Horror, as a genre, is differentiated by the readiness of its characters. While some protagonists quickly catch on to the situation they’re in and learn to adapt, others struggle and find themselves falling into clichés, dying easily avoidable deaths. Not all horror protagonists are created equal, and some are just built different – smarter than all the rest.
Whether they’re facing against a man in a mask, or facing off against a supernatural threat, or even an alien, these horror protagonists are set apart by their cleverness. All of them survive multiple encounters with their respective villains by figuring out the rules of the game. Some of them even manage to finish off their own respective monsters for good.
“Guys think I’m too smart.”
Laurie Strode begins her journey as a horror mainstay: the hapless babysitter targeted by a killer. Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance in the original Halloween is the defining Scream Queen performance for many horror fans. While she often finds that her efforts to evade or fight back against Michael Myers are hamstrung by his sometime-supernatural abilities and the occasional weak writing, Laurie grows into a character that’s prepared for Michael’s inevitable return.
She’s genre-savvy enough to know that the killer never stays down, and in the latest David Gordon Green continuity (which concludes with Halloween Ends), she’s become a survivalist who’s armed to the teeth, just waiting for Myers to make his comeback.
“There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”
Sarah Connor is, quite frankly, an icon. Her humble life as a waitress is completely upended by the presence of a killer robot from the future. Sarah’s initially protected by Kyle Reese in The Terminator, but her tenacity continues to carry her on once Kyle meets his demise.
By Terminator 2, Sarah’s a full-blown military specialist, just waiting for the day the machines will rise. Capable, strong, and protective of her son John – the one hope humanity has – Sarah knows when to be wary of a situation. Her initial distrust of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator in the sequel is rightful – it could easily be a ploy by SkyNet to kill her and John. As the movie goes on, though, she shows a willingness to trust the robot, showing that she’s willing to take an opportunity when it presents itself and not let her fear hold her back. Sadly, Sarah is done in by natural causes – Terminator 3: Judgement Day reveals Sarah will eventually die of cancer.
“Welcome to the Losers Club, a******!”
Including the entirety of the Losers Club may be a bit of a cheat, but really, they come as a set. They are known as a ka-tet – essentially they are all parts of one greater whole. And as a group, they’re able to face a demonic, cosmic horror as 12-year-olds. Even as children, they quickly come to realize that It’s weakness is bravery: Pennywise cannot harm them if they are not afraid of It.
Their cooperation and planning continues when It returns 27 years later. Though they’ve all grown up and become disillusioned in the face of trauma, they still are able to piece together the key to finally killing It: with mockery, making It become small and vulnerable. The Losers Club get their spot because they know how to play to each other’s strengths, and they know that as long as the monster is out there, they need to stick together and kill It.
“Get away from her, you b****!”
Ellen Ripley is nothing if not resilient. The sole human survivor of the Nostromo (can’t forget Jonesy!), Ripley is quick to formulate plans in the face of danger. Her ingenuity has saved her from numerous encounters with the Xenomorph – which are deviously and deceptively intelligent despite being, essentially, debatably non-sentient alien predators with acidic blood.
Perhaps her biggest accomplishment is killing the Xenomorph Queen and her brood. Ripley’s own maternal instincts kick in when she has to rescue Newt and she does so in spectacular fashion, using a futuristic mech suit that serves as construction equipment to take her on in hand-to-robot combat.
“I’m Sidney f****** Prescott, of course I have a gun.”
Sidney Prescott is the perennial final girl, and she knows it. Though her friend Randy Meeks informed her of the horror conventions she would learn to embrace later on, Sydney herself became a veteran of horror movie encounters and learned a trick or two of her own. There’s her penchant for shooting the killer in the head (so they don’t come back for a second wind), and of course she knows how to trick Ghostface. All too often, the killer thinks they’ve got her, only to be outsmarted by Sid. Roman wasn’t expecting her to bring Kevlar to their meeting, and that proved to be his undoing.
Sidney’s ingenuity also extends to Gale and Dewey. Though Dewey finally met his end in Scream (2022), he died thinking he was doing what was right, and Gale didn’t rest until she got her revenge on his killer. The film essentially closed the chapter on Sidney and Dewey’s stories – Neve Campbell won’t be back for Scream 6, which means Sidney is probably the smartest of all for staying well away from the new protagonists.