Kids in horror films are typically presented in one of two ways. First, creepy children in horror films are very popular – from Terrifier 2‘s Little Pale Girl all the way back to Village of the Damned and so many in between – with many being possessed by ghosts or demons, or manipulated by science. Second, children are used as the catalyst for the horror; adults need to fight something or someone to ensure a child’s safety.
But what about that small group of children in horror films who are neither evil nor in need of rescue? Often difficult to portray well due to the inherent challenges young characters can face (no money, transportation, help from parents), horror fans don’t usually get to see kids that can save the day. These horror films feature some badass youngsters who are just as capable – sometimes even more so – as the adults.
Warning: plot spoilers for the following films are discussed.
10 Hyun-seo, ‘The Host’ (2006)
In 2006’s South Korean creature-feature The Host, Hyun-seo (Ko A-sung) proves herself a capable tween with brave survivor instincts. Despite being snatched by a monster and taken to its lair beneath the river, Hyun-seo puts up a good fight, and helps save a fellow victim.
Using the few resources she has, Hyun-seo calls her dad, alerting him to her whereabouts, and constructs a rope out of old clothes. When the creature regurgitates another victim, Se-joo, Hyun-seo aids in his resuscitation, helps him hide, and never once stops trying to escape. Her ingenuity and bravery make Hyun-seo’s tragic fate even more devastating to viewers.
9 Mark, ‘The Good Son’ (1993)
1993’s The Good Son gave Macaulay Culkin the opportunity to play against type as evil Henry and let Elijah Wood show off his acting chops as heroic Mark. Mark starts off the film with a wide-eyed innocence, but grows to confidently stand up against Henry.
When Mark’s pleas for help from Henry’s parents fall on deaf ears, Mark acts and puts himself at risk by tackling Henry over the side of a cliff. With both boys hanging onto Henry’s mom, Susan, for their lives, she can only save one. The choice may be Susan’s, but without Mark’s intervention, she wouldn’t be alive to make that choice.
8 Carly (and Josh), ‘Mom and Dad’ (2017)
Horror black comedy Mom and Dad sees the urge of filicide spread over the parents of a suburban town. Carly (Anne Winters) and Josh (Zackary Arthur) must avoid being murdered by their own parents (played by an appropriately over-the-top Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair) in this manic and brutal film.
Josh mostly takes on a helpless role, with the onus of survival on big sister Carly. Carly is resourceful and unflinching, even willing to potentially kill her parents by ingeniously rigging a gas leak trap against them. But Carly isn’t heartless either, keeping her parents alive but tied up… for the time being.
7 Luke, ‘The Witches’ (1990)
In the classic 1990 family horror The Witches, Jasen Fisher‘s Luke almost single-handedly takes down a coven of – you guessed it – witches. He does all of this with little help from adults, and while spending most of the film’s runtime as a mouse!
In his human form, Luke craftily hides and spies on Anjelica Huston‘s Grand High Witch, confirming his suspicions of malicious intent. But even after the horrifying witch turns Luke into a mouse, he does not stop in his quest to wipe the coven out, and hatches a plot to turn their magic against them by sneaking the witches’ potion into their food – as a MOUSE!
6 Cole, ‘The Babysitter’ (2017)
Cole (Judah Lewis) begins 2017’s horror-comedy The Babysitter as a meek and lonely 7th-grader whose parents saddle him with a babysitter so that they can have an overnighter at a hotel. But by film’s end, Cole has a newfound confidence to go along with his kill count.
Throughout one crazy night of being chased by teenage cultists, Cole smartly avoids getting captured and offs them one by one, often with a witty verbal quip or two. Cole is very relatable and epitomizes “from zero to hero” when he ultimately saves the day from evil.
5 Gwen (and Finney), ‘The Black Phone’ (2022)
The Black Phone features a dynamic sibling relationship between Gwen and Finney (Madeleine McGraw and Mason Thames) as they face off against child murderer The Grabber (Ethan Hawke). While Finney spends most of the film constrained to The Grabber’s basement after being kidnapped, he does manage to get the upper hand and defeat him in end, with the help of some ghostly advice.
The real badass, however, is McGraw’s feisty Gwen. Along with having the supernatural power of helpful premonitions, Gwen also possesses a strong love for, and sibling bond with, Finney. This is clear when she continually stands up for him, even engaging in physical fights with bullies as well as her own father in his defense. And it is her insights that lead the otherwise useless cops to The Grabber.
4 Kassie, ‘Evil Dead Rise’ (2023)
Evil Dead Rise brings the familiar Deadites of The Evil Dead franchise to attack the inhabitants of a Los Angeles apartment building. One family – mom Ellie; kids Danny, Bridget, and Kassie; and Aunt Beth – brutally fights for survival after finding the Necronomicon and unleashing evil.
While the older kids and Beth do most of the heavy lifting against an infected Ellie, Kassie provides a quiet resilience in the impending doom, calmly stating that Ellie isn’t her mom anymore. Kassie also assists Beth by handing her weapons mid-fight as well as gives her a new sense of purpose before taking on the Marauder. On top of that, Kassie stops (albeit briefly) her infected sister Bridget by impaling her with a broom handle. Groovy.
3 Regan, ‘A Quiet Place’ (2018)
Millicent Simmonds made a splash in her breakout role of Regan in A Quiet Place. A brave and motivated tween, Regan often stands up to her parents because she wants to help provide for and protect the family against vicious aliens – and she happens to be hard of hearing.
Regan wants to prove herself to her father due to the guilt over her brother Beau’s death, which puts a strain on their relationship but solidifies Regan’s loyalty to her family. Throughout A Quiet Place, Regan’s fearlessness shines through as she protects her surviving brother Marcus, alerts nearby farms of impending danger, figures out the key to disarming the aliens, and still manages to connect with her father.
2 Phoebe (and The Squad), ‘The Monster Squad’ (1987)
Horror comedy The Monster Squad sees the nefarious return of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy, Wolf Man, and Gill-man in their quest to take over the world. Fighting parents, bullies, and now monsters, the pre-teens of The Monster Squad do what they can to stop the forces of evil through their enthusiasm, knowledge of lore, and sheer tenacity.
The only female member of the group, Phoebe (Ashley Bank) is the most vital member: She recruits the “scary German guy” and Frankenstein’s monster, and is the only one who can recite the passage to defeat the evil. While each member of The Monster Squad contributes, Dracula simply would have won if Phoebe wasn’t around. Plus, she’s cute as a button!
1 Ben (and the Losers’ Club), ‘IT: Chapter One’ (2017)
It’s difficult to pick only one member of the Losers’ Club to spotlight, since each one of the teens in Stephen King‘s IT: Chapter One is capable in their own way. Additionally, without working together as a unit and supporting one another, they would have been unable to beat Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).
However, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) arguably contributes the most to identifying the history of IT and where it resides. Researching in the library, mostly to hide from bullies, Ben learns about the menacing demon and reports back to the group. He is also the one to snap Beverly out of her trance after being taken and hypnotized by Pennywise. When it comes to his fears – like teen bullies, an actual demon, and first love – Ben faces each one.