Top 10 Best “Body Switching” Movies
Shrek and Donkey from the Shrek movies.
Steve Troughton/Flickr/Public Domain
Hollywood loves the novelty of a kid playing an adult, an adult playing a kid, or one gender playing another. Hence the popularity of the “body swap” plot device. This is when through magic, curses, wishes, or even experimental technology (science fiction), two people switch physical identities and then have to cope with being stuck in someone else’s body. This is usually done for comic effect and the switch remains in place until one or both people learn some kind of lesson or all gags have been exhausted. Here are some of the most memorable body swaps in movies.
Forget the 1995 TV movie and 2003 remake. Freaky Friday remains the standard by which body swap movies are judged, and with good reason. The 1976 film worked because Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster were so enjoyable as the mother and daughter who swap bodies. The swap plays well because Foster was such a mature child and Harris was such a goofy adult. The two also sang the song “I’d Like to be You for a Day” for the film. The parent-child reversal was also used in Like Father Like Son (1987, with Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron swapping) and Vice Versa (1988, with Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage doing the old switcheroo).
Face/Off is technically not a body swap but a futuristic technology that allows a terrorist and an FBI agent to change faces and places. The fun part of this switch is to see John Travolta and Nicolas Cage play each other, so each one gets to play both good and evil. Despite the somewhat ridiculous premise, Face/Off has remained a popular action film.
A boxer named Joe (Robert Montgomery) gets whisked out of his body by an overeager angel who doesn’t want to see the poor soul suffer a horrible death. The only problem is that Joe wasn’t meant to die for another 50 years. But when the angel tries to put Joe back in his body, he discovers the body has been disposed of so a new one will have to be found. Unfortunately, the new body is fat and out of shape preventing Joe from pursuing his boxing career. This clever and even touching comedy was nicely remade with Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait (1978).
This is the classic case of Hollywood loving to see a grown star act like a child. In this case, it’s Tom Hanks playing an adolescent. When a kid makes a wish to be big at a carnival fortune-telling machine, he wakes up as Hanks and ends up with a job at a toy company. This means Hanks gets to play with silly string, nibble on miniature corn on the cob, and generally just not act his age. Though this more an “advanced age” movie than a body-switching movie, Big is still a classic of the genre.
And, of course, there’s also the female version of Big. A 13-year-old girl plays a game on her 13th birthday and wakes up as 30-year-old Jennifer Garner. As with Big and Hanks, this film works because Garner has fun playing a kid.
The creepiest body swap, and you could argue this isn’t really a body swap, occurs in this perplexing and fascinating psychological thriller from David Lynch. Naomi Watts and Laura Harring trade names and identities. But nothing is ever what it seems in a Lynch film. Just don’t expect it to be anything like Freaky Friday!
Magic allows everyone to look like Harry to help the young wizard elude Voldemort. Then Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione swap bodies with a trio of adults to infiltrate the Ministry offices. But the best body swap of the franchise is when Hermione (Emma Watson) assumes Bellatrix’s body to get into Gringotts. The fun is seeing Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix channel the uncomfortable teen Hermione.
Here’s an example of a gender swap. A millionairess (Lily Tomlin) tries to cheat death by transferring her soul to a younger woman, but something goes awry and she ends up in her lawyer’s body (Steve Martin). The fun is in seeing these two comic greats share a body. At one point Martin has control of half his body while Tomlin controls the other and they try to cross the street. Another amusing gender swap occurs between Anton and Olga in the Russian vampire flick Day Watch (2006).
And here’s an interspecies switcheroo. Private eye Chevy Chase is murdered on the job and gets sent back to earth to solve his own case. The only catch is that he’s a dog, the cute and iconic Benji. The same idea was explored in 1959’s The Shaggy Dog starring Fred MacMurray which was remade as a TV movie in 1994 and again as another film in 2006.
One animated movie had to be included. Donkey and Puss in Boots trade toon bodies while the vocal talents of Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas convey the absurdity of the situation.
Bonus Pick: Most Uncomfortable Body Swap
A popular teenage girl steals some ancient earrings and wakes up as Rob Schneider in The Hot Chick. Ew!
Edited by Christopher McKittrick