Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

14 Horror Films With An Unexpected Final Hero

The world of horror cinema thrives on its tropes — those little recurring plot devices and character archetypes that frequently pop up in movies old and new. Whether it's masked killers, fake-out jump scares, or possessed girls dressed in white, there are several horror tropes that'll likely stand the test of time. Amongst these tropes is the concept of a final girl or sole surviving hero — the character that defies the odds and survives whatever the threat may be. The concept of the final hero isn't exclusive to the horror genre, however, but it's most definitely the genre that produces some of the most unexpected ones.

From the '70s onward, audiences experienced an influx of final heroes that really had us questioning how they'd managed to survive up to this point. Whether they were seeking out danger or just stumbled across it by accident, these are 14 horror films with an unexpected final hero.

Margot Mills, The Menu

"The Menu" is loaded with great performances and biting dark humor, with a script that exposes the petty, often superficial nature of high society. The film sees a group of people — including food critics, wealthy benefactors, and movie stars — traveling to the private island of celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). One guest who is significantly out of place is Margot Mills (Anya Taylor-Joy), a chain-smoking escort hired by another attendee, Tyler Ledford (Nicholas Hoult).

Almost immediately, it becomes clear how foreign all of this is to Margot, and she sees through the faux glamor of Slovik's pretentious food. It's for these reasons — plus her status as an escort — that Slovik takes an interest in her, as she is a "provider of experiences" just like him, and she isn't one of the sycophants worshipping everything he does. 

As the evening goes on, we learn just how twisted Slowik has become, embittered by years of dealing with the snobbish attitudes of fine dining. He notes that everyone in attendance is going to die, and it seems unlikely at this point that anyone will make it out alive. However, it's Margot who escapes unscathed, simply due to sticking to her guns and asking for some non-pretentious food. One legitimately gorgeous cheeseburger later and Margot is allowed by Slowik — enamored with returning to his culinary roots — to leave while everyone else succumbs to a fiery fate.

Ash Williams, The Evil Dead films

In the pantheon of unlikely horror heroes, you can't get much more iconic than Ashley J. Williams, played by the incomparable Bruce Campbell. Ash was first introduced in Sam Raimi's original "The Evil Dead," as really nothing more than the random final survivor. Just going off of the original, there's not much to Ash — certainly, very few shades of the iconic degenerate rogue he'd become. From screaming like a coward to being unable to lift the flimsiest of bookshelves, a hero is far from the best descriptor for Ash here.

However, "Evil Dead 2" is where things really start to pick up, as Ash is officially sick of dealing with the Deadites. After being forced to chainsaw his own hand off, Ash then proceeds to mount it on his stump, and an iconic weapon was born. Armed with his chainsaw and a sawed-off shotgun, Ash begins fighting back against the Deadite horde before being flung into the dark ages through a time portal.

"Army of Darkness" sees Ash fully embrace his role as an unlikely hero, even helping a medieval society fight off a sizable Deadite army. Ash's adventures took a hiatus for many years before Campbell picked up the boom stick again for three seasons of "Ash vs Evil Dead." With Campbell still an active presence behind the scenes, there is hope that it won't be long before we see our favorite chainsaw-wielding hero again.

Ellen Ripley, Alien

When it comes to sci-fi horror, you can't do much better than the original "Alien," directed by Ridley Scott. The actual horror of the film comes from its character's unique form of isolation — being stuck on an industrial space freighter, millions of miles from home. This is the case for the crew of the Nostromo, who must contend with the horror of the deadly Xenomorph. Among the crew is Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who is eventually left standing as the ship's sole survivor.

It can't be understated just how intense the final act of "Alien" is, and Weaver's performance as Ripley is a big reason why. Despite the fact she's putting on a brave face, it's clear she's still repressing an immense amount of fear against the unknown threat. After all is said and done, seeing Ripley re-enter stasis and drift off to a calming slumber as the film ends is an immense relief.

The character of Ripley would face many ups and downs throughout three more sequels of varying quality. There was "Aliens," where Ripley fought a Queen Alien in a mech suit in one of cinema's finest climaxes. However, there was also "Alien: Resurrection," where she was posthumously cloned with alien DNA which gave her basketball skills. Needless to say, the character of Ellen Ripley was one that went much further than anyone could've expected.

Dewey Riley, Scream 1-5

In the '90s and early '00s, David Arquette was known for two things — his brief stint as World Championship Wrestling heavyweight champion and his recurring role in the "Scream" films. When first introduced, Arquette's Deputy Dewey Riley is really just a comedic red herring. Besides being thrust into a rather impromptu romance with Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), the character doesn't add much to the proceedings beyond some decent laughs.

Despite this, Dewey survives the Woodsboro murders and makes it to the sequel, wherein Ghostface rears his head once again. This would become the main staple of Dewey's character — despite logic really dictating that he should be dead, he keeps on surviving. Through his subsequent appearances, we really grow to love Dewey and his rocky yet loving relationship with Gale.

By the time the fifth movie came around, it had even become a running joke about how many times Dewey had been stabbed and still lived. Sadly, it was also the fifth film where Dewey finally met his end. With the "Scream" series likely not going anywhere for a while, it is sad that Arquette's time with the series has finally come to a close.

Benny, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3

"Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3" is a bizarre entry in a film series that has wildly varied in tone and overall quality. What began as a grounded and stylistically gritty horror series became an over-the-top spectacle in the span of two theatrical sequels. The film isn't anything special — just a by-the-numbers sequel — but it does have an increased budget due to New Line Cinema's acquisition of the series. The film was also subject to an excessive amount of cutting and re-editing in order to be downgraded from an X rating to an R rating.

The film focuses on yet another group of hapless travelers who find themselves facing off with the deranged Sawyer family. Among the group is Benny (Ken Foree), a survivalist with a penchant for cursing and shooting guns — two things he does rather well. There is an especially great scene wherein Benny mounts an assault on the Sawyer's home by lighting up their home with gunshots. Foree, best known for "Dawn of the Dead" and "Kenan & Kel," brings charm to this minor role. The character of Benny was so well received in the test screenings for the film that — despite clearly being chainsawed in two — the ending was later reshot to allow his survival.

Thomasin, The Witch

In terms of an impactful debut film, you can't do much better than Robert Eggers did with his nightmarish period piece, "The Witch." In only a short amount of time, Eggers has shown immense talent in the director's chair, particularly regarding his films' immersive qualities. Nowhere is this commitment to authenticity more on display than in "The Witch," which oozes both dread and paranoia from its first frame.

We are introduced to Thomasin (Anya Taylor Joy), the eldest daughter of a recently excommunicated Puritan family who is forced to relocate. After settling near the woods, the family begins to restart their lives — that is until an evil force begins toying with them. It soon becomes clear that a witch has targeted the family, causing the demise of each family member either directly or indirectly. It's throughout the family's gradual downfall that Thomasin has more and more heaped on her, even being accused of witchcraft herself. Thomasin also overhears her parents discussing the idea of sending her away to serve another family.

It's when her family is finally gone that she's approached by the shapeshifting Black Phillip who offers her the chance to, "Live deliciously," and she accepts the offer. The film concludes with Thomasin wandering the woods naked and joining a coven of witches as they float into the sky laughing. While it is a stretch to call Thomasin a hero, these final moments still offer an unexpected twist on the sole survivor trope.

Marty Mikalski, The Cabin in the Woods

Especially in the world of horror, stoner characters are a dime a dozen when it comes to rounding out a roster of potential victims. After all, it's very easy to justify a character's stupid decisions when they're perhaps under the influence of something. However, Marty Mikalski (Fran Kranz) from "The Cabin in the Woods" finally gives the burnouts of the world a chance to shine as a film's hero for a change. When we first meet Marty, we get to see his status as an idiot savant almost immediately, going on about philosophy while collapsing his homemade portable bong. Despite his stoner status, Marty is the one who's quick to realize the group is being filmed covertly and is subsequently attacked for his troubles. Following his apparent demise at the hands of the Buckner Family, the audience is left to assume that Marty is dead. That is until the final act when it's revealed that Marty survived, even coming to the rescue of the other survivor, Dana (Kristen Connolly).

Marty and Dana then find themselves in the lab, full of the many creatures potentially tasked with killing them, eventually releasing every monster on the lab's workers. When the dust settles, it's revealed that by preempting the lab's planned sacrifice of them, they have unleashed ancient gods to lay waste to mankind. Having finally broken the sacrificial cycle, Marty and Dana calmly accept their impending doom as they share a final joint together.

Chad & Mindy Meeks-Martin, Scream 5 and 6

It's comforting to still have the "Scream" movies going strong well into the 2020s — especially in such aggressively over-the-top fashion. "Scream 5" took the series into the current generation by bringing in a largely new cast of characters, including the duo of Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown).

Chad and Mindy, in addition to being friends with Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), are also the nephews of Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) from the first two films. Chad stands as a welcome subversion of the dumb hot guy trope, developing into a genuinely likable person. Mindy herself serves two functions, both as the increasingly common stoner-lesbian character and as the revamped Randy — dishing out all the new rules. Both Chad and Mindy's lives are threatened during "Scream 5" but both manage to survive somehow, and pop up again in "Scream 6."

It's here that both siblings receive a bit more in terms of development, with Chad developing a genuinely charming relationship with Tara. We also get some lovely fan service as Mindy and Kirby — returning from "Scream 4" — get to match wits in terms of horror geek knowledge. With the film's current creative team pushing for a seventh entry, we can only hope Chad and Mindy will be back again.

Tommy Jarvis, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

First introduced in "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter," Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) is basically every young pop culture fan and is an avid lover of monster special effects and video games. However, Tommy must eventually contend with an actual monster in the form of the rampaging Jason Voorhees, when he and his family find themselves in his crosshairs.

Tommy learns of Jason's backstory — how a sad, bad, and misshapen kid was left to drown by the negligent counselors of Camp Crystal Lake. The precocious young lad even sees fit to use this knowledge to his advantage, going as far as to shave his own head. By doing this, Tommy is able to trick Jason into thinking that he's staring at a younger version of himself. In a shocking moment, Tommy picks up Jason's own machete and swings it at his head, finally bringing the behemoth down. Then, in a psychotic fit, Tommy picks the blade up again and violently butchers Jason's body as his sister screams in horror. This set Tommy up to be the protagonist in both "Friday the 13th: A New Beginning" and "Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives," albeit without Feldman in the part outside of a brief cameo.

Laurie Strode, Halloween

Directed by John Carpenter, "Halloween" is truly the film that launched a thousand slashers and the spark that caused the masked killer movie boom of the '80s. Despite its lack of blood, the film succeeds at terrifying audiences through its incredible soundtrack and its superbly paced suspense.

The film tells the tale of young Michael Myers who stabbed his sister to death on Halloween night in 1963. 15 years later, Myers has escaped from the asylum and is ready to stalk the streets of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween again. Upon arriving back in town, Myers returns to his abandoned childhood home where he first sees Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) dropping off a key. From that point on, Laurie and her friends are unknowingly thrust into Myers' soulless gaze as they walk home from school. Later that night, as Laurie fulfills her babysitting gig, all of her friends are picked off one by one, leaving her as the first true final girl.

At this time, the slasher genre was still in its infancy, so the concept of a final girl was still taking shape, and the idea of a petite and conservatively dressed bookworm being the last one standing against a ninja-like masked killer was certainly less expected then. Despite being stabbed in the shoulder, Laurie is still able to evade and even wound Myers during the final chase, taking her from the unlikely final girl to a true hero.

Dale Dobson, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

"Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" is a truly underrated gem when it comes to the subgenre of horror comedies. The film takes the established concept of redneck killers and flips it on its head in the most hysterical way possible. When the film first introduces us to Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and his friend Dale (Tyler Labine), we assume that they will be the killers menacing the college kids. However, it quickly becomes very clear that the duo is nothing more than chuckleheads just looking to renovate a cabin in the woods to be their dream vacation home. However, a few misunderstandings later and the teens assume that the duo is actually redneck killers looking to ax them all off.

Soon the teens start dying — not due to Tucker or Dale, but rather because of their own stupidity — with one even jumping head-first into a wood chipper by accident. Thinking they are under attack, the teens proceed to capture Tucker, even going as far as torture to draw out Dale, who's been bonding with their friend Allison (Katrina Bowden). Despite attempting to sort things out, Dale is forced into the hero role as he must contend with the group's redneck-hating leader, Chad (Jesse Moss). Dale works well as an unlikely hero due to his charming awkwardness, which Labine plays to perfection — sharing great chemistry with both Tudyk and Bowden.

Mia Allen, Evil Dead (2013)

Unlike previous films in the series, 2013's "Evil Dead" was the first to not feature Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) as the main character, though he does have a cameo in the credits. Instead, the film follows Mia Allen (Jane Levy), a recovering addict trying to kick the habit once and for all. This results in a detox weekend with her friends at a cabin in the woods, which happens to contain the fabled Book of the Dead. In the midst of withdrawal, Mia attempts to drive off but ends up crashing into a lake and is subsequently possessed by a Deadite.

Soon enough, the possessed Mia begins infecting and maiming her friends, including her own brother David (Shiloh Fernandez). However, it seems there might be a way to save Mia — with a purifying ritual that involves burying her alive. This seems to work, but we all know that any second now Mia is going to go Deadite again and kill David ... right? Surprisingly no, as only moments later David is forced to blow up the cabin, taking him and another Deadite with him. This summons a creature known only as the Abomination, which Mia must now contend with as the film's final girl.

After being forced to rip off her hand, Mia then mounts a chainsaw on her stump — an image familiar to "Evil Dead fans" — and slices the Abomination right through the head. With the success of "Evil Dead Rise" in 2023, we can only hope that we'll see Mia fighting the Deadites once again in a future sequel.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Madison, Malignant

Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is a final girl that's so unexpected simply due to how specific and frankly preposterous her situation is. "Malignant" is a film so utterly bonkers that it honestly boggles the mind that James Wan got it greenlit.

The film concerns Madison, a woman who loses her husband and her unborn child at the hands of a shadowy assailant. Madison soon learns that she shares a bizarre psychic connection with the killer, whose crimes she receives a ghostly front-row seat for. As things progress, it becomes clearer that the killer — later named Gabriel — has some way of getting inside Madison's head. Madison is even framed and locked up for Gabriel's crimes near the film's third act, which is where things go completely sideways in glorious fashion.

It's revealed that Gabriel is literally inside of Madison's head as he's actually a conjoined evil twin that has been compressed into her brain. This is confirmed when Gabriel's screeching maw comes ripping out of Madison's skull, freaking out her comically over-the-top cellmates. The fact that Madison actually survives the film is nothing short of amazing, as her madcap situation seems pretty hopeless. It's a definite relief when Madison is able to take back control and lock her twisted sibling away inside of her mind.

Grandpa, The Lost Boys

"The Lost Boys" is a true gem — a film that succeeds at taking its inherent absurdity to the most entertaining of conclusions. After all, in what other movie can you see vampires destroyed by both a bathtub of garlic-infused holy water and a music stereo?

The film follows Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim), two siblings who are forced to relocate to Santa Carla, California with their mother, Lucy (Dianne Wiest), to live with their Grandpa (Barnard Hughes). Their Grandpa is a quirky but kindly old man who is very protective of his things — he even makes a point of telling the boys to never touch his personal stash of root beer and double-thick Oreo cookies. There's also a hilarious running gag wherein we learn about Grandpa's infatuation with a local woman known only as the Widow Douglas. The boys are able to use this in order to get Grandpa out of dodge for the impending vampire attack on their home.

The battle is intense, culminating in the reveal of Lucy's boyfriend Max Lawrence (Edward Herrmann) as the true head vampire. However, just as it seems the family's fate is sealed, Grandpa explodes through the wall in his truck, stabbing right through Max with a wooden fence post. Following Max's fiery death, Grandpa heads to the fridge for a root beer before uttering the immortal words: "One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach ... all the damn vampires."