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Scary mask from the movie Scream

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Every major character in the Scream movies, ranked

Because you love scary movies

Photo:  AA Film Archive/Alamy via Polygon

“What’s your favorite scary movie?”

Twenty-three years ago, it was the scariest question you could ever get asked. Today, the Scream franchise — the first three released in 1996, 1997, and 2000, with the fourth and final installment bowing in 2011 — has a legacy of defining horror for a generation. The series also makes for an eminently marathonable group (or solo) viewing experience. Which is why it’s so handy that the first three films are streaming on Netflix this Halloween season.

While the relative merits of the individual scream films are often up for debate, the broad strokes boil down to this: Scream is the original and thus the best (Scream 4 even says so: “Don’t fuck with the original”); Scream 2 and Scream 4 have their partisans who will go to bat for either the former’s ability to up the stakes when it came to the kills as well as Gale Weathers’ hair or the latter’s smart meta take on the “remake or reboot?” question. What all good people should be able to agree on is that Scream 3 is one big flaming Jiffy-Pop fire that should not be discussed in polite company.

If you’re tired of debating the merits of the films themselves, why not kick things up a notch and debate the merits of the series’ sprawling cast of characters? The core trio of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) have been surrounded by a galaxy of stars and suspects, victims and villains. Most characters only got one movie to show their stuff before being unceremoniously sacrificed to the horror gods’ insatiable appetite for blood. Some managed to make their mark more indelibly than others. We offer this ranking as a way of cataloguing it all.

In the interests of narrowing things down to a neat and tidy top 40, we included all major characters and all onscreen deaths (except for poor Steve in the original’s opening scene). Apologies to Heather Matarazzo as Randy’s sister, Linda Blair as a pushy reporter, Carrie Fisher as a salty casting director, and Sidney’s dad.

scream 4 marielle jaffe in a bra top as olivia morris Dimension Films

40. Olivia Morris

Actor: Marielle Jaffe
Movie(s): Scream 4

The least earned death in Scream 4 is when Ghostface comes for Olivia. The scene doesn’t really even have much to do with Olivia. It’s Jill and Kirby who get the threatening phone call; Olivia’s (quite graphic!) death is mostly one big GOTCHA misdirect for the audience.

patrick warburton throws up his hands as steven stone Dimension Films

39. Steven Stone

Actor: Patrick Warburton
Movie(s): Scream 3

Warburton puts his celebrated deadpan to work as bodyguard to Jennifer Jolie. Too bad he was so terrible at guarding himself.

kelly rutherford as christine, gasping, in scream 3 Dimension Films

38. Christine Hamilton

Actor: Kelly Rutherford
Movie(s): Scream 3

Rutherford was freshly off of Melrose Place (and still several years before Gossip Girl) when she signed on to be the first kill of Scream 3. Too bad it’s by FAR the least thrilling cold open of the series, owing largely to the fact that Christine’s beau Cotton Weary is such a dud.

ghostface reveals himself to be scott foley’s roman in scream 3 DImension Films

37. Roman Bridger

Actor: Scott Foley
Movie(s): Scream 3

Roman is the most disappointing killer in franchise history by a WIDE margin. Scream 3 goes wrong in so many ways, but handing the film’s big reveal to a soap-opera twist involving Sidney’s heretofore unknown brother was unsurvivable.

kenny sits in a tv van Dimension Films

36. Kenny

Actor: W. Earl Brown
Movie(s): Scream

Poor browbeaten Kenny, who takes all of Gale Weathers’ abuse and is rewarded by having his corpse dropped on top of the news van in order to further terrorize his old boss.

sarah darling sits with legs crossed on the set of stab 3 Dimension Films

35. Sarah Darling

Actor: Jenny McCarthy
Movie(s): Scream 3

By and large, the actors in fictitious movie Stab 3 are some of the least interesting cannon fodder in the series, starting with McCarthy’s Sarah, who’s just a hugely typical collection of bland actress clichés.

tyson fox sits with a glass of wine in hand looking pissed Dimension Films

34. Tyson Fox

Actor: Deon Richmond
Movie(s): Scream 3

Tyson gets the most brutal death of the Stab 3 cast members, breaking his neck on a Looney Tunes rug-pull and then getting thrown off a balcony.

tom prinze sits on the house set of stab 3 Dimension Films

33. Tom Prinze

Actor: Matt Keeslar
Movie(s): Scream 3

Tom gets the most spectacular death of the Stab 3 red-shirts, lighting a zippo in a gas-filled kitchen and perishing in a fiery explosion.

anthony perkins screams in his police car Dimension Films

32. Anthony Perkins

Actor: Anthony Anderson
Movie(s): Scream 4

Why would you cast Anthony Anderson in your movie only to have him get stabbed in the head after half a scene of sub-Tarantino banter?

Dimension Films
adam brody’s ross hoss calls for back up

31. Ross Hoss

Actor: Adam Brody
Movie(s): Scream 4

Why would you cast Adam Brody in your movie only to have him get stabbed in the back after half a scene of sub-Tarantino banter?

mark (patrick dempsey) gets in the face of another police officer Dimension Films

30. Mark Kincaid

Actor: Patrick Dempsey
Movie(s): Scream 3

They do a decent job of making you think Kincaid might be involved in the killings through sheer virtue of Patrick Dempsey having an off-putting personality, so there’s that.

derek (jerry o’connell) intensely stares at sidney Dimension Films

29. Derek Feldman

Actor: Jerry O’Connell
Movie(s): Scream 2

Derek might take the cake as the single character in the Scream universe who has the least fun for his entire time on screen. The role of Sidney’s rebound guy was always going to be tough sledding, but Derek also: gets his arm slashed, embarrasses himself by singing “I Think I Love You” atop the dining-hall tables, gets kidnapped and hazed by his fellow frat bros, and ultimately winds up tied to a piece of theater staging, where he is shot by killer Mickey. And all the while, Sidney lowkey thought he might be the killer. We owe Derek our pity, if not high placement on this list.

robbie (eric kudsen) stops a guy in the hallway of his high school while wearing a head camera Dimension Films

28. Robbie Mercer

Actor: Erik Knudsen
Movie(s): Scream 4

Robbie mostly functions as the “other geek” in Scream 4, subordinate to Charlie and ultimately way less interesting since Charlie is also a killer. Is he really gay, as he says in his final moments, or was he just trying to bargain for his survival? Kinda bullshit that we’ll never know because the movie wanted a dumb punchline.

kate (mary mcdonnell) gets scared on the phone Dimension Films

27. Kate Roberts

Actor: Mary McDonnell
Movie(s): Scream 4

Two-time Oscar nominee Mary McDonnell was cast to play Sidney’s aunt Kate, and what do they have her do? Fret over wind chimes and then gets stabbed through the mail slot. Points for the inventive death, but not for the waste of President Laura Roslin’s valuable time.

emily mortimer as angelina hides a purse in a toilet Dimension Films

26. Angelina Tyler

Actor: Emily Mortimer
Movie(s): Scream 3

Angelina actually spends a good portion of Scream 3 under suspicion of being the killer. If that had been true, the movie might have given Emily Mortimer something to do that lived up to her talents.

john (Lance Henriksen) defends himself against murder accusations in his hollywood office Dimension Films

25. John Milton

Actor: Lance Henriksen
Movie(s): Scream 3

Lance Henriksen is a fantastic get for the threequel, it’s just too bad the movie squanders him — and a cameo from Roger Corman! — on the film’s ill-advised deep dive into Maureen Prescott’s personal history.

phi (omar epps) stands in a bathroom stall making a face at the wall Dimension Films

24. Phil Stevens

Actor: Omar Epps
Movie(s): Scream 2

The optics of casting Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps as some of the only black characters in the film series, just to cash in on some version of the “black people are always the first to die” trope, are pretty bad. Of course, in the Scream series, there IS some honor in being the movie’s first kill. Epps doesn’t get much to do besides make insensitive-boyfriend comments before getting stabbed through the ear in the men’s room.

joel (duane martin) tells gale that he’d rather not go into the death house Dimension Films

23. Joel Jones

Actor: Duane Martin
Movie(s): Scream 2

Giving Gale Weathers another cameraman who’s constantly nervous because he knows the fate of her last cameraman is a nice gag. But the only notable thing about Joel, really, is that he ditches Gale halfway through the movie and LIVES! Way to beat the system.

principal himbry (henry winkler) teaches an important lesson to sidney Dimension Films

22. Principal Himbry

Actor: Henry Winkler
Movie(s): Scream

The kitchiest death in Scream goes to The Fonz himself, Henry Winkler. In the days before Barry, or even Arrested Development, Winkler was still almost entirely known for his Happy Days history. So when Scream cast him as the easily irritable Principal Himbry, and then gave him the big mid-movie death, you forgive him for playing it a little big. Bonus points for Himbry’s eyeball reflecting Ghostface’s visage in one of the film’s best shots.

trevor shelton (nico tortorella) sits down to intimidate someone Dimension Films

21. Trevor Shelton

Actor: Nico Tortorella
Movie(s): Scream 4

Trevor’s role in Scream 4 is to basically deflect suspicion away from Jill until the last possible moment. As the bad-boyfriend archetype ... well, you hate to use the phrase “he’s no Skeet Ulrich” in polite company, and yet. Still, though, he gets sympathy points for getting shot right in the dick.

hallie mcdaniel (elise neal) hyperventilates in the back of a crashed cop car Dimension Films

20. Hallie McDaniel

Actor: Elise Neal
Movie(s): Scream 2

You know, for a character who we all knew was either going to get killed or be the killer, Hallie does all right for herself. She makes it almost to the end, is the recipient of biggest jump-scare, and her “Did you catch that on film?” after Sidney punches Gale (again) was choice.

judy (marley shelton) wears a police outfit and stands in front of the door of a police station office Dimension Films

19. Judy Hicks

Actor: Marley Shelton
Movie(s): Scream 4

”Deputy Judy” was a thorn in Gale Weathers’ marriage and a try-hard baker of lemon squares, and for a minute there, Scream 4 tried to sell her as a high-school outcast with a dark motivation to murder Sidney. Nice try, but Shelton plays this role for maximum irritation, so well done to her.

rebecca walters (alison brie) stands in a yellow blazer, scared in the middle of a shadowy parking garage Dimension Films

18. Rebecca Walters

Actor: Alison Brie
Movie(s): Scream 4

If there’s one Scream 4 character we wish had lasted a LOT longer, it’s Rebecca, who Brie plays with a delightful zeal and a nasty edge. Imagining her hitching her wagon to Gale, Jennifer Jolie-style, makes her early parking-garage demise feel that much more tragic (even if that swan dive onto the roof of the news van was kind of a serve).

jada pinkett smith in scream 2 putting on her jacket in a movie theater full of ghostface cosplayers Dimension Films

17. Maureen Evans

Actor: Jada Pinkett

Movie(s): Scream 2

Of the two Scream 2 cold-open kills, Jada’s is the most harrowing. Her operatic gesticulations and betrayed grimace before she drops stone dead in front of a movie theater full of rabid college kids is just the over-the-top note the sequel required.

cotton (liev schreiber) holds a serial killer at gunpoint in the finale of scream 2 Dimension Films

16. Cotton Weary

Actor: Liev Schreiber
Movie(s): Scream, Scream 2, Scream 3

Cotton Weary’s storyline throughout the first three movies is one of the series’ best jokes. A man upon whom suspicion continually falls, sometimes through external machinations, but also mostly because he seems like a real asshole. Kudos to Liev Schreiber for never making Cotton all that sympathetic a figure, right up to the moment Ghostface finally got him.

charlie (rory culkin) explains the tropes of serial killer movies and scream 4 while holding a red bull Dimension Films

15. Charlie Walker

Actor: Rory Culkin
Movie(s): Scream 4

Can’t trust those A/V types. Rory Culkin’s lowkey affect makes him an odd fit for the Randy OR the Stu, but his turn on Kirby is one of the most cold-blooded moments in the entire series.

mickey (timothy olyphant) has a grinch smile while blood drips down his face in scream 2 Dimension Films

14. Mickey Altieri

Actor: Timothy Olyphant
Movie(s): Scream 2

As bizarre as it is to watch the Timothy Olyphant we know and love play a spiky-haired, movie-obsessed, hyperactive killer, he does it REALLY well. He’s like Stu but more homicidally inclined and ... okay, cuter.

stu (matthew lillard) smiles with a closed mouth as he tells sidney his master plan Dimension Films

13. Stu Macher

Actor: Matthew Lillard
Movie(s): Scream

Lillard played Stu’s stoner idiocy so well that the only reason you’d have to suspect him is that there’s no reason to suspect him. His choice to throw comic relief into the first film’s climax really got to the heart of the scary-funny-thrilling-fun dynamic of the series.

cici (sarah michelle gellar) answers the phone and gets freaked out Dimension Films

12. CiCi Cooper

Actor: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Movie(s): Scream 2

Besides representing for Ridley Scott in an early classroom scene, the only thing CiCi Cooper gets to do in Scream 2 is flee the killer and die. But there’s a reason you cast Sarah Michelle Gellar — fresh from the debut of Buffy on TV — in such a small role. She imbues her big scene with all the personality and verve in her considerable arsenal.

tatum (rose mcgowan) is scared while grabbing beers out of the garage fridge Dimension Films

11. Tatum Riley

Actor: Rose McGowan
Movie(s): Scream

As Tatum, Sidney Prescott’s high school best friend and fierce protector, Rose McGowan tore into the role with a zeal that can best be expressed with a “Bam! Bitch went down!” Tatum’s chest-forward refusal to be scared of Mr. Ghostface until nearly the end is legit admirable.

jill (emma roberts) holds a knife to her friends chest as she casts a sinister look in the kitchen Dimension Films

10. Jill Roberts

Actor: Emma Roberts
Movie(s): Scream 4

The big twist at the end of Scream 4 isn’t just that it was Sidney’s cousin Jill who was out to kill her all along, but also that what we all assumed was a reboot of the series — with the originals handing over the reins of the series to a new generation — was really just another sequel. “Don’t fuck with the original,” indeed. This ranking is majorly bolstered by the fact that this was the precise moment in time when Nancy Drew Emma Roberts evolved into American Horror Story Emma Roberts.

jennifer jolie (parker posey) catches her breath after jumping into a closet Dimension Films

9. Jennifer Jolie

Actor: Parker Posey
Movie(s): Scream 3

It’s a mighty low bar to clear to be the saving grace of Scream 3, so we should be clear when we say that Jennifer Jolie would have been a bright, shining highlight in ANY Scream movie. The franchise had always welcomed comedy, but Parker Posey’s decision to play Jennifer as a neurotic, territorial, cracked-mirror version of Gale Weathers was such genius.

billy loomis (skeet ulrich) stands in sidney’s kitchen with a bloody white t-shirt holding her at gunpoint and talking through the ghostface voice box Dimension Films

8. Billy Loomis

Actor: Skeet Ulrich
Movie(s): Scream

Even before the reveal that he’s the killer, Billy Loomis is the perfect “bad-boyfriend-or-something-worse” candidate. The late-’90s were a heady time for anyone looking to Skeet Ulrich to be our next Johnny Depp. He decidedly was not. But he’s a terrific creep in the last 20 minutes of the original Scream, delivering everything from malevolent cockiness to homoerotic tension to genuine rage.

kirby (hayden panettiere) sticks her head out of a car window while her arm hangs on the steering wheel Dimension Films

7. Kirby Reed

Actor: Hayden Panettiere
Movie(s): Scream 4

If Scream 4 really had been a reboot instead of a sequel, Kirby would have made for one hell of a final girl. Tough and capable and horror literate and able to pull off that “I flunked out of pre-law and needed to make a change” haircut with aplomb. Her death hits the hardest.

debbie salt (laurie metcalf) holds sidney at gunpoint on the college theater stage Dimension Films

6. Debbie Salt

Actor: Laurie Metcalf
Movie(s): Scream 2

Casting Laurie Metcalf as a wannabe Gale Weathers reporter was so plausible as a glorified cameo that it was genuinely shocking when Debbie Salt was revealed to be Mrs. Loomis, Billy’s mother and the mastermind killer of Scream 2. She proceeds to go FULLY over-the-top in the film’s climax, as only a multi-Emmy (and future multi-Tony) winner can do. She’s the true icon of the sequel, even in a movie where Gale Weathers has a red streak in her hair, so that’s saying something.

drew barrymore as casey screams into the window when she catches ghostface’s reflection Photo: Dimension Films

5. Casey Becker

Actor: Drew Barrymore
Movie(s): Scream

We could praise Drew Barrymore’s ability to turn from flirty to terrified on a dime, or the brutal reality she brings to Casey’s final moments, or even just the way her trademark lisp sounds on the phrase “LISTEN, ASSHOLE.” But the simple reality is this: Scream wouldn’t have become Scream if Casey Becker’s one and only scene hadn’t been the knockout it was.

dewey (david arquette) squirms as he answers questions from the press Dimension Films

4. Dewey Riley

Actor: David Arquette
Movie(s): Scream, Scream 2, Scream 3, Scream 4

Deputy Dewey gets points for longevity, but of all the Scream regulars, he’s the one who probably ought to have bit it in one of the four installments. (If I had a few thousand words, I’d evangelize about my “Dewey shoulda been the Scream 3 killer” theory.) Still, it’s hard not to feel that Pavlovian fear reaction whenever pure-soul Dewey’s life is in danger.

randy (jamie kennedy) explains the rules of horror sequels in a college cafeteria Dimension Films

3. Randy Meeks

Actor: Jamie Kennedy
Movie(s): Scream, Scream 2, Scream 3

More than any other character, Randy represents the hook of the Scream franchise. He’s the knowledgeable video-store geek who laid out every rule in the slasher-movie canon, just so Scream could replicate them and then transgress them. More than that, he was the loser geek who loved Sidney Prescott from afar and never got all nice-guy about it. Randy didn’t deserve to die at the hands of pissed-off mama Debbie Salt. (Which is probably why Scream 3 brought him back, in video form.)

sidney (neve campbell) takes a look at the dead killer one last night, blood splattered across her face Dimension Films

2. Sidney Prescott

Actor: Neve Campbell
Movie(s): Scream, Scream 2, Scream 3, Scream 4

The star around which the Scream universe orbits, and the most iconic Final Girl in horror since Laurie Strode, Sidney is a fighter, not overly gullible, and never succumbed to a bad haircut. In a series that leaned hard on a metatextual premise (a horror movie populated by kids steeped in horror movies), Sidney herself was never glib. For as stylish and cool as the Scream franchise presented itself as, Sidney was always the center of gravity.

gale (courtney cox) holds her news anchor mic on camera, a little blood on her shoulder, as she looks off towards comotion Dimension Films

1. Gale Weathers

Actor: Courteney Cox
Movie(s): Scream, Scream 2, Scream 3, Scream 4

If Sidney Prescott is the steady center of the Scream universe, Gale Weathers is most tumultuously habitable planet. Starting the series as an opportunistic antagonist (have you read her book?), Gale evolved into its most stan-worthy hero. We stan her late-film heroics, we stan the bossy ‘tude, we stan at least two of the hairstyles. In a genre that can often boil down to killers and victims, Gale is neither; she’s a hero. A hero with some money to make.


Joe Reid is a film and entertainment writer based in New York City.