Movies that switch things up mid-film with a tone shift can be so riveting and satisfying for the viewer. Someone in a popular online forum asked for examples of “movies with clever shifts in tone.” Here are 14 great examples of films that feature dynamic tone shifts.
1. Man on Fire (2004)
In Man on Fire, Denzel Washington stars as a former CIA operative turned bodyguard who seeks vengeance. The movie starts out as an uplifting story about a broken man who finds a new reason to live, then it dramatically shifts to a violent revenge action film.
2. Very Bad Things (1998)
Very Bad Things was billed as a comedy and started that way, but took a twist. It kicks off as a fun, lighthearted Las Vegas bachelor party comedy, but then shifts to a horror/dramedy.
3. Sorry to Bother You (2018)
A telemarketer discovers a magical key to success but must choose between wealth and his morals. Movie buffs explained how it starts off as a light satirical comedy, but by the third act, it becomes a bizarre surrealist dystopian fiction movie.
4. Pleasantville (1998)
In Pleasantville, a brother and sister are transported into a black-and-white 1950s sitcom, bringing change to the town's residents. The depiction of the 1950s is a satire of the sitcoms of that era, but the story morphs into a tale about prejudice and generation gaps in small-town America.
5. Malignant (2021)
Malignant is the most amazing tone shift I've ever seen in a modern movie. Here's the plot: a woman with visions of violent murders discovers a shocking truth about her past. Without spoiling the big reveal, let's say it starts as a paranormal psychological horror movie that you take seriously with bated breath. However, it abruptly shifts into a campy, intentionally over-the-top B movie, but in the best way possible. Where first I was hiding under my covers, now I am cackling with laughter. John Carpenter, you are brilliant.
6. Predator (1987)
An admittedly famous example of a dramatic tone shift in a film would be Predator, which follows a team of commandos on a mission in Central America as an alien warrior hunts them. The movie starts as a Rambo-style action movie, but everything changes when the alien shows up. 80s action sci-fi turned horror is an elite tone shift.
7. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
In From Dusk Till Dawn, two criminals and their hostages encounter vampires in a seedy Mexican bar. The film begins as a gritty crime action thriller that turns into a Predator-style horror movie with all the wit and brilliant dialogue of a Tarantino film. I won't say any more than that — as fans insist, the less you know about this film, the better the viewing experience.
8. District 9 (2009)
A government agent must confront the consequences of segregating aliens in a refugee camp. This documentary-style science-fiction film turns into action with subtle stylistic brilliance. The first half of the faux documentary explores more banal but human experiences like segregation, discrimination, and exploitation. However, it becomes a more traditional sci-fi thriller in the second half due to one of the character's choices.
9. Barbarian (2022)
In Barbarian, a woman books an Airbnb in Detroit as she has traveled to the area for a job interview. However, when she arrives in the middle of the night, someone is already staying there and things in the house are not as they seem. This horror film's tone shift intelligently plays on the viewer's preconceived notions of the characters. While Barbarian‘s tone shift is in keeping with the horror genre, it morphs into a different kind of horror.
10. Parasite (2019)
A low-income family infiltrates the lives of a wealthy family with unexpected consequences in this South Korean drama-turned-thriller. The movie begins as a typical family drama with some comedic undertones. It depicts the life of a poor family living in South Korea, trying to improve their economic situation. About two-thirds of the way through, it becomes a tense thriller.
11. Green Room (2015)
The beginning of Green Room sets up a tense, foreboding atmosphere as a punk rock band embarks on a tour and ends up playing a gig in a secluded neo-Nazi club. However, once the band witnesses a murder and becomes trapped in the club, the tone shifts to a much darker and more intense one. The tone is bleak and unforgiving, with the tension building throughout the movie.
12. Jojo Rabbit (2019)
A young boy's world is turned upside down when he discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic during World War II. At the beginning of the film, the tone is primarily comedic and satirical, as the audience is introduced to Jojo, a young boy who is a dedicated member of the Hitler Youth.
The movie presents a satirical and absurd view of the Nazi regime and its propaganda, poking fun at the absurdity of the ideology. However, as the story progresses, the tone of the movie shifts towards more dramatic and emotional territory as Jojo begins to question his beliefs and confronts the harsh realities of the war.
13. The Truman Show (1998)
A man's entire life is revealed to be a reality TV show, leading him to question his existence. What seems at first like a light-hearted comedy receives a major tone change once they peel back the curtain to reveal the operations center that has monitored and broadcasted Truman's every move throughout his entire life. From there on out, it only gets weirder and darker. As some rightly point out, The Truman Show never gets overtly dark, but the undertones and implications are horrific.
14. Get Out (2017)
In Jordan Peele's directorial horror debut, a young Black man visits his white girlfriend's family and discovers a horrifying secret. The beginning is suspenseful and mysterious but still has the air of a light-hearted romance. However, once Chris arrives at his girlfriend's family's home, things start to not feel right, and this feeling only continues to become amplified as the film shifts into an overtly sinister horror thriller.