Everyone loves a little fourth wall breaking from time to time, when characters in the movie turn to the camera and address us directly. As audience members, it makes us feel smart, like we’re privy to an inside joke. And it offers filmmakers a lot of possibilities, both as a comedic device and a tool to advance the story.
Still, it's a challenge for filmmakers, because it risks breaking the audience out of the narrative by reminding them they're watching a movie. Still, when it's done well, it can have the opposite effect, by creating a bond with the audience.
Here are the 13 Funniest Fourth Wall Breaking Movie Moments.
13 Ferris Bueller’s opening monologue
When you’re talking about breaking the fourth wall, there’s a decent chance that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is the first movie that comes to mind. Throughout the movie, Ferris turns to the camera and speaks directly to the audience, giving us his colorful commentary about the events taking place in the film. Probably the best example of this is Ferris’s opening monologue, where he explains to the audience why and how he’s faking a sick day to skip school. The monologue is pretty hilarious, and definitely clever.
One of the best quotes is, “I do have a test today, that wasn’t bulls**t. It’s on European socialism. I mean really, what’s the point? I’m not European, I don’t plan on being European, so who gives a crap if they’re socialists? They could be fascist anarchists, it still wouldn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car.” Also, during the monologue, he sings a couple lines of "Danke Schoen" into the showerhead, foreshadowing the big scene near the end of the movie where he sings the same song atop a parade float in downtown Chicago.
12 Wayne’s World – Alternate endings
Few movies epitomize the grunge culture of the early '90s like Wayne’s World. This movie breaks the fourth wall in some pretty creative and self-referential ways. Like when Wayne says to the audience, “Contract or no, I will not bow to any sponsor” while prominently holding up a Pizza Hut box.
But possibly the funniest example comes when Wayne and Garth present different endings to the movie and allow the viewers to decide which one they like best, similar to a choose your own adventure book. After one of the endings, Wayne and Garth slide on-screen and Garth says, “As if!” Wayne replies, “As if we’d end the movie like that!” Garth says, “Let’s do the Scooby Doo ending,” and Wayne replies, “Good call.”
11 11. Airplane! – Ted deals with rejection
This is another movie with quite a few fourth-wall-breaking moments. One of the best is also one of the simplest. It comes near the beginning of the movie. Ted is trying to get back together with his ex, Elaine. He gives her his pitch about why they should give it another go, but she turns him down. Ted then looks at the camera and says, “What a pisser.”
It’s funny not only because it breaks the fourth wall, but also because the pithiness of the statement and its mild crudeness contrast sharply with the over the top, emotional, flowery language he had just been using to try to win Elaine back.
10 Annie Hall – Waiting in line for a movie
Annie, played by Diane Keaton, and Alvy, played by Woody Allen, are waiting in line for a movie. There’s an obnoxious guy in line behind them talking loudly about his pretentious critique of Samuel Beckett. He says, “I admire the technique, but it doesn’t hit me on a gut level.”
Alvy turns to Annie and says, “I’d like to hit this guy on a gut level.” The guy carries on with his pseudo-intellectual art and media criticism, and Alvy steps out of line, approaches the camera and says, “What do you do when you get stuck in a movie line with a guy like this behind you?” And it gets better! The pretentious critic overhears him and joins in. He approaches Alvy and says, “Wait a minute, why can’t I give my opinion? It’s a free country.” The two then proceed to argue about it, continuing to speak to the camera the whole time. And the best part – Alvy brings in acclaimed media theorist Marshall McLuhan (playing himself) from off-screen to disprove the guy’s ideas. Then Alvy looks at the camera and says, “Boy, if life were only like this.”
9 Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Do you think this scene should be cut?
The Monty Python boys are pros when it comes to breaking the fourth wall. In Holy Grail, there are a number of great moments, such as when an animated monster disappears because the animator dies of a heart attack. And in Monty Python: The Meaning of Life, the characters make direct references to the fact that they’ve reached the middle and the end of the film. But one of their funniest moments comes mid-scene in Holy Grail, when Sir Galahad is talking to Dingo.
Dingo turns to the camera and says, “Do you think this scene should have been cut? We were so worried when the boys were writing it, but now we’re glad! It’s better than some of the previous scenes, I think.” In a real-life meta moment, the scene was, in fact, cut from the original VHS version of the movie, but was brought back in the 1996 special edition release and later DVD versions.
8 Deadpool – Wade has requests about the supersuit
Of course, the movie isn’t out yet, but the Merc with a Mouth is widely known for his fourth-wall-breaking antics in the comics, so there’s no way we could leave Deadpool off this list. In the first trailer, we see Wade lying in a hospital bed, being wheeled into an operating room, while a Weapon-X dude explains that they’re going to give him superhuman abilities. Wade replies, “Just do right by me, so I can do right by someone else. And please don’t make the supersuit green - or animated.”
And later in the trailer, just as Wade is about to attack some bad guys, he looks at the camera and says, “Cue the music,” and DMX’s "X Gon’ Give It To Ya" (which is itself a bit of a fourth-wall-busting choice for a song) starts playing. We can’t wait to see what other awesome moments the movie has in store!
7 Spaceballs – Dark Helmet and his crew watch their own movie
The movie is a parody of Star Wars, so the entire premise largely depends on breaking the fourth wall. The most dramatic example comes when Dark Helmet and his crew are using their scanners search for Lonestar’s team, but to no avail. Colonel Sandurz tells the corporal who reports to him to, “Get me the videocassette of Spaceballs the Movie.” The corporal searches through a VHS library stocked with other Mel Brooks movies. Dark Helmet asks Colonel Sandurz, “How can there be a cassette of Spaceballs the Movie? We’re still in the middle of making it?” Sandurz replies that it’s an instant cassette, out in stores before the movie is finished.
When they pop in the video, they fast-forward through the movie’s earlier events, until they reach the present, which is essentially a live recording of themselves in real-time.
6 Kick-Ass – Narrators can die too
Kick-Ass is a parody of the superhero genre, and largely relies upon the audience’s familiarity with comic book tropes. Dave narrates the movie throughout, repeatedly breaking the fourth wall in a number of instances.
One of the most memorable happens when he anticipates the audience’s assumption that he won’t die because he’s narrating the movie after the fact. He points out that movies like Sunset Boulevard and American Beauty have narrators who die. And the movie repeatedly refers to Dave’s fake death – which breaks the fourth wall both by being self-referential and, in a way, by playing upon the fact that in comic books, characters frequently “die” and come back to life.
5 Blazing Saddles – Set crashing
Ah, another Mel Brooks movie. The man punches through the fourth wall like it’s made of tissue paper. And another parody, this time of westerns. Like a lot of the movies mentioned here, this one breaks the fourth wall over and over.
But it really outdoes itself at the end, when a fight between the townsfolk and Lamarr’s thugs breaks out of the Warner Bros. film lot and onto the set next to it, where a musical is being shot. The fight continues into the studio commissary, then to the streets outside. Lamarr decides to take a cab “off this picture” and heads to Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where he ends up watching the premiere of Blazing Saddles.
4 Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me – Don’t worry about time travel
What is it with satires and fourth-wall-breaking? The whole film has become a bit of a meta commentary at this point. In 1999 when it came out, it was funny in large part because it made frequent references to the contemporary pop culture of the time, and nostalgically contrasted that with the pop culture of the 60s. Now, the '90s pop culture references themselves seem a bit nostalgic. But beyond all that, the film intentionally breaks the fourth wall, as well.
At one point, Austin is getting ready to follow Dr. Evil back in time to 1969 to reclaim his stolen mojo. He says, “Wait a tick, Basil, if I travel back to 1969 and I was frozen in 1967, presumably I could go visit my frozen self. But, if I’m still frozen in 1967, how could I have been unthawed in the '90s and traveled back to…oh no, I’ve gone cross-eyed.” And Basil replies, “I suggest you don’t worry about this sort of thing and just enjoy yourself,” then he looks at the camera and says, “That goes for you all, too.”
3 Fight Club – Cigarette burns
The first rule of breaking the fourth wall is that you never talk about breaking the fourth wall. Sorry, had to make the obligatory joke there. Edward Norton’s narrator and Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden speak directly to the audience throughout the film, sauntering right through the fourth wall like it’s not even there. There are a lot of great moments, like Tyler’s “You are not your job” monologue, by the end of which he’s got his face right up in the camera, looking straight at the audience.
One of the cleverest examples is when the narrator is telling the audience about Tyler’s job as a projectionist at a movie theater, and how he has to switch the film reels at just the right moment. The narrator says, “If you look for it, you can see these little dots come into the upper right hand corner of the screen,” at which point Tyler points to a dot that appears above his head, in the upper right corner. Tyler then turns around and says, “In the industry, we call them cigarette burns.”
2 The Big Short – Bubble baths and derivatives
The Big Short uses comedy to explain how the economic collapse of 2008 came about. There are a lot of really fantastic fourth wall blowouts, like when Anthony Bourdain talks about CDOs while cooking in his restaurant, or when the game Jenga is used to illustrate how mortgage bonds were built.
One of the most meta moments comes when actress Margot Robbie explains derivatives while taking a bubble bath. This would be a great fourth wall moment regardless of the actor. But the fact that it’s Robbie, who played Jordan’s trophy wife in Wolf of Wall Street – another movie about corrupt financial institutions – bumps the self-referencing up to a new level.
1 Wolf of Wall Street – Was all this legal?
Speaking of Wolf of Wall Street… one of the great things about the film is Jordan’s House of Cards-style narration. It’s really a great tool for showcasing his arrogance. And because Jordan isn’t a particularly likable protagonist, the narration helps to get us invested in his story.
At one point, he’s explaining to the audience the details of an IPO and his dealings with the SEC. He pauses, looks into the camera, and says, “Look, I know you’re not following what I’m saying anyway, right? That’s okay, that doesn’t matter. The real question is this – was all this legal? Absolutely fucking not. But we were making more money than we knew what to do with.” It’s a line that quickly encapsulates precisely what the movie is all about.
Can you think of any other fourth wall breaking moments that should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!
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