Over a decade ago, FX discovered that they had a massive hit on their hands when American Horror Story premiered on a Wednesday night — something most of Gen Z vividly remember as being one of their first major watches.
While the creators, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, had been developing the series’ concept before Glee debuted, following up the show choir phenomenon with a shifted direction into horror still came as a surprise. In the first season, now known as Murder House, around three million people tuned in to see the twists and turns the Harmon family would encounter.
Since then, the series has ballooned into a full franchise, spanning 11 seasons (with No. 12 on the way) and a spin-off titled American Horror Stories. Its stars, including Sarah Paulson and Finn Wittrock, have become mainstays in Hollywood. Others like Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, and Angela Bassett used the series to spark a new chapter in their already-illustrious careers.
With season 12 coming soon (pending the WGA strike in Hollywood), this character ranking pays tribute to both those who created and embodied each impactful moment that made AHS what it is.
10. Liz Taylor
Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare) was part of the flamboyant lifeblood that kept the Hotel Cortez scene of AHS: Hotel running — in both life and death. (The other ghosts follow Taylor’s wish and turn her into one of the hotel’s haunts in the final episode.) It’s no wonder there’s a complete YouTube video making a case for Taylor as the best of the AHS franchise. I mean, come on, Lady Gaga’s character even handled Taylor’s first makeover, leading to bejeweled head scarfs and statement earrings.
9. Tate Langdon
It wouldn’t be an American Horror Story list if Tate Langdon wasn’t on it. Evan Peters’ character during the show’s debut season, Murder House, propelled its popularity, primarily through social media edits tied to him. Although he’s far and away the villain of the story, most characters on this list aren’t completely innocent either. And Langdon’s scariness rested in the fact that he appeared to be an average kid, with a far more twisted mindset and backstory lurking within.
8. Misty Day
It’s hard to find anything to dislike about Misty Day (Lily Rabe) throughout her run on AHS: Coven. Her bohemian style and love for Stevie Nicks are perfect associations for a witch. The musical legend thought so too, popping up later in the season to give Misty her blessings. Although she initially died while attempting to complete the Seven Wonders to become the Coven’s Supreme, Misty’s fans got the chance to see her resurrected in AHS: Apocalypse, and she gets her wish of joining Nicks on the road.
7. Lana Winters
Lana, Lana Banana. The character, played by Sarah Paulson, first pops up during AHS: Asylum as a journalist chasing down the serial killer, Bloody Face. However, when she arrives at the hospital to interview a suspect, she becomes a patient. After a distressing turn of events, she thankfully manages to escape and becomes a bestselling author. Paulson reappears as Winters for two more seasons, conducting interviews in AHS: Roanoke and AHS: Cult — and becoming a hero for managing to put her troubling ordeal behind her.
6. Montana Duke
Billie Lourd’s Montana from AHS: 1984 is one of my personal favorites on this list, purely because I think not only is she one of the best nepo babies, but she is at her best with a chaotic character. (See, Gigi in Booksmart.) When viewers meet Montana, she is a platinum blonde with colorful makeup and a no-holds-back Valley Girl attitude. Her cheetah-printed fashion kills, and so do her bold moments: introducing herself to Brooke (Emma Roberts) by telling her she has a “rad bod, like that girl on Cheers.”) However, not everything in her arc turns out to be as it seems.
5. Fiona Goode
Jessica Lange is among the fan-favorites of recurring actors from the anthology series. Yet, she shines the most as Fiona Goode, the guiding witch for the school of girls in AHS: Coven. As Goode reigns as the Supreme, she also does everything in her power to keep herself at the top — including seeking immortality to prevent her from eventually succumbing to a cancer diagnosis. She even tried killing another witch and making deals with the Voodoo spirits, only to be told that those with souls are allowed to live forever. After all, it’s American Horror Story, and sometimes the best characters are the ones who are the worst.
Does anyone enjoy clowns? When the character of Twisty (John Caroll Lynch) stepped onto the scene in Freak Show, it seemed the John Wayne Gacy inspiration was turned up to ten. His dirty suit and mouthpiece covered up a troubling backstory that could make anyone feel uneasy from a mile away. So, of course, it was adapted into a popular Halloween costume. Kidnapping or murdering anyone who crosses his path, the clown would go on to meet a similar fate. Still, he lived on in AHS: Cult, as Twisty was turned into the title character of a comic book series, sparking more nightmares in the process.
3. Marie Laveau
Angela Bassett’s portrayal of the Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau in Coven, set her apart from the other witches — including her half-enemy, half-ally at No. 5. Named after the historical Louisiana practitioner, she brought karma for those who had wronged her and her loved ones. While she doesn’t get to keep her immortality due to a failed deal with Papa Legba, Laveau still lives on in the hearts of fans.
2. The Countess
The minute Lady Gaga walked through the doors of AHS: Hotel as the mythical Countess, fans already knew she would be the star. Her casting choice was spot-on, as she embodies the glamorous vampire — managing to make even a murderous foursome iconic rather than horrific. She would also set the tone for other out-there celebrity additions. Throughout the span of the season, she goes from vampire to a ghost after already surviving several murder attempts until the final blow. Despite this, her cold, bloodthirsty nature, the high-fashion fits, and all of Countess Elizabeth’s relationships cement her as the standout of the Hotel Cortez.
1. Madison Montgomery
Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) deserves the number one spot, no contest. She’s a telekinetic witch. She’s a celebrity. She dies. She comes back to life to serve one of the most iconic lines: “Surprise bitch, I bet you’d thought you’d seen the last of me,” cementing it in GIF history. Dies again. And then returns as a ghost during another season for AHS: Apocalypse. Who else has done it like her?