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The Final Girl and Final Boy: Reframing Gender Identities in Alien and Get Out

Matthew Gebbia


Ripley’s eyes flash with terror as she alone is hunted by the deadly Xenomorph set loose on the Nostromo


Genres provide filmmakers with a set of rules and conventions to use as guidelines when crafting their films. Concurrently, film spectators also use their knowledge of genres and the accompanying conventions to attune their expectations when watching works of a particular genre. While many filmmakers often conform to traditional genre conventions, some cleverly anatomize and manipulate these conventions to explore novel storytelling avenues, oscillating between following and breaking genre expectations. The horror genre is one that filmmakers continue to experiment with, not only through genre blending but through methods of gender representation juxtaposed against the orthodox genre conventions of horror. Through a close examination of feminist film theory and gender representation, this paper aims to explore how the Final Girl formula, as theorized by Carol J. Clover, has been worked into two horror films, Alien (1979) and Get Out (2017), and how this may point to the potential expansion of Final Identities within the horror genre.

The practice of manipulating genre conventions within a singular genre relates to the notion of genre blending in cinema. For example, the longstanding interest in combining thriller with other genres stems from its malleability and versatility. Film theorist Martin Rubin reinforces the malleable nature of the thriller, stating, “the concept of ‘thriller’ falls somewhere between a genre proper and a genre descriptive quality that is attached to other, more clearly defined genres… the thriller can be conceptualized as a ‘meta-genre’ that gathers several other genres under its umbrella” (4). Thus, the thriller is not as clearly defined as other genres because its core qualities primarily concern the feeling of thrill (along with its associated emotions) and the degree to which they are induced within the spectator by the film. The meta-genre attributes of the thriller not only lend themselves to genre blending but encourage filmmakers to experiment with following and breaking various genre conventions. Rubin expands on the thriller’s applicability, stating, “The thriller involves not just the presence of certain feelings in excess but also a combination of those feelings. Just as a roller coaster makes us laugh and scream, the thriller often works to double emotions, feelings, sensations: humor and suspense, fear and excitement, pleasure, and pain” (6). Here, Rubin claims that the doubling of emotions pulls the viewer into two distinct directions to produce the sensation of tension, which, in turn, provides thrilling and exciting stimulation for the spectator. Rubin’s claim suggests that filmmakers can similarly explore and manipulate genre conventions and gender representations to create this sensation of tension. By doubling these elements — such as two different genres or two different gender representations — filmmakers can create an even more powerful effect, as the thrill created by this doubling will be even more pronounced.

Rubin’s argument can likewise be extended to the horror genre, as horror films often incorporate elements of the thriller genre and induce similar emotions within the spectator. Genre conventions within the realm of horror (particularly those regarding gender) inform the work of Carol J. Clover, a film scholar who writes about the slasher film and the Final Girl formula in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. The slasher film sub-genre typically involves an elusive killer who eliminates a group of victims, often one-by-one, with the Final Girl being the sole survivor. Clover coins the term ‘Final Girl’ in her work and defines the main criteria as, “The final girl 1) undergoes agonizing trials, and 2) virtually or actually destroys the antagonist and saves herself” (83-84). Clover also describes the Final Girl as a masculine hero who is “anatomically female,” displaying attributes of intelligence, perceptiveness, level-headedness, and being the first character to sense the rising threat — all conventionally masculine traits within the genre of horror (85). In the 1979 sci-fi/horror film Alien, director Ridley Scott takes the Final Girl formula and carefully molds it to fit the protagonist, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). In the film, Ripley is portrayed as a confident and composed individual who upholds responsibility by strictly abiding by protocol. In a scene in which Kane (John Hurt), one of her crewmates, is discovered to be infected by the alien parasite, Ripley is framed from a slightly low angle in a close-up to convey her level-headedness and sensible personality in the face of her fellow crewmates who are quick to break quarantine to save Kane. Although Ripley carries herself with a firm sense of authority and responsibility, she is rudely dismissed by her colleagues and disobeyed by Ash (Ian Holm), who opens the hatch and breaks quarantine, leading to disastrous consequences. In this way, Ripley exhibits traits of the Final Girl by facing the frustration of other characters not respecting her opinion and ultimately paying the price. Not only does she face these agonizing trials to survive, but she also defeats the alien antagonist and saves herself at the end of the film; during the climax, she addresses the killer on her own terms and rids the world of the Xenomorph, thus reclaiming power and control over her environment.

Ripley’s success in overcoming the Xenomorph not only demonstrates her agency as a Final Girl but also her ability to navigate a male-dominated space, relying on her strengths to take back control of her environment. Throughout the film, Ripley is constantly surrounded by men, and her clothing reinforces her status as an outsider aboard the Nostromo. Ripley occupies the unique position of a masculine female, having to adopt characteristics of a male-dominated space to survive and defeat the alien. This is particularly evident in the opening scene, where Ripley and the other crew members are born into the world of the film, reduced to their undergarments as they emerge from cryosleep. Ripley’s lack of clothing reinforces her outsider status among the crew; however, neither the film nor the other characters overtly sexualize or objectify her femininity. Throughout the film, Ripley appears in the same androgynous jumpsuit as the rest of the crew, the distinguishing features of her femininity concealed from both the viewer and the characters. Finally, at the end of the film, Ripley is allowed to relinquish her masculine appearance and undress back into her underwear in the escape pod, bringing her femininity to the forefront of the viewer’s attention. Although some feminist theorists like Laura Mulvey might write off this scene as objectifying Ripley and exploiting the male gaze, it blurs the distinctions between male and female by portraying Ripley — who we have primarily perceived as masculine for most of the film — as suddenly feminine. This scene exemplifies Clover’s argument that the horror genre can produce “irregular combinations” of gender roles, “of which the combination masculine female repeatedly prevails” (85). By layering various gender roles onto a single character, Alien creates a sense of disorientation that challenges viewers’ preconceived notions about gender and, thus, a space for a greater exploration of gender roles and representation within the horror genre.

Now that we have seen how Ridley Scott incorporates elements of the Final Girl in Alien, we will examine how Jordan Peele effectively manipulates the Final Girl formula in his 2017 directorial debut, Get Out. In Get Out, Peele explores and achieves a different variation of the Final Girl, instead substituting it with the Final Boy. This gender swap echoes film scholar Adam Knee’s idea of blurring gender identities through the breakdown of the traditional gendered binary. In reference to Dario Argento, an Italian filmmaker known for his horror and slasher films, Knee states, “the extent that Argento’s films consistently foreground ambiguities of gender and sexuality and repeatedly suggest the instability of power relations implied by acts of looking and perceiving… force us to move toward the kind of critical positions being laid out by Clover and Shaviro — that is to say, positions that question the rigidity… of assumptions about gendered binarisms in the horror film” (242). The apparent rigidity of the gender binary in horror films demonstrates the potential for filmmakers to closely anatomize these binaries and explore novel gender identities within the genre. 

With the character of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), the protagonist of Get Out, Peele blurs the binary between male and female by incorporating and manipulating the Final Girl formula. Like Ripley, Chris is characterized from the outset as perceptive and level-headed; however, whereas Ripley carries herself with authority and agency in front of her crewmates, Chris is depicted as passive and submissive in his relationship with his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams). The introduction of Chris in the opening sequence reveals his keen eye through the mise-en-scène, namely his photographs displayed on the wall of his home. Chris’ artistic sensibility is both a crucial aspect of the plot and a trait that is not conventionally masculine as depicted in most horror films. Furthermore, his interest in photography — an activity that ensconces him outside the frame and away from the center of attention — underscores his passive nature and preference to express his feelings through art rather than action. 

Chris’ rejection of conventionally masculine behavior is exemplified in the scene in which he is racially profiled and pulled over by a police officer. After being wrongfully asked to prove his identification, Rose, not him — the man of the relationship, confronts the officer and aggressively denies his request. Chris’ passivity in this scene and acquiescence to the officer’s demands is both a strategic means of self-preservation and an extension of his character — he is more comfortable accommodating the needs of others over instigating conflict. Instead, Rose takes on the role of the protector in the relationship as Chris watches from the sidelines. As the scene unfolds, the camera ignores the conversation between Rose and the officer and instead focuses on Chris — framed in shallow depth of field and turned away from the other characters and towards the viewer — producing viewer identification through a shared sense of isolation. Chris is subsequently positioned on the outskirt of the frame, barely visible and mirroring the passive position of the spectator. This lack of autonomy not only emasculates Chris but permits us — the viewer — to share in his plight. Clover’s argument is not simply that the male and female should be blurred but that they should be considered the same, stating that “the categories masculine and feminine, traditionally embodied in male and female, are collapsed into one and the same character — a character who is anatomically female and one whose point of view the spectator is unambiguously invited, by the usual set of literary–structural and cinematic conventions, to share” (85). With Ripley as the masculine female and Chris as the feminine male, the spectator — regardless of gender — can align themselves and identify with these Final characters since both characters adopt a combination of conventionally masculine and feminine traits. This is especially true for viewers who identify as gender fluid and see themselves as either/both Final Girl and Final Boy characters. The fact that these characters exhibit a combination of traditionally masculine and feminine traits validates the exploration of the Final Girl formula to include Final Boys, thus allowing both genders to connect with the self-saving hero of the horror genre.


Chris appears isolated and is excluded from the conversation between Rose and the police officer


Additionally, Peele further reworks the idea of the Final Girl in Get Out, extending and applying it to race. If Ripley is the lone woman aboard the Nostromo, Chris is the sole Black person in the Armitage household. Furthermore, Ripley and Chris experience the oppression of the gaze of a privileged group throughout their films: Ripley by the patriarchy and Chris by white people. Not only can a gendered gaze exist, but a racialized gaze as well; the racial gaze that Get Out displays conveys the feeling of isolation and terror stemming from being the sole Black person in a white-dominated space. We see this in the garden party scene where Peele uses a point-of-view shot to align the viewer with Chris as he observes the party attendants through the viewfinder of his camera. When Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford) and his wealthy peers uncannily turn their gaze back towards the camera and point in Chris’ direction, we — like Chris — feel the alienating effects of being looked at through an overtly racial gaze. By aligning our perspective with Chris and placing us at the receiving end of a racialized gaze, the viewer-–regardless of race — is forced to feel Chris’ discomfort as a minority and confront the broader implications of the Black American experience.

Peele’s reworking of the Final Girl into the Final Black in Get Out is also significant when considering another convention of the slasher sub-genre: the characters eliminated and the killer who eliminates them. Unlike the Xenomorph in Alien, the monster that Chris faces is not a single entity but rather the grand facade of fake allyship presented by the Armitage family. Being the Final Black, Chris undergoes the trials of destroying various vessels of this greater monstrosity (the father, son, etc.) through his violent skirmishes with each core family member. Chris wrestles for his survival and punishes each member for their posh elitism and racism, symbolically destroying their evil facade of false allyship. Although we know Chris is innocent, his character replaces the conventional role of the slasher movie monster, moving from victim to victim and methodically killing them in gruesome ways. While we clearly perceive Chris as heroically preserving his Black identity in the face of oppression, the scenes in themselves frame him as a conventional slasher movie monster in the eyes of his white captors — the dominant group (and possibly the criminal justice system within the diegesis of the film). In this way, Peele uses the Final Black in conjunction with a role reversal to subvert genre expectations for the purpose of social commentary.

The Final Girl and Clover’s writing on horror continue to persist and find subtle variations in new horror media. For instance, Ti West’s X (2022) subverts genre expectations by setting up a character with attributes of the Final Girl only to kill her off unexpectedly. Similarly, Florence Pugh’s character in the horror film Midsommar (2018) turns the Final Girl on its head; instead of saving herself from the treachery of the pagan cult, she becomes a part of the monster herself, allowing her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) to die and remaining the last one standing. By following and breaking genre conventions, filmmakers like Scott and Peele ultimately demonstrate how Clover’s concept of the Final Girl can expand to become the Final Identity, thus allowing the inclusion and scrutiny of any identity, whether related to gender, class, race, or other factors, under the framework of horror conventions. This opens the opportunity for a wider breadth of representation in mainstream cinema and gives genre filmmakers an untapped range of identities at their disposal to tell new and needed stories in horror and beyond.


Works Cited

Clover, Carol J. Men, Woman and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. British Film Institute, 1993.

Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. Routledge, 1993. Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, edited by Barry Keith Grant, University of Texas Press, 2015.

Jancovich, Mark. Horror, the Film Reader. Routledge, 2004.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Feminisms, 1975.

Rubin, Martin, and Manuel Talens. Thrillers. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Shaviro, Steven. The Cinematic Body. University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

Smith, Zadie, et al. “Getting In and Out, by Zadie Smith.” Harper’s Magazine, 7 May 2020,


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