Top 10 Most Frightening Female Characters

Ten damsels in distress that don’t need saving. Serving an unhealthy dose of women that maim, murder, humiliate and destroy, this is the Top 10 Most Frightening Female Characters.

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One of the things that always strikes me about Brian De Palma’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel Carrie is, despite the destructive might of the pubescent titular character’s bloody revenge, it is her mother that takes the prize for sheer craziness. The image of Carrie White, the skin on her face ever tightening against the drying pig’s blood splashed across it, is a memorably disconcerting sight but it is nothing compared to her mother’s god-fearing fanaticism.

That got me thinking – frightening female characters: who has there been, what films have they appeared in, and who stands out as the scariest of them all?

Other Top 10s on that you might like: Top 10 Dominant Women In Hollywood Film | Top 10 Seductresses | Top 10 Girl Power Films | Top 10 Actresses in Alfred Hitchcock Films

10. Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner, Serial Mom, 1994)

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The brilliant Kathleen Turner is devilishly scary as murdering mom Beverly Sutphin. The white picket fence smile and homely familial love she bestows on her husband and children hides a borderline psychotic who can’t prevent her knitting scissors from doing serious damage to the neighbours. This comical satire is overseen by transgressive cult artist John Waters and underpinned by Turner’s terrific performance.

9. Mrs. Mott (Rebecca De Mornay, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, 1992)

See Also: Top 10 Scary Mothers in Film

Don’t ask Mrs. Mott to baby-sit your children. That’s the simple lesson learned in 1992’s The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. The scheming widow plots to destroy an entire family after she blames them for the death of her husband. Rebecca De Mornay’s vicious performance is one of the most memorable from the thrillers of the 1990s.

8. The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton, Wizard of Oz, 1939)

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The broomstick helps her wicked ways, ensuring she’s never more than a short flight away from tormenting you. Her face is a more cartoonish depiction of evil than Regan’s in The Exorcist, but the Wicked Witch of the West is still a terrifying creation.

7. Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina, Audition, 1999)

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Sometimes a date won’t turn out how you planned it. Sometimes you’ll go home alone feeling empty, sad and unworthy. But, sometimes, that date might go well, and you’ll find the need for a taxi for two, not one. However, if it’s Asami Yamazaki you’ve just “pulled” then you better hope an accident befalls you en route home. Because once Asami has got her teeth into you, there’s very little left once she’s done. Takashi Miike’s Audition is hide-behind-the-couch torture of the very highest order.

6. Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis, Natural Born Killers, 1994)

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If you mess with Mallory Knox, you mess with her off-kilter husband Mickey too. These two mass murdering psychopaths will chop you to pieces and invite a ratings-grabbing media to film to carnage.

5. Alex Forrest (Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction, 1987)

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The bunny-boiling brilliance of Glenn Close as frighteningly psychotic Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction turned a million men away from extramarital affairs in the late 1980s. The perennially-permed woman-of-the-world turns to attacking Michael Douglas’ family after he turns the sex tap off. It culminates in a great…climax!

4. Margaret White (Piper Laurie, Carrie, 1976)

See Also: Top 10 Scary Mothers in Film

The inspiration behind the Top 10 Most Frightening Female Characters in Film takes the fourth spot. Piper Laurie is callous in her monstrous yet icily controlled god-fearing ways as the overpowering mother of telekinetic daughter Carrie. Her small role is one of the best things about Brian De Palma’s terrific adaptation of the Stephen King novel.

3. Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates, Misery, 1990)

See Also: Top 10 Stephen King Adaptations

Poor Paul Sheldon (James Caan) – he’s a world famous, critically-somewhat-acclaimed and commercially successful novelist who is “lucky” enough to find his number one fan who will do anything for him. However, unfortunately, his number one fan is psychotic ex-nurse and baby killer Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) who proceeds to “hobble” him in order to keep him captive while he writes a new novel she’s happy with.

2. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975)

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Louise Fletcher is terrific as Nurse Ratched, a power-hungry authoritarian who has to do battle with happy-go-lucky convict and anti-authoritarian Patrick “Mac” McMurphy (Jack Nicholson). The tragic outcome to this terrific tale about the inhabitants of an Oregon mental asylum makes Nurse Ratched an icon of frightening female film characters.

1. Regan (Linda Blair, The Exorcist, 1975)

See Also: The Attraction of Horror: Why I Love Scary Films | Top 10 Horror Films 1967 to 1979 | Top 10 Scariest Movie Scenes | Opinion: Might need therapy after The Exorcist & Eden Lake double bill | Top 10 Mark Kermode Films

Linda Blair is astonishing as a pubescent girl who is possessed by an evil demon. William Friedkin’s The Exorcist is undoubtedly the greatest horror film ever made, and surely the scariest.

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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Your turn – what female characters scare you?

See also: Top 10 Dominant Women In Hollywood Film | Top 10 Seductresses | Top 10 Girl Power Films | Top 10 Actresses in Alfred Hitchcock Films

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    sati Reply

    Awesome list! For me the scariest characters would be Margaret White, Annie Wilkes and Tae Ju from Thirst.

  2. Avatar
    le0pard13 Reply

    Excellent list of female characters, Dan. For me, I’d add Evelyn Draper (wonderfully portrayed by Jessica Walter) from ‘Play Misty For Me’. She was the 70s forerunner to Alex Forrest (Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction). If you’re interested, I wrote up that Eastwood’s directorial debut last year.

    Well done. Thanks.

  3. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Sati: Thanks! 🙂

    @Le0pard: That’s a really good one, Michael. And you’re spot on citing her as the fire-starter for the Alex Forrest we see in Fatal Attraction.

  4. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Wilkes, Ratchet, The Wicked Witch, Alex and Mott all scared me. Great list Dan. Really well thought out. If I could add one more, maybe in place of The Audition one (never liked the film all that much), it would be Sadie from Last House on the Left. She was just evil and didn’t care about human life in the least.

  5. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    No mention of Ma Fratelli (essayed by the wonderful Anne Ramsey) in The Goonies? I don’t know about you guys, but she scared THE HELL out of me as a kid….

    Great list, Dan. Some truly horrid women on this list – although I never really found Nurse Ratched all that frightening, myself. I watched Cuckoo’s Nest again last year and kept waiting for her to do something which warranted all her bad press… and I got nothing. I thought she was just trying to do her job, is all….

    Perhaps my judgement of what constitutes “frightening” is off kilter!!

  6. Avatar
    Scott Lawlor Reply

    Happy to see Annie Wilkes in there… she was brilliant.. scarier in the book, but still nasty in the film!!

    Great list matey

  7. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Rodney: Yeah, Anne Ramsey is a good one. Actually, I think her performance in Throw Momma From The Train is scarier than The Goonies! 🙂

  8. Avatar
    Jack Deth Reply

    Hello Daniel and company:

    Great idea with an admirable list!

    Very pleasantly surprised to see Asama Yamazaki make the list. The actress’s often placid, sometimes gleefully childlike face works better to heighten suspense, fear and terror than any number of dark, slanted shadows!

    Would also add to my personal Honorable Mention list, the twin girls who pop up when least expected and want to play with young Danny Torrance in Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’.

  9. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Jack: Great choice to include the girls from The Shining! Their unsettling appearances in the film always get the hairs raising on the back of my neck.

  10. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Being named Danny(although I have been called Dan since about 12), the girls in the Shining terrified me when they said, “Come play with us Danny”

  11. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Dan: I know all about that! 🙂

  12. Avatar
    mark Reply

    Nothing like a bit of misogyny to whittle away the minutes …

    Possible contenders:

    (1) Charlize Theron in Monster (Why not? She got an Oscar [TM] for it);

    (2) Meg Foster in Ticket to Heaven;

    (3) Ellen Page in Hard Candy;

    (4) Billie Whitelaw in The Omen (or possibly Mia Farrow in the remake … sure, she was a bit kooky for marrying Sinatra, but I still feel sorry for her after Woody ran off with her adopted daughter);

    (5) Sam Phillips in Die Hard III (I’m sure Katie Blanchett ripped off her Katya character when she did the last Indiana Jones film);

    (6) Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (she was a lot of fun in Hush, Hush … Sweet Charlotte as well);

    (7) Dyanne Thorne in Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (admittedly I haven’t seen it, but I thought I’d throw it in there);

    (9)Geraldine Page in The Beguiled (“Off with his leg”), and;

    (8) Ayn Rand … sure, she was never in any movies, but has anyone watched her old black and white TV interview footage – she’s as terrifying as Michael Jackson and could have easily played the wicked witch of the west.

  13. Avatar
    jjames36 Reply

    Great list. I haven’t seen all of these, but the ones I have . . . definitely scary.

    Without a doubt, my number one scariest female character is Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. (Though that might be because I watched this movie when I was way too young, probably not even a teenager.)

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