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.