The 20 Best Movies That Break The Fourth Wall

14. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)


The Hudsucker Proxy was released in 1994 and spectacularly bombed at the box-office. Directed by the Coen Brothers, this was their first venture back into the comedy genre since 1987’s Raising Arizona. Starring Tim Robbins as Norville, a harmless business school graduate currently working in the Hudsucker corporation mailroom, he is thrust into the spotlight and installed as president of the company. Unbeknown to him is that he has been set up in order to decrease the value of the business, so that Mussberger, a pompous executive can take over.

The break in the fourth wall happens at the end of the film, when a clock worker named Moses stops the clock, freezing time and delivers a message directly to the audience.

After the current founder and president of Hudsucker Industries commits suicide, one of the board of directors named Sidney Mussberger (Paul Newman) concocts a tactic to lower the price of the stock, enabling him to buy out the company at a cheap price. Through a series of events the innocent and naïve Norville Barnes (Robins) is elected company president, based on the general misconception of him being a bit of a dimwit.

However, things do not go according to plan for Mussberger and the company’s profits go through the roof, thanks to its new president. When a hard-nosed lady journalist (Jennifer Jason Leigh) arrives on the scene, another twist occurs, prompting Mussberger to play even dirtier. This leaves Norville in a rather sticky situation as a thrillingly entertaining climax arrives.

Overall, The Hudsucker Proxy is an underrated and under seen screwball-like comedy. An obvious ode to Frank Capra, this is a light-hearted, funny and at times magical film that seems a million miles away from the typical dark visions of the Coen Brothers.


15. Funny Games (1997)

funny games

Director Michael Haneke is noted for his sinister and thought-provoking films. His 1997 psychological thriller Funny Games is arguably the pinnacle of these subjects. Set at a lakeside holiday home in Austria, a family is taken hostage by two young men named Peter and Paul and are forced to take part in sick and twisted games.

Aside from innocuous and aggravating nods and winks to the audience, the main fourth wall break occurs shortly after the halfway mark in the film, when Paul, the more authoritative of the two assailants, not only interacts with the viewer in predicting their thoughts but actually alters the viewing of the film altogether in a cruel and shocking twist. With Paul being the only member of the film that is aware of the camera, he takes control and forces the audience to question their own thoughts on not only the motivation for their actions but on how media in general can be an advocate of violence.

Georg, Anna, young son Georgie and dog Rolfie arrive at their lakeside cottage for a few weeks’ vacation. Soon after arriving, Anna is startled by the appearance of a young man named Peter, who arrives at her door asking for eggs. When his friend Paul also arrives, it becomes evident that the young men have much more than eggs on their agenda. The intruders then hold the family hostage and terrorize them throughout the night with sadistic games that must be followed by the rules. Disturbing and unusual scenes are shown but in an altogether different approach than your typical Holywood variant.

Some viewers will be discontented by the style in which Haneke shatters the fourth wall and upon first viewing it can be a theme that is hard to grasp. However, Funny Games contains little violence shown on-screen as Haneke expertly toys with your emotions, almost giving you what you want only to cruelly snatch it back without so much as an apology. All in all, Funny Games is a wonderfully audacious and unpleasant film that will leave a bad taste in the mouth. Mission accomplished for Haneke.


16. Taste Of Cherry (1997)

taste of cherry

One of the biggest advocates of the Iranian New Wave has been the quite brilliant Abbas Kiarostami. The veteran director has many great films to his name and has achieved a long and successful career. In Taste Of Cherry, he made perhaps his most controversial film, focusing on a man who wishes to commit suicide and is trying to find someone who will assist him in doing so. The break in fourth wall is one that has been much discussed, with opinions on it seemingly split. At the end of the film, the crew and the equipment are shown, thus reminding us that the emotional rollercoaster we have experienced is all just an act that has been followed by script.

Mr Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) is seen driving through Tehran searching for someone to help him with ‘a job’. Occasionally he will stop to ask someone to assist him, admitting he needs their help in dying. He reveals that he has already dug an open grave and requires someone to throw earth on his body after he has passed away. Several men are approached but eventually decline the offer for various different reasons with even a cash reward failing to tempt the men.

We watch as each man he approaches, who has been carefully selected, reacts in a different way to the last. What happened to make Mr Badii want to commit suicide? And will he get someone to help? Heartstrings are constantly being pulled in this man’s sentimental campaign to die as he wishes.

Taste Of Cherry is a philosophical and artistic journey that looks at life and death. Long takes, hauntingly beautiful-but-barren landscapes and minimalist filming all connect to make this a poignant and touching film. As powerful as it is ambiguous, Taste Of Cherry is a work of art from a truly inspirational figure of Iranian cinema. Although the fourth wall break may leave you disillusioned, it in no way affects the quality of this wonderful film.


17. Fight Club (1999)

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Based on the novel of the same name, Fight Club is David Fincher’s 1999 drama that stars Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter. In this film, the fourth wall is broken several times by both Pitt and Norton, with the most famous being the latter and his humorous ‘cigarette burn’ speech to the audience. What makes this film different to most on this list, are the other examples of meta-reference, such as the spooling of the film reel exposed and the hidden images shown on screen.

The film follows an unnamed narrator (Norton) who is a bored and frustrated white-collar office worker, suffering from insomnia. After being refused medication, he attends support groups, which seem to be the answer to his poor health. Just as things appear to be looking brighter, he meets Marla (Bonham Carter), a shabby looking chain-smoker that intrudes into his life and overthrows his whole routine.

As the narrator tries to get on with his life, he is introduced to Tyler Durden (Pitt) whilst on a work flight. Tyler is everything that our protagonist is not and after an incident occurs at his apartment he and Tyler arrange to meet up at a bar. Through Tyler, the narrator finally finds his means of escape; through participating in organised, brutal but friendly fights, with other men of the same depressed, lonely and angry state of mind. And Fight Club was born.

Fight Club is a graphic psychological drama that is jam packed with violence, although story-based and very dark humour. An important movie that has gone on to be one of the biggest cult movies in recent years, it is a hugely inventive, controversial and entertaining joyride of a movie from an accomplished director. Filled with subliminal messages, shocking plot twists and fierce fight scenes, Fincher’s Fight Club is a provocative romp of a movie that is not for the squeamish.


18. High Fidelity (2000)

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Based on Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name, High Fidelity is a comedy music-drama starring John Cusack. A funny, feel-good movie with a killer soundtrack, the fourth wall is broken several times throughout the film, as Cusack’s character regularly addresses the viewer, advising of his feelings and emotions. Kudos goes to director Stephen Frears on this note, as not only has he made a rather annoying sounding task turn out entertaining but it also makes this film much more intimate, in being able to relate to the character so easily.

Rob Gordon (Cusack) is a self-confessed music geek who owns and runs his own record store. Within this record store, Rob and his employee friends, Dick and Barry, are seen criticising customers, arguing over music and discussing random subjects through the form of lists. However, the main plot in the film is the aftermath of Rob’s breakup with girlfriend Laura and his attempts to better himself at understanding women. Comical scenes continue, as Rob realises that he still wants to win Laura back, despite the emotional journey he has just been through.

Almost a rom-com but not quite, High Fidelity is a well-directed, honest and intelligent film that will be adored by list-makers, music lovers and the newly-made single alike.


19. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

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Directed by Shane Black, this 2005 comic film-noir stars Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. Featuring great chemistry between the two lead actors, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang contains narration from RDJ, who starts off as a criminal and eventually teams up with Kilmer, a private detective. Another film on this list where the fourth wall in continuously broken throughout the film, the most notable breaks occurring at both the very beginning and ending, when the main character addresses the audience to some depth.

Harry (Downey Jr) is a small time crook who, whilst being chased by the police, accidentally ends up in a film audition for the role of a detective. It is here that he meets Perry (Kilmer), a gay detective, who has been brought in to train the part for the TV detective. After witnessing a crime occur during a stakeout, Harry and Perry are caught up in what starts off as a seemingly simple and clichéd investigation, turn into a labyrinth case full of twists and turns until the very end.

Wickedly funny, violent and thrilling, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is an utterly enthralling riot of a film that will keep you entertained from start to finish. Robert Downey Junior gives a brilliant performance as both actor and narrator and with the excellent Michelle Monaghan in a supporting role, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is an absolute must see.


20. Death Proof (2007)

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Death Proof was originally released in the U.S as a double feature along with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, under the title Grindhouse. Outside the U.S however, both films were released separately, although neither garnered the box-office figures that were expected. A fairly obvious homage to the exploitation and B-movie era, Death Proof has a simple plot, of a psychopath called Stuntman Mike, played really well by Kurt Russell, who targets women, killing them with his ‘100% death proof’ car. The fourth wall is indeed broken by Stuntman Mike himself, when he rather coolly throws away his cigarette and looks at the audience with a smug grin on his face.

Told in two parts, Death Proof begins with a group of women in Texas, pub-crawling to celebrate one of the party’s birthdays. Whilst enjoying themselves in one of the bars, Stuntman Mike introduces himself as a tee-total, ex stuntman who is obviously not overawed by the female presence. Offering part of the party a ride in his stunt car, it soon becomes apparent what Mike’s real intentions are.

The second part of the film focuses on another group of women who also come into contact with Mike. Although this time, the women are made of much sterner stuff, especially with Zoe Bell at the helm. As Mike attempts to re-enact the same fate with his new objects, revenge is on the menu but not as you might expect.

As mentioned earlier, Death Proof is Tarantino’s nod to a great generation of cinema with this mimic of a 70’s exploitation B-movie. An underrated and under-appreciated movie, Death Proof is fully equipped with a stylish soundtrack and a script as tight as Stuntman Mike’s car seat. It’s violent, blood-soaked and offensive. It’s Tarantino having fun.

Author Bio: Andrew Lowry lives in Bangor, Northern Ireland. He is a government worker by day, and cinephile by night.