The Freaky Is Built In: Look Back at the Many Movies About Swapping Bodies

Freaky, indeed! As Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton's latest take on the body-swapping genre opens on Friday the 13th, a look at how that classic trope has been unfolding onscreen for years.

By Natalie Finn Nov 13, 2020 12:00 PMTags
Freaky, Vince Vaughn, Kathryn NewtonUniversal

Ever dream about living somebody else's life for a day? Ever think about what an actual nightmare that would be before the inevitable lessons about what it's like to walk in another person's shoes are learned?

If not, there are movies for that.

Many movies, actually, because the trope of two people swapping bodies—mother and daughter, father and son, husband and wife, bride and random old man—has been part of cinematic history for more than a century, not even including all the takes on reincarnation, possession or wishing you were either big or 13 again.

The latest addition to the genre is the Friday the 13th release Freaky, a bloody horror-meets-humor thriller starring Vince Vaughn as a serial killer called the Blissfield Butcher, who switches bodies with a teenage girl. While stuck inside the murderer's body, Millie, played by Big Little LiesKathryn Newton, has to figure out how to reverse the swap before her inhabited body kills off the entire class.

Pretty People, Scary Movies

But even though the Blumhouse Productions film is rated a hard R, Vaughn sought advice from the demographic that the most famous body-swap movies were made for in order to effectively embody a high school kid.

"Thankfully I have some nieces, or that could have been an awkward moment to be, like, hanging out at a high school," the actor shared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Nov. 10. "You know what I mean? Hanging out around girls you don't know at a high school. So my nieces were close to that age, so I got to watch them, which was good." (Vaughn up on a table in Swingers, drunkenly asking where the high school girls hang out, is obviously at the forefront of our minds right now.)

Talking to, Vaughn explained how he and Newton teamed up to find "shared physicality and emotional points of view" to center their performances.

It was "so collaborative," Newton agreed.

Watch: Vince Vaughn Receives Walk of Fame Honor

She especially loved any time she got to share the screen with Vaughn, the actress said, particularly a scene in which she's tied up and Vaughn is trying to convince her crush that he's really her. Other than that, she added, "to kill, the chainsaw, hands down. Most badass thing I ever got to do."

Surely a lesson is learned in there somewhere between mutilations. But in the meantime, enjoy this relatively gore-free tour of the evolution of body-swapping onscreen:

Freaky Friday, 1976

Based on the 1972 book of the same name, this is one of the films that made future two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster into a star at 14 (Taxi Driver, out the same year, had a slightly different audience) and it's the original body-swap movie as far as the slew of imitators in the 1980s were concerned.

Annabel Andrews (Foster) and her mom Ellen (Barbara Harris) magically swap bodies after they simultaneously say—in different locations, unbeknownst to the other—"I wish I could switch places with her for just one day." Unlike in all the other Freaky Friday films that ensue, Annabel's parents are still married in this one, but her oblivious dad Bill (John Astin) never quite catches onto the 24-hour upheaval that took place right under his nose.

Vice Versa, 1948

Already the third take on the title (the first was in 1916 and another was made in 1937, all based on an 1882 novel of the same name), Roger Livesey plays Paul Bultitude, a wealthy businessman and recent widower who doesn't understand why his son Dick (Anthony Newley) is reluctant to return to his posh boarding school following a holiday. Why, if he were 30 years younger...

Paul has that thought while holding the Garuda Stone, a massive jewel stolen from an Indian idol given to him by his brother-in-law (who ignored the warning that whoever possesses the stone is going to have some rough luck), and poof! He's now in his son's body, and the newly adult Dick is happy to stay home and throw parties while he sends Paul off to school.

Eventually, a potential gold-digger has to be thwarted, Paul's business has to be saved, and Dick can just be a kid again.

Like Father, Like Son, 1987

"Brain-Transference Serum" plus eye contact is the culprit when high school senior Chris (Kirk Cameron, at the height of his Growing Pains powers) and his surgeon dad Jack (Dudley Moore) switch places. All of a sudden, Chris is the smartest guy in class and Jack altruistically agrees to a plan to "screw the insurance!" and treat whomever comes through the hospital's doors, covered or not.

They eventually get the antidote to the serum and go back to normal (only father and son are closer than ever), but another body swap happens at the end, when the bully torturing Chris at school takes the serum and locks eyes with Jack's boss.

18 Again!, 1988

George Burns' millionaire playboy Jack Watson is about to turn 81 just as his grandson David, played by Charlie Schlatter, is turning 18 and pledging a fraternity. And oh, if only Jack could be young again!

An accident results in them switching souls—which is great for Jack, who's ready to live it up in his youthful body (apparently being able to talk about the time you met Harry Truman is college girl catnip), but not so great for David, who's bedridden in a coma as Jack.

Jack, in David's body, has to team up with one of his actually old pals to change his will, make sure his gold-digger girlfriend doesn't pull the plug on him, and get his own body back—the wisdom that comes with age intact.

Vice Versa, 1988

In the fourth iteration of Vice VersaFred Savage is Charlie, who mainly lives with his mom and stepfather, and Judge Reinhold plays his distant dad, Marshall, an executive at a Chicago department store who rarely makes time for his own kid. Well, an enchanted skull (that's another story) that Charlie is holding during an argument with his father about not spending enough time with him has something to say about that!

The swap complete, father and son reconfigure their relationship while also dealing with the thieves who stuck the skull in an unsuspecting Marshall's bag so he could smuggle it out of Thailand. Guess who ends up swapped at the end instead?

Dream a Little Dream, 1989

Bobby (Corey Feldman) is a thorn in his neighbor Coleman's (Jason Robards) side. But, Bobby is pining away for Lainie (Meredith Salenger) and Coleman is happily wedded to the love of his life, Gena (Piper Laurie).

When Bobby runs into Lainie, literally, on her bicycle at the exact moment that Coleman and Gena are in the thick of a meditation ceremony through which they're hoping to reach a higher plane that will allow them to exist together forever, Bobby takes on Coleman's consciousness—and Coleman enters into a dream state where Bobby as himself also exists.

Meanwhile, Lainie is also Gena now, and dreaming Coleman can't communicate with actual Gena, whom he's afraid he's going to lose forever.

Yes, it's as confusing as it sounds. But watching Bobby-as-Coleman comment on '80s fashion trends while he gets dressed in the teen's clothes is worth the price of admission alone. Plus, romance.

Turnabout, 1940

Husband and wife Tim and Sally Willows (John Hubbard and Carole Landis) have been bickering an awful lot lately. Not about money, which they have a lot of. Rather, it seems as though Tim spends hours toiling away at the advertising agency he founded while Sally is perpetually in a bubble bath or similar pampered state, and they're on each other's last nerve. 

During one of their more fiery arguments, an American-Indian idol on the wall "overhears" them and they wake up one morning in each other's bodies. Will Sally be able to succeed in business without really trying? Will Tim be able to manage all the servants? 

It all ends on a screwball-comedy note when, after they switch bodies back, Tim is the one who remains pregnant. Now that is forward-thinking.

Prelude to a Kiss, 1992

Romantic melodrama is the name of the game when a dying man named Julian (Sydney Walker) turns up randomly at Rita and Peter's (Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin) wedding and asks if he may kiss the bride. Which seems harmless, if not a little strange, until everyone realizes that the kiss resulted in Julian (who yearns to be healthy and whole again) and Rita (whose pessimism indicates she may have been taking life for granted) swapping bodies.

The lessons write themselves.

Freaky Friday, 1995

It was back to a mother getting a day off from the daily grind and a daughter having to wear a blazer and deal with adults in this 1995 remake for ABC Family starring Shelly Long and Gaby Hoffman as Ellen and Annabelle Andrews. This time they swap lives when they both don charmed necklaces—and in this version Ellen is a single mom, whose boyfriend proposes before she and Annabelle have switched back. Awkward!

Wish Upon a Star, 1996

Sisters Alexia and Hailey, played by Katherine Heigl and Danielle Harris, do what Sweet Valley High's Wakefield twins always seemed to be doing and switch places, only they actually find themselves in each other's bodies... well, the title of this Disney Channel movie. All-about-the-clothes-and-makeup popular girl Alexia has to spend a few days in Scientific American-reading Hailey's plaid flannels.

Maybe, just maybe, they'll understand each other better afterward.

Face/Off, 1997

Unlike those other body-swap movies that depend on mystical forces and could never happen in real life, this action thriller's premise—FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) undergoes pioneering face-swap surgery with comatose terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) so that he can go as undercover as it gets to track down a bomb set to explode in six days—is super plausible. 

Unfortunately, Castor wakes up, demands that he get Archer's face (his nasty gang helps urge the medical team along), and the game is on.

The Hot Chick, 2002

Rob Schneider plays a thief, Clive, who finds an enchanted earring while robbing a gas station—a bauble dropped by gorgeous mean girl Jessica (Rachel McAdams). And when they both put one on later that night... they switch! And ugh, right before prom and the big cheerleading competition.

Jessica-as-Clive manages to convince her friend squad of what happened, and they set off to track down Clive-as-Jessica, who's been busy conning innocent men with his newfound lady hotness.

Freaky Friday, 2003

Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan brought the classic tale into the 21st century as the widowed Tess and her aspiring musician daughter Anna. The daughter is having one of those no-good, very-bad days—feuding with her best friend, talked down to by a teacher, etc.—when she and her mom go out for Chinese food. They argue over Tess' upcoming marriage to a guy Anna hasn't accepted yet and Anna's crush on Jake, a guy Tess doesn't approve of.

The restaurant owner's wise mother brings them their fortune cookies to ease the apparent tension, and there's a noticeable rumble in the air that only mother and daughter notice after they read their fortunes aloud at the same time. The next morning, they're each other, and good-natured havoc ensues.

The Change-Up, 2011

Never drunkenly pee in a fountain when there's a chance of lightning, as Ryan Reynold's swinging bachelor Mitch and his friend Dave (Jason Bateman), long settled down with a wife and three kids (therefore, they're envious of each other), find out.

Freaky Friday, 2018

Katherine and Ellie, played by Heidi Blickenstaff and Cozi Zuehlsdorff, are another bickering mother-daughter duo in this Disney Channel movie. Katherine is about to remarry, Ellie doesn't like him (none of these fiancés in the Freaky Friday films are bad guys, it just takes a bit for the daughters to get used to them), and Ellie of course wishes that Katherine would try harder to understand her.

A mystical hourglass given to Ellie by her late father helps the process along.

Freaky, 2020

High school senior Millie (Kathryn Newton) is seemingly about to become the next victim of the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), an obviously very tall and beefy serial killer with a mask and a carving knife—but instead of killing her, they switch bodies in this black-comedy slasher thriller.

In the body of Barney (the Butcher's real name), Millie has to convince as many people as she can that she's actually herself in order to stop the murderer, who while in Millie's body is having a swell time dispatching teenagers in all sorts of creative ways.

Freaky is in open theaters starting Friday, Nov. 13, and will be available on VOD Dec. 4.

(E! and Universal Pictures are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)