The 1980s were a special time in pop culture. It was a decade of shoulder pads, mullets, perms, scrunchies, everything in bright neon, and one of the highest concentrations of body-swap movies in cinema history. Fathers and sons, unfriendly neighbors, and lawyers and clients unwittingly switched bodies by a curse, a birthday wish or mind serums. At least one of these body-swap movies is an American classic with Academy Award nominations to its name, while others have faded into obscurity.
Read on for a ranking of the body-swap movies from the 1980s.
6. Like Father, Like Son
In Like Father, Like Son, Jack (Dudley Moore) body-swaps with his son Chris (Kirk Cameron) after inadvertently drinking a mind-swapping serum. As they look for a way to switch themselves back, Jack has to play in Chris’ hockey game, and Chris has to fake his way through a day as a neurosurgeon without messing up his father’s chances for a big promotion.
Like Father, Like Son is the least interesting of the ’80s body-swap movies, mainly because Moore and Cameron really don’t do anything to imitate the other. Moore is terrific at physical comedy, but he just looks like he is playing a teenager, not necessarily Chris stuck in Jack’s body. Cameron doesn’t have Moore’s knack for physical comedy, so he comes off worse than Moore. They don’t even have matching accents, which begs the question of why they were paired up for a body-swap movie in the first place.
How ’80s Is It?: Kirk Cameron is a headliner in a movie that wasn’t produced by him (Saving Christmas) or a Christian film company (Left Behind, Fireproof), and the best-friend character is played by Sean Astin. Yes, this is most definitely the ’80s.
Creep Factor: After the swap, Chris (inside of his father’s body) drinks, stays out all night, and tries to lose his virginity. It isn’t really that far from what he would be trying to do as a high-school senior, so the creep factor isn’t very strong.
5. Dream a Little Dream
In Dream a Little Dream, Bobby (Corey Feldman) and his high-school crush Lainie (Meredith Salenger) swap bodies with elderly couple Coleman (Jason Robards) and Gena (Piper Laurie). The means of the body swap in Dream a Little Dream is by far the most complicated: Coleman and Gena are trying to achieve immortality through meditation. Being bratty, thoughtless teenagers, Bobby and Lainie often use Coleman’s yard as a shortcut, and while taking the shortcut, they run right into Coleman and Gena as they’re in deep meditation, causing their minds to swap.
Making a body-switch movie with four people instead of two is convoluted enough, but writer-director Marc Rocco also threw in a nonsense subplot about Lainie being absorbed into the Collective Mind, or some ’80s pseudo-philosophy. As Roger Ebert put it, Dream a Little Dream is “aggressively unwatchable” and “incomprehensible.”
How ’80s Is It?: It’s difficult to describe just how much this movie reeks of the ’80s, aside from having Corey Feldman and Corey Haim in starring roles, but I can say that it is super tough deciding whose outfit is better (or worse) — Laurie’s striped leotard-top/hat combo or Feldman trying to be Michael Jackson in that military shirt with the fake medals. The “Wilder Implements” lettering just barely puts Feldman over the top.
4. 18 Again!
18 Again! is another take on the father-son body-swap story. This time, it’s an 81-year-old grandfather, played by George Burns, who swaps bodies with his grandson. The magical switch is caused by Burns’ birthday wish to be 18 again, but they don’t actually swap until Burns gets in a car accident with his grandson after the party. Burns wakes up in the hospital inside his grandson’s body, and the poor grandson’s soul is stuck inside his comatose grandfather’s body. Does this bother the grandfather? Sure, for about a minute, but he’s soon living it up in his grandson’s body.
Most body-swap movies are about seeing life from another person’s perspective. Freaky Friday was about a mother realizing that life as a teenager isn’t easy, and a teenage girl learning how tough it is to be a grown-up. Vice Versa and Like Father, Like Son focus on father-son relationships. In 18 Again!, the audience only gets to see one side of it. The grandfather gets to enjoy college life again, but the grandson is driftwood.
How ’80s Is It?: This movie would probably be made more enjoyable with some ’80s kitsch. However, the ’80s were probably the last decade that a film could get away with boobs in a PG-rated movie.
Creep Factor: He takes full advantage of “subletting” his grandson’s spry young body and tracks down his gold-digger “companion” for a good lay. Plus, most of George Burns’ dialogue is dirty old-man jokes, and it gets old and creepy real quick.
Strictly speaking, Big is not a body-swap movie, which is why it isn’t ranked higher. Josh (Tom Hanks) does not swap bodies with anyone, but instead grows into a full-sized adult overnight. In spite of that fact, Big often gets grouped in with the body-swap genre because it came out less than a year after Like Father, Like Son and three months after Vice Versa. All of these movies, with varying levels of success, also grapple with growing up and, for a time, getting to see the world from a different perspective. Out of all the movies on the list, Big is the most critically acclaimed, getting two Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Tom Hanks and Best Screenplay for Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg.
How ’80s Is It?: The toy component of the plot instantly dates this movie, from the trip through FAO Schwartz to Josh’s bright idea for robot-bug transformer toys.
Creep Factor: Big is great. Tom Hanks is great in it, as is Elizabeth Perkins. It’s still so creepy when they sleep together.
2. Vice Versa
Vice Versa puts Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage together in a good ol’ fashioned father-son body-swap movie. Reinhold is the typical ’80s dad, divorced and too busy with work to spend any time with his son. Savage is the typical 11-year-old protagonist, struggling with schoolyard bullies and teachers who just don’t understand him.
The cause of their body-swap is a magical artifact from Bangkok, which Reinhold accidentally brought home as a souvenir. Technically, though, they don’t swap bodies. Reinhold actually physically transforms into Savage, and Savage gets to hulk out when he turns into Reinhold.
How ’80s Is It?: There’s a jam session at a music store in the middle of the mall with a $7,000 digital guitar, a Casio keyboard, and the movie’s hero on the drums. Savage-as-Reinhold asks for Grey Poupon with his school lunch. This is as ’80s as movies get. The only way it could get more ’80s is an appearance by the Coreys (Haim and Feldman).
Hey, Isn’t That…?: There are appearances by Richard Kind, Swoosie Kurtz, and Malcolm in the Middle’s Jane Kaczmarek, but the really amazing cameo in Vice Versa is a young Jane Lynch, making her film debut.
1. All Of Me
Lily Tomlin plays a wealthy woman who’s been bedridden all her life. As she’s dying, she feels like she never got a chance to live at all, so she enlists a mystic to transfer her soul to another body. Instead of ending up inside a young blonde bombshell, however, her soul gets trapped inside the body of her lawyer, played by Steve Martin. Together, Martin and Tomlin’s souls, sharing Martin’s body, have to find a way to get her soul out of him and into another body.
How ’80s Is It?: There’s a lower level of ’80s vibe here. The fashion and look of the film are certainly ’80s, but it isn’t nearly as overt as other films on the list.
Creep Factor: All Of Me definitely has a creep factor, especially in a scene where Martin describes the joys of sex to Tomlin. By far, the creepiest part of the film is the fact that Martin and Tomlin are trying to push this young woman’s soul out of her body so that Tomlin can take up residence. Sure, she’s portrayed as greedy and out for wealth, but her soul is moved into her favorite horse in the end, and she takes her body. Tomlin is delightful, but that’s really messed up.