Nancy Thompson in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’: I’m Into Survival

Nancy Thompson is the “final girl” in A Nightmare on Elm Street, a sweet (and yes, virginal) girl who enjoys spending time with her boyfriend and her best friend Tina. However, s**t hits the fan when the group discovers that mommy and daddy dearest fried the terrible child murderer Freddy Kruger  and his evil soul has returned to claim the remaining children by killing them inside their dreams. Harsh.

nancy thompson

A Nightmare on Elm Street, directed by Wes Craven in 1984, may be my favorite horror film and is definitely the film that catapulted me into the horror genre. Believe it or not when I was just a youngin’ in middle school I was too afraid to even watch Scream (coincidentally also a film directed by Wes Craven). However, one fateful day while visiting my cousin, I found a VHS copy of A Nightmare on Elm Street and I plunged into the dark and gruesome world that is the horror genre. And let me say – I like what I found.

Now, those of you privy to the more “mainstream/hollywood” films of 2012 know that most of the female characters, never mind the leads, are “conventionally” beautiful. However, actress Heather Langenkamp shines on screen as Nancy Thompson – the cute, not overly feminine, girl next door. She is easily relatable to most and she relies on her intelligence and cunning to survive and doesn’t run around topless and screaming.

nancy thompson

Yes, people – smart women are very attractive. Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street shows us that women don’t have to adhere to social stereotypes of beauty to be successful or powerful. Sex appeal isn’t the only weapon accessible to women and I think this fact needs to be reinforced, especially in today’s society filled with plastic surgery and crash diets.

A Nightmare on Elm Street pits Nancy first against everyone around her who simply dismisses her as crazy and, second, against a larger than life villain who uses everything in the environment to manipulate, terrorize and confuse the heroine. And she holds her own without the aid of a man.

However, yes – Nancy does have a boyfriend (played by newcomer-at-the-time Johnny Depp – You’re welcome) and while he does share some helpful advice:

“Nancy: [Referring to the Balinese way of dreaming] But what if they meet a monster in their dreams, then what?

Glen: They turn their back on it. Take away its energy and it disappears.”

nancy thompson

He ultimately meets his end leaving Nancy alone to handle everything on her own. Faced with utter heartbreak and loss, she is able to hold herself together, remain strong and seems to be the only person who is able to rationally handle everything that is happening around her, come up with a stable plan of action and dive in headfirst alone finally ending up face to face with Freddy himself, fearless, courageous and manless.

One of the final quotes Nancy makes in the movie hits a home run. With her back to Freddy Kruger, she announces that she is no longer afraid of him and is taking back all the power she has given him, thus leaving him to fade into nothing. Nancy, as a woman, is able to show that she is in fact capable of wielding power and isn’t at the mercy of any man. She constructs herself as powerful, female and courageous and leaves the “strong” male weak, defenseless and pitiful. Nancy Thompson shows that men don’t have to have all the control and that women are capable of being in control.

Now, it needs to be said that every film in the A Nightmare on Elm Street series (WITH the exception of the second…which I didn’t like) has a female with power, making the series one of my favorites and I definitely recommend it to anyone who has managed to somehow not see it.

About Anthony Comella

Anthony Comella
Welding feminist theory with horror film criticism, Anthony seeks to help empower women's voices... all the better to scream louder with!


  1. Great discussion of one of *my* favorite horror movies of all time, too! I agree with many of the points you make here. Compared to the women in today's horror movies, Nancy, by comparison, is not what you might call a "beautiful" woman but she's smart and gutsy which, as you say, is sexy in itself.

    "Elm Street" is also one of many quality horror movies which go against the stereotype of horror being a misogynistic genre. It's no more misogynistic than any other genre, and the misogyny that we do see in it from time to time simply reflects the misogyny in society as a whole.

    The brush-off that Nancy gets from authority figures in the movie itself represents the way that society doesn't take young, intelligent women seriously. Here she is fighting for her very life and she gets no help and no respect. (There all kinds of symbolism here). But, still, she emerges triumphant using her wits and courage. It's beautiful.

    As a fellow horror fan, I can't wait to see which movie you'll talk about next!

    • Anthony Comella

      I definitely agree with the film's misogyny mirroring the misogyny of the society as a whole. The way authority figures are so quick to ignore Nancy based on her age and more importantly her gender is a social topic that needed to be addressed at the time and still needs to be addressed today!


  2. Interesting incite~! I do like the strong female character in a movie which is sorely lacking in movies nowadays. I can't imagine a horror movies without boobs. Thanks for the classy reminder 😉

  3. i like the women's power part ^^ i hope others thinks so too TT

  4. I love that you are doing this now! This is a fantastic post and a very insightful look at what is an awesome horror movie and one of the few that never gave me nightmares! (also, How I Met Your Mother is awesome background noise while working so no complaints there either). It seems like today's horror movies have moved away from that trend where women were active players rather than passive victims (I'm thinking about Nancy, Laurie Strode, and Neve Campbell's character in the Scream franchise which, although a victim in the sense that she suffered at the hands of the killer, she still took control when she was confronted with a bad situation).

    Maybe we'll never totally move away from the well-oiled machine of the screamy, passive virgin/whore dynamic that a lot of American horror movies like to maintain, whether or not its intentional, but it definitely makes the movie better when the female protagonist can fend for herself without taking off her shirt, showing her boobs, or waiting for a big strong man to come and save/kill her.

    Please, moar reviews!

    • Anthony Comella

      I love that I'm doing it, too!! Keeps me motivated to write. Also makes me miss our film classes. And, right ~ definitely a shining moment when the female character isn't running topless, screaming her head off.

  5. I think she is more than cute though lol

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