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Zac Efron stars as Mike O'Donnell in New Line Cinema's comedy "17 Again," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
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Who wouldn’t want to be a teenager once more? Or turn into hot teen star Zac Efron?


That, at least, is what happens in the new film “17 Again,” opening Friday, in which Matthew Perry accidentally falls into a river, emerges in Efron’s body, and is miraculously whisked back to his high school years, where he blew off basketball stardom to run away with his pregnant girlfriend. Will Perry/Efron get to rectify the mistakes he made as a kid? Or will he learn that maybe his 30-something life isn’t so bad after all?


The becoming-a-teenager-again story line is “a recurring theme (in movies),” says “17 Again” director Burr Steers. “It’s one of those themes that people latch onto, the idea you can go back to that pivotal moment in your life, and that incident or accident that changed our lives.”


Well, OK, but maybe the thought of zits, raging hormones and college-admission tests is not all that appealing. “People remember the best parts of their teen years,” acknowledges Steers, “but the reality is it’s a tense time, with incredible pressures on you. That’s the reality.”


Yet, there’s little doubt that going back to the years of our youth, to recapture a sense of innocence, or settle long-festering emotional scores, is one of those fantasies everyone has had. Which is why the whole older-person-in-young-body (or vice versa) thing has been a movie staple for quite some time.


“There seems to be an interest in such films because people like to be nostalgic, and reminiscing about the good old days when things were simpler and life was better, and having the ability to actually experience the notion of becoming young again is the ultimate wish fulfillment,” says Irv Slifkin of moviesunlimited.com. “And because of today’s tough times, my hunch is people desire the old days even more. They are finding old friends on Facebook, reminiscing, going to reunions, vicariously reliving their school days - all to escape the tensions of everyday life.”


“I think people want to escape with the movies,” Steers adds, “and you see different types of movies doing better in times like these. People want to be entertained. It’s just like during the Depression.”


No matter what the reason for its popularity, though, the age-switch film has been with us for a while.


FILM “Peggy Sue Got Married” (1986)


PLOT Adult (Kathleen Turner) faints at her high school reunion, wakes up in her own past, where she has to deal with her boyfriend (Nicolas Cage). Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.


FACTOID Sofia Coppola, the director’s daughter, not only played Turner’s younger sister, but directed her years later in the 1999 flick “The Virgin Suicides.”


 


FILM “Like Father, Like Son” (1987)


PLOT A strange potion switches the personalities of an uptight doctor (Dudley Moore) and his casual son (Kirk Cameron).


FACTOID This was the first of four comedies released in 1987-88 to feature the child-adult-switcheroo plot.


 


FILM “Big” (1988)


PLOT Boy wants to be an adult, makes a wish and miraculously finds himself in a grown-up body (Tom Hanks) overnight. Complications ensue when he falls for an adult woman (Elizabeth Perkins).


FACTOID The 16-foot piano Hanks and Robert Loggia danced on in the film is now in the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia. The piano was designed by Philly native Remo Saraceni and was donated to the children’s museum by a local couple who bought it shortly after “Big” was released.


 


FILM “Vice Versa” (1988)


PLOT A mysterious artifact turns a father (Judge Reinhold) into his son (Fred Savage) and vice versa.


FACTOID The movie is based on an 1882 British novel of the same name that had been filmed three times before in the U.K.


 


FILM “18 Again” (1988)


PLOT Thanks to an accident, the souls of a teenager (Charlie Schlatter) and his swinging granddad (George Burns) are swapped. Granddad then sets out to repair some problems in his grandson’s life.


FACTOID This was Burns’ last starring role. He was 92 at the time.


 


FILM “Prelude to a Kiss” (1992)


PLOT Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan fall in love at first sight, then, after they’re married, Baldwin discovers that Ryan’s soul is now in the body of a dying old man.


FACTOID Based on a 1990 Tony-nominated play that was as much about the AIDS crisis as it was the verities of eternal love.


FILM “Freaky Friday” (2003)


PLOT A mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her daughter (Lindsay Lohan) switch bodies and have to deal with each other’s crazy lives for a single day.


FACTOID Previously filmed in 1976 with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster. Foster was originally offered the adult role in the 2003 version but declined, fearing the stunt casting would hurt the movie.


FILM “13 Going on 30” (2004)


PLOT A young girl plays a game on her birthday and wakes up as a 30-year-old woman (Jennifer Garner) who is a high-powered magazine editor.


FACTOID Gwyneth Paltrow, Renee Zellweger and Hilary Swank were all considered for the lead role.


 


FILM “Youth Without Youth” (2007)


PLOT A 70-year-old professor (Tim Roth) is struck by lightning and miraculously begins to grow younger.


FACTOID This was Francis Ford Coppola’s first directorial effort in 10 years, and was financed by profits from his successful vineyard.


 


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