15 of the most interesting female monsters in fiction

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From Rings (2017). Image is a YouTube thumbnail via Paramount Pictures International.

Women in fiction inhabit many roles, from heroes to villains. What happens when they’re monsters? Here are 15 of the most interesting female monsters ever.

We don’t need women to always be perfect angels. Sometimes, it’s just as important to see female characters behaving badly as it is to see honorable role models. In the words of Margaret Atwood: “I’m not making a case for evil behavior, but unless you have some women characters portrayed as evil characters, you’re not playing with a full range.”

And what better use of that range than the female monster?

What does it mean to be a monster? And what does it mean to be a woman as a monster, a seemingly vicious beast whose body and motivations are specifically coded as feminine?

These monsters are women alone. And, no matter how they have been used and the kinds of wrongs they have committed, it’s hard not to be fiercely proud of them. So many societies throughout the world ask — or tell — women to be quiet. To speak up, to be different is to be evil. The witch lives alone in the woods and works with a different set of gods, and so becomes a monster.

Sometimes, the female side of things becomes so fragmented that it splits into two and fights itself. Look at Ellen Ripley and the alien queen in Aliens. The rough and tumble, yet ultimately approved womanhood represented by Ripley (a badass in her own right) has to fight the more vicious side of the same coin.

The monstrous woman

Female monsters have a very different road to walk compared to their male and non-gendered counterparts. They have often been used to explore deviant and threatening sexualities.

A fair number of these movies end with at least one of the monster meeting their doom. It’s often a sad end, as monster movies often dip into tragedy. It’s their way to generate some gravitas between all of the makeup and out-there concepts. But, when you add the extra layer of a female monster, it all gets more complicated.

Monsters, in general, are punished by these sad endings. They are different and, for “normal” people, frightening. The only way for them to be reconciled with the greater world is to die or disappear. Unless, of course, they’re in a movie helmed by Guillermo del Toro, who loves monsters enough to put them on center stage and give them their own romances and adventures. Think Hellboy or the more recent The Shape of Water — that story about a god-like fish-man and a mute janitor falling in love was so good that it earned del Toro two Oscars.

However, del Toro is an exception. Most of the time, the monsters are too inconvenient or strange for this world. When it’s a female monster, with all of her baggage centered on sexuality and beauty, her demise becomes an urge to conform. Thankfully, more modern attitudes are helping to change that. Ursula, for example, had to go in 1989’s The Little Mermaid, but she’s become a fairly beloved figure in fandom since. And more modern offerings in this list are increasingly self-aware and critical of conventions.

What does the figure of the monster mean to you? And what does it mean if the monster also represents some aspect of femininity or womanhood, however frightening or inconvenient it may be? Let’s dive in.