Breaking the fourth wall where a character admits the fictional nature of their surroundings and speaks directly to the audience is becoming more and more common in films of all genres. In science fiction movies, the technique is often used for a comedic effect or to add a meta element to the storytelling. Either way, it’s a welcome and smart way to include viewers in the story and take them on an exciting ride.
This cinematic storytelling technique originated in the theater, where the stage is surrounded by three walls, the audience being the fourth – by breaking down that wall, the actors blurred the line between fiction and reality, letting viewers discover the joke or involving the story, its plot and implications extend beyond the stage. While most sci-fi films, with their fantastic worlds and characters, give audiences a welcome break from reality, these five films chose to break the fourth wall but did it so well that it only complemented their narratives and made them endearing to viewers.
Mel Brooks’ cult sci-fi satire is fundamentally a great landmark epic that breaks the fourth wall. It is as if Star Wars, Austin Powers, Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a dozen other sci-fi giants got together and had an adorable, socially awkward, and hilarious child. The film is filled with moments of self-reference and meta, and the characters are fully aware of not only being there, but also being filmed in real time. They accidentally run over a crew member in a lightsaber fight, capture liners, and have the movie’s name on just about everything. In the most famous fourth wall breaking moment and meta, the bad guys appear in a Space balls A VHS tape to understand their next move and end up watching themselves watching the tape.
Nothing is spared from the mockery here, including the film itself and the process of making the film in general. Space balls certainly isn’t subtle at breaking the fourth wall, but that’s part of its charm and what makes it so memorable and hilarious.
Another modern classic, Rocky Horror Picture Show, is a horror, sci-fi and comedy musical extravaganza that is filled to the brim with moments of breaking the fourth wall and mocking winks at the medium itself, especially during the final musical numbers where the fabulous Dr. Frank N Furter (Tim Curry) sings straight into the camera. He exchanges knowing looks with audiences throughout the film, along with sarcastic remarks such as “Well, how nice” and even throws a drink directly at the camera. Not to mention that the film has a narrator, a criminologist (Charles Gray), who sets the scene and speaks directly to the audience.
contrary to Spaceballs, Rocky Horror Picture Show isn’t built to break the fourth wall, and although it parodies 1950s horror films, it is more than just a parody. It’s clever, eccentric, often underrated, and invites the public on a bizarre ride that they, to quote the criminologist, “will remember for a very long time.”
Perhaps the most notorious serial fourth wallbreaker of recent times, Deadpool, goes beyond the occasional nod and builds a full dialogue with the audience, filled with self-references, mockery from the cast, the studio, Marvel, other superhero movies, and even the viewers themselves. Although the origin of his cohesive fourth wall break can be traced back to the comics, Ryan Reynolds delivers it perfectly onscreen and always lets audiences participate in the joke. In one of the most famous moments (although there are too many to count or pick a favorite), Deadpool actually mentions “the fourth wall break inside a fourth wall break” which, apparently equals sixteen walls.
Additionally, Deadpool extends this narrative device outside of the movies and breaks the fourth wall inside commercials – including several for Aviation Gin, owned by Ryan Reynolds – and even hijacks a Celine Dion promotional video for Deadpool 2. It’s a top-level meta.
Having mastered the technique of the fourth wall by dead PoolRyan Reynolds boldly brought it to his 2021 film. Truman Show, only with a video game character realizing he’s in a game, free guy is a great example of sci-fi meta-movies, filled with irreverent humor and the very …dead Pool charm. It explores the idea of what it would be like to be an NPC (non-player character) in a modern MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) shooter, while also emphasizing their occasional and all-too-common brutality. At one particular point in the Fourth Wall, the main character uses a Captain America shield, accompanied by the Avengers theme song and followed by Chris Evans’ angry reaction.
In the tradition of extending the fourth wall break to film marketing, Free guys promotional video features Deadpool and Korg, a rock warrior from Thor: Ragnarok, watching and leaving sarcastic comments on the movie trailer. Reynolds (as Deadpool) tackles Disney acquisition of Fox and delayed release of free guy, pokes fun at the cliché elements of the film and its cast, and even asks Korg for advice on joining the MCU.
The subtle fourth wall breaking moment is not only adorable but also historic as it marks the first time this narrative device has been used in the MCU – while Deadpool is part of the Marvel Comic Universe, he’s not officially involved in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, much to the character’s dismay as seen above. This happens during the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opening credits, where Baby Groot is engrossed in dancing to the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” while the rest of the Guardians are in battle with the Abilisk. After taking a spin on a rodent-like creature, Baby Groot tumbles to the ground and hits the camera directly with an audible sound.
This brief moment may seem insignificant, but it sets a precedent and opens the door for other fourth wall breaking moments in upcoming Marvel films – something many fans have been hoping to see for years.
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