Why Scream's Sidney Prescott is The Best Final Girl

The horror trope of the "Final Girl" has been part of the cultural conversation around horror films for decades. While it wasn't officially coined until 1992 by author, Carol J. Clover, the trope itself has been around much longer, stretching back into the horror films of the 1970s and 80s. For the uninitiated, the term "final girl" refers to the last woman standing at the end of a horror movie. Thanks to her logical or emotional intelligence, creativity, ability to think on her feet, or impressive physicality, the final girl is able to outlast the other poor, young victims of the film's masked slasher in order to face the villain in a final battle.

Classic horror films like Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Alien, and A Nightmare on Elm Street all feature the final girl trope. It's one that appears again and again whether the killer's bloody rampage takes place in a suburban neighborhood, summer camp, or backwoods farmhouse. But, while final girls like Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, and Ellen Ripley have taken on an iconic status, there's another character who not only earns her place in the final girl hall of fame but is arguably the most consistently impressive final girl in horror movie history: Sidney Prescott.

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The main character in the Scream franchise, Sidney (Neve Campbell) has faced more than her fair share of betrayals, traumas, and targeting from each film's Ghostface killer. When the first film opens, she already has a full emotional plate. For one, she's coping with the murder of her mother the year before and trying to work through the negative feelings surrounding it. She has to balance this with doing her best to put on a brave face, keep up with her schoolwork, and try to maintain some semblance of normalcy. But when Ghostface begins targeting her and her friends, she is forced to face the horrors that quickly present themselves. Her privacy is invaded when she's harassed by persistent reporter, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), who dredges up negative and unwanted media coverage surrounding Sidney's mother's murder. But instead of bemoaning her distress and troubles, Sidney takes control of the situation, standing up for herself by confronting a harassing Gale and punching her in the face, solidifying her as a force to be reckoned with.

This is further demonstrated in the film's climax. When it's revealed that her boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich), is actually behind the murders, Sidney is afraid, but she doesn't run. She bravely faces her trauma and the hard truths regarding her boyfriend and their relationship head-on rather than resorting to cowardice, even when Billy reveals that it was him who killed Sidney's mother since she was sleeping with his father. While it would have been easy for Sidney to pass along her problems to someone else to solve, she takes matters into her own hands, bravely confronting her tormentor...and delivering the final kill shot.

As Scream's box office receipts and critical acclaim grew, sequels were greenlit that turned the 1996 film into a bonafide franchise with Scream 2, Scream 3, Scream 4, and the upcoming fifth installment, also named Scream. It would have been easy for long-time franchise director, Wes Craven, and writer, Kevin Williamson, to cash in on name-brand recognition for the sequels and forgo Sidney's character development in favor of cookie-cutter follow-ups. Instead, they took what works about the first film (the slasher element, its meta-commentary, the clever blend of horror and comedy) while also using it as an opportunity to have its main character grow and develop in each subsequent film. The films don't try to glide over Sidney's immense trauma, but instead, use it to further the narrative of the franchise. The result is a strong emotional thread that is spun throughout the long-running series.

In Scream 2, Sidney's character does not become a bland rehash of her arc in the first film. She continues to develop and grow, as she continues to investigate the murders at her college even after the trauma that stems from the death of her friend, Randy (Jamie Kennedy). She resolves to unravel the truth behind the new Ghostface's bloody rampage despite the kills hitting even closer to home. During the film's climax, Sidney is once again front and center. When it's revealed that the killers are Sidney's friend, Mickey (Timothy Olyphant), and Billy Loomis' mother (Laurie Metcalf), Sidney remains fierce during their climactic theater-set showdown. She uses her creativity and intelligence to outsmart the psychotic duo by using various stage props and technical controls to scare and distract Mrs. Loomis as Sidney evades her pursuit.

Even after she ensures her own safety by teaming up with Gale and shooting Mickey to death, Sidney shoots the already dead Mrs. Loomis in the head once more, "just in case". Sidney uses her experience of the previous film's climax to make sure that the killer has been unequivocally executed, and that she is truly safe. But Sidney knows from the first film that this is just the beginning of the press storm. She wants to put her recent horrors behind her and ignore the media frenzy surrounding her. Speaking up for herself, she instructs the press to direct their questions to Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber). Here, Sidney builds upon the courage and grit she displayed in Scream. She not only is trying to make up for her wrongdoings against Cotton, showing her growth from the trauma of her mother's death, but she also takes complete control of her own story and mental health. This ending scene shows the deepening layers of her character along with a strong consistency with her self-worth and protection and ability to move forward from the horrors she has faced.

While it would have been understandable for Sidney to give in to the many physical and emotional wounds she has sustained, Scream 3 further shows that she's not a character who gives up that easily. She instead channels her pain and trauma from her multiple Ghostface confrontations to help others as a telephone crisis counselor for abused women, all while preparing herself for a future Ghostface encounter she suspects is coming.. After all, Sidney knows better than anyone else how it feels to be targeted and pursued by people who wish her harm. Her character growth in Scream 3 is a prime example of her status as a multi-layered final girl in that she makes it her mission to assist and comfort women who now find themselves in the same situations she has faced in her own past.

Sidney has felt a looming sense of danger since the first Scream. The same is true here. Her intuitions end up being correct when a new killer strikes and Sidney is forced from the safety of her home to investigate. She continues to jump into the action, putting her life in danger to save those of Gale and Dewey (David Arquette). When it's revealed that the killer is Roman (Scott Foley), Sidney's half-brother, she once again faces upsetting news and betrayals with steeled ferocity and tenacity. She doesn't cower or scream for help or become a damsel in distress; she holds her ground and engages him in a fight, fully prepared...right down to wearing a bulletproof vest.

Her cleverness, bravery, and desire to help others even when the world hasn't been kind to her is the mark of a continually and consistently developing character over the course of three films, and it's a trend that continues into Scream 4. After years of press attention and media scrutiny, Sidney now faces it head-on when she returns home to Woodsborough to promote a book she wrote about her life and Ghostface experiences. Here, she’s taking control of her own story and telling it her way rather than letting public speculation, false news, and gossip become her legacy. She continues to be active rather than passive as she reaffirms her ownership of the narrative that Gale essentially stole from Sidney with her own written takes on the series' events and subsequent Stab movies. When Sidney witnesses her first murder of this new spree, she doesn't even flinch before running across the street with her head held high ready to fight, proving that, during all that time since the third movie, she's still as fearless as ever.

Sidney has never been an unchanging or passive character throughout the Scream franchise. With each film, she continues to learn, grow, and develop as a person and character. It's a remarkable feat over the course of the franchise's 25 years and a testament to Kevin Williamson's solid screenplays and Neve Campbell's ability to breathe real life into Sidney. Ultimately, Sidney is one of the few final girls whose character continues to reveal new layers that build upon her arc in previous films, making her the most consistently impressive final girl of all. There's no doubt that Sidney will continue to be the fearless warrior she is in the next installment in January of next year.

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Ricky Ruszin (23 Articles Published)

Ricky Ruszin is a Features Writer for Collider, focusing on film and TV. He is also a horror and suspense novelist, having earned his BA degree in English Language and Literature from Stevenson University. When he's not watching or writing about movies and TV, he enjoys reading, traveling, and seeking out the world's tallest and fastest roller coasters. He lives in Baltimore, MD, where he can be found quoting Seinfeld from the couch and eating way too many donuts.

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