10 Best Horror Movie Scream Queens: Then and Now

Updated on November 6, 2018
Rachel M Johnson profile image

Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for over two years.

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"Scream queens" were once simply described as attractive damsels-in-distress that starred in horror films. However, this definition has shifted over the years and the ladies can be either victims or heroines who rise above the villain. In order to receive the beloved title, several things must be considered, including acting abilities, film contributions and that ever-important lung capacity. Here is a list of iconic horror film scream queens.

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Jamie Lee Curtis

Then: In 1978, the then-unknown Jamie Lee Curtis was paid $8,000 to star as Laurie Strode in John Carpenter's Halloween. It was the 20-year-old's acting debut and the role would help establish Curtis as a certified "scream queen". She would go on to appear in a slew of horror films throughout the early 80s, including Prom Night, The Fog and Terror Train. Aside from the horror genre, Curtis has also starred in A Fish Called Wanda (1988), True Lies (1994) and The Tailor of Panama (2001).

Now: The actress has had a very successful film career since her Halloween debut. Curtis is the daughter of actors Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, a fellow scream queen of Psycho fame. She had reprised her role of Laurie in four sequels, most recently 2018's Halloween. Curtis has also appeared in Freaky Friday, Christmas with the Kranks, and You Again. She also starred in the aptly named TV show Scream Queens from 2015-2016.

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Neve Campbell

Then: Before starring as Ghostface's unknowing target Sidney Prescott in 1996's Scream, Neve Campbell had appeared in the hit film The Craft and the critcally acclaimed TV series Party of Five. Her role in Scream received significant praise and earned her the Saturn Award for Best Actress. She would also go on to star in the 1998 films Wild Things and 54, and Panic, opposite Donald Sutherland and William H. Macy.

Now: Campbell reprised her role as Sidney in 3 Scream sequels, with her final appearance in 2011's Scream 4. She also starred in the 2012 mini-series Titanic: Blood and Steel, Grey's Anatomy and most recently in House of Cards as LeAnn Harvey. She appeared alongside Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the 2018 action film Skyscraper.

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Shelley Duvall

Then: Before her star-making role in The Shining, Shelley Duvall appeared in films including McCabe & Mrs. Miller, 3 Women, and Annie Hall. She was cast as Wendy Torrance in 1980's The Shining, a role that would propel her into stardom. Though her performance in the horror film earned her critical acclaim, the process took a toll on the actress. Director Stanley Kubrick would often antagonize her and the other actors in order to give it the psychological factor he desired. Duvall was forced to perform the iconic baseball bat scene 127 times, and even lost clumps of hair during filming due to stress. She would go on to star in Popeye opposite Robin Williams, Time Bandits, Roxanne, and The Portrait of a Lady.

Now: Though Duvall would go on to appear in films such as 1998's Home Fries, Tale of the Mummy, and The 4th Floor, her final role was in the 2002 independent movie Manna from Heaven. She has lived out of the public eye since 2002, and in 2016 was reported to be suffering from a mental illness. Duvall appeared on Dr. Phil, demonstrating bizarre behavior. The Actors Fund of America is said to be working to help the actress pay and seek treatment.

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Danielle Harris

Then: Before becoming a bonafide scream queen, Danielle Harris began her career as a child actress by appearing in films like Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, The Last Boy Scout, and Free Willy. She played the role of Jamie Llloyd in 1988's Halloween 4, and returned the following year for the sequel Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Meyers. She would later go on to star in the rebooted Halloween franchise. Harris would also provide voice-work for the animated show The Wild Thornberrys.

Now: Harris would go on to star as Annie Bracket in the 2007 Rob Zombie remake of Halloween, which went on to gross over an impressive $80 million. That same year she starred in the horror film Left for Dead, and also appeared in the slasher movies Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet, Fear Clinic, and Halloween II. Most recently Harris appeared in See No Evil 2, and Camp Cold Brook, as well as in Psych, Bones, and Robot Chicken.

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Fay Wray

Then: Having been dubbed one of the first official scream queens, actress Fay Wray rose to fame when she starred as Ann Darrow in the 1933 blockbuster classic King Kong. The actress was paid $10,000 ($200,000 in 2017 dollars), and would become most associated with the role. Wray had previously starred in the horror film Doctor X (1932). Wray would stick to the genre, later appearing in The Vampire Bat (1933) and The Most Dangerous Game.

Now: Though she initially retired in 1942, due to financial troubles she resumed acting, starring in TV shows such as The Pride of the Family, Perry Mason, and Alred Hitchcock Presents. Her later film credits include Queen Bee, Gideon's Trumpet, and the documentary Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There. She was reportedly offered the role of the older Rose in 1997's Titanic, but turned it down. Wray passed away at the age of 96 in 2004.

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Sarah Michelle Gellar

Then: In 1997, up-and-coming actress Sarah Michelle Gellar had just debuted her hit show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which would go on to become a cult classic series. She had previously appeared on the daytime soap opera All My Children, from 1993-1995. In October of 1997, Gellar would star in the slasher film I Know What You Did Last Summer, which became a box-office success. That same year she also appeared in another horror film, Scream 2. Gellar also famously portrayed Kathryn Merteuil in Cruel Intentions.

Now: Gellar would go on to star as Daphne Blake in 2002's Scooby-Doo, and its 2004 sequel Scooby-Doo 2: Monster's Unleashed. The actress returned to her horror roots when she starred in The Grudge, and 2006's The Return. Gellar's other acting roles include the films TMNT and Possession, and the TV shows Ringer and The Crazy Ones. In 2015, she co-founded the food-crafting brand Foodstirs.

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Janet Leigh

Then: Before starring as the doomed Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's cult classic Psycho (1960), Janet Leigh appeared in multiple hit films including Little Women, Safari and Touch of Evil. For her role in Pyscho, Leigh earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for an Oscar. The film is widely considered to be one of the earliest examples of the slasher film genre, and Leigh became a scream queen for her portrayal. She would go on to appear in The Manchurian Candidate, Bye Bye Birdie, and with her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in 1980's The Fog.

Now: Leigh had a lucrative film career that spanned decades, but that momentum slowed down in her later years. She made TV appearances in shows like The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote, and The Twilight Zone. Her last film credit was Bad Girls From Valley High in 2005. Leigh also wrote four books between 1984 and 2002, two of which were novels. The iconic actress passed away in 2004 at the age of 77.

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Linda Blair

Then: Known for her starring role in arguably one of the scariest films of all time, actress Linda Blair had previously appeared in Hidden Faces and The Sporting Club before being cast in 1973's The Exorcist. She was selected from a field of 600 applicants, and was only 13 when she filmed the movie. Her portrayal of the possessed child Regan earned her a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination. She would reprise the role in its sequel, 1977's Exorcist II: The Heretic. Blair would appear in other slasher films including Hell Night, Grotesque, Witchery and Repossessed.

Now: Blair would go on to host Scariest Places on Earth, from 2001 to 2006. She also appeared in the shows Supernatural and Pit Boss. The actress appeared in the comedy webseries Whoa! and in the films The Green Fairy and Surge of Power: Revenge of the Sequel. Blair is also a passionate animal rights activist.

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Jennifer Love Hewitt

Then: Jennifer Love Hewitt received her breakthrough role as Sarah Reeves Merrin on the hit teen drama Party of Five (1995-1999). She starred along fellow scream queen Neve Campbell on the show, and rose to fame when she appeared in 1997's I Know What You Did Last Summer. The slasher film helped cement Hewitt's stardom, and she would go on to star in it's sequel, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. The actress also had roles in films such as Can't Hardly Wait, Heartbreakers, and The Tuxedo.

Now: Since her slasher days, Hewitt has had a successful television career, starring in the supernatural drama Ghost Whisperer from 2005 to 2010. She also appeared in The Client List, and as Special Agent Kate Callahan on Criminal Minds. Beginning in 2018, the actress has starred in the first responder drama series 9-1-1.

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Vera Farmiga

Then: Perhaps the newest name to become a certified scream queen, actress Vera Farmiga had a very successful film career outside of the horror genre. She had starred in the critically acclaimed movies The Departed, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and Up in the Air. Farmiga starred as real-life paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren in the blockbuster horror film The Conjuring (2013) and its sequel The Conjuring 2 (2016). Her other horror film roles include Joshua and The Orphan.

Now: Farmiga starred in the drama-thriller series Bates Motel from 2013 to 2017, and in 2018's The Nun. She will also appear in Annabelle 3, further solidifying her title as a contemporary scream queen. Aside from the horror genre, Farmiga has most recently starred alongside Liam Neeson in 2018's The Commuter, and the biographical drama The Front Runner.

© 2018 Rachel M Johnson

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