5 Female Lead Horror Performances You Have to See

H.G. Well’s The Invisible Man has inspired lots of filmmakers. And in the age of sequels, prequels, and remakes, it’s no surprise that there’s a new iteration of the story in 2020. (If you’re curious about the original Invisible Man you can get it here and mix and match with other horror classics.)

The latest reimagining centers around a woman’s abusive ex and how far he will go to continue to abuse her as she realizes she’s being hunted by an invisible force. Director Leigh Whannell’s previous work includes the Saw and Insidious series, so he’s got some serious horror cred under his belt. Critics are buzzing about Elisabeth Moss’s performance in the horror mystery, which keeps audiences on the edge of their seat through the terrifying endeavor.

Even before the powerful performance in this remake, women have been making a lasting impression in horror films for decades. So we wanted to round up some seriously chilling female performances in five suspenseful movies: some classics, some featuring monsters, some featuring monsters disguised as humans, and some you probably haven’t discovered yet.  

Psycho

Psycho poster

There’s no way to talk about a legendary actress’ horror performance without bringing up Alfred Hitchcock’s notorious Psycho. The film follows Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, who ends up at a motel in the middle of nowhere after stealing from her boss. There she encounters the hotel keeper, Norman Bates, and his domineering, mentally ill mother. We don’t want to give away too many spoilers but the rest is truly horror movie history. The film features one of the most famous scenes of all time, the shower scene where Crane gets attacked by a man with a knife. Hitchcock’s style, the music, and Crane’s blood curdling performance all come together to create a scene that film students are still writing papers on to this day. Audiences reportedly ran for the theater doors and fainted in their seats when they watched the film. And it didn’t just freak out moviegoers. The shower scene was actually so impactful that Janet Leigh reportedly became afraid to take showers by herself and stuck exclusively to baths. And judging by how terrifying it is, we can see why.

The Others

The Others poster

This critically acclaimed supernatural movie earned Nicole Kidman a Golden Globe nomination in 2001. The Others takes place in 1945 and follows Grace Stewart, played by Kidman, who’s the matron of a family living in a remote country house with her servants. Unexplainable things caused by invisible forces start to happen around the house, and Nicole Kidman takes us all along on the journey to get to the bottom of the mystery. Just beware, this isn’t your typical haunted house movie. Kidman’s performance stands out as she tries to keep up proper appearances and seem normal around her children, but the stranger things get, the more that veil falls and we see the true fear in her eyes. In fact, it was so impactful that at one point Kidman quit during rehearsals because playing Grace literally gave her nightmares. Us too, Nicole.

The Cell

The Cell movie poster

The Cell is often overlooked in horror and it’s time to change that. The story follows a social worker, played by Jennifer Lopez, who goes into the mind of a serial killer to help the FBI track down his latest victim. As you can probably imagine, going into the mind of a psychopath isn’t exactly all rainbows and butterflies. We see Lopez evolve from a soft and gentle and social worker who just wants to help, to a strong badass who takes things into her own hands when she realizes it’s the only way. And she does both very well, taking us to some seriously dark and twisted places. Add that to the directing, stunning cinematography and intricate costumes, and you really get an immersive movie experience you won’t soon forget.

The Cell Jennifer Lopez Mask
The Cell Demon King Screenshot

We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to talk about kevin poster

We Need to Talk About Kevin brings a different kind of suspense to our list. The film focuses on a mother, played by the talented Tilda Swinton, and the estrangement she feels from her son Kevin, played by Ezra Miller. Kevin isn’t just an odd boy though – he’s got a darkness only she seems to see, and it only gets deeper the further we go. The film takes a unique look at some questions about what it means to be a mother and the pain self-blame leaves behind. Swinton deals with a number of irreversible consequences throughout the film, and we feel the intensity of her guilt and anguish as we watch her question everything. Swinton earned a Golden Globe nomination for this role, and with good reason.

The Descent

The Descent Poster

The Descent is our final pick and features a whole cast of talented ladies, including Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, and Alex Reid. The British film follows them as they go on a dangerous caving expedition and get trapped inside. But like all scary movies go, the girls soon find out they are not alone and have to survive in the dark among some terrifying creatures in some super tight, claustrophobia inducing spaces. We feel Macdonald’s panic through her impactful performance as we watch her try to wiggle her way out without completely breaking down, knowing she has no choice but to move through it. Interestingly enough, Macdonald reportedly said she is claustrophobic, so she did not find it hard to get freaked out during filming. Tight spaces or not, it’s easy to feel the girls’ fear as we watch them try to survive the unknown and the terrifying.

The Descent