For the most part, filmmakers strive to make audiences forget that they are in fact an audience watching a film. They work to make the film completely immersive. But sometimes filmmakers intentionally draw attention to the medium being used by breaking the fourth wall. While not all stories benefit from such interruptions, here are the top 15 movies that break the fourth wall and became iconic examples in the process.

FOURTH WALL DEFINITION

What is the fourth wall?

The fourth wall is an imaginary wall that separates the story from the world of the audience. This term comes from the theatre, where the three surrounding walls enclose the stage while an invisible “4th wall” is left out for the sake of the viewer. The 4th wall is the screen we’re watching. We treat this wall like a one-way mirror. The audience can see and comprehend the story, but the story cannot comprehend the existence of the audience.

If you break that wall, you break that accord. This is called “Breaking The 4th Wall.” It can also be described as the story becoming aware of itself.

Tips for Breaking the Fourth Wall in Film:

  • Be extreme: This means you need to break the fourth wall all the time, or very rarely.
  • Be thoughtful: Consider opportune scenes and moments within the scene for wall breaks.
  • Be controversial: Don’t waste your big decision with an underwhelming 4th wall break

Movies that break the fourth wall

15. The Big Short (2015)

Jared Vennett's Pitch to Front Point Partners

One of the most common reasons filmmakers break the wall is because of how efficient it is at communicating dense information to the audience. And what information is more dense than economic concepts. 

To easily communicate these concepts to the audience, The Big Short has various celebrity cameos to explain these concepts with metaphors. This scene breaks uses a fourth wall break for both comedic effect with the quantitative addressing the audience as well as an informative technique.

Best movies that break the fourth wall

14. Airplane! (1980)

What a pisser  •   Fourth wall jokes

Airplane! at large is a comedy, but there is one scene that is inherently more dramatic than the rest of the film. Before things get too serious, a fourth wall is broken as a comedic relief that brings the film’s tone back on track. Just before the audience can say, “This is getting cheesy,” the fourth wall break is a punchline to a joke we didn’t even see coming.

French movies that break the fourth wall

13. The 400 Blows (1959)

Top 10 Movie Endings of All Time

The freeze frame ending of The 400 Blows is the only fourth wall break in the film. Not to mention it’s the oldest example of a fourth wall break on our list. French New Wave and auteur filmmaker François Truffaut told Jean-Pierre Léaud, the child actor who played Antoine Doinel, to look straight into the camera for the ending scene of the film. 

The result is one of the most iconic closing frames of all time that has left Antoine’s facial expression open to interpretation. Is he happy? Lost? Upset? All we know is he’s looking straight at us attempting to convey some sort of emotion, yet the film ends before giving us a definitive answer.

Best movies that break the fourth wall

12. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monty Python and the Holy Grail police scene

When you first watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) there is so much to laugh at that the ending of the film might feel like an anticlimactic cop-out (literally). But keep in mind that the main reason the film ended this way was because the production’s budget ran out.

That being said, the 4th wall breaking ending was the troll of all trolls that may have been ahead of its time. Upon repeated viewings, the ending only becomes more and more outlandish and hilarious.

The end is just one of the many curveball jokes in one of the best comedy movies of all time, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Asides in movies

11. Wayne’s World (1992)

Sponsors  •  Fourth wall jokes

As you can tell from this list, one of the main genres that breaks the wall is comedy and few comedies have done it better than Wayne’s World. This scene from Wayne’s World breaks the wall as an overstatement on the ridiculousness of product placement and sponsorship. The film itself is meta comedy at its finest as it points out absurdities to the audience in a comedic way.

Movies that break the fourth wall

10. American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho  •  Business Card Scene

There’s other ways to create a fourth wall break than through the visuals of a film. American Psycho does this through a voice over of its main character, Patrick Bateman, as he directly addresses the audience. In scenes like the one above, we see what is actually happening in the film and then hear what Patrick is actually thinking through the direct voice over.

While Patrick may be an unreliable narrator, the auditory breaking of the 4th wall gives us insight on the truly psychotic mind of the film’s protagonist

Asides in movies

9. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Breaking the Fourth Wall  •  A Clockwork Orange

He doesn’t blink. He seems to be drinking milk. And he’s staring right at you. Few opening shots are more unsettling than the opening shot of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. And the breaking of the wall to the audience is what really does the trick. 

The first thing we see in the film is the piercing eyes of Alex, played by Malcom McDowell, looking straight into our souls. We’re disturbed before we even see the creepy and peculiar room he is in. Although breaking the 4th wall in film is not completely uncommon to Kubrick's directing style with examples seen in Full Metal Jacket and The Shining, Kubrick manages to break the wall to access the audience uniquely every time.

Best breaking the fourth wall examples

8. Fight Club (1999)

Let me tell you a little bit about Tyler Durden

Like our example from The Big Short, Fight Club’s fourth wall break is meant to communicate dense information to the audience. Only this time it isn’t about economic concepts, but rather a complicated character. The twisted eccentricity of the character Tyler Durden could only be communicated through his actions and in this scene it's broken down for us directly.

Horror breaking the fourth wall examples

7. Psycho (1960)

Psycho Ending Scene

You may notice a trend in this list of psychopathic characters breaking the 4th wall in film. It’s no coincidence. Filmmakers often break walls to allow the audience into the mind of the film’s psychopathic character.

In one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films, Psycho, the wall is broken at the end of the movie and becomes one of the most iconic, memorable, and disturbing shots in the entire film. Not to mention the brilliant yet subtle skull superimposed on the face of Norman Bates.

Scorsese examples

6. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street Film Blocking Techniques  •  Subscribe on YouTube

One of the main traits of Jordan Belfort’s character in The Wolf of Wall Street is his impeccable confidence and charisma. To really get across to the audience the type of man Belfort is, Martin Scorsese has Belfort address us directly. 

This is a common practice in Scorsese’s filmmaking style because it is a direct way to connect a film’s protagonist to the audience. Scorsese is also a master at combining scenes that speak directly to the audience with dynamic blocking to keep the scene incredibly engaging.

Fourth wall comedy

5. Spaceballs (1987)

Spaceballs  •  We’re in Now Now

While Mel Brooks is no stranger to breaking the 4th wall in film, the most meta example of all has to be this scene from Spaceballs in which a technology called “instant cassettes” allows movies to be seen before they are even finished.

Although the scene is comedic at heart, there are philosophical concepts that can be drawn out from the scene’s description of time making it one of the most hilarious yet clever fourth wall breaks of all time.

Breaking the fourth wall examples

4. Goodfellas (1990)

Goodfellas Ending Scene

Scorsese makes it back on this list yet again with the ending scene of one of the best gangster films of all time. Scorsese uses voice over narration throughout the entirety of Goodfellas so that the film’s protagonist, Henry Hill, can directly address the audience. But it’s not until the final scene of the movie that Henry looks straight into the camera right at us. 

Scorsese uses his dynamic blocking again in the courtroom scene as Henry breaks the 4th wall for the first time. Scorsese does this again in the final shots of the film, with Tommy (Joe Pesci) firing a gun right at the camera as a capstone to Henry’s story and an homage to The Great Train Robbery.

Fourth wall comedy

3. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Ferris Bueller's Day Off  •  Opening Monologue

Sometimes the goal of a film is to make the audience forget that they are watching a film in the first place. In that regard, fourth wall breaks in film would be the biggest way to disengage an audience from the magic of a film.

Yet Ferris Bueller’s Day Off actually immerses the audience further into the film by breaking the 4th wall.

Ferris talking to us directly makes us feel like one of his friends playing hooky with him rather than simply watching the action occur.

Deadpool breaking the fourth wall

2. Deadpool (2016)

31 shots of Deadpool breaking the fourth wall in film

In the genre of superhero fiction, it is quite difficult to create characters that stand out and bring something new to the table. Deadpool does so by not only breaking the 4th wall, but completely demolishing it. In fact, many attribute the movie's success as the highest grossing R rated comedy of all time to the characters direct access and dialogue with the audience as well as the hilarious Deadpool screenplay.

Deadpool undoubtedly lands on our list of the best superhero movies of all time. And although the origin of Deadpool’s consistent fourth wall breaks can be traced back to the comics rather than the screenwriters, we have to give it to the filmmakers as well as Ryan Reynolds for how well they pulled it off. 

Movies that break the fourth wall

1. Annie Hall (1977)

If Life Were Only Like This

It’s not easy for a comedy to walk away with Best Picture and nearly sweep the Oscars, but Annie Hall does so because of its clever writing and storytelling. While it operates on a level of wit that can disengage certain audience members, it still is able to cut to the heart by speaking to us directly.

Few filmmakers in cinema break the 4th wall more frequently than Woody Allen, but this scene from Annie Hall has to take the cake for its creativity and ingenuity in using more than just the protagonist to speak to the directly audience. The same cleverness that makes this scene can be found throughout the movie and makes it one of Woody Allen’s best films of all time.

UP NEXT

Tips for Breaking the Fourth Wall

After checking out the best and most iconic examples of breaking the fourth wall in film, you might feel inspired to do the same in your next project. Before you do, be sure to check out our article in which we breakdown tips and techniques for how to break the fourth wall.

Up Next: Tips for Breaking the Fourth Wall →
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