10 Memorable Instances of Characters Breaking The Fourth Wall in Movies

Nothing’s more cheeky, in-your-face and startling than when a character addresses the audience. It’s commonplace now, but it wasn’t always that way. This is called breaking the fourth wall. Sometimes it works, but other times it doesn’t. Here are ten examples of breaking the fourth wall in movies. In no particular order:

1: Funny Games (1997 or 2007), TV Remote Rewind and Blinking Scenes:

Michael Haneke is great at (and relishes in) fucking with the audience. It’s a lot of what makes his movies great. And none personifies this more than in the remote rewind scene. Picture it: two young men are holding a family hostage. A woman manages to grab a gun and shoots one of them dead. The other then frantically searches for a television remote. He finds it, presses the Rewind button, and in front of our horrified eyes, the scene is rewound and repeated; this time the woman is stopped before she can take her shot. Unfortunately, I can only find a video from the remake, but the scene is essentially the same:

2: Blazing Saddles (1974), The French Mistake:

The fourth wall is broken many, many times in this brilliant Mel Brooks movie which I daresay is the funniest film of all time. But perhaps the most memorable example is in a Hollywood studio in which Dom DeLuise is directing a musical only to have the entire cast of Blazing Saddles interrupt them.

3: Annie Hall (1977), Marshall McLuhan:

In one of countless scenes which catch the audience off guard in Woody Allen’s romantic comedy hit, Allen is bothered by a talkative man in front of him in a theatre line. If you’re familiar with the movie, you’ll know what happens.

4: Europa (1991), Opening Narration:

At the beginning of this excellent film by Lars von Trier, Max von Sydow hypnotises the audience with casual sternness, while a shot of train tracks (which would have an obvious influence on David Lynch in Lost Highway) helps guide the audience deeper into relaxation. Now you are in Europa…

5: Inland Empire (2006), Various Points of Unconventional Cinematography:

There is no exact moment of fourth wall-breaking in David Lynch’s epic masterpiece. But there are different occurances, such as visible equipment, a complete disregard for the 180-degree rule, and of course the memorable scene in which Laura Dern and Justin Theroux consecutively walk into the camera, or when Laura Dern runs at the camera, screaming.

6: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), You’re Still Here?

After the end credits to this 80s high school classic have run, Matthew Broderick approaches the camera and declares…

7: The Holy Mountain (1973), Real Life Awaits Us

At the end of this confusing and tiring Jodorowsky epic, the camera crew is shown and we are addressed with the spookily relevant line, “Real life awaits us.” No video clip available.

8: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Rude Interruption:

As we begin to question how this hilarious film can possibly end, it is rudely interrupted by policemen who seize the cameramen and order the production to be stopped. It’s like the protagonist of a movie being suddenly interrupted by doctors, put in a straitjacket and being dragged to a mental hospital where we were unaware they’d escaped. It’s unexpected, it’s shockingly quick and it’s very funny. Skip to about 6:30 for the scene.

9: Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), Always Look on the Bright Side of Life:

Eric Idle happily sings and chats away to the audience after being crucified. There’s really not much more to say.

10: Persona (1966), Technical Malfunction:

At one of the most exciting points in Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece, the camera abruptly stops, flickers and the film burns away. One of many reminders that what we’re watching is a film, and Bergman’s secret wink at the audience. I can’t find a clip at the moment, but it is a startling scene indeed.

That’s my list. Anything you’d like to add? Leave a comment below.

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About Tyler

Patient observer of all things film and music, from Béla Tarr to Boards of Canada. Foul mouthed and clinging to the edge of sanity.

Posted on July 22, 2011, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. HAHAH I really di not know what ‘The Fourth Wall’ was. I am such a wally!!

    Brilliant. Sheer Brilliance!! Thanks for sharing this list!!

    C

  2. Hi, Tyler and company:

    Woody Allen was always funnier to me early on in his career. Peaking with ‘Manhattan’. His aside in ‘Annie Hall’ with Marshall McLuhan absolutely nails the angst of standing in line at a movie theater’s lobby with a movie snob/nerd or two within ear shot.

  3. I used to have a list of these. Now when it’s finally relevant I can’t remember any of them with the exception of Bud Cort’s cheeky glance at the audience in Harold and Maude, which is a great film if you have yet to see and really must asap. I should give you an ultimatum like you often do – in fact – you have until the 10th of August to watch Harold and Maude. Enjoy.

    The Holy Mountain is by far one of my favourites. I love that completely jarring anti-climax which pissed off a lot of people at Cannes.

    Blazing Saddles too was on my list, that cameo by Dom Deluise is the highlight of the film.

    Woody breaks the 4th wall a lot. Right from the start in Annie Hall.

    If I think of more I’ll let you know but of the ones I’ve seen it’s a good list.

    Thinking of Dom Deluise in Blazing Saddles, can we expect a ’10 Memorable Cameo Appearances’ blog soon?

    • I have seen Harold and Maude, but I’ve been meaning to watch it again for a while, so I accept your ultimatum.

      I would do one of those lists but it’s been done hundreds of times before, so I can’t think what cameos I could list that haven’t been listed before. However, I shall try.

  4. There’s an interesting use of the technique in Kurosawa’s “One Wonderful Sunday” (1947), an otherwise very naturalistic drama about a young couple scraping by in post-war Tokyo. Near the end the heroine breaks the fourth wall to appeal directly to the audience to fight for their dreams.

  5. Really nice list. I agree on several of the choices especially Funny Games. However, I think you are missing out a prime candidate in the James Bond film In Her Majestys Service. It has one of the best meta/4th wall moments in film history.

  6. Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back also broke the fourth wall….

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