Addams in Netflix’s Wednesday, alongside another horror legend, Christina Ricci. At this rate, Ortega could be the next Jamie Lee Curtis and be Gen Z’s ultimate horror star, serving as a modern Scream Queen for Hollywood’s future.

6. Meagan Good – The underappreciated Scream Queen

Meagan Good discovers she's in a SAW trap
Twisted Pictures

Notable films: Venom, One Missed Call, Saw V, The Unborn, The Intruder, Day Shift

Meagan Good is easily the most overlooked Scream Queen in horror history. Her first horror film came out in 2005 when she starred in Venom, which heavily leaned into the Southern Gothic style to create a scary supernatural slasher movie set in the bayou. While the indie film wasn’t a huge success, its vibe and style were heavily felt in another indie horror film the next year, Hatchet, which became a massive success.

Then, in just the span of one year, between January 2008 and January 2009, Good Starred in One Missed Call, Saw V, and The Unborn, all of which received major theatrical releases and became box office hits. While Saw V has gone down as one of the worst Saw movies in the franchise, it still became a massive hit, grossing over $115 million. Plus, it had some absolutely brutal kills, with Good herself being used as a giant electrical conductor. In 2019 Good returned with another horror/thriller hit with The Intruder, where she co-starred alongside Dennis Quaid, and starred in 2022’s vampire flick, Day Shift.

5. Danielle Harris – Horror’s child star

Danielle Harris wears a clown costume in Halloween 4
Trancas International

Notable films: Halloween 4, Halloween 5, Urban Legend, Halloween (2007), Halloween 2 (2009), Hatchet II, Hatchet III, Victor Crowley

It could be argued that Danielle Harris is the ultimate Scream Queen. The actress has built her career on horror and starred in Halloween 4 at just 11 years old. The following year she returned for Halloween 5. Throughout the 90s and early 2000s, Harris stepped away from horror to voice Debbie in The Wild Thornberries but returned to her roots for Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake, this time taking on the role of Annie Brackett.

When speaking to Comicbook, Harris admitted she almost wasn’t in Zombie’s film, saying, “A fan came up to me at a convention in Boston and said, “I hear you’re going to be in the new Halloween.” And I was like, “I am?” Harris said the interaction actually inspired her to reach out to Zombie about appearing in the film, thinking she’d maybe snag a small cameo role. But Harris was eventually invited to audition for a full role. “I just went and auditioned for it like everybody else,” the actress said. “And then, I think once he [Zombie] found me on tape, it was like, “All right, we could maybe give this a shot.”

Since then, Harris has starred in the popular Hatchet franchise and is set to star in the upcoming horror film Stream, alongside other horror veterans like Dee Wallace (Cujo), Tony Todd (Candyman), and Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp).

4. Sigourney Weaver – The Scream Queen in space

Ellen Ripley holds a gun in Aliens
Twentieth Century Fox

Notable Films: Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, Ghostbusters, The Village, Cabin in the Woods

Sigourney Weaver has carved out a very unique career for herself. Whereas most horror stars are rarely seen as part of Hollywood’s high-brow inner circle, Weaver has somehow managed to create a career where she can do just about anything. From blockbuster action films like Avatar to Oscar-nominated biopics like Gorillas in the Mist, and even terrifying sci-fi epics like Alien.

Even though she’s a three-time Oscar-nominated actress, she’s still best known for her work in horror films – especially the Alien franchise. In 1979, when the first film was released, it caused an absolute sensation. Not only were the costumes and effects absolutely stunning (and still look fantastic to this day), it was the first sci-fi film that was actually scary. Previously, there had been sci-fi movies that definitely had tension and thrills, like 2001: a Space Odyssey and Solaris, but there had never been a truly pants-pissing horror film set in space.

And leading it all was Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley. No longer was our Final Girl some unfortunate young damsel who was thrust into a bad situation – Ripley was strong, courageous, and determined from the very start. She ushered in a new era of what women in horror looked and acted like.

3. Sarah Michelle Gellar – she’s Buffy, dammit!

Sarah Michelle Gellar walks through an empty store
Mandalay Entertainment

Notable Films: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream 2, The Grudge, The Return

Before we even talk about her film credits, we need to state the obvious: Not only is Sarah Michelle Gellar in tons of horror movies, but she’s also Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which alone cements her place in horror history. But on top of her seven seasons as Buffy, Gellar also has a long career in horror films.

In the ’90s, she had two major supporting roles in horror movies, in both Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer, both of which were box office hits. But it wasn’t until 2004, after Buffy had concluded its final season, that Gellar got her first starring horror role in The Grudge. The movie was a huge success, and it, along with The Ring a few years prior, ushered in the mid-2000s craze of J-Horror remakes.

In a 2004 interview with PopEntertainment just before the premiere of The Grudge, Gellar was asked why horror is so important to her. The actress responded, “Women can’t open a comedy the way Jim Carrey can or open an action film the way Tom Cruise can … the horror genre seems to be where women shine like Naomi Watts in The Ring.”

2. Neve Campbell – The Scream Queen who redefined the rules

Neve Campbell holds a knife in Scream 4

Notable Films: Scream, Scream 2, Scream 3, Scream 4, Scream (2022), The Craft

Thanks to an endless number of sequels in the Friday the 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises throughout the ’80s, by the ’90s horror was virtually dead – and the slasher subgenre had completely vanished. People were bored, and rightfully so. The later films in all three franchises were absolutely awful. But in 1996, Scream premiered and changed everything.

Somehow, director Wes Craven managed to create a movie that was both smart and witty, often poking fun at the horror genre, while simultaneously being an actual scary horror movie. That is not an easy tightrope to walk on and it could have gone wrong, never finding the proper balance. One of the reasons it worked so well was because of our new Final Girl, Sidney Prescott, played by Neve Campbell.

She was a true ’90s girl and even broke some of the traditional slasher rules, like needing to remain a virgin to survive the movie. What was even better though was watching Prescott’s character grow throughout the franchise. As the films go on, she becomes both more paranoid and isolated, but also stronger and more prepared to fight back, really embodying the impacts of trauma on a person.

1. Jamie Lee Curtis – The Original Scream Queen

Jamie Lee Curtis hides behind a door in Halloween

Notable Films: Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween H20, Halloween (2018), Halloween Kills, Halloween Ends, Prom Night, Terror Train, The Fog

Yes, call it cliché or predictable, but Jamie Lee Curtis is the ultimate and the best Scream Queen. She’s also the original. Yes, her mom Janet Leigh had a small (but extremely iconic) role in Psycho, and yes, Marilyn Burns survived Leatherface four years prior, but neither had the impact on horror that Curtis did.

It also needs to be remembered that at the start of her career, Curtis was popping out horror movies like crazy. In just four years, from 1978 to 1981, Curtis starred in Halloween, its sequel, The Fog, Prom Night, and Terror Train. She was an unstoppable force who single-handedly carried tons of horror movies and played a massive role in creating the slasher subgenre.

When speaking to Variety, Curtis also opened up about how easy it was to make the original Halloween. In an era before the slasher genre was even a thing, and before films created franchises, Curtis said that making the movie was surprisingly low-pressure. “We had nothing to lose,” the actress said. “We didn’t know that we had anything to gain. We were just so happy to have this gig. The original Halloween was made in 17 days with like 12 people … Everybody was young. There was magic happening and none of us, not one person — I would dare say even John Carpenter and Debra Hill — I don’t think anybody knew.”

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