Principal photography began on April 22, 2014 and ended on May 25, 2014. Filming took place in Baton Rouge and St. Francisville, Louisiana. The film held its world premiere on March 13, 2015 at South by Southwest. It then screened at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on September 19, 2015. It was released in the United States on October 9, 2015 in a limited theatrical run and through video on demand by Stage 6 Films and Vertical Entertainment.
Max Cartwright waits in the car while her actress mother, Amanda, auditions for a film. When she returns, Amanda complains that, for the rest of her career, she will be known for her role as scream queen Nancy in the 1986 slasher film Camp Bloodbath, now a cult classic. On the way home, the two get into a car accident and Amanda is killed.
Three years later, on the anniversary of her mother's death, Max studies with her friends Gertie and Chris. Gertie's stepbrother Duncan, a horror film fan, shows up and persuades Max to attend a special double-feature showing of Camp Bloodbath and its sequel, Camp Bloodbath 2: Cruel Summer. At the screening, Max is none too happy that Chris' possessive ex-girlfriend – and her former best friend – Vicki is also there. During the film, members of the audience accidentally set the theater ablaze. In order to get the group to safety, Max uses a machete to cut a hole in the screen and they all step through.
Max, Chris, Gertie, Duncan, and Vicki wake up in the woods. Every 92 minutes, they encounter a van with two characters from Camp Bloodbath, and realize they have somehow been transported inside the movie. The group awkwardly pass themselves off as new camp counselors, and hitch a ride to camp. They let the first couple of murders happen without interference, but when Duncan is killed by the film's machete-wielding villain Billy Murphy, they realize that they too run the risk of becoming victims.
The group decides to stop the cast from having sex, as whenever someone does so in Camp Bloodbath, they fall prey to Billy's machete. Chris distracts Kurt, while Max persuades Nancy to stay a virgin. Vicki sticks with Paula, the movie's final girl and Gertie bonds with Blake, a counselor. When Gertie brings up the topic of Billy Murphy, the counselors are alerted to the fact that the "urban legend" of Billy is "real" and will come to kill them. In a panic, the counselors try to flee the camp. Kurt and Paula drive off, but when Duncan emerges still alive, the car hits him then crashes into a totem pole, resulting in their deaths.
Now aware that the characters who originally survived the movie can die, Max and the others decide to save anyone they can. They dress Tina in a life jacket and mittens, to prevent her from undressing. They also decide that Max, the only remaining virgin, is the new final girl, and plot to get Billy's machete into her hands so she can kill him and end the film. Meanwhile, Max and Nancy bond, and theorize that, if Nancy survives the movie, she can go back home with Max and be whomever she wants.
The group booby trap the cabin, then Tina lures Billy to them by performing a striptease. Tina panics and is killed when a trip wire sends her headfirst into a bear trap. Blake, Vicki and Gertie are killed fighting Billy. Chris, Nancy, and Max flee the cabin, and Billy chases after them. Chris is stabbed, and Billy kidnaps Nancy. Max finds her at Billy's barn hideout, and the two women fight him, which results in Max getting stabbed, before they both escape.
After the two retreat to the chapel, Max tells Nancy that her real life counterpart is Max's mother. They bid each other a tearful farewell before Nancy sacrifices herself by luring Billy with a striptease. Max collapses, but, now the final girl, she awakens with the power to kill Billy. They fight and she eventually decapitates him with his own machete. A wounded Chris arrives and the two kiss, while Camp Bloodbath's closing credits play in the sky. Later, Max wakes to find herself in the hospital, where she is reunited with her friends. The group hears Billy Murphy's approach tune, and realize they are in the sequel, Camp Bloodbath 2: Cruel Summer. Billy crashes through the glass doors of the hospital as the title appears. Using a drip stand as a weapon, Max lunges at Billy, before the film abruptly ends.
In February 2014, it was reported that Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions had bought the rights to the film under the Stage 6 Films banner, with Michael London and his company Groundswell Productions producing the feature. The film was originally picked up by New Line Cinema in November 2011, but the script was shopped elsewhere when production did not get off the ground. The screenplay was written by Joshua John Miller and M.A. Fortin, and was directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson. Miller's father, Jason Miller, was an actor and writer who appeared as Father Karras in The Exorcist. The script for The Final Girls was in part inspired by The Exorcist, with Miller pointing out, "I grew up watching my dad in The Exorcist, and there's something haunting, strange, confusing, and a little bit unnatural to see your parent constantly die in a film. But it's something that also becomes iconic, and we tried to deconstruct what the effects of that would be, as well as what it would be like if you had a second chance, but your second chance was inside of a movie?" Miller and Fortin also served as executive producers, alongside Darren M. Demetre.
It was announced on February 27, 2014, that Malin Åkerman and Taissa Farmiga had been cast in the two main roles for the film, playing mother-daughter Amanda and Max Cartwright, respectively. On April 10, 2014, it was revealed that Thomas Middleditch, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, and Adam DeVine had joined the cast in supporting roles. Middleditch stars as Duncan, the "film geek"; Ludwig portrays Chris, the love interest of Max; Dobrev plays Vicki, the ex-girlfriend of Chris; and DeVine stars as Kurt, the movie-within-a-movie's "teen seducer". Alia Shawkat, Chloe Bridges, and Angela Trimbur also joined the cast of the film, portraying Gertie, Paula, and Tina, respectively.
Principal photography was reported to last for 26 days in Baton Rouge and St. Francisville, Louisiana. Production for the film began on April 22, 2014, with an estimated budget of $4.5 million. On April 23, 2014, a photo from the set was revealed by one of the cast. Over 200 extras were sought out for large scenes. Principal photography for the film concluded on May 25, 2014. In late October 2014, some of the cast and crew returned for pick-ups and scene re-shoots following a test screening earlier that month.
Post-production primarily took place in New York City, with additional editing taking place at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. Sound mixing was provided by Parabolic in New York City. On October 2, 2014, an edit of the film was screened in Los Angeles to a test audience of teenagers. Following this, some of the cast and crew returned for re-shoots and pick-ups. On December 22, 2014, Strauss-Schulson stated that post-production had been completed for the film. According to Strauss-Schulson, the film was required to be rated PG-13, at the studio's request.
The soundtrack for the film, titled The Final Girls: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, featuring the original score by Gregory James Jenkins, was released via digital download on November 13, 2015 by Varèse Sarabande, prior to a physical CD release on December 4, 2015.
Gregory James Jenkins composed the music for the film, having previously written the music for two of Strauss-Schulson's short films and debut feature A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011). Jenkins stated, "One of the biggest challenges was trying to create a score that was heavily steeped in 1980's while still trying to bring something new to the table... This is not your typical film score, as it's mostly electronic based... A lot of analog synths were used."Songs not on the soundtrack but featured in the film include "Dance Hall Days" by Wang Chung, "Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes, "Wild Heart" by Bleachers, "Mickey" by Toni Basil, "Lollipop" by The Chordettes, "Heartbreakers" by The Cold Crush Brothers, "Cherry Pie" by Warrant, and "Cruel Summer" by Bananarama.
The first clip of footage from the film was released on March 13, 2015 exclusively by Deadline.com. A film still featuring Malin Åkerman was also released the same day. More promotional stills were released on August 3, 2015 exclusively by Entertainment Weekly, along with the announcement of the film's release date. The first official trailer was released on August 21, 2015 by Apple Trailers. On September 21, 2015, the official theatrical poster was released, along with another film clip, exclusively by BuzzFeed. On October 1, 2015, Rotten Tomatoes premiered an exclusive clip from the film. On October 6, 2015, another clip was released via Apple Trailers. On October 8, 2015, an exclusive retro poster designed by Alex Pardee debuted at the New York Comic Con, along with accompanying character posters. The following day, design company Mondo released a re-imagined poster for the film.
The Final Girls had its world premiere on March 13, 2015 at South by Southwest. The film was one of the festival's opening night films, screening at The Paramount Theatre. It then closed the Stanley Film Festival on May 2, 2015, and had a gala premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 16, 2015. The film also later screened at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on September 19, 2015, and the Sitges Film Festival on October 12, 2015.
The film received a video on demand and limited release on October 9, 2015 by Stage 6 Films. In April 2016, two special midnight screenings of the film were held at the Sunshine Cinema in New York City, followed by a Q&A with co-star Alia Shawkat and director Todd Strauss-Schulson. A panel for the film was held at San Diego Comic-Con on July 23, 2016, with Strauss-Schulson, Fortin, Miller, Middleditch, and Trimbur appearing.
The film was released straight-to-DVD in the UK on October 12, 2015, Australia on November 5, 2015, Italy on November 11, 2015, Germany on November 12, 2015, and Spain and Japan on December 2, 2015. It was released via DVD and Blu-ray in the United States and Canada on November 3, 2015. The film had its television premiere on June 26, 2016 on Freeform.
As of June 2017, the film has made a total of $1,271,245 through domestic DVD and Blu-ray sales.
The Final Girls received positive reviews from film critics. It holds a 71% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 58 reviews, with a weighted average of 6.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The Final Girls offers an affectionate nod to slasher tropes while adding a surprising layer of genuine emotion to go with the meta amusement." On Metacritic, the film holds a rating of 59 out of 100, based on 13 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
The film was ranked #9 on BuzzFeed's 19 Best Horror Films of 2015 list, and ranked #10 on Rolling Stone's 10 Best Horror Movies of 2015 list.
Dennis Harvey of Variety gave a positive review, writing, "Though not quite as inspired or consistent as the similarly self-mocking likes of The Cabin in the Woods, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil or the first two Scream pics, this is good fun that should delight genre fans." Justin Lowe of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "Genre enthusiasts will get a kick out of Todd Strauss-Schulson's creative homage to classic slasher movies, which respects familiar horror conventions while introducing a sly contemporary perspective." Laura Kern of Film Comment called the film a "sharp, wickedly funny, and unexpectedly heartfelt homage" to slasher films, adding, "It's a gimmicky premise, perhaps, but a highly effective one. No mere meta-exercise, the film innovatively blends the worlds of the 1986 teens of Camp Bloodbath with the modern-day ones."
In March 2015, at the South by Southwest premiere, screenwriter M.A. Fortin stated that there had been discussions about a potential sequel, and if a second film was to be made, the father of Max would be revealed. At the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, Strauss-Schulson said that fans seeing the film in theaters and spreading the word would help convince Sony to produce a sequel. He later stated that the making of a sequel also depends on the box office performance of the film and its profitability to the studio.