In slasher movies, the relentless killer often finds the tables turned on him by the Final Girl, who’ll live to fight him off another day. In Christopher Landon’s Freaky, this trope takes a body-swap twist that plucks inspiration from a long line of comedies to create a horror movie rich with opportunities for both laughs and scares.
Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton star as this body-swapping pair: She starts off as an awkward teen, just trying to survive the mean girls, bullying boys and the epic embarrassments of high school. He’s an unhinged serial killer, notorious for slaughtering teens on homecoming weekend. One magical McGuffin later, he’s in the body of a girl whose sugary-sweet appearance won’t raise suspicions. She’s in the body of a lumbering man, whose face is plastered all across wanted posters and the evening news. To set things straight, she and her friends will not only have to survive, but also best “Homicide Barbie” at his own deadly game.
To celebrate this clever mash-up of slasher and body-swap conventions, we’re highlighting some of the wild forms this concept has taken. From harried moms and harrumphing daughters, to witty elders and worried youth, to flustered frenemies and relentless nemeses, we’ve got you covered with a body-swap movie for every mood.
In the Mood for Family-Friendly Fun?
Freaky Friday (2003). Freaky’s name is clearly inspired by Freaky Friday, a movie with a concept so intriguing that it’s been made four times! Inspired by Mary Rodgers’ children’s novel of the same name, the first Freaky Friday film came out in 1976 and starred Barbara Harris and then child-star Jodie Foster. In 1995, Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffmann co-starred in a made-for-TV adaptation. In 2018, the musical stage show inspired by the movie inspired by the book became its own TV-movie, starring Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Heidi Blickenstaff. However, the best of the batch is 2003’s theatrical release, which paired rising star Lindsay Lohan with A-lister Jamie Lee Curtis.
Directed by Mean Girls’ Mark Waters, this remake revitalized the concept by upping the stakes of the original. Instead of a field hockey game, house cleaning and the father/husband’s work presentation hanging in the balance, screenwriters Heather Hatch and Leslie Dixon offered a once-in-a-lifetime audition and a wedding day. Both are threatened when mother and daughter switch bodies courtesy of a fortune cookie. As a flustered middle-aged mom in the body of her rebellious teen, Lohan is solid. However, with a smirk and an unmatched verve, Curtis sells the comedy, relishing in the chance to play a kid again. Rated PG, this body-swapper offers good clean fun with a wholesome message about empathy.
In the Mood for Old-Fashioned Fun?
Vice Versa (1948). While Freaky Friday might be the most well-known of the body-swap subgenre, Vice Versa’s legacy dates back farther. You might remember the 1988 version, which starred Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage as a father and son who swap. However, its inspiration is an 1882 novel by Thomas Anstey Guthrie, and the first film adaptation hit in 1916! Since then, Vice Versa has been adapted for film and TV over and over again. However, we’re highlighting the 1948 British version, which hews closely to the novel’s Victorian-set tale.
Written and directed by two-time Academy Award-winning actor Peter Ustinov, Vice Versa stars Roger Livesey and Anthony Newley as Paul and Dick Bultitude, the former a successful stockbroker, the latter his 14-year-old son who’s reluctant to return to boarding school. Hearing his son’s complaints, Paul grows wistful (and wishful) about the joys of childhood. Thus, the magical Garuda Stone transforms him into a boy and his son into a full-grown man. Naturally, hijinks ensue involving ginger pop, stolen kisses and duels with swords! With a jaunty theatricality, Livesey and Newley gamely dive into this fish-out-of-water premise, pulling up simple but effective comedy bits that still tickle funny bones decades later.
In the Mood for Some Superb Burns?
18 Again! (1988). The Vice Versa concept got a more dramatic spin with this laugher, which co-starred legendary comedian George Burns and earnest ingédude Charlie Schlatter. Named for the Sonny Throckmorton song “I Wish I Was Eighteen Again,” this funny film had the 92-year-old Burns playing a grandfather who’d built a family business, achieved great wealth and relishes every moment, be it smoking cigars, throwing back cognac or partying hard with his gold-digging girlfriend. Meanwhile, his grandson David is trying to follow in his footsteps at his old alma mater. But in everything from track meets to business acumen and luck with the ladies, he’s stumbling. Cue a life-changing, body-swapping car accident.
Screenwriters Josh Goldstein and Jonathan Prince cleverly concocted a way to get the verve and humor of Burns without overtaxing their nonagenarian star with too much screentime. While the old man’s body (with the grandson’s consciousness inside) is laid up unconscious in intensive care, Schlatter bolts into college shenanigans with an impressive impression of the iconic comedian, throwing on a New York accent and masterfully mimicking Burns’ cadence. He embraces the bravado of Burns, while leaning into the physical comedy of an old soul in a young body with exhilarating enthusiasm. All the while, the screenplay gives us access to Burns through voiceover that boasts winking witticisms and timeless one-liners. The result is a film that’s not only hilarious and heartwarming, but also wonderfully life-affirming. Bonus fun: Keep an eye out for pre-Encino Man Pauly Shore!
In the Mood for Going Totally ’80s?
Dream a Little Dream (1989). Like 18 Again!, Dream a Little Dream is named for a catchy tune, and it centers on an elderly man swapped into the body of a teen boy desperate for romantic love and parental understanding. However, the former was intended for older audiences who’d long loved George Burns. This Marc Rocco-directed offering spins hard into pandering to teens, going totally ’80s, for better and for WTF.
The two Coreys (Corey Feldman and Corey Haim) star as a pair of high school misfits whose lives are thrown for a loop when one of them, Bobby (Feldman), intrudes on a lofty meditation ritual. This accidentally cedes Bobby’s body to his elderly neighbor, Professor Coleman Ettinger (Jason Robards). Now, the old man must deal with bullies, teen love, SATs and some heavy-handed life lessons. The film begins by reveling in the rambunctious charms of the Coreys: There’s plenty of deeply 1980s fashion that includes aerobics wear, punk stylings and Michael Jackson influences. Then, Feldman puts his real-life Jackson devotion to the test with a dance number that is… something else! (Let’s just say dancing isn’t Feldman’s forte.) Finally, the film takes a hard turn into after-school-special-style drama with a climax involving a greasy back alley, teen drinking, gun violence and grown-ups just not understanding. I won’t say this movie is good: I will say it is one wild ride that suitably captures the big moods of being a teen.
In the Mood for Melodrama?
The Secret (2007). While many movies have had fun with the body-swap concept, The Secret opts instead for death and drama. The premise blends together elements of Freaky Friday, 18 Again! and Dream a Little Dream before veering into unsettling terrain. The first act introduces mother Hannah (Lili Taylor) and daughter Samantha (Olivia Thirlby), who are embroiled in a merciless feud when a car accident throws them into each other’s bodies. Then, Hannah’s body dies, leaving her trapped in Samantha’s teen body with no idea where her child’s soul has gone.
Directed by Vincent Perez, The Secret centers on how the relationship between Hannah and her husband Ben (David Duchovny) changes once she’s in the body of their daughter. The pair decide she should continue Samantha’s life as best she can, so that if/when her soul returns, the girl will be able to pick up in the best position possible. However, Hannah’s presumed path to success is soon littered with temptations of drugs, sex and getting a second chance to relive her youth. On top of that, sexual tensions are fraught at home. Ben yearns for the touch of his wife but is repulsed by the idea of touching his daughter’s body as a lover might. Sexual frustration, grief and teen angst combine to create a drama that’s disturbing yet ultimately bittersweet.
In the Mood for Something Bro-tastic?
The Change-Up (2011). The body-swap silliness got an R-rated spin with this David Dobkin-directed flick, which starts with Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds comfortably in their casting niches. Bateman begins as a flustered family man/lawyer, whose world-weariness over the grind is expressed with comedic acuity. With a crooked smile and a loose-limbed strut, Reynolds projects Deadpool vibes as a struggling actor/ladies man, who is living for the moment. They envy each other’s respective stability and freedom. Then, one piss in a wishing fountain later: Boom! Body-swapped!
Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, The Change-Up has a lot of fun exploring the pros and cons of these two very different modes of manhood. Gross out gags come courtesy of dirty diapers, while bawdy bits are born from curious sexual conquests. Sharing a skill for acerbic wit and a crackling chemistry, Bateman and Reynolds banter with dizzying energy. Fresh thrills come from watching them swap parts: Bateman cuts loose, shooting off crass one-liners with a savage verve. Meanwhile, Reynolds sparks laughs by playing a character deeply uncomfortable in his new skin. Adding comedic dazzle to this romp are Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde, making for a movie that’s often hilarious, occasionally hot and ultimately heartwarming.
In the Mood for Romance?
Your Name (2016). Coming out of Japan, this animated adventure breaks from major body-swap conventions. For one, it focuses on two characters who’ve never met, waking up in a body that is not their own and having no idea why. This change doesn’t happen once over a freaky Friday: Instead, it’s recurring swapping back and forth over days and days that has the pair flailing to communicate so they might solve the mystery of how this strange swap is occurring, and more importantly, why!
Written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, Your Name follows two teens, country girl Mitsuha Miyamizu and big-city boy Taki Tachibana. When they first swap bodies, they each assume it’s a dream. However, the weird reality before them is soon impossible to ignore. Through school missteps, flubbed flirtations and meaningful moments, these two connect across time and space, finding magic and falling in love under a blazing comet. Thanks to the visually sumptuous animation, tender attention to detail, complex characters and a bouncy pop soundtrack, you’ll fall in love too.
In the Mood for Face-Melting Action?
Face/Off (1997). We’ve seen the body-swaps of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, star-crossed teens and frenemies. Now, let us revel in the bonkers joys of this outrageous action movie that has full-on enemies swapping bodies. John Travolta and Nicolas Cage star as a stern FBI agent and a flamboyant terrorist, respectively. To thwart a plot to blow up L.A., the dedicated agent must go undercover as this most wanted mercenary. But first, he must undergo full-body cosmetic surgery. But how could he predict the comatose criminal mastermind would wake up and claim the cop’s body to make revenge really hit home?
Directed by John Woo, this movie offers more jaw-dropping action in its first act than many movies do in their climax: Airplanes, helicopters, motorboats, explosions, Mexican standoffs and droves of doves ultimately come into play, bringing eye-popping spectacle to Face/Off. The script by Mike Werb and Michael Colleary delivers twists, turns and tender moments. Yet the very best thing about this body swap is how it grants permission to Travolta and Cage to go absolutely bonkers. With a smirk and swagger, Travolta relishes playing the bad guy in a good cop’s bod, occasionally exploding into song and cocky outbursts. Meanwhile, Cage opens with a bombastic and gleefully vulgar performance. He then spins into a portrayal that balances vulnerable earnestness with eruptions of the Crazy Cage vibes we can’t ever, ever get enough of. Simply put, body-swapping has never been so bold or bodacious.