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Aspect Ratio Switch

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This is when the screen's Aspect Ratio changes to indicate a shift between eras, to provide an artistic feel to the story or emphasize the intensity of the situation. The switch can be done either by the frame dynamically moving to fill the screen, or by a quick cut to another aspect ratio.

Transitions that happen between installments can signal that a work that started in analog television's 4:3 ratio has been adapted to HDTV's 16:9 ratio. It was common for Pan and Scan home video releases of some older movies to have parts in widescreen that would lose too much of the picture when cropped, most often the credit sequences, while the rest of the movie was shown in pan and scan.

This can be used to signal transitions between different eras, as different aspect ratios were common in different eras. For example, 4:3 (or its close cousin 1.375:1, aka Academy Ratio) can be used to signal something was made in The '50s or earlier if it's on film, or Turn of the Millennium or earlier if it's TV. The latter is often combined with Deliberate VHS Quality. It could also signal a medium switch from film to TV or visa versa.


Another possible use is the use of Cinemascope (2.39:1) ratio to display that something is epic, or to signal a switch to a Show Within a Show. Ironically, making something wider than Cinemascope conveys constraint and/or claustrophobia.

A trend starting in The New '10snote  involves making the screen taller to make something feel more epic, in contrast with the "wider is epic" mindset instilled since the Widescreen Revolution of The '50s (or widescreen TV in the 2000s for that matter). This is seen in the IMAX versions of major motion pictures filling an entire IMAX screen, doing its best to fill a viewer's entire field of view.

Related to Art Shift and Eyedscreen. Compare Monochrome to Color when the color palette changes within a work. See also Letterbox, when black barsnote  are added to the screen to change its aspect ratio. See also Open Matte, which not only preserves the full image that letterbox does, but also adds more image where the black bars would be. Compare Painting the Medium.



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  • This PlayStation ad shows the life of a PlayStation fan. It starts off in the PS1 era in 4:3, and when it moves on to the PS2 era, the aspect ratio shifts to 16:9. This reflects the display modes predominantly used by the consoles — most PS1 titles are presented in 4:3 (although a handful do offer 16:9 support), but the PS2 had more games that support widescreen mode though 4:3 is still commonly used at the time. It wasn't until the PS3 onward that widescreen display modes would become the norm.
  • This Allstate ad is made in 16:9, but the Show Within a Show is in Cinemascope ratio.
  • In two early advertisements for the US Space Force, most of it is in Cinemascope ratio, but opens to 16:9 at the end.
  • A Jeep commercial starts out in approximately 3.75:1 (19:4), but expands to 16:9 by the end.
  • A series of 2020 commercials for Biofreeze utilize Aspect Ratio Switches

    Anime and Manga 

    Films - Animated 
  • The Incredibles (pictured above): The superhero interviews in the beginning are in 4:3 to show that they're in the past. The rest of the film is in 2.35:1.
  • Brother Bear switches from 1.75:1 to 2.35:1 after Kenai turns into a bear, representing the shift of perspective to a bear's eye view.
  • Done at the beginning of The Triplets of Belleville, where the "Belleville Rendezvous" sequence is a 1930's TV broadcast.
  • The Simpsons Movie begins in 1.85:1. When the movie title appears, Professor Frink pushes the frame aside, converting the rest of the movie to 2.39:1.
  • The 2013 Mickey Mouse short Get a Horse! starts out on a small screen on black. When Mickey breaks through the screen, the rest of the wide area lights up to reveal the theater the cartoon is playing in. Afterwards, Mickey pulls back the curtains on the theater stage to reveal a wider animated screen underneath.
  • All four films in The Mind's Eye series have a default aspect ratio of 4:3, as they were made to be viewed on TVs of the time. But some parts of the latter two Letterbox the video to widescreen.
    • Completely averted in The Mind's Eye (1990)
    • Downplayed in Beyond The Mind's Eye. The flying square tiles in "Brave New World" and the blue-looking nighttime shots in "Windows" have slightly taller and wider aspect ratios respectively. TVs of the era had overscan, which would make this less noticeable.
    • The Gate to The Mind's Eye letterboxes much of "The Ascent of Man" and parts "Moon Base". The latter features the ratio slowly getting taller to 4:3 at the end of the song.
    • Odyssey Into The Mind's Eye letterboxes much of "Unstoppable" and one shot in "Out of Step".
  • Wolfwalkers is primarily in 1.85:1, but the aspect ratio changes to widescreen or closes in horizontally during cinematic intense moments. Some of the letterboxes appear to be painted on to further convey emotional intensity.

    Films - Live-Action 
  • Christopher Nolan likes this trope, due to his frequent use of IMAX 70mm film: note 
    • The Dark Knight has a variable aspect ratio. The opening scene where the Joker robs a bank is in IMAX, and is followed by scenes in 2.39:1. The Dark Knight Rises switches far more frequently.
    • Interstellar has the space scenes in IMAX and the spaceship scenes in 2.39:1 to emphasize the largeness and grandeur of the former.
    • Dunkirk & Tenet switches aspect ratios a few times between 2.20:1 (Panavision Super 70mm) and IMAX. However, Tenet has a more variable aspect ratio.
  • There's a "spread to widescreen" shot in Around the World in 80 Days (1956).
  • Censor: Starting in the third act, the aspect ratio almost imperceptibly starts to shrink until it reaches 4:3, the aspect ratio of video, to represent the degenerating sanity of the main character, a censor of "video nasties."
  • Enchanted begins in a 1.85:1 ratio and switches to a wider one once the story takes off.
  • First Man mostly uses Widescreen 2.39:1, as director Damien Chazelle shot the movie in a mixture of celluloid formats. These include 35mm 2-perf Techniscope, 3-perf Super 35, Super 16mm, and IMAX 15-perf 70mm. The latter is used for the scenes on the moon with its taller aspect ratio of 1.43:1, but protected for 2.39:1. The Blu-ray and UHD Blu-ray releases both show the moon scenes in 16:9, filling the whole TV.
  • (500) Days of Summer has brief Polaroid flashbacks and idealizations in 1:1. There is in fact one scene where the 1:1 aspect ratio is widened and pushed to the side as Tom realizes that his fantasies are hopeless.
  • Galaxy Quest used three aspect ratios when it was originally shown in theaters. The opening scene, depicting the Show Within a Show is in 1.33:1 (or 4:3), the standard for TV shows of the time. When it shifts to "the real world", it expands to 1.85:1 (or 17:9, 16:9-ish). Then when Nesmith gets his first glimpse of the wider universe, and realizes his trip with the Thermians wasn't a game after all, it widens again to 2.39:1 (or Cinemascope). This was simplified for the home video releases, where the Show Within a Show is 1.33:1 and everything else is in 2.39:1.note 
  • The 3D version of Ghostbusters: Answer the Call is presented with black bars on the top and bottom of the screen throughout the film, with some things going beyond the bars for the 3D affect. When Erin enters the portal to save Holtzmann, the scene fills up the entire screen.
  • In The Girl Can't Help It, when Tom introduces the film, he notices the Aspect Ratio is wrong, and then has the camera spread to widescreen.
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel changes between three different ratios for the time periods:
    • 1.85:1 for scenes set in 1985 to the present day.
    • 2.39:1 for the 1960s.
    • 1.375:1 for the 1930snote 
  • The Hunger Games widens the aspect ratio as the fighting begins.
  • In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the screen goes from 2.39:1 to IMAX (1.43:1 in 70mm IMAX, 1.78:1 on Blu-Ray, and 1.90:1 on Digital IMAX) when Katniss gets transported to the arena.
  • The aspect ratio of The Impossible shifts from cinematic 2.39:1 to 16:9 for the footage captured by the family's video camera on the morning of Boxing Day.
  • In a similar fashion to Censor, described above, It Comes at Night has scenes in the real world take place in a 2.40:1 ratio, and every Nightmare Sequence is shown in the wider (and more claustrophobic) 2.75:1. The last 20 minutes of the film have a very slow, almost imperceptible shrinking of the 2.40:1 ratio to an ultra-wide 3:1 ratio, signifying how Travis' reality has become his nightmare.
  • Life of Pi goes anywhere from Scope to Academy, but usually it's 1.85:1.
  • Most of the later films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe contain sequences that have been Specially Formatted In IMAX 1.90:1, mostly during big action sequences.
  • Xavier Dolan's Mommy is filmed in an unconventional 1:1 aspect ratio (think Instagram posts), expanding to 1.85:1 for Hope Spot scenes.
  • Older Than Television: The Ur-Example is the 1927 silent film Napoléon. Most of it is in 4:3. But for the climax, two 4:3 frames appear on both sides of the existing frame, expanding the aspect ratio to 4:1. This remains the widest aspect ratio in cinematic history. This three-projector technique was similar to the Cinerama system that debuted 25 years later.
  • The base aspect ratio of Nymphomaniac is 2.39:1, but the ratio changes to 1.85:1 in Chapter 3.
  • As with The Wizard of Oz, the prequel film Oz the Great and Powerful starts out in black and white before switching to color as the main character ends up in the Land of Oz. However, this time the Kansas scenes are also presented in the Academy ratio before switching to Scope as the saturation sets in upon arrival in Oz. The intended effect is lost somewhat on home video as these opening ratios are windowboxed into the 2.39:1 frames the movies eventually expand to.
  • An accidental example happens in Plan 9 from Outer Space. The entire film is in 1.33:1, but on one hand, the footage Ed Wood actually shot for the movie was meant to be framed at 1.85:1 (otherwise you get stuff like the infamous Visible Boom Mic and prop edges in the frame), while on the other hand, the stock footage (Wood's previously shot footage of Bela Lugosi and 1940s military stock footage that predates widescreen) is staged for 1.33:1 and would get horribly cropped when framed at 1.85:1. The original theatrical release was in 1.85:1, while home video releases use 1.33:1.
  • The film Popeye starts out with a small screen showing a black-and-white Popeye cartoon. When an animated Popeye notes that he's in the wrong movie, the film switches to widescreen to start the actual movie.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World switches between 1.85:1 (most scenes) and 2.39:1 (some scenes).
    • In Scott's first dream of Ramona in the desert, the screen zooms out to 2.39:1 when he says he's "so alone" to emphasize his isolation.
    • In his fight against Matthew Patel, the aspect ratio changes to 2.39:1 as he blocks the latter's first attack to emphasize the moment.
  • At the start of Strange Brew, Bob & Doug McKenzie explain the difference between TV and film by briefly switching to TV, where you can see the scan lines and it's just generally in lower quality.
  • The Action Prologue of the Kamen Rider Drive film Super Hero Taisen GP Kamen Rider 3 begins with (redubbed) archival footage of the finale of the original 1971 Kamen Rider TV series in its original 4:3 aspect ratio segueing into new footage still in 4:3 to depict the Alternate Timeline's Point of Divergence in 1973. The movie proper, set in the new timeline's present day, expands to widescreen during the title card.
  • The IMAX 3D versions of Transformers: Age of Extinction and Transformers: The Last Knight are notorious for doing this to the point where the aspect ratio will often radically change during mundane conversations, with little rhyme or reason. It switches between 1.90:1 (Digital IMAX), 2.00:1 (Univisium), and 2.39:1 (Widescreen)
  • TRON: Legacy changes from 2.39:1 to 1.78:1 in some scenes. Also for the 3D version, the movie is filmed in 2D for the real-world opening and ending, and in 3D for the main plot Inside a Computer System to further accentuate the virtual nature of the world.
  • There's an intermission of sorts in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? where Tony Randall appears out of character, talking about film (big screen) vs TV (small screen). The film briefly goes very tiny to show a TV-sized picture.
  • The World's End does this with film gauge, starting in Super 16mm, then Super 35mm and finally anamorphic 35mm (which is a much larger negative than Super 35 as it doesn't require cropping). The end effect is that the resolution and image quality slowly increases.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Happens twice in Adam Ruins Everything episode "Adam Ruins Hollywood". The show's default aspect ratio is 16:9, but the first shots are vertical smartphone video when Mark is showing his excitement to be at the Awardie Awards. This features a blurred and cropped version of the exact same video playing in the letterbox, similar to what some TV shows do. The second time, the frame briefly letterboxes to Cinemascope when actors in an ultraviolent movie explain that PG-13 movies have contained more violence than R movies.
  • The Fake Action Prologue of the Black Mirror episode "USS Callister" is shot in 4:3, deliberately making it look like an old science fiction show. The rest of the episode is shot in 16:9.
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend will change to 4:3 for flashbacks to previous episodes, and will switch to a cinematic aspect ratio for some musical numbers - usually the ones that characters are imagining.
  • The Speed Force scenes in Crisis on Infinite Earths (2019) are done in 2.35:1, compared to the rest of the Arrowverse which is 16:9.
  • Invariably done in the "Aunties" sketches from The BBC's series Famalam for comically melodramatic effect, as soon as any kind of conflict or tension arises.
  • Used in Homecoming to indicate which storyline is currently being focused on. The 2018 segments of the plot are filmed in widescreen; for the 2022 segments, the aspect ratio changes to 1:1.
  • Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger is generally shot in 16:9, but episode 18's Black Comedy parody of the ending of early-90's series Choujin Sentai Jetman shrinks the frame to 4:3, like Jetman itself.
  • Legion switches to Cinemascope when we see a different time period than the main timeline.
  • The Mandalorian has a default aspect ratio of 2.39:1, but Season 2 Episode 1 expands the frame to 16:9 for the fight with the Krayt dragon.
  • WandaVision does this quite a bit. In episode 1, the Marvel Studios Vanity Plate begins in 1.85:1 but its Logo Joke shifts it to 4:3 which the episode maintains. It changes back to the 1.85:1 ratio at the end of the episode. This happens a few more times in episodes 3 and 4. In all cases, this change occurs as the show moves from the manufactured Sitcom-reality to the real world and back.
  • While Westworld is generally shot in 16:9, some scenes stick out:
    • The scenes in episode "Phase Space" with Bernard inside the Cradle as well as his interview with Dolores are shown in a 2.35:1 format with Letterbox, implying that both scenes took place in the Virtual Reality world.
    • Also the finale to the second season has scenes within the virtual world "Valley Beyond" shot in 2.35:1.
    • Done again in the Season 3 episode, "The Winter Line", where the moment Maeve realizes that the Warworld park she's in is actually a simulation, the aspect ratio changes to 2.35:1.
    • Also happens in the Season 3 finale where Dolores and Maeve communicate inside the former's mind before her memories were erased.

    Music Videos 
  • The first 20 seconds of BTS' "Boy With Luv" are in 16:9. Once the song starts, black bars slowly appear from the borders, switching thus into a 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio and staying like that for the rest of the music video, fitting its classic Hollywood (specifically, Singin' in the Rain) theme.
    • In general, many of BTS' music videos and short films have the BigHit Entertainment logo in 16:9 while the rest is in 2.39:1 widescreen.
  • The first 3 minutes and 53 seconds of TWICE's "Yes or Yes" are in a variable of widescreen aspect ratios (2.11:1, 2.28:1, 2.35:1, & 2.39:1) and fills up the screen to 16:9 when each members' fortune telling cards appear on screen.
    • TWICE's other song "Cheer Up" is in letterbox 2.11:1 with the kitchen scenes and chorus verses in an expanded 16:9.
    • "I Can't Stop Me" begins in letterbox 2.20:1 and opens up to 16:9, 80 seconds into the video.
  • Cosmic Girls' "Catch Me" switches between 2.28:1 & 16:9.

    Video Games 
  • The original Mass Effect trilogy uses this effect extensively, switching between the native screen aspect ratio during regular gameplay and the cinematic 16:9 during cutscenes and some dialogues.
  • Games from the Grand Theft Auto series starting with Grand Theft Auto III switch to a letterbox mode in cutscenes, though Rockstar deprecated this when Grand Theft Auto IV was released, instead using it as a fallback if the game is played on a 4:3 display (which the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were capable of).
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker uses a fake 2.39:1 aspect ratio during cutscenes. In cutscenes that transition seamlessly to gameplay, the fake letterbox bars slide off the screen. The game also narrows the screen when L-Targeting is used, but this is closer to Eyedscreen.
  • The PC version of Progressbar 95 is 4:3 when you start as you in-game have a CRT monitor, but once you get a widescreen LCD monitor (available after you install Progressbar Wista), it turns 16:9, with icon placements adjusted accordingly.
  • The first part of the credits portion of Mario Kart Wii is Letterboxed. If the game is played in 4:3, it is letterboxed to about 16:9. If the game is played in 16:9, it letterboxes to Cinemascope.
  • Cutscenes in Kirby games starting with Kirby's Return to Dream Land are presented in a letterboxed Cinemascope ratio; black bars seamlessly slide in, and back out when gameplay resumes. In Return to Dream Land, this only applies to in-engine cutscenes, but starting with Kirby: Triple Deluxe, it also applies to pre-rendered ones.

    Web Animation 
  • Broken Saints switches in some scenes.
  • Strong Bad Email:
    • In email 100, "flashback", Strong Bad deliberately expands the screen because he thinks this episode is too important for an 11:8 aspect rationote . The wider screen reveals that Homestar Runner is standing right next to him, Behind the Black.
    Strong Bad: But this particular flashback has way too much historical significance to be shown in anything but WIDESCREEEEEEEEEEEEN!
    • In "virus", the video is wider than the displayed cartoon, to set up a gag where Strong Bad gets stranded outside the cartoon screen.
  • At the beginning of Episode 04 of BT21 UNIVERSE, the screen changes from the 16:9 aspect ratio to 4:3, marking the episode's Art Shift into a 90s Shōnen sports anime opening aesthetic.
  • Most of MILKDUST is presented as if it was taken from a 4:3 ratio VHS recording, but it switches to 16:9 HD towards the end.
  • Pretty much almost all of SMG4's videos since 2018 have aspect ratio changes in them at some point. You see most of them in story arcs he has. 2018 was the most experimental year with aspect ratios, since they constantly changed over and over again. But after the Anime Arc, the aspect ratio will change, but not constantly in a video. It just goes to whatever aspect ratio is appropriate, and stays there with no other sudden changes.

  • One of Homestuck's most climactic Act finales,"Cascade", gets wider as it hits a narrative high point. Cleverly, the outside part of the frame is disguised as the background of the site, so it isn't apparent that the image will get bigger.

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • Whenever American Dad! switches to the story arc involving Roger's golden turd, black bars appear above and below the screen to give it a cinematic widescreen feel (this was before the show switched to HD).
    • A scene in "300" where Roger goes back in time to prevent the golden turd saga from happening in the first place is animated in a 4:3 aspect ratio.
  • The Family Guy episode "Back to the Pilot" has the ratio go from widescreen to standard when Brian and Stewie go back to 1999.
  • The pilot of The Cleveland Show begins in 4:3 since it starts with Cleveland and Junior still in Quahog and Family Guy was still being broadcast in 4:3. It's not until Cleveland and Junior leave Quahog that it switches to widescreen.
  • In is original 4:3 broadcast, the South Park episode "Good Times With Weapons" switches to a letterboxed 2.39:1 ratio when the boys are engaged in their anime fantasy. When the episode was remastered for HDTV, the switch was eliminated.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Cave of Two Lovers", the aspect ratio changes from 4:3 to 16:9 for when Katara retells the story about the Star-Crossed Lovers Oma and Shu.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003), for added drama or to produce a widescreen effect, a black bar will often slide onto the top and bottom of the screen for that shot. Especially prominent in the first season.
  • In The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Test", segments showing the outdated and awful Sitcom starring Tobias are in a 4:3 aspect ratio with film grain.
  • The Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? episode "The Movieland Monsters!" switches aspect ratios to represent the movies being emulated in Carol Burnett's virtual reality Movieland. Casablanca and A Night at the Opera are 4:3, The Searchers is an ultra-wide 3.5:1, and The Wizard of Oz (and the real world, and the outro) are 16:9.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Homer the Father", the 70s-style sitcom Homer watches is always shown in 4:3, letterboxed with black borders on his widescreen TV.
    • In "I Won't Be Home for Christmas", Comic Book Guy and Kumiko watch a parody of the Star Wars Holiday Special. The close-up shots of it on the TV are in 4:3.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Drive Happy", SpongeBob's out-of-control self-driving car ends up going into a crowded elevator at a fancy hotel. During an interior shot of the elevator, we see black borders around the screen, making it appear in 4:3.
  • In the Steven Universe episode "Joking Victim", the Big Donut Instructional Film VHS is in a 4:3 ratio.
  • The oldest known use of this trope in animation is the final Dinky Duck cartoon produced by Terrytoons, "It's a Living", released in 1957. The cartoon was produced in CinemaScope, but the first minute or so is shown in the standard 4:3 ratio featuring Dinky in peril (much of the footage taken from an older cartoon with the character), only for him to break the 4th wall and cause the screen to expand to the widescreen ratio. Unfortunately the joke was ruined in pan-and-scan copies of the short.


Video Example(s):


Adam Ruins Hollywood

The frame letterboxes to Cinemascope ratio to signal a switch to a movie.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / AspectRatioSwitch

Media sources:

Main / AspectRatioSwitch