Horror movies are filled with characters who died because of their own dumb decisions: heading toward the strange noise, taunting the monster, choosing the flashlight over the baseball bat. Those who survive usually do so through a combination of luck and intelligence. Sometimes, though, even making smart decisions isn’t enough to ensure survival, as these savvy but decidedly dead horror victims show.
Ellen Ripley, Alien 3
From the start, Ellen Ripley has proven herself smarter than her horror movie peers, refusing early in Alien to let shipmate Kane aboard while attached to a facehugger. With her decision overridden, the alien is unleashed on the Nostromo and picks off the crew one by one. Only Ripley survives. In the sequel, Ripley again shows her smarts, surviving an entire colony of Xenomorphs, saving a young girl, and killing the alien queen.
Then Alien 3 came along. Before the end of the opening credits, a stowaway facehugger implants an embryo inside Ripley during cryo-sleep. She discovers this halfway through and does everything in her power to eliminate the alien threatening the prison colony she crash-landed on. She kills the last alien — the one inside her — by throwing herself into a furnace. In the end, it doesn’t matter how badass you are when you’re effectively killed off before the film even starts.
Dana Polk and Marty Mikalski, The Cabin in the Woods
When Dana and Marty join their friends for a weekend at a secluded cabin, they can’t imagine exactly what’s in store. Alarm bells go off as they slowly encounter classic horror tropes: the creepy gas station attendant, the mysterious cellar, and the sudden strange behavior of their friends. Only after the deaths of their friends do they discover the true scope of their situation.
Marty finds a hidden elevator, and the pair travel downward, having nowhere else to go. They realize they are sacrificial pawns in some larger game. Instead of rolling over, they turn the tables on their tormentors, releasing a horde of supernatural terrors on the underground complex. When they finally realize that the whole set up is an elaborate sacrifice to stave off the wrath of giant gods, they ultimately decide to sacrifice themselves (and presumably the world) to stop the cycle.
Randy Meeks, Scream 2
When a masked killer targets students at Woodsboro High School, resident film geek Randy Meeks wastes no time schooling his friends on the rules of surviving a horror movie. Granted, he doesn’t always heed his own advice, nearly dying in the first film after the killer had snuck up behind him. After high school, Randy follows Sidney Prescott to college and is quick with the rules for a sequel when the second killing spree begins.
He even makes a video for his friends laying out the rules for a third killing spree in case he doesn’t survive. On the phone with the current killer, Randy mocks the original Ghostface, Billy Loomis. The killer — who turns out to be Billy’s mother — pops out of the van Randy is standing next to, pulls him inside, and stabs him to death. Even Randy, the horror movie expert, couldn’t have anticipated the killer hiding in a van in the middle of the day.
Ben, Night of the Living Dead
When the zombie apocalypse begins, Ben finds shelter in an old farmhouse after running out of gas. From the start, Ben is all about surviving. Where the other characters panic and fight amongst themselves, Ben sees the bigger picture and focuses on staying alive. Ben makes every smart decision imaginable, from using fire to ward off a zombie hoard to boarding up the windows. He even comments on not wanting the others’ stupidity to get him killed.
He knows the right things to say to calm the freaked-out Barbara, but he is also willing to forcibly subdue her when her panic threatens to get them killed. When fellow survivor Harry locks him out of the farmhouse, Ben fights his way back in. When the power goes out and the zombies break through, Ben survives the night by holing up in the cellar. The following morning, however, he’s mistaken for a zombie and shot and killed by a posse hunting down the dead.
Lee Abbot, A Quiet Place
When alien creatures with super-acute hearing invade earth and begin killing off the human population, Lee Abbott wastes no time protecting his family. He studies the creatures, learning their strengths, weaknesses, and habits. He builds a life for his wife and children completely devoid of sound. With a deaf daughter, the family already knows sign language, and Lee supplements this with a soundless communication system involving lights. With patience and perseverance, Lee and his wife Evelyn build a (relatively) safe and even pleasant life for his family.
Lee also works unsuccessfully on repairing his daughter Regan’s cochlear implant. When a handful of aliens make it onto the property, Lee sacrifices himself to save his children. After his death, Regan and Evelyn realize that the enhancements Lee made to Regan’s implant can actually disrupt and even incapacitate the creatures. Evelyn and Regan take this new weapon and turn it on the unsuspecting creatures. In attempting to keep his family safe, Lee may have helped save the world.