The 20 Best Movies That Break The Fourth Wall

7. Persona (1966)


Ingmar Bergman has a habit of making films that deliberately leave the viewer with the task of forming their own interpretation into what they have just watched. In his 1966 psychological horror, Persona, this is again the case, with various explanations widely discussed. Here, the story revolves around Alma, a young nurse who is caring for a famous actress named Elisabet, who for an unknown reason has suddenly stopped speaking.

A number of fourth wall breakages occur which include a young boy waving over the camera lens (although this could possibly later be regarded as a cheat break), the faces of our two main characters rather hauntingly staring at us, several scenes which show the projector reel and lastly, sightings of the film crew on set.

Alma (Bibi Andersson) is an inexperienced nurse who has been assigned to care for a patient named Elisabet, a well-known actress who has turned mute. Sent to an isolated seaside cottage to care for her patient, Alma struggles with the silence and in the absence of conversation, she one-sidedly discusses her thoughts and experiences to Elisabet. As Alma begins to find out more about her patient, she in turn gets to learn more about herself and after a break-through moment the two personalities disturbingly begin to mesh, thus smashing the boundaries between truth and fiction.

Persona is a dark, thought-provoking and emotional sexual rendezvous of a film. Cinematically daring, this film works brilliantly with one main character excessively over-emotional while the other is seemingly aphasic. Beautiful imagery, profound emotionalism and stunning portrayals of shifting identities make this masterpiece an absolute must-see for all serious fans of film.


8. The Holy Mountain (1973)

holy mountain

By some margin, the most bizarre film on this list, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain, is one that uses its intense imagery as representation of much more than meets the basic-plot-driven-eye. For to dismiss the occult symbolism as nothing more than heavy handed pretentiousness would be a slap in the face to Jodorowsky, who almost single-handedly mind-warped the cinematic culture, with a series of freakishly eccentric movies in the 1970s.

The plot is basically outlined as an embodiment of Christ travelling through various surreal locations until he reaches a mysterious figure known as The Alchemist. From here he is introduced to seven others who will accompany him to reach their destination. The fourth wall is broken at the end of the film when once again, the film crew is revealed and a message is directly delivered to the audience.

A film much better experienced ’going in blind’; The Holy Mountain is most definitely one of a kind. When a film that has been (rumoured) developed under the administration of LSD and ‘magic’ mushrooms, this perhaps is an indication of the hallucinogenic journey (much like our protagonist) that you can expect. Much has been made of the interest that both George Harrison and John Lennon took in this film, with Lennon rating this movie highly and even financially backing it.

In general, this movie was made well ahead of its time and it arguably still sits that way. The Holy Mountain is a disturbing, hilarious and paradoxical kaleidoscope of an experience. Good luck.


9. Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975)

monty python

‘The Holy Grail ‘is perhaps the most well-known and funniest of the Monty Python movies. Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, this medieval satire parody’s the tale of King Arthur’s quest to discover The Holy Grail. Again another film that continually breaks the fourth wall, the best example of this being when Arthur and Bedevere, accompanied by an army, are just about to begin war when suddenly modern-day police arrive on scene, arrest the two, then cover the camera lens.

King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his Knights of The Round Table; Sir Lancelot the Brave (John Cleese), Sir Robin-the-not-so-Brave-as Sir-Lancelot (Eric Idle), Sir Galahad the Pure (Michael Palin) and Sir Bedevere the Wise, (Terry Jones) are assembled ‘by God’ to set off on a quest to acquire the historic cup that Christ drank out of at The Last Supper, or otherwise known as, The Holy Grail. We follow the crusade as the men come upon a variety of different characters along the way, ranging from a never-say-die Black Knight to a fearsome and vicious Killer Rabbit. Hilarious scenes ensue as this crazy and absurd conquest shows no sign of retreat.

A contender for one of the most quotable films of all time, Monty Python and The Holy Grail is a hilarious low-budget British comedy. From the opening titles to the concluding arrest, this definitive cult classic should have you in raptures from start to finish.


10. Annie Hall (1977)


Often cited as Woody Allen’s finest work, Annie Hall was a box office smash, contributing to a successful evening at the Oscar ceremony, where it ousted Star Wars for the Best Picture award. Starring Diane Keaton and Woody Allen himself, this romantic comedy tells the story of a comedian named Alvy Singer and his attempts to figure out why his relationship with Annie Hall ended the previous year.

Not only does this film contain several scenes of breaking the fourth wall, it is also owner to possibly the best execution of this format in cinematic history. When standing in line at the cinema, Alvy and Diane overhear a man disparaging the work of Federico Fellini and of philosopher Marshall McLuhan. When Alvy can take no more of these remarks, he suddenly steps out of the queue and addresses the audience about what he should do. His answer to this is both brilliant and hilarious, as out of nowhere he brings McLuhan on screen, much to the surprise of the other man.

As established, a year after the break-up with girlfriend Annie Hall (Keaton), Alvy Singer (Allen) is still trying to understand the reasons behind his failing of the relationship. We are shown back to when they were together, how they found love and ultimately how they lost it. Through an intelligent narrative structure we are told of the couple’s troubles, which heavily involve Alvy’s own self-reservation and negative perspective on life.

Annie Hall is not your average romantic comedy. It can be awkward, pessimistic and sarcastic, drawing obvious comparisons to our lead character and the director himself. What Annie Hall also has, is laugh out loud moments, a near perfect script and one of the greatest on screen romances you are ever likely to see. Annie Hall is a great introduction to one of the most talented directors of our time that contains incredible performances from both Allen and Keaton, along with a special mention to Christopher Walken in a fantastic cameo role.


11. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Credited with the title, King of Comedy, director John Hughes released a string of classic films in the 1980’s. One of his most successful and certainly most relevant to this list is his 1986 hit Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Matthew Broderick plays Ferris, a well-known high school student who is determined to take the day off, despite the efforts of his tyrannical school principle. The fourth wall is broken on many occasions during the film with Ferris conversing with the audience. Whether giving us advice on feigning sickness or informing us that the movie has ended, this is possibly the most prolific film when it comes to meta-reference in cinema.

Ferrus Bueller (Broderick), a popular kid at school but with a reputation as a slacker, decides to pull a sickie from school. However he does not want to do this alone and manages to rope in his two best friends, Cameron (Alan Ruck) and Sloane (Mia Sara) to join him. We follow the three as they spend the day having fun in downtown Chicago and in general flirting with the possibility of getting busted. With the overbearing principle hot on Bueller’s heels, a lively game of cat and mouse ensues.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a light hearted and brilliantly entertaining comedy that has aged extremely well. A coming-of-age film that enabled Matthew Broderick to shine, Ferris is a timeless classic and the epitome of teen comedy.


12. Spaceballs (1987)


Director Mel Brooks, is famous for his often hilarious and at times farcical comic parodies. His 1987 sci-fi comedy Spaceballs is most definitely no different. Originally released to a rather indifferent reception, the film has since garnered a cult following. As a director, Brooks is no stranger to breaking the fourth wall in his movies, so this pick was chosen merely on this writer’s opinion that it is the funniest break in his filmography.

The break in question occurs when the villains get hold of a VHS copy of the movie, to try and find out the whereabouts of their targets. Hilariously, confusion ensues as they enter what could be described as a paradox, after finding themselves on screen, on screen.

The planet Spaceball, ruled by President Skroob (Mel Brooks) has ran out of air, so the President concocts a plan to steal air from ‘nearby’ planet Druida, through kidnapping their King’s daughter, Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga). Skroob entrusts Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) with this devious task and instructs him to snatch the Princess on the day of her wedding to Prince Valium.

As Dark Helmet makes his way to Druida aboard the ridiculously huge Spaceball One, the Princess herself decides to abandon the wedding and flee, along with her sidekick droid Dot Matrix. Distraught with worry, the King enlists the help of Lone Starr (Bill Pullman), the space travelling mercenary and his half-man half-dog accomplice named Barf (John Candy), to bring back the Princess, in return for a reward. Gut busting gags and priceless puns continue at ludicrous speeds, as Dark Helmet and the Spaceball One persevere with their mission.

An obvious parody of The Star Wars movies, Spaceballs also spoofs the likes of Alien, Star Trek and Planet Of The Apes. A fun-filled classic with many memorable lines, Mel Brooks sci-fi lampoon is as absurd as it is amusing, making it a sure-fire hit for all the family.


13. Goodfellas (1990)


Widely renowned for being one of the best films of the 1990’s and one of the best gangster films of all time, Scorsese’s Goodfellas tells the true story of Henry Hill and the rise and fall of a mafia family. Based on Nicholas Pileggi’s non-fiction book, Wiseguy, the film provided Joe Pesci with a well-deserved Oscar win, for his scene-stealing role as the ferocious Tommy DeVito.

The fourth wall is broken at the climax of the film, with Henry a witness for the prosecution in court, delivering a speech to the viewers about being forced to quit ‘the family’ and announce firmly, “it’s all over”. Then, rather wittily, the ending scene has Tommy shooting at the screen, replicating that of the 1903 film, The Great Train Robbery.

The film opens with Henry Hill, played brilliantly by Ray Liotta, narrating how he had always wanted to be a gangster and we are shown how he succeeds in his wishes. Starting off as a young boy running errands, he is later united with Jimmy Conway (DeNiro at his best) and Tommy (Pesci), who take him under their wing and the three enjoy a successful if not turbulent life. That is until one hit too many is taken out and the good times soon turn sour.

The glamourous lifestyle they had become accustomed to starts to diminish, with even time spent in prison failing to stop Henry’s foray into the crime world. It is not long until a mix of drugs, insomnia and paranoia catch up, leaving him once again back in court, only this time, facing much more than just time inside.

More a biography of Henry Hill than a portrayal of the mafia, Goodfellas is a dark (with some humour) drama that delves deep into the personal relationships with those aforementioned. Phenomenally well made, the director manages to keep the audience hooked with such real authenticity in the film. Each setting is so convincing and every actor right on top of their game, no moment more so than during the Copacabana nightclub scene. As perfect a gangster film as you are likely to see, Goodfellas is a foul-mouthed, blood-drenched masterpiece in the art of film. Added with an unforgettable soundtrack, this is a near perfect movie experience.