The 16 Best Horror Protagonists of All Time

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Universal Pictures

I have a confession to make—I have a love/hate relationship with horror protagonists. While some are brave, others are... kind of not the sharpest tool in the shed, and it's completely aggravating at times. If you're a horror fan, then you already know that 99 percent of the time the protagonists come out on top whether they are brilliant or not. So it's not a matter of whether or not they are going to win the battle (because we know they are), it's about how well they won the battle against the zombies, ghouls, ghosts, vampires, etc. Today we're going to be taking a look at the best horror protagonists of all-time to date.

What are the qualifications to make our particular list you might ask? Not only are we going by toughness/bravery, but we're also taking into account wit and leadership. Were these protagonists on their Ps and Qs the entire time? Did they investigate every nook and cranny? Did it take them entirely too long to realize something was behind them? Did they start hugging and celebrating before the battle was over? These are the factors we're taking into consideration as far as what we qualify to be the "best."

Take a look below.

RELATED: The 25 Best Indie Horror Movies to Watch 

1. Charlie Brewster - Fright Night (1985 - 2013)

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Columbia Pictures

I recently rewatched the first Fright Night, and I now have a stronger appreciation for Charlie Brewster. He knew something was off with those creepy neighbors next door from the minute they moved in, and he was very persistent despite nobody believing him. My guy went into the home of a vampire on more than one occasion with nothing but a cross, and was able to get the job done much better than the self-proclaimed vampire expert Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall). Props to Charlie Brewster for his bravery.

2. Chris Washington - Get Out (2017)

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Universal Pictures

Jordan Peele couldn't have gotten a better actor than Daniel Kaluuya to place this part—his facial expressions alone were enough to keep you fully engaged and feel the horror that he was feeling. Chris Washington was one man trying to take down an entire family with pull and power all by his self. And just when it looked like he was still going to lose despite his hearty efforts, the homie Rod (Lil Rel Howery) came through with the clutch save. Props to Peele for not going with that alternate ending he originally had planned. That would have sucked big time.

3. Laurie Strode - Halloween (Franchise)

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Universal Pictures

Jamie Lee Curtis aka Laurie Strode has been in the business of fighting against Michael Myers for literally decades, and while it's a matter of personal opinion when it comes to which version of Laurie Strode is the best, our favorite is the 2022 Laurie, who is all about protecting her granddaughter. If a mother's intuition is always on point, then a grandmother's intuition is laser focused. And at the end of the day, Laurie Strode saved the day.

4. Ash Williams - Evil Dead (1978 - Present)

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New Line Cinema

Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) is the definition of "I want absolutely no part of this bull crap," and we completely understand because we wouldn't want any part of it either. However, when life gives you problems (which in Ash Williams' case is horror-filled), you can either back down or rise to the occasion. And Ash Williams rises the occasion to every time even though he would much rather not be in the predicament to begin with.

5. Sidney Prescott - Scream (1996 - Present)

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Dimension Films

You've got to hand it to Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), she's one resilient tough chick to end up being the rather unexpected final girl. Her journey from being a regular high schooler that has to deal with a maniacal stalker to an unofficial kick-butt detective is something that has to be commended. Our favorite Sidney Prescott performance is from Scream 2, when the crew is dealing with the copycat Ghostface. Prescott and co. were pressed for time because they knew they only had a matter of time before, well, they were the subject of his attack—but Prescott exhibited bold leadership to help the gang get the job done again.

6. Veronica Henley - Antebellum (2022)

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Lionsgate Films

I don't think Janelle Monae gets the proper credit she deserves for her portrayal of Veronica Henley in Antebellum personally, so we're going to make she gets her due here. Dr. Veronica Henley is a sociologist getting ready to go on a promotional tour for her new book, and unexpectedly finds herself on a Southern slave plantation after basically being kidnapped (her car was switched). There's a lot of evil going in this place, and Veronica could have faltered out of fear, but instead she became a warrior doing whatever she had to do (including killing a couple folks) in order to escape. Thanks to her efforts, the plantation ends up getting shut down by the FBI, making Veronica a hero.

7. Nancy Thompson - A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984 - Present)

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New Line Cinema

Wes Craven was in his bag when he came up with the concept of Nightmare on Elm Street, and we're glad that in the midst of his creating, he decided to give the protagonist role to a young female actress. Freddie Krueger wasn't your average horror villain in the sense that his attacks were directly physical—his attacks were mental turned physical because he was attacking by way of a nightmare, which in turn was resulting in a physical death so to speak, and that's a difficult opponent to go up against.

Not only that, but tough family secrets had to be confronted in order to beat him in the first. Nancy Thompson did a good job dealing with the situations presented to her.

8. Ellen Ripley - Alien (1979 - Present)

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20th Century Studios

Speaking female horror protagonists that kicked butt in the 1970s and 80s, ladies and gents—Sigourney Weaver aka Ellen Ripley. It's always super entertaining when the horror and science fiction genres come together, and Ellen Ripley was forced to kick some mysterious alien butt over and over again. You also have to give props to how Weaver evolved Ellen Ripley because by the time the follow-up was released, she was a basically a full-fledged action star fully confident in what she was going up against.

Fun Fact: Did you guys know that the first Alien film in 1979 originally received mixed reviews from critics? Guess that $184.7 million at the box office proved a lot of folks wrong.

9. R.J. MacReady - The Thing (1982)

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Universal Pictures

If you were to ask ten different people what their favorite Kurt Russell performance is, we'd venture to say that at least seven are going to respond with R.J. MacReady. Not only is R.J. MacReady one of Russell's most notable portrayals, The Thing is one of the most beloved horror films as it also blended together elements of science fiction. R.J. MacReady was tough, resourceful, and a leader in every sense of the word. That's about all you can ask for in a horror protagonist.

10. Ed And Lorraine Warren - The Conjuring (2013)

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Warner Bros. Pictures

I must admit that The Conjuring is not my favorite when it comes to horror films—not because the movies aren't good, but because there are certain horror films that just kind of disturb my spirit a bit. I have been been dragged to watch every movie in the Conjuring series thus far, and while I can't say I enjoyed every minute of watching, I can gives props to Ed and Lorraine for their services—especially in The Conjuring 2 when they leave their retirement to help a family out with a possessed girl in the household.

11. Dr. Miles Bennell - Invasions of the Body Snatchers (1956)

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Allied Artists Pictures

Surprisingly, the 1950s get ignored when it comes to a lot of all-time horror lists, which is a shocker because it was a pivotal decade when it came to the future impact horror films and franchises would have. In fact, one could argue that the 50s were the most in-demand decade for horror movies in cinematic history. Sure they lacked the CGI and technological elements that we get in modern films, but the storytelling and concepts were good. There's something to be said for Kevin McCarthy's performance as Dr. Miles Bennell in Invasions of the Body Snatchers as he too had to deal with an alien problem that everybody doubted was actually happening.

12. Clarice Starling - The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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Orion Pictures

First of all—any fictional character named Hannibal is probably a little bit on the evil side. Second of all—we can all agree that Jodie Foster nailed her role as Clarice Starling right? Starling had a lot of positive attributes that made her an all-time protagonist, but her biggest in our opinion, was her intelligence. An FBI student, Starling could read you like a book, and that's what made her so powerful. It definitely would have been nice to Foster reprise her role in Hannibal, but Julianne Moore definitely held her own as well.

13. Maddie - Hush (2016)

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We weren't too sure if Maddie was going to make it (especially with the way her hand was looking towards the end of the movie), but at the end of the day, she was able to defeat a killer with a brutal history despite him specifically targeting her because she was deaf. Not an easy feat whatsoever.

14. Andy Barclay - Child's Play (1988 - Present)

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This list has been female heavy thus far with a few exceptions, so let's give some love to the final boys shall we? Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) was a resilient little fella who always managed to escape danger while being relatively unbothered—like he had been dealing with similar situations his whole life. Considering Andy grows up and still has to deal with Chucky, you could say his childhood self is what gives him the strength to battle in the future.

15. Hooper and Brody - Jaws (1975)

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Universal Pictures

We can't forget the bromance between Hooper and Brody in Jaws. In our opinion, dealing with a killer shark is much scarier than a zombie, so that makes Hooper and Brody more than deserving final boys to us.

16. Tommy Jarvis - Friday (1984 - 2017)

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Paramount Pictures

And last but not least—our guy Tommy Jarvis. The ultimate final boy.

Who's your favorite horror protagonist? If you are looking for some more horror suggestions, check out our list of Sci-Fi Horror films to check out.

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