Piezoresistive soft composite materials are widely used in strain sensing and typically exhibit a decrease in conductivity upon elongation—the so-called positive gauge effect. We demonstrate a thin-film architecture that features the inverse behavior: a strain-induced transition from insulating to metallic conductivity, spanning nine orders of magnitude in conductivity. Our approach is based on a nanometer-scale sandwiched bilayer Au thin film with a polydimethylsiloxane elastomeric barrier layer. Upon application of strain, the thickness of the thin soft barrier decreases because of the strain governed by the Poisson effect, followed by electron-tunneling currents through the barrier, forming an interconnected bilayer metal electrode. An extremely high on–off electrical conductivity ratio (~ 109) is observed over a wide range of working strains (as high as 130%), which mimics the ideal features of a mechanical-force-controlled electric transistor. This conceptual design strategy is expected to benefit a wide range of applications in which operation under minimal standby power could be an essential feature, such as in implantable soft strain sensors and in prosthetic long-term monitoring systems for detecting sudden a swelling/volume expansion of human body organs or blood vessels, thereby helping to avoid acute and severe syndromes.