Ten Unforgettable Cinematic Transformations

As the site undergoes its own transformation, we take a look at the ten best movie metamorphoses ever.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Crave Online underwent a startling transformation today, emerging from its chrysalis as the spritely butterfly you now see before you. To celebrate this rebirth the folks at Crave’s illustrious film channel have put together our list of the best cinematic transformations we’ve ever seen. No, Sylvester Stallone gaining weight for Copland doesn’t count: these transformations occur over the course of the film in crazy special effects sequences, surprising dramatic twists or, sometimes, moments of utter silliness. Here are Ten Unforgettable Cinematic Transformations from Crave Online.


10. Grease (dir. Randal Kleiser, 1978)


Grease is a beloved musical classic, considered universally adorable by folks who seem to be missing all the little details about underage smoking, sexual intercourse, a gangbang joke and so forth. The film tells the story of bad boy Danny Zuko (John Travolta), who falls in love with sweet, innocent Sandra Dee (Olivia Newton-John), and the problems that come with trying to bridge the gap between their two worlds. By the end of the film, Danny’s willing to turn over a new leaf and become the good guy Sandy wants him to be, but it turns out that Sandy had the same idea, transforming herself overnight into a sexually charged bad girl clad in skintight leather. Danny immediately abandons all pretense of changing, because his girlfriend was willing to completely alter her lifestyle for him, and besides: easy girls are, you know… easier. Yeah. That relationship’s going to last.


9. The Amazing Colossal Man (dir. Bert I. Gordon, 1957)


Bert I. Gordon had an obsession with making things larger, using it as a plot device in many of his films from Earth vs. The Spider to Village of the Giants (co-starring Beau Bridges and Ron Howard). We’d read into that, but we think it speaks for itself. His most famous embiggening came in the form of The Amazing Colossal Man, a movie about Lt. Colonel Glen Manning (Glen Langan), who discovers that wandering into a nuclear explosion doesn’t kill you… it just makes you huge. Very similar to  The Incredible Hulk, who would not be created for another five years, Glen spends a lot of his time bemoaning his fate with Emo philosophical questions like, “What kind of sin could a man commit in a single lifetime to bring this upon himself?” Not a good movie (it’s been immortalized on Mystery Science Theater 3000), but a surprisingly contemplative one. You’d almost be able to take it seriously if the bulk of the film didn’t revolve around its star sitting in a diaper next to a bunch of dollhouse furniture.


8. You Only Live Twice (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1967)


The fifth James Bond film was the first to ignore Ian Fleming’s source material in favor of an almost entirely different story, this time written by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl. (Both Dahl and Fleming worked as espionage agents for the UK during World War II, so I guess they thought he was qualified.) The resulting film is a hoot-and-a-half but resoundingly ridiculous, never more so than when Bond (Sean Connery) has to undergo high-tech plastic surgery in order to ‘transform’ into a Japanese man. Naturally, 'Japanese' James Bond merely looks like Sean Connery in a hair cut and eye makeup. Try Parker and Matt Stone memorably spoofed the sequence in 2004’s Team America: World Police.


7. Dark City (dir. Alex Proyas, 1998)


Our favorite non-human transformation sequence goes to Dark City, Alex Proyas’ classic sci-fi fantasy flick from 1998. Rufus Sewell stars as John Murdoch, an amnesiac who wakes up in a strange metropolis where the sun never rises and the inhabitants periodically fall asleep at the same time, while the mysterious and all-powerful ‘Strangers’ make adjustments to their daily lives. Paupers become princes, and entire cityscapes transform in front of John’s eyes, springing fully formed from the ground like flowers blooming in fast-motion. In one of Dark City’s most memorable sequences, Murdoch evades capture by the sleepers, jumping from building to building as they twist around him. It’s an unforgettable film, and not just because Kiefer Sutherland does a surprisingly kick-ass Peter Lorre impersonation.


6. Vertigo (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)


Alfred Hitchcock’s most contemplative work, if perhaps not his most entertaining was 1958’s Vertigo, which starred Jimmy Stewart in the uncharacteristically dark role of a private detective who becomes obsessed with the woman (Kim Novak) he’s following. When she commits suicide in front of him, he wastes away into despondency until he sees another young woman, also played by Kim Novak, who’s almost her exact double. Stewart strikes up a relationship with the new girl and proceeds to slowly transform her into the spitting image of the woman he met first, who may (or may not) even actually be the same girl. Complex, powerful stuff, with stellar performances all around.

5. Black Swan (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2010)


Natalie Portman won an Oscar for her portrayal of Nina Sayers, a withdrawn ballerina driven mad by her compulsive need for perfection and the overwhelming anxiety she experiences when her director (Vincent Cassel) forces her to confront her darker (or at least sexual) nature to win the part. We had some problems with the film, but the bravura final act – when Nina’s mind finally collapses, transforming her into both a new person and a half-human, half-swan hybrid – is a breathless cinematic experience you just have to see for yourself.


4. Pinocchio (dir. Norman Ferguson, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts & Ben Sharpsteen, 1940) 


Pinocchio is… Geez, would you look at all those directors up there? Times sure have changed… Anyway, the Walt Disney classic Pinocchio is a film loaded with transformations. A wooden puppet is transformed into a wooden boy by a kindly fairy, giving the good-hearted toymaker Gepetto the son he always wanted. But Pinocchio’s barely out the door before he’s kidnapped, repeatedly, and forced into various kinds of child slavery. (In his defense, he was born yesterday.) The hero’s journey finds him giving into vice, literally turning him into a total ass by a magical donkey-fying spell, and in the end – Spoiler Alert! – he gets turned into a real boy. A magical film, and only in part because of all the danged magic.


3. Freaks (dir. Tod Browning, 1932)


After Tod Browning directed the classic Bela Lugosi version of Dracula in 1931 he was given the freedom to direct the still-daring Freaks, a tale of tragedy and revenge set in a circus sideshow. Harry Earles plays Hans, a little person in love with the circus acrobat Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), who conspires with her strongman lover Hercules (Henry Victor) to marry Hans and steal his enormous inheritance. The fit eventually hits the shan and the otherwise kindly ‘freaks’ take their bizarre, unforgettable vengeance on the two evil schemers. The censors butchered Browning’s film, eliminating most of the dialogue clarifying that the ‘freaks’ were wonderful people and that the ‘normal’ characters were bastards (the whole point the movie), and many sequences – like the fate of Hercules, now a castrati – are now considered completely lost. The fate of Cleopatra, however…? Well, let’s just say Freaks is #3 on our list for a good reason.


2. The Fly (dir. David Cronenberg, 1986)


One of those rare remakes that outdoes the original, David Cronenberg’s adaption of The Fly features one of the most tragic transformations in history as scientist Seth Brundle (an unusually sexy Jeff Goldblum) finds his DNA spliced with a fly’s after a science experiment goes awry. Normally this sort of thing turns a handsome protagonist into a superhero, but in Cronenberg’s world the tale turns into a harrowing metaphor for dying slowly from a degenerative disease. Geena Davis co-stars as the woman who loves Seth Brundle, now ‘Brundlefly,’ who can’t stand to see him waste away and but also can’t bring herself to abandon him at his hour of need. The makeup effects won a much-deserved Oscar, despite competition from Ridley Scott’s perhaps equally impressive (from a makeup perspective, anyway) Legend.


1. An American Werewolf in London (dir. John Landis, 1981)


Although there have only been a handful of great werewolf movies, only An American Werewolf in London made our list. Please consider this a nod to the likewise remarkable transformations in The Wolf Man, The Howling and Ginger Snaps as well. One of John Landis’s best films (and if you look at his resume that is saying something), this film about an American who turns into a werewolf, in London, is a standout in the sub-genre, combining genuine pathos with sidesplitting humor. Speaking of splitting sides, there's David Naughton’s infamous transformation into the title monster, a special effect visualized for the first time in complete detail. The painful crunching of his bones and tearing of his flesh were realized in all their beautiful and disgusting horror by makeup effects legend Rick Baker, who won his first Academy Award (of seven) for his work on the film.


What are YOUR favorite cinematic transformations?