Having your identity stolen has become a greater possibility in the age of the Internet, so much so that it is now a springboard for a new Hollywood comedy called “Identity Thief.” In the movie, Melissa McCarthy plays a woman who commits fraud and charges items under the name and credit of a man (played by Jason Bateman) who lives across the country.
It’s unclear from the trailers whether McCarthy acquires Bateman’s information through the help of the web. However, as we’ve seen for years, identity theft has been around a lot longer than the Internet has.
Below, we take a look at ten films that depict the ways people have stolen the persona of someone else.
‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’
As per the tradition of the series, there’s something not right with the latest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. For nearly the entirety of “Goblet of Fire,” the character everyone thinks is Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson) is in fact Barty Crouch Jr. This Death Eater in disguise hid the real Moody in a trunk and stole his identity and job at Hogwarts in order to steer Harry into the clutches of Voldemort.
To be fair, before Nicolas Cage steals the face of John Travolta, John Travolta steals the face of Nicolas Cage. Okay, let’s use character names to be less confusing. FBI Special Agent Sean Archer physically takes on the identity of terrorist Castor Troy in order to go undercover (or is it underskin in this case?) and find out details about a bomb hidden in Los Angeles. However, while Archer is infiltrating a maximum security prison, Troy wakes up and steals the identity of Archer, taking over his job, living with his family and killing anyone who might know of, or find out about, the face-swapping scheme. The only way for the real Archer to clear his name is to kill Troy and then reclaim his own appearance. It gives the phrase “save your skin” a new meaning.
‘Taking Care of Business’
Basically a remake of “Trading Places” but with a legitimate identity theft rather than a simple “Prince and the Pauper”-type role reversal, this 1990 comedy stars James Belushi as an escaped convict who steals the life of a wealthy ad executive, played by Charles Grodin. Just as in the Eddie Murphy/Dan Aykroyd movie, the poor man lives it up while the rich man falls into the gutter. And if you think the situation couldn’t happen today since it all revolves around a lost filofax, consider that a lost smartphone could prove much, much handier to a potential impostor.
Alfred Hitchcock often worked with stories involving identity, whether his characters were mistaken for a wanted man or were purposefully impersonating someone. In this 1945 mystery film, Gregory Peck passes himself off as a psychiatric doctor, but it turns out he’s an amnesiac impostor who doesn’t actually know who he is. He believes he killed the real doctor and then assumed his identity, though he can’t remember for sure.
Here, Jack Nicholson plays an impostor who assumes the identity of a dead arms dealer who’d been his hotel room neighbor. But he definitely wasn’t a murderer, just a guy who is bored and frustrated with his own life and wants to be someone else. He’s able to get away with the identity theft, at least for a while, by swapping places with the man, telling authorities that the body is his own.
‘Desperately Seeking Susan’
Amnesiacs are easily put into situations of mistaken identity, but they don’t always go along with the error as fully as Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) does in this 1980s feminist film. Part of the acceptance of her stolen identity comes from the persona seeming so familiar, which is because she’s a bored housewife who’d been trying to live vicariously through the exciting romantic adventures of another woman, played by Madonna. As seen here, sometimes taking over someone else’s life is as simple as wearing a very distinctive jacket with a pyramid on the back.
Here’s another amnesiac who is able to be mistaken for a long-dead local boy because of his uncanny resemblance to the small-town war hero. He settles into the life as an unaware impostor, which has a correlation to the fact that in his real life he’s accused of being a communist, that secretive identity associated at the time with spies and infiltrators.
Everyone should know that stealing Liam Neeson’s identity is a terrible thing to do, because he will come for you and he has a particular set of skills. In this film those skills are spy-like reflexes and a talent for hand-to-hand fighting, which doesn’t seem likely for a scientist. But he’s certain that’s who he is after waking from a coma following a car crash. And that’s his wife (January Jones) with another guy (Aidan Quinn) claiming to be the man he’s certain that he is, and she’s acting like she’s never seen Neeson before. Not to spoil it, but this one is almost similar to the amnesiacs on this list.
Based on a true story about a 16th-century French impostor, this American Civil War-set romantic drama features Richard Gere as a soldier who “returns” home to the wife and life of another man who was killed in a fight. When it’s realized that he’s not the true Jack Sommersby, he’s accused of having murdered the soldier. But again, this man merely swapped places with the dead guy in order to escape a life he no longer wanted. If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because it's been appropriated for the backstory of Don Draper on “Mad Men,” only updating the time to make it the Korean War.
This recent documentary tells the unbelievable true story of French impostor Frederic Bourdain, who assumed the identity of a missing Texas boy through a desperate scheme that went way too far. He ended up in America, living with the boy’s family, who believed the European con man was their now-older son and brother. How does an identity thief get away with a crime like this when he ought to clearly be recognized as an impersonator? This time the questions are harder to answer given that the real whereabouts or fate of the boy are unknown.