Jamie Lee Curtis was best known for horror movies in the early 1980s, but here’s how Trading Places allowed her to break out of typecasting.
Trading Places helped Jamie Lee Curtis break free of the horror genre and her “Scream Queen” typecasting. Jamie Lee Curtis is the daughter of actors Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, the latter of whom appeared in one of horror’s most iconic scenes in 1960’s Psycho. Curtis was a relative unknown when she appeared in John Carpenter’s Halloween, which became a landmark in the slasher genre and led to countless imitations and rip-offs. Despite the success and acclaim of Halloween, Curtis got little work off of it, with Carpenter then writing a role specifically for her in The Fog to give his friend a job.
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Jamie Lee Curtis soon became horror royalty, starring in a slew of slasher or thriller movies. Prom Night is one of the better known Halloween-style slashers from that era, and she also appeared in New Year’s Eve horror Terror Train and Hitchcockian thriller Road Games. Curtis has since stated she knew that if she continued to appear in horror movies, the “Scream Queen” label would never go away. She turned down a role in Psycho 2, and only agreed to return as Laurie for 1981’s Halloween 2 as a favor to Carpenter and producer Debra Hill. It was also, in her mind, a goodbye to the genre.
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Director John Landis later cast her in 1983 comedy Trading Places, where a pompous businessman named Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) has his life destroyed by his two millionaire bosses. These evil brothers place a bet to see if a person’s background really influences how they do in life, so they fire Winthorpe and replace him with Eddie Murphy’s street hustler Valentine. Jamie Lee Curtis – who was wasted in Halloween Kills – played Trading Places’ Ophelia, a sex worker hired as part of the ruse to ruin Winthorpe, who later helps him seek revenge on his bosses.
Trading Places helped Jamie Lee Curtis break out of horror, and she was cast against the wishes of the studio. By then, Curtis was so well known in the genre they didn’t think she would work in a major comedy, but Landis insisted. While she had played strong characters previously, Trading Places allowed her to show off a lighter, comedic side. While Murphy – who was coming off the back of 48 Hrs – and Aykroyd may take the limelight, Curtis more than holds her own throughout the movie, including when she dons a disguise towards the finale.
It helps that Trading Places was a huge success, meaning other filmmakers got to see Jamie Lee Curtis outside of the horror genre. She branched further out with the likes of A Fish Called Wanda and Blue Steel, though she did eventually make a horror return with Halloween H20 in 1998. Curtis has since warmly embraced her horror roots with the Blumhouse Halloween series, but Trading Place was a real breakthrough that allowed her to explore other kinds of roles.
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It’s pronounced Paw-rick, not Pad-raig. Now that’s out of the way, a brief introduction. Padraig has been writing about film online since 2012, when a friend asked if he’d like to contribute the occasional review or feature to their site.
A part-time hobby soon blossomed into a career when he discovered he really loved writing about movies, TV and video games – he even (arguably) had a little bit of talent for it. He has written words for Den of Geek, Collider, The Irish Times and Screen Rant over the years, and can discuss anything from the MCU – where Hawkeye is clearly the best character – to the most obscure cult b-movie gem, and his hot takes often require heat resistant gloves to handle.
He’s super modern too, so his favorite movies include Jaws, Die Hard, The Thing, Ghostbusters and Batman. He can be found as i_Padds on Twitter making bad puns.
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