Breaking the fourth wall has become a popular film making device in the modern meta movie-verse. But there was a time when it was used much more sparingly, a time when audiences hadn’t the faintest idea what it meant.
For the record, the official definition according to Wikipedia is as follows: Speaking directly to, otherwise acknowledging or doing something to the audience through this imaginary wall – or, in film and television, through a camera.
With this in mind, its crazy to think just how many films do break the fourth wall in one way or another, whether it be a cheeky smirk from Kevin McCallister, or life lessons from Ferris Bueler. So to make things a little easier for our countdown, we’ve slimmed it down to scenes that aren’t indicative of the rest of the film. In other words, it’s the first and only time a character addresses the audience face to face.
Now on to the countdown!
5. ANNIE HALL – THE ANNOYING MOVIE CRITIC
Woody Allen, love him or hate him, is the king of breaking the fourth wall. He’s done it on numerous occasions throughout his prolific career, but no one moment is as funny or memorable as this one from the beloved Annie Hall. Not only does Allen get a chance to vent his frustrations with people who criticize his movies (here taking the form of the wannabe film critic in the line behind him) but he also gets to make an example of said haters. The scene works because we can all relate to his situation, being stuck in a line at the movies and having to listen to some hack try to impress his girlfriend with useless film knowledge. (I also hate to admit it, but there are times when I’ve played the role of the hack!)
4. GOODFELLAS – HENRY ADDRESSES THE COURT
Ray Liotta’s real life character of Henry Hill narrates Goodfellas pretty much from the opening frame of the film, but it isn’t until the final reel that Henry turns to us, the audience, to sum up his story. The scene is memorable because it takes us by surprise, a line of narration seamlessly transitions into a stream of on camera dialogue before you have time to think about it. Even cooler is the fact it’s all executed in a single shot (would you expect anything less from Scorsese?) with Henry moving through a courtroom still full with people, all seemingly oblivious to the fourth wall breaking going on around them.
3. MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL – “GET ON WITH IT!”
Team Python are certainly no strangers to breaking the fourth wall, but this scene from Holy Grail where a character actively informs the audience the scene they’re watching was almost cut from the film is about as Meta as it gets. That is until you realise the scene was actually cut by the studio for the first video release of the film, and wasn’t incorporated back in until a 1996 re-release. Team Python couldn’t have been more self referential if they tried.
2. KISS KISS BANG BANG – SUMMING UP
Like Henry Hill, Robert Downey Jr.’s character in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang narrates the story for the entirety of the film, but saves his fourth wall moment for the film’s final moments. While Harry tries to reflect on the film’s true meaning, Val Kilmer’s Gay Perry casually enters the scene and tries to shut him up, while making none too subtle jabs at the both the audience and the filmmakers. With all the self referential dialogue that precedes the scene, it really is the only way Shane Black’s witty comedy caper could of ended.
1. SPACEBALLS – SCENE WITHIN A SCENE
Fourth wall breaks in Mel Brooks films are almost a certainty, but its fair to say when I first saw Spaceballs as a kid, I was extremely confused by this particular scene. Through the magic of instant cassettes, characters within the film are able to rewind and fast forward through their own movie, only to wind up watching themselves in the very scene they’re acting in. It’s enough to make your head hurt, and noone is more confused than Rick Moranis’ character Dark Helmet. Its a brilliant moment of absurdity, and a perfect example of how effective fourth wall breaks can be in the hands of a comic genius like Brooks.
Be sure to also check out Vimeo user Leigh Singer’s awesome supercut of fourth wall breaking moments in film. And let us know what scenes made your list in the comments section below.