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Great Mistaken-Identity Movies for When You Just Don’t Know Who You Are Anymore

From rom-coms and Hitchcock thrillers to true crime docs and Muppets, this genre has something for everyone (and the people they’ve been mistaken for)

One mistake can make for a lot of trouble, and no brand of films brandishes this as boldly as the Mistaken Identity Movie. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, raising a hand, answering a door or making a phone call can be enough to throw a hero’s whole world into a mind-blowing spin of intrigue, romance and even murder. 

The latest in this outlandish category of cinema is The Wrong Missy. New to Netflix, the kooky comedy stars David Spade as a bachelor on the prowl. Looking to impress his dream girl, he invites her to be his guest on a Hawaiian vacation. However, when he texts — you guessed it! — the wrong Missy, it’s not the gorgeous pageant-queen (model Molly Sims) who shows up, but a disastrous blind date (comedian Lauren Lapkus) who promises this will be one wild getaway. 

To toast The Wrong Missy, we’re looking back at a rich history of Mistaken Identity Movies to single out those that were simply the best. Seeking something suspenseful? Something silly? A movie that’s romantic? Or maybe one full of bonkers bits and ball-to-the-wall action? We’ve got you covered. 

North By Northwest (1959) 

Before there was Jon Hamm as Don Draper, there was Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, a Manhattan advertising executive with an insatiable thirst for day-drinking, sleek suits and hot dames. However, Roger’s suave lifestyle is thrown for a loop when an idly raised hand at a hotel bar gets him mistaken for the mysterious George Kaplan. Next thing Roger knows, he’s been kidnapped, force-fed bourbon and thrown into a murder scheme. Framed and wanted dead or alive (but preferably dead), he’s on the run in trains, from planes and with an icy blonde Hitchcock Blonde (Eva Marie Saint) as he seeks to clear his name. 

Even if you’ve never seen this Alfred Hitchcock classic, you’d likely recognize several swaths of it. North by Northwest has become iconic for its suspenseful spectacle that include a pair of near-deadly car accidents, a crop duster running down Grant in a cornfield and a high-stakes battle on top of Mount Rushmore. Unfurling this twisted tale, Hitchcock binds us to Roger Thornhill by allowing his audience to know little more than this confounded hero. So, we are gripped by anxiety and intrigue as he fights to untangle the secrets, subterfuge and mystery of who is George Kaplan. Yet, the best bit of this fascinating film is the sheer star power of Grant. Whether furious, frightened or facing down a fearsome foe, he is ever debonair, witty and a wonder to behold.

The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) 

Jennifer Nelson (Doris Day) is an eccentric woman. When she’s not giving tours at a NASA research facility, she’s calling her dear dog Vladimir to get his cardio going. (He runs all over the house when the phone rings.) Then on weekends, she helps her glass-bottom boat owning father with his business by playing a mermaid who swims off the coast of Santa Catalina Island. However, her life is turned upside down when a NASA scientist (Rod Taylor) snags her by the tail. Enchanted, he asks her to be a part of a very special project. But her promotion from tour guide to trusted associate sparks suspicions, especially considering those strange calls she makes during the day to an unknown Russian! 

Also known as The Spy in Lace Panties, this Doris Day vehicle is a cheeky yet squeaky-clean sex farce with a generous injection of sci-fi shenanigans. She and Taylor spark as a could-be canoodling couple, which bonds over slapstick involving sassy swimsuits, goofy gizmos and a catastrophic cake. Along for the ride are comedy greats Dom DeLuise and Paul Lynde, who pull off pratfalls, befuddled banter and a bit of drag showmanship. Yet the best bit of this Cold War-era comedy is when Day’s heroine realizes she’s being watched, and so starts toying with the spying fools who would malign her. Can a part-time mermaid outwit the security team at NASA? The Glass Bottom Boat has a lot of fun answering that. 

The Big Lebowski (1998) 

Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) is a stoner who is chiefly known for his laissez faire attitude and his love of White Russians. So, when a band of swirly-giving ruffians break-in to his L.A. apartment demanding that Lebowski pay up, he knows a mistake has been made. When these intruders soil his rug — which really tied the room together — The Dude seeks out the intended Lebowski, a hard-talking philanthropist who chucks this “deadbeat” into the role of detective. Tasked with finding the Big Lebowski’s kidnapped trophy wife, The Dude and his bowling buddies set out on a winding quest where they’ll confront a fretful Yes Man, a provocative feminist painter, an aggressive marmot and a violent gang led by a nihilistic porn star. When the haze clears, it’s up to The Dude to make sense of a wild mystery. 

Written and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, this stoner-noir has become a cult classic whose reputation grew thanks to plenty of TV play that — ironically — cut a lot of this R-rated comedy’s raciest lines. Still, The Dude abides. Bridges captured the hearts and imaginations of fans, who cracked up at this clueless dick’s scheme to make a quick buck while playing the hero. John Goodman’s hilarious eruptions as a wrathful veteran/less-than-helpful sidekick, Walter Sobchak, had us howling. And the cast is absolutely stacked with stars who brought this intoxicating version of L.A. to life, including Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Peter Stormare, Flea, John Turturro and Sam Elliott, as a cowboy curious, who soulfully intones, “Sometimes, there is a man…”

Laura (1944) 

Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) has a real mystery on his hands: Who murdered Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney)? Gunned down by a shotgun blast to the face at the door of her apartment, she died fast and gruesomely. But by all accounts, she was a gracious and kind woman beloved by all. However, the “all” she surrounded herself by is a pretty shady lot. There’s her mentor, Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), a vicious gossip columnist who holds sharp opinions on everything, including Laura’s love life. There’s her philandering fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), who always seems to be on the make for love or money. Then, there’s her affluent aunt, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), who carries a deep envy of her niece, especially when it concerns Laura’s would-be hubby. But McPherson’s case goes from tricky to extraordinary when Laura — alive and livid — catches him in her apartment! 

Directed by Otto Preminger, this classic film brims with timeless tension. In flashbacks, Tierney plays Laura with a blend of wit and vulnerability that makes her easy to fall for. So we relate when McPherson crushes hard on a corpse. When she resurfaces alive, so do our hopes for a happy ending. Along the road to an explosive climax, the cast turns in electrifying performances. Before he’d become synonymous with eerie horror, a young Price is towering and macho as a randy playboy. Anderson is ruthlessly cutting as the jealous auntie, while Webb makes a meal out of the eccentric character who feels like a cross between the gossip-loving Truman Capote and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, with whom Lydecker shared an affection for typewriting while enjoying a bath. 

The Imposter (2012) 

A true-life tale of mistaken identities and an alleged murder mystery is unfurled in this critically heralded Bart Layton documentary. It begins in the summer of 1994, when 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay went missing in San Antonio. For years, his family searched desperately for any sign of the lost boy. Then, a phone call from Spain changed everything. A young man with a thick French accent claimed he was their son. They believed him, even though he didn’t look very much like Nicholas. They didn’t even share the same eye color. Eventually, he would be unmasked as Frédéric Bourdin, a con man known by Interpol as “The Chameleon.” However, the story takes a grim turn as Bourdin declares he’s not the only liar in this true-crime tale. 

Layton plays a dangerous game giving the mic to a man notorious for spinning outrageous stories to benefit himself. But The Imposter balances Bourdin’s suspiciously self-serving story with that of Barclay’s family, who bravely open their homes and hearts to a film crew, even after being mocked, derided and condemned by a public who can’t comprehend their pain. Like Tiger King, this true-crime doc unfurls a story that is stranger than fiction. However, Layton’s film has a deeply embedded humanity that unearths the motivations from all involved. These complicated portraits of the conman and his victims invite the audience to play detective, to tease out the truth and ponder the lingering questions that have no clear-cut answers. 

Galaxy Quest (1999) 

Imagine if extraterrestrials stumbled across Star Trek and thought they were documentaries about the valiant heroics of a real-life squad of space explorers. That’s the premise of the stellar sci-fi comedy directed by Dean Parisot. Tim Allen stars as a washed-up TV actor best known for playing the captain on the fictional show Galaxy Quest. Nearly 20 years later, he and his co-stars (Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Daryl Mitchell and Sam Rockwell) are clinging to the fringes of frame, making their money signing autographs at comic book conventions. That is until a real band of alien adventurers shows up and begs for their help. While the aliens mistake the actors for real astronauts, the Galaxy Quest crew mistakes them for overeager fans offering a paying gig. So off to the final frontier they all go, to face a vicious foe, confront their own rivalries and take real risks to save the day. 

Parodying space shows offers Galaxy Quest plenty of gags, like a nonsensical ship design that includes a death path of “chompers.” But you don’t need to be a Trekkie to appreciate the wealth of comedy flying high here. Allen is in his comfort zone playing an arrogant oaf whose machismo often blinds him to his buffoonery. Weaver, who kicked extraterrestrial ass in the Alien franchise, has smirking fun as a send-up of poorly written female roles that offer little but T&A with no real autonomy. Shalhoub yuks it up as a stoner, while Mitchell goes manic. Rockwell proves a scene-stealer years ahead of becoming a leading man. Enrico Colantoni, Missi Pyle and Patrick Breen bring out-of-this-world comedy as a trio of awkward aliens. 

Last but not least is Rickman, whose gravitas makes his character’s intense vexation downright hysterical. This makes all the bits of fanboying by humans and aliens alike crackle, then turns the crew’s arc of heroism to something truly poignant and undeniably exhilarating. 

The Great Muppet Caper (1980)

This star-stuffed comedy has Jim Henson’s colorful menagerie of Muppets playing parts as if they’d never met before. Forget that Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy had been romancing in The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Show. Here, the board is reset as a new game of love and hijinks is at play! Kermit stars as an investigative reporter seeking an exclusive interview with fashion designer Lady Holiday (Diana Rigg), who has recently been robbed of some exquisite jewels.  However, a mix-up at her offices has Kermit mistaking Lady Holiday’s harried receptionist, Miss Piggy, for the famous fashionista. Attracted to this green hunk, Piggy embraces the misunderstanding, parlaying it into an unforgettable first date. 

But as romantic rivalries heat up and robberies pile up, the truth will come out, hearts will break and the Muppets will have to team up to take down a dastardly — and criminally alluring — Charles Grodin. (I said what I said!) 

Mistaken identity rom-coms are a rich subgenre all their own, studded with such greats as The Truth About Cats & Dogs, Desperately Seeking Susan and While You Were Sleeping. The Great Muppet Caper beat the others out for this list because it’s so much more than a rom-com. Its jewel heist plot adds an exciting level of intrigue. The comedy runs wild thanks to its Muppet ensemble and an array of cameos from the likes of John Cleese, Joan Sanderson, Peter Ustinov, Peter Falk and Terry Jones. Then, on top of all that, are a flurry of magical musical numbers, bursting with bravado, humor and glitzy Hollywood showmanship.

Face/Off (1997)

Two of the most famous faces of 1990s action cinema took face-off metaphorically and literally in this John Woo masterpiece. John Travolta stars as Sean Archer, an FBI agent who must go deep undercover to stop a terrorist plot to blow up L.A. How deep must he go? He’s got to undergo an experimental surgery that will tear the face off his nemesis, mass-murdering mercenary Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage), and swap it for his own. Once swapped, the two do battle in their new identities, demanding the two big stars swap roles and mimic each other’s unique brands of charismatic quirks. 

The premise of this movie is beyond preposterous. But the joy of Face/Off is that Woo stuffs it so full of action and bonkers bravado that there’s little time left to think, much less pick apart its plotline. Instead, audiences are invited into a world where gunfights play out like battle ballets, where “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is a pitch-perfect action scene score, where car chases take to the sea in speed boats and where doves fly as plentifully as zingers and sprays of bullets. 

Yet the greatest joys this absolutely gonzo action movie has to offer are the performances of Travolta and Cage, each playing men pushed to their wits ends while wearing the face of their greatest foe. They’re colliding forces of nature, howling in horror, cackling in revelry, singing and spinning and waxing melodic about sex through sultry peach metaphors. Playing with their personas with a giddy abandon, these two threw themselves into every moment, giving audiences a mind-blowing, face-melting, adrenaline-spiking thrill ride that’s relentlessly entertaining.