film The Best Movies That Break the Fourth Wall

Ann Casano
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What does it mean to break the fourth wall? Imagine you’re sitting in a theater. There are three walls that surround the stage: on the left, on the right, and in the back. Between the audience and the stage exists this imaginary fourth wall, which separates the real world from the fictional world of the stage. So when a film (or television show, book, play - basically any work of art) breaks the fourth wall, that means the line has been crossed, there is no longer a boundary between what is real and what is fiction. The spectator is now taken out of the film world - they are purposely being made aware that they are watching a movie.

What are some of the ways that a filmmaker breaks the fourth wall? The most common device is when a character turns to the camera and directly addresses the spectator. A film can also be meta, which means it is referencing itself. For example, a film within a film about filmmaking (The Player) is another way to break the fourth wall.

You may be asking why a filmmaker would opt to purposefully break the fourth wall, and essentially take the spectator out of the film. The device is not used a lot, and there’s always a reason for it. In a film like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris will often directly address the viewer so we feel like we’re in on all the fun, like we’re cutting school with this charming and friendly guy.

Most of the time, the fourth wall barrier comes down in order to get a laugh. Mel Brooks uses extreme satire in a comedy like Blazing Saddles to send-up the western genre and expose its codes and rules. He does the same with Spaceballs, but in that film, he spoofs science fiction movies. Imagine when you're watching a satire or spoof movie that the director is positioned right outside of the frame, practically winking at you, in fact you can almost imagine how the lights look and where the mics are set up. This type of comedy is typically very tongue-in-cheek.

Of course, there is a time and place for breaking the 4th wall, and it can be totally misused. But that’s not what this article is about. Instead, this is a list of the best movies that break the fourth wall. All the films on this list are clever, most are hilariously funny, and of course, all are very self-aware. Upvote the best fourth wall breaking films below and let us know in the comments section why you think this device is (or isn't) such a powerful tool in filmmaking.
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Mel Brooks's cult classic sci-fi satire is entirely built around tearing down the fourth wall. The comedy is filled with meta moments of self-reference. At one point in the film, the bad guys pop in a video of the actual movie Spaceballs to help them figure out their next move. Check out the clip above. "Prepare to fast forward!"

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Actors: Joan Rivers, John Hurt, Mel Brooks, John Candy Rick Moranis, + more

Initial Release: 1987

Directed by: Mel Brooks

Produced by: Mel Brooks

Screenplay by: Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan, Ronny Graham

Rated: PG (USA)

Also Ranked

#46 on The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies of All Time

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Deadpool is the rare comic book character who is totally aware that he's in a comic book, and his meta sense of humor made the cut in the 2016 movie. The opening credits immediately break the fourth wall by irreverently poking fun at Hollywood cliches and even mocking the cast and crew. Throughout the movie, Wade Wilson (brought to life by Ryan Reynolds) pretty much constantly addresses the audience, making referential jokes about superhero films, Deadpool's budget, and anything else that pops into his head.

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Actors: Ryan Reynolds

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Monty Python and the Holy Grai... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Movies That Break the Fourth Wall
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Comedy is the perfect genre in which to break the fourth wall, especially when that comedy is a satire. The Holy Grail is inundated with rich examples of not only breaking, but shattering the fourth wall. There are several instances of direct camera address and the film even references itself, "Look, there's the old man from scene 24!" Perhaps the greatest continuity break in the film is when modern day uniformed cops show up in the middle of a medieval setting.

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Actors: John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Michael Palin Graham Chapman, + more

Initial Release: 1975

Directed by: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones

Produced by: Michael White, Mark Forstater

Screenplay by: John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle Graham Chapman, + more

Rated: PG (USA)

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#82 on The Best Musical Movies of All Time

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Ferris Bueller's Day Off is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Movies That Break the Fourth Wall
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Writer/director John Hughes created one of the coolest and likable slacker characters in film history. Not only do we get to watch Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) cut school and enjoy a teenage dream day, but because of the many times when our hero breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly, we feel like we're in on all the fun. Bueller warns us, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Thanks Ferris, that's some good advice.

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Actors: Charlie Sheen, Matthew Broderick, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey Kristy Swanson, + more

Initial Release: 1986

Directed by: John Hughes

Produced by: John Hughes, Tom Jacobson

Screenplay by: John Hughes

Rated: PG-13 (USA)

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Blazing Saddles

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Mel Brooks just can't get enough of breaking down fourth walls, this time in a send up of the Western. There are a million ways this farce breaks the fourth wall. Perhaps the best use of the device occurs at the end of the movie, when Brooks literally shatters the fourth wall during the comedy's epic finale. The final cowboy chase gets out of hand, and the Western genre smashes down the studio wall, destroying the set of a Busby Berkeley musical.

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Actors: Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Anne Bancroft, Madeline Kahn Alex Karras, + more

Initial Release: 1974

Directed by: Mel Brooks

Produced by: Michael Hertzberg

Screenplay by: Andrew Bergman, Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Alan Uger Richard Pryor

Rated: R (USA)

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#31 on The Best Western Movies Ever Made

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Wayne's World

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Who wants to admit to being a sellout? Certainly not rockers Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) from the comedy Wayne's World. However, business is business. The film hilariously breaks the fourth wall after the boys are asked to do some promotional sponsorship. From then on, the scene spoofs product placement, with clever ways to incorporate Doritos, Pepsi, and Pizza Hut. The bit ends when Wayne throws down a can of Pepsi, and with a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon, looks us in the eye and tells us, "it's the choice of a new generation."

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Actors: Alice Cooper, Mike Myers, Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere Meat Loaf, + more

Initial Release: 1992

Directed by: Penelope Spheeris

Produced by: Lorne Michaels

Screenplay by: Mike Myers, Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner

Rated: PG-13 (USA)

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Fight Club

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David Fincher's highly stylized rant on consumerism is filled with fourth wall destruction, from self-references, to direct camera address, to the clever film reel cigarette burn. The modern day cult classic is just as witty and humorous as it is dark and twisted. Fincher gets in on the fun and it's a romp to rewatch the movie to see the various breaks in continuity. The auteur director wants the spectator to know that he's there; in fact, you can practically see him winking from outside the frame.

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Actors: Brad Pitt, Jared Leto, Helena Bonham Carter, Edward Norton Meat Loaf, + more

Initial Release: 1999

Directed by: David Fincher

Produced by: Art Linson, Cean Chaffin, Ross Grayson Bell

Screenplay by: Jim Uhls

Rated: R (USA)

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Goodfellas is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Movies That Break the Fourth Wall
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Martin Scorsese's mafia biopic does not break the fourth wall until the end of the movie. There is voiceover narration throughout the film, however, direct camera address does not occur until Henry Hill's trial is over. Hill ratted out his friends - his goodfellas - and now has to pay the price. He gets up from the stand in court and speaks directly to us, complaining about his post-mafia lifestyle, "...And that's the hardest part. Today everything is different; there's no action... have to wait around like everyone else. Can't even get decent food - right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce, and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I'm an average nobody... get to live the rest of my life like a schnook."

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Actors: Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta Paul Sorvino, + more

Initial Release: 1990

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Produced by: Irwin Winkler

Screenplay by: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese

Rated: R (USA)

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