Throughout the history of film, “breaking the fourth wall” has been a powerful visual construct used to captivate audiences. In recent years, it has grown in popularity, solidifying its place as the cornerstone of modern-day storytelling.

It’s appeared in some of the most renowned television shows of our time, including The Office and Abbott Elementary, and has led to the nomination of Academy Awards for films like The Big Short and The Great Gatsby. Its success comes from the ability to completely immerse an audience into a whole new world while providing clarity and humor to elevate the story. 

Thinking about using it in your next project? We’re here to help. Here are 10 of the best examples of breaking the fourth wall in film. 

Examples of Movies That Break the Fourth Wall 

1. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:

Ferris Bueller, played by Matthew Broderick, is a trouble-making teen notorious for skipping school. His wily antics and overconfidence often lead to trouble. As Bueller cuts class for one last time, he consistently breaks the fourth wall, letting the audience in on his thoughts about high school, life, and other characters in the film. This comedic take on this coming-of-age story has led to one of the most iconic uses of the technique.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street: 

In this film, Leonardo DiCaprio portrays the real-life Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street trader who rises to fortune in the early 90s. As he enjoys the excess of his newfound life, he frequently talks to the audience, providing clarity on complicated financial terms and his shady actions. 

Here, breaking the fourth wall allows you to get into the mind of Belfort and how he was able to accomplish such lofty goals.

3. Zombieland:

In Zombieland, a virus has taken over the world, creating a new species; the undead. The main character, Columbus, engages the audience directly as he explains his rules for survival. With this use of advice intermixed with comedy, you feel that you are right beside Columbus, going along in his day-to-day. This allows for a known fantasy world to become more of a reality for the viewer.

4. Fight Club:

Throughout Fight Club, Edward Norton uses the fourth wall to address the audience with cryptic monologues and commentary. Norton, known as “The Narrator” is a depressed insomniac, who creates an underground fight club to bring excitement back to his monotonous life. As the story continues, the unreliability of his narration devolves and reveals the true nature of who he is. The use of this technique blurs the line between reality and fiction, leading to one of the greatest moments in movie history.

5. The Big Short:

This film focuses primarily on the financial crisis of 2008, a fairly complicated topic for the general public. To help the audience gain a better understanding, many of the characters use comedy to break down tricky terms, complex financial concepts, and confusing scenes as they’re happening on screen. In this way, a story that appears to be boring and flat becomes dynamic and entertaining.

6. Deadpool:

Marvel is known for its hilarity in film but this one takes the cake. Unlike other Marvel superheroes, Deadpool is fully aware that he is a fictional character in a comic book. His ability to recognize his audience allows for incredible R-rated comedy as he takes them through his origin story and life as an unconventional superhero. His commitment to the bit and utilization of breaking the fourth wall in storytelling has made Deadpool a standout in the superhero genre.

7. Home Alone:

Home Alone is one of the highest-grossing Christmas movies of all time, largely due to Kevin McCallister and the use of this technique. Kevin takes childhood comedy to the next level with his takes on his family, neighborhood, and the two burglar antagonists. In this way, the audience gets a glimpse into his childlike wonder, allowing them to go back to a simpler time and giving them a better idea of the actions he takes throughout the story.

8. The Emperor’s New Groove: 

The Emperor’s New Groove is a Disney classic, introducing many kids to the concept of breaking the fourth wall. Kuzco, the main character, is known to be full of himself. This character flaw has gotten him into trouble, causing him to turn into a llama. As Kuzco tells us his story of becoming human again, he constantly talks to the audience, using his wit and arrogant charm to make sure the viewers remain focused on him and his journey.  

9. Barbie:

It’s not always necessary to break the fourth wall throughout an entire project. Known for its fun comedy and relatability to women of all ages, Barbie does a great job of using this technique, but only in a singular scene. To maintain the light-hearted tone and break the emotional tension, the narrator included a one-liner about Margot Robbie, the actress, rather than Barbie herself. This brought about a different kind of humor, engaging the older audience further as they went into one of the more emotionally complex moments in the film.

10. Goodfellas:

You wouldn’t normally think that a mobster film could do well at breaking the fourth wall, but Goodfellas dispels those myths. Throughout this story, Henry Hill uses this technique to describe the inner workings of organized crime and his personal life as a mobster. This creates a sense of connectedness between him and his audience, those who might not feel a connection to a stereotypical antagonist. It adds a true sense of intrigue to the tale, making it all that more authentic and alluring as a narrative. 

Now that you have some concrete examples of how to break the fourth wall, we hope you have the confidence to use this in your next project. From comedy to drama, this technique can elevate a simple piece of content and leave your audience wanting more. You never know, you could be creating the next unforgettable moment in cinematic history!

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