Breaking the fourth wall is an art form. When done correctly filmmakers can get a huge laugh. When done expertly, breaking the fourth wall can directly affect the structure and narrative of a film. While breaking the fourth wall is a filmmaking technique that can be found in every genre, it tends to work best in comedies. Comedies generally have lower stakes, with audiences often watching them in order to relax. Whether it’s to remind audiences that the film they are watching shouldn’t be taken too seriously, or implying that the characters and audience exist within the same world, fourth wall breaks can get laughs in many ways. So, here’s 5 comedies that smartly broke the fourth wall.
5. High Fidelity
After watching “High Fidelity” Roger Ebert said, “I had the feeling I could walk out of the theater and meet the same people on the street — and want to, which is an even higher compliment.”
What made the characters feel so real in “High Fidelity” was Rob’s (John Cusack) unfiltered thought process that he shares with the audience throughout the film. His fourth wall breaks give the audience a front row seat into Rob’s POV. Additionally, he is incredibly self aware during these sequences. Rob’s actions don’t make him the most likable guy and he knows that. The best thing Rob, and all of us, can do is admit our shortcomings to ourselves and work on improving them. (Fun Fact: Marie De Salle is played by Lisa Bonet. Bonet’s daughter, Zoë Kravitz went on to play Rob in the Hulu TV series of “High Fidelity.”)
4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The poster child for breaking the fourth wall is Ferris Bueller. Whereas “High Fidelity” acts as journal entries into the main character’s mind, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” utilizes the technique in a reality tv-like fashion. Ferris gives the audience a 3 step “how to” on playing hooky. Later, his godly overview of the film allows us to know details of Cameron’s life and mind state. However, the camera and film still has a mind of its own. As a shot lingers on Ferris in the shower, he must obstruct the audience’s view with his hand.
3. Deadpool (1 & 2)
Deadpool famously impersonates Ferris Bueller at the end of his 2016 film. Both iterations of “Deadpool” use fourth wall breaks as a way to inform the audience that we all exist within the same world. Deadpool is hyper aware of his own movie as well as its impact on others. The opening scene of “Deadpool 2” wonderfully demonstrates this point. The title character plays with a musical figurine of Wolverine’s death in “Logan,” and he speaks directly to the audience about how “Logan” copied his style as well as his plans to one up him.
2. Annie Hall
“Annie Hall” combines breaking the fourth wall with comedy’s rule of thirds, resulting in this hilarious scene. First the set up: an annoying moviegoer babbles on with hot takes. Woody Allen’s Alvy then directly complains about the situation to the audience. However, the annoying moviegoer also unexpectedly breaks the fourth wall, starting an argument with Alvy. Lastly, Alvy is able to win the argument by literally bringing in the man who’s work they are disagreeing over. A hilarious set of events that conclude with the all too true statement of, “if life were only like this.”
1. Anything By Mel Brooks
From set pieces falling down to reveal the Wild West was really in the middle of suburbia in “Blazing Saddles” to characters insecurely watching their own movie in “Spaceballs,” nobody breaks the fourth wall as hilariously or often as Mel Brooks. Whether it’s said through dialogue or through a VHS collection, Brooks takes it a step further with the characters openly admitting they are working on a Mel Brooks movie. Part of Brooks’ movie magic is tearing down the suspension of disbelief that movie magic is founded on.