The body swap genre has existed since the early days of cinema. Like many enduring film genres, body swapping on film was preceded by similar stories in literature. Perhaps the best literary example of body swap fiction is the 1882 novel Vice Versa by author Thomas Anstey Guthrie. The story of a father and son switching bodies was incredibly popular upon its release, and it was instrumental in establishing and popularizing the genre’s recognizable format.
In its most basic form, a body swap movie tells the story of two very different people who exchange identities for a short period of time. After adjusting to their new lives and bodies, the two people learn valuable life lessons thanks to seeing the world from different perspectives. What follows is a collection of some of the best and most notable body swap movies along with some prominent films from sub-categories of the genre.
The Man Who Changed His Mind stars Boris Karloff as Dr. Laurience, a scientist whose experiments with the brain led him to a breakthrough in mind transference in chimpanzees. When his further experiments are threatened by his greedy benefactor, Laurience’s mind snaps. Laurience uses his mind transference device on his benefactor to save his work, but the journey down the path of a mad scientist leads to more minds lost and, eventually, murder.
Boris Karloff, whose status as a horror icon was already established thanks to his multiple monster movie appearances for Universal, is excellent as the mad doctor Laurience. The film’s director, Robert Stevenson, is also notable for his body of work. Stevenson might have dabbled in sci-fi horror here, but he made his name at Disney, directing a number of family classics including Old Yeller (1957) and Mary Poppins (1964).
Husband and wife Tim and Sally Willows (John Hubbard and Carole Landis) can’t seem to get along. Both of them are stressed by their own lives, but neither thinks that the other has it as bad as they do. One night after an argument, Tim and Sally make a wish in front of a relic from India to switch places. The relic comes to life and grants their wishes, so now Sally (in Tim’s body) must enter the corporate world while Tim (in Sally’s body) must learn to navigate high society.
Turnabout perfectly fits the classic body swap formula. It’s a light comedy with a wish magically granted, and the main characters are forced to navigate a way of life they don’t fully understand. Lessons are quickly learned, and both of the swapped characters gain a new appreciation for each other.
Boris Karloff returned to the body swap genre in 1940 with Black Friday. Like in The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936), Karloff plays a scientist experimenting with mind transference. However, Black Friday puts a twist on the body swap scenario which makes it more of a sci-fi/crime movie rather than a sci-fi/horror film.
Karloff plays Dr. Sovac, a man whose best friend, George Kingsley (Stanley Ridges), suffers irreparable brain damage in a car wreck involving a gangster. To save his friend’s life, Sovac implants part of the gangster’s brain into Kingsley’s head. Kingsley seems to recover, but after a while the gangster’s personality begins to emerge and take over Kingsley’s body. Sovac and Kingsley then become entangled in a plot involving the gangster’s former friends, including their leader played by horror legend Bela Lugosi.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan introduces another twist on the body swap genre. Instead of science or magic, the body swaps in this movie take a more spiritual approach. Robert Montgomery stars as Joe Pendleton, a boxer whose soul is taken up to Heaven after a plane crash. Joe’s trip to the afterlife was a bit premature, and Mr. Jordan allows Joe to return to Earth. There’s a problem though. Joe’s body was cremated, so he instead inhabits the body of a wealthy banker who was recently drowned by his own wife.
Like other popular body swap films, Here Comes Mr. Jordan was remade multiple times. The story was slightly modified in 1978 for Heaven Can Wait starring Warren Beatty, and again in 2001 for Down to Earth starring Chris Rock.
Vice Versa is one of multiple adaptations of the 1882 novel of the same name. The 1948 version of Vice Versa was preceded by other adaptations of the original novel in 1916 and 1937, and it would later be adapted again for film in 1988.
The 1948 version of the story tells a familiar tale of a father, Paul (Roger Livesey), and son, Dick (Anthony Newely), who switch bodies after they each make a wish on a magical Indian idol. The son relishes the opportunity to live as an adult, but adult responsibilities quickly begin to be too much for him. Meanwhile, the father is reminded that boarding school isn’t as carefree as he remembered. Being based on the novel that popularized body swapping in fiction, Vice Versa (1948) is one of the most classic examples of the genre.
Goodbye Charlie is a comedy that falls in line with the more spiritual form of body swapping. Specifically, the film uses a form of reincarnation to accomplish the same fish-out-of-water scenario for its main character.
The movie stars Debbie Reynolds as Charlie, a womanizing man reincarnated as a woman after being shot and killed by the husband of one of his lovers. Charlie retains all of his past memories and mannerisms, and his best friend George (Tony Curtis) attempts to help Charlie adjust to his new life. Goodbye Charlie is a fun comedy that uses gender roles not only as a source of laughs, but also as a meaningful plot device that helps Charlie learn and grow.
After a night of partying at a club with women who are not his wife, Ernest (Manuel de Blas) crashes his car in a fiery wreck. Ernest’s body is beyond repair, but his brain is intact. At the hospital, an ex-Nazi doctor (who has the very on-the-nose name of Adolph) decides to perform an experiment, transplanting Ernest’s brain into the body of a beautiful woman (Alexandra Bastedo) with an inoperable brain tumor. The procedure works, and Ernest, now called Leda, enters into a life of blackmail and murder.
While most of the movies on this list are fun and family-friendly, I Hate My Body is a trashy Spanish exploitation movie not meant for young eyes. The movie plays up the hypocrisies of how differently people are treated because of their gender, but it’s not above a fair amount of titillation as Ernest explores his new body.
Starring a young Jodie Foster as high school student Annabel Andrews, the daughter of housewife Ellen Andrews (Barbara Harris), Freaky Friday is a beloved classic of the body swap genre. In the film, mother and daughter switch bodies after a wish, and they both learn about the difficulties they never realized each other has.
Although it’s never been explicitly stated, the story and themes of Freaky Friday are often regarded to be directly inspired by Vice Versa (the novel and the films). The basic stories are essentially the same with a mother and daughter swapping lives instead of a father and son like in Vice Versa. Freaky Friday is arguably just as influential as its own inspiration, with the original 1972 Freaky Friday novel being being directly adapted for film at least four times.
In something of a further twist on body swap films, Alison’s Birthday is a psychological horror movie from Australia that features a cult whose nefarious plans include using a young woman’s body as a vessel for something sinister.
The movie begins with sixteen-year-old Alison (Joanne Samuel) and her friends playing with a ouija board. A spirit comes through the board to posses one of Alison’s friends, and Alison is warned about danger (specifically, murder) surrounding her nineteenth birthday. Despite the warning, Alison travels to visit her aunt and uncle just before she turns nineteen. What ensues is a nicely tense horror flick that feels a lot like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) with a climax reminiscent of Hereditary (2018).
I Are You, You Am Me begins with female high school student Kazumi discovering that she has been transferred into the same class as her male childhood friend Kazuo. The two had lost touch, but Kazumi is eager to renew their friendship. Kazuo feels awkward with all the attention Kazumi is giving him, and he just wants to be left alone. Being left alone isn’t an option after the two friends fall down the steps of a temple and discover that they have switched bodies. Lessons of empathy and friendship are learned as the struggles of high school are compounded by Kazumi and Kazuo’s new perspectives.
I Are You, You Am Me is directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi, the filmmaker best known in the western world for the utterly fantastic horror comedy House (1977). This film is much more straightforward than House, but some of Obayashi’s more playful tendencies are readily apparent throughout the film. Obayashi would later remake I Are You, You Am Me in 2007 as Switching – Goodbye Me (Tenkousei: Sayonara Anata in Japanese).
All of Me is a spiritual body swap film starring two of the greatest comedians in film history, Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin, sharing control of the same body.
Millionaire Edwina Cutwater (Tomlin) has a plan to live beyond her failing body’s lifespan. She will have an mystic guru transfer her soul into the body of a younger woman, Terry (Victoria Tennant), who will have her own soul released into the universe. Edwina’s jaded lawyer Roger (Martin) thinks the idea is ludicrous, but regardless, he fixes Edwina’s will so her new body will inherit her fortune. The procedure goes sideways though, and Edwina’s soul ends up trapped in Roger’s body, with both personalities vying for physical and mental control.
In what amounts to a riff on the classic Vice Versa (1948) story, Like Father Like Son is a goofy comedy about a father and son switching bodies and struggling to live each other’s lives. The film stars Dudley Moore as Jack Hammond, a surgeon who has difficulty getting along with his teenage son Chris (Kirk Cameron). When Jack mistakenly ingests a Native American brain transference serum, he winds up swapping bodies with Chris. Hijinks ensue, and each of their personal and professional lives are in serious peril as they frantically try to find a way to switch back.
Like Father Like Son was released during a minor boom of body swap movies that became popular in the late 1980s. It might not be the strongest entry in the genre’s brief surge in popularity, but it is a fun slice of 1980s nostalgia.
81-year-old millionaire Jack Watson (played by George Burns who was 92 at the time) is in a car wreck with his 18-year-old grandson David (Charlie Schlatter who was 22). Jack’s body is in a coma after the accident, but Jack’s soul has been transferred into David’s body. Jack enjoys his second chance at youth, and much of the comedy in the film is derived from a young man acting like the elderly George Burns.
One of the main criticisms of the movie is that it promises a fun time with the popular George Burns, but what ends up on screen is mostly just Charlie Schlatter doing a George Burns imitation. Burns’ character (well, his character’s body) is in a coma for most of the film. Still, 18 Again delivers enough laughs to earn its spot as a memorable body swap film.
Young Josh Baskin is tired of being short. He wants to be “big,” and after he makes that wish while using a fortune-telling machine, Josh wakes up the next morning as an adult man with a young boy’s mind. Director Penny Marshall and star Tom Hanks team up to create some of the most memorable moments in film history, and it’s safe to say most film fans are familiar with the movie even if they haven’t seen it.
Big is a wonderfully funny and heartfelt movie, but is it a body swap film? Josh never technically swaps his body out for someone else. He’s still Josh, only bigger. Even so, the change in Josh’s body is so significant that he might as well be a different person. Plus, the themes of body swap movies (coming of age, viewing life from a different perspective, etc.) are all present, so yes, Big absolutely deserves a spot in this list.
The classics never die, and 1988’s Vice Versa is a prime example of that. Based on the 1882 novel of the same name that had already been adapted for live-action multiple times before, this version of the story updates the story for the 1980s.
Judge Reinhold plays Marshall, the workaholic father of Charlie (Fred Savage). Marshall and Charlie each wish they could live each others lives, and their wish is granted by a mystical Buddhist artifact. The story plays out in a way that is familiar to anyone who has seen any other typical body swap movie, but the charming performances from Reinhold and Savage are what makes the movie feel fresh and funny.
For a brief time in the late 1980s, Corey Haim and Corey Feldman were the hottest duo in teen movies. Dream A Little Dream was the third film starring the pair, and it features another unique twist on the body swap formula that involves mind transference through dreams.
High school student Bobby Keller (Feldman) has a crush on beautiful fellow student Lainie Diamond (Meredith Salenger). While running through the yard of a married couple who are performing a meditative mind experiment, Bobby collides with Lainie, and all four people’s minds are thrown in different directions. The older man, Coleman (Jason Robards) ends up in Bobby’s body, while Bobby’s mind ends up in a dream world. Now Coleman, as Bobby with the help of his best friend Dinger (Corey Haim), must find a way to restore everyone to their proper body before Coleman’s wife and Bobby are lost forever.
On Rita (Ryan) and Peter’s (Baldwin) wedding day, an elderly stranger named Julies (Sydney Walker) asks for a kiss from the bride. Rita obliges, but both Rita and Julius are shocked when they discover that their kiss caused them to switch bodies. Now Peter is married to an elderly man in his new wife’s body, and he has to figure out a way to set things right. Prelude To A Kiss features a lot of sugar-coated romance, and its weight is carried wonderfully by one of the best rom-com stars of all time, Meg Ryan.
Technically, Face/Off is a face swap movie rather than a body swap movie, but the results are generally the same. And what fantastic, action-packed results they are.
John Travolta and Nicolas Cage star, respectively, as FBI agent Sean Archer and terrorist Castor Troy. After Archer apprehends Troy, Archer undergoes a face transplant surgery (which includes voice modulation) so he can pose as Troy to find the location of a bomb. While Archer is away, Troy escapes custody, but not before forcing doctors to put Archer’s face on his own… face. Now Troy is intent on ruining Archer’s life by posing as Archer with everyone who knew of their surgeries being dead.
Face/Off is a fabulous combination of a slightly campy plot and highly stylized action sequences. The movie came out at the right time with just the right mix of talent. John Travolta was still riding his wave of surging popularity after Pulp Fiction (1994), Nicolas Cage had just come off of The Rock (1996) and Con Air (1997), and director John Woo had perfected his craft after years of Hong Kong action classics such as Hard Boiled (1992) and A Better Tomorrow (1986).
Being John Malkovich is easily one of the more bizarre body swap movies of all time. The movie includes probably the most unique conduit into a person’s mind: a tiny door in an office building that allows people to physically crawl into the head of actor John Malkovich. At first the interlopers in Malkovich’s mind are merely passengers, but means of control are eventually discovered, leading to further complications in everyone’s lives.
The film was a minor word-of-mouth sensation upon its theatrical release, increasing in ticket sales over its first few weeks. It was also one of the more critically acclaimed movies of 1999, earning three Academy Award nominations including Best Director for Spike Jonze with his first feature film, Best Original Screenplay for Charlie Kaufman with his first feature script, and Best Supporting Actress for Catherine Keener.
In the future, the corporate elite are afforded the luxury of super-fast travel by exchanging their mind with a person over a great distance. Toffler (Kim Coates) needs to get from New York to Los Angeles in a hurry, so he reluctantly undergoes the procedure and transfers his mind across the country. Unfortunately, Toffler’s original body is stolen by the man he changed places with, so Toffler goes out on his own to track his body down.
The plot of Xchange twists and turns, doing its convoluted best to put Toffler in a race against time while inhabiting the super-powered body of a clone (Stephen Baldwin) who has an extremely limited lifespan. The movie never takes itself too seriously, and it’s an enjoyable bit of low-budget entertainment for fans of made-for-TV science fiction.
Rob Schneider is The Hot Chick in this silly teen comedy. Jessica (Rachel McAdams) is a pretty, popular, and mean high school student, but her life takes a turn for the strange when a cursed pair of earrings switches her body with small-time criminal and middle-aged man Clive (Schneider). Now Jessica, with the body of Clive, must convince her friends of who she is on the inside while racing against time to switch back before the change becomes permanent.
The Hot Chick is a perfect example of Rob Schneider’s brand of humor: slapstick comedy, silly situations, and over-the-top performances. Schneider is well supported in this light comedy by co-stars Anna Faris (who rose to comedic prominence in 2000 with Scary Movie) and Rachel McAdams (whose role here is more than a little reminiscent of her character in 2004’s Mean Girls).
The 2003 adaptation of Mary Rodgers’ 1972 novel Freaky Friday is perhaps the most well-known and well-loved version of the story. The film stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan as an antagonistic mother and daughter who switch bodies thanks to an incident with fortune cookies. The movie is a funny and endearing Disney picture that represents the body swap genre in its most classic form.
Freaky Friday was a bit of a departure for Jamie Lee Curtis at the time who was just coming off of what everyone thought would be her final appearance as Laurie Strode in Halloween: Resurrection (2002). Freaky Friday was also pivotal for Lindsay Lohan. It was Lohan’s first feature film in five years, and it helped establish her as a teen idol prior to her leading role in Mean Girls (2004).
13 Going On 30 is a body swap movie in a style similar to Big (1988), but with a time-travel twist. Young Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) wishes to be 30 years old after she is the target of a mean-spirited prank on her thirteenth birthday. That night Jenna goes to sleep in 1987, but she wakes up in 2004 as an adult (Jennifer Garner) with a new life but no memory of the intervening time. So essentially, Jenna is now an adult with the mind of a young girl.
The movie is a light-hearted romantic comedy with a stellar cast. In addition to Garner, the film co-stars Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, and Andy Serkis, all highly successful actors who have starred in some of the biggest films of the 2010s.
Nell (Samaire Armstrong) and Woody (Kevin Zegers) are neighbors and childhood friends who have grown apart. Now in high school, the studious and socially awkward Nell can’t get along with the crass and popular Woody. When they’re unwillingly paired together for a school assignment, they magically switch bodies while arguing in front of an Aztec statue in a museum. Now Nell and Woody must navigate high school in each other’s bodies, learning about respect and romance as they try to solve their shared problem.
The story of It’s A Boy Girl Thing certainly isn’t the most original for a body swap movie. Much of the humor is based on teenagers discovering bodies of the opposite sex and playing up gender stereotypes, but its enthusiastic embrace of the body swap genre makes it work well.
Based on the 1959 Disney movie of the same name, The Shaggy Dog features yet another twist on the body swap genre. In a scenario that strays slightly into werewolf movies (or rather, weredog movies), the 2006 version of The Shaggy Dog stars Tim Allen as Dave, a workaholic husband and father who is bitten by a sacred Tibetan dog. Dave begins exhibiting dog-like tendencies, and he periodically transforms into a dog that looks exactly like the one that bit him.
Even though Dave is still in his own body, just transformed, the movie overlaps more than enough with body swapping films to earn a spot on this list. Dave’s family doesn’t realize Dave is actually a dog, so Dave’s time with his family in canine form gives him a lesson on empathy and the importance of family.
17 Again takes the body swap formula of Big (1988) and flips it in the opposite direction. Instead of a kid wishing he was older, 17 Again follows 37-year-old Mike (Matthew Perry), a man whose personal and professional lives are falling apart. When Mike is magically transformed back into his 17-year-old self (played by Zack Efron), Mike is forced to choose whether to help his troubled family or to start a new life by finally pursuing his dream of playing professional basketball.
The movie is a pleasant teen comedy that remains one of Efron’s most popular starring roles. The film came out during a time when Efron was finding lots of mainstream success in films like Hairspray (2007) and High School Musical 3 (2008), and it co-stars the always hilarious Thomas Lennon as Mike’s best friend.
Dave (Jason Bateman) is a married man with three children who envies what he sees as the freedom his single best friend Mitch has. Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) lives a life full of what he sees as meaningless encounters, and he envies the caring family that Dave has. One night while urinating in the same fountain, Dave and Mitch both wish they had each other’s lives. The next morning they get what the wanted, waking up with their minds swapped.
The Change-Up earns its spot on this list by being one of the relatively rare R-rated comedies involving a classic body swap. It delivers a solid body-swap story with many familiar lessons about family and learning to love the life you have, but with a foul-mouthed and risqué edge.
Adam Sandler stars as Max Simkin, a cobbler who is bored with his life of repairing shoes. After he uses an old stitching machine passed down through his family, Max discovers that he can take the form of anyone just by wearing their shoes repaired by his family’s machine.The film wasn’t well received upon its release, but it’s a nice film for fans who want to see Adam Sandler in a slightly more subdued style of comedy.
Ryan Reynolds stars returned to the body swap genre in 2015 with the sci-fi action thriller Self/less. Reynolds is the host body for Damian, a billionaire with terminal cancer played by Ben Kingsley. Damian undergoes a medical procedure to transfer his mind into a new body which is described to him as an artificially created “empty vessel.” Damian’s new body might not have been as empty as he was promised though, and memories that are not his own begin to plague Damian.
Nine Lives takes on a familiar body swap scenario in a fashion similar to The Shaggy Dog (2006). Tom (Kevin Spacey) is a rich businessman whose obsession with work has distanced him from his family. After buying a cat for his daughter from an eccentric pet shop owner (Christopher Walken), Tom’s mind is transferred into the cat during a lightning storm. Tom must then learn lessons about family and togetherness or else he’ll be trapped as a cat for the rest of his life. Nine Lives isn’t the most original body swap movie out there, but Christopher Walken and Jennifer Garner (who plays Tom’s wife) are always a delight to watch.
Your Name became something of a sensation upon its release, becoming the second highest grossing domestic film ever in Japan. The movie actually premiered in the United States at the 2016 Anime Expo in Los Angeles, California, but it was then released in many other countries before getting a wider U.S. release in 2017. In total, Your Name made over $350 million globally thanks to its wonderful story and animation.
The movie is about a teenage girl living in a rural part of Japan who mysteriously swaps bodies with a teenage boy who lives in the bustling city of Tokyo. The body swaps happen periodically, and both the girl and boy become intent on finding each other as they learn more about each other’s lives. Your Name is a beautiful and moving romantic fantasy that all animation fans should see.
More than 20 years after the Jumanji board game wreaked havoc on the Parrish house, Jumanji has taken the form of a retro video game. When four high school students mess around with the Jumanji cartridge, they are sucked into the game world, inhabiting the bodies of four avatars that are very different from their real bodies. The kids are then tasked with completing the game unless they want to have any chance of returning to their own lives.
Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Kevin Hart are hilarious as a nerd, bookworm, popular girl, and jock respectively. Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is a great action comedy and is a worthy sequel to the classic Jumanji from 1995.
The themes of body swap movies and Christmas films go hand in hand. Both tend to emphasize comedy with light drama as the characters learn about empathy, love, and the meaning of family and and friends. With that said, it’s no surprise that there are quite a few Christmas movies involved everything from full-on body swapping to simple mistaken identities. One of the most classically constructed examples of a Christmas body swap film is A Christmas Switch.
Julia (Ashley Wood Garcia) is a mother who would rather spend time at her job running a record label than spend time with her family. Audrey (Jackie Seiden) is a mother who would rather spend time with her family, but she is being overworked by obligations inside and outside the home. The two women magically switch bodies as Christmas draws near, and with fresh eyes, they help each other to discover what family is really all about.
While going about his day as a rich businessman/criminal, Jang Pan-su is landed on by a young man named Kim Dong-hyun who falls off the roof of a building. When Pan-su wakes up in the hospital, he discovers that both he and Dong-hyun have switched bodies. Pan-su soon discovers that Dong-hyun is a kind yet bullied high school student who has a connection to his own daughter, and then attempts to set right both his and his host body’s lives.
Fans of light-hearted South Korean cinema should absolutely give The Dude In Me a watch. The film stars Park Sung-woong, a noted actor who appeared in the great crime thriller New World (2013), and Jinyoung, a K-Pop idol who was nominated as “Best New Actor” for his role in The Dude In Me at the 2019 Director’s Cut Awards.
Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Kevin Hart returned for another round in Jumanji: The Next Level, and the results are just as fun. This time, the kids (now in college) go into the Jumanji video game willingly to bring out one of their friends who they think is lost inside. Audiences are treated to more of the same action and comedy that worked so well the first time around, but there are enough twists (and new abilities) that help make the movie feel fresh.
For one thing, Awkwafina joins the already stellar cast. Additionally, more people are pulled into the game (including Danny Glover and Danny DeVito). Plus, the in-game avatars get switched around throughout the movie, leading to even more wacky body-swap shenanigans.
Inspired in part by the Freaky Friday movies and book, Freaky (2020) is an entertaining horror comedy from producer Jason Blum that follows in the high-concept footsteps of Blumhouse’s Happy Death Day (2017) and Happy Death Day 2U (2019). While the Happy Death Day movies use a time loop scenario to bring some levity to the slasher genre, Freaky employs a classic body swap involving a serial killer and a high school girl.
Millie (Kathryn Newton) is attacked by the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), but she escapes with just a stab wound on her shoulder from an ancient dagger. The next day, Millie and the Butcher have switched bodies, and Millie has to find a way to stop the Butcher from killing everyone in her life using her own body. Freaky was well-received by critics and audiences alike, and it’s a great film for fans of horror comedies.