There is something quite jarring about watching seemingly lighthearted movies suddenly becoming something much darker than they initially appeared to be. Depending on the effectiveness of the filmmaking, audiences may be delighted by the sudden shift or they could feel bamboozled. Often it's an intentional twist in the narrative, intended to keep the audience on their toes, which can have an even greater impact if there is no indication of the tonal variations in the film’s marketing.
These films typically begin as comedies or romantic comedy, and the direction of these feel-good genres have the tendency to be formulaic and predictable. This is also why a sudden turning point taking the narrative in an unexpected direction is so shocking. Which comedic beginning led to an unexpectedly dark turn you didn’t see coming? Vote up the most surprising tonal shifts below.
Warning: Major plot spoilers ahead!
- Photo: Hemdale Releasing
How It Starts: Miracle Mile begins as a sweet romance between Harry (Anthony Edwards) and Julie (Mare Winningham), who meet at the La Brea Tar Pits and make plans to see each other again.
When It Turns: When Harry answers a payphone early in the morning, he mistakenly becomes aware of an impending nuclear war that will result in nukes targeting Los Angeles.
What It Becomes: From this point on, Miracle Mile is an apocalyptic thriller with shocking violence that continues to escalate until the nuclear missiles arrive. Harry rushes to find Julie to save her, witnessing all types of mayhem along the way.
- 298 VOTESPhoto: Miramax Films
How It Starts: Life Is Beautiful begins in Tuscany, with the romance between a Jewish waiter named Guido (Roberto Benigni) and a schoolteacher named Dora (Nicoletta Braschi). Despite their different backgrounds, Guido and Dora fall in love, overcome obstacles to marry each other, and have a son named Giosuè (Giorgio Cantarini). Even obstacles are handled in such a lighthearted manner that it is hard to imagine Life Is Beautiful will turn into a wartime drama.
When It Turns: As WWII begins, Guido and Giosuè are taken to a concentration camp. Dora voluntarily enters the camps to be near her family, though they are separated from each other. The lighthearted romance is lost, although the film retains elements of slapstick humor.
What It Becomes: Guido creates a game to keep the reality of the Holocaust from his son, even as he is being taken away to be shot by a German soldier. Giosuè is reunited with his mother, surviving thanks to the sacrifices made by his father.
- Photo: Orion Pictures
How It Starts: Something Wild starts as a typical screwball romantic comedy, with a quirky "meet cute" to start things off. When New York City investment banker Charlie (Jeff Daniels) meets the free-spirited Audrey (Melanie Griffith), who initially introduces herself as Lulu, it is the beginning of an unconventional romance. Audrey is able to pull Charlie out of his conservative lifestyle with her unpredictable antics. Despite being opposites, the couple begins to fall in love with each other.
When It Turns: While attending her high school reunion, Audrey’s ex-husband, Ray (Ray Liotta), tracks the new couple down, forcing them to join him in the robbery of a convenience store. Charlie goes from falling in love to having his nose broken in a few short scenes, and the tone of the movie changes just as suddenly.
What It Becomes: The screwball romance is traded in for a stalker thriller as Charlie and Audrey attempt to escape the reaches of Ray. When Audrey’s ex-husband tracks them down at Charlie’s Long Island home, it results in a deadly struggle for survival.
- 471 VOTESPhoto: Focus Features
How It Starts: The World's End begins as an alcohol-fueled comedy that turns into an alcohol-fueled sci-fi comedy. Gary King (Simon Pegg) is a 40-year-old man in arrested development who convinces his four childhood friends (Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan) to join him on a pub crawl they failed to complete in their youth. When they discover their hometown has been invaded by aliens using advanced android technology to replace the humans, the friends must band together to save humanity.
When It Turns: Gary’s insistence that they continue drinking along the pub crawl, even after discovering the alien invasion plot, points to his struggles with alcoholism. But the film really turns serious when scars on Gary’s wrists reveal his depression and a recent suicide attempt to his friends. The silliness of drunken robot fights is traded in for a sobering dose of realism that seems to come out of nowhere.
What It Becomes: Gary goes on a drunken tirade that somehow convinces the aliens that invasion efforts are more trouble than it’s worth, but they eliminate all the electrical power from Earth before departing. Some of the androids remain on the planet, mistrusted by most humans, but are embraced by a newly sober Gary. Credit is due to filmmaker Edgar Wright for his ability to retain elements of silliness while continuing to address Gary's mental health in an earnest manner.