Breaking the fourth wall is an interesting storytelling technique that first began in theater, and then later made its way to television and film.
The term refers to when a character speaks directly to the audience, and are aware of the fictional nature of the medium they are in.
It’s somewhat of a rarity in film and television due to the fact it takes the audience out of what they are watching, but occasionally it can been used creatively (and hilariously) to make us bond with characters during their chaotic adventures.
Knocking down the fictional barrier between audiences and larger than life characters can be a crutch in some film and TV shows, so in order to have it be a engaging add-on (as opposed to a low stakes cop out), it works best if the actor is charming beyond measure.
Recently, we have been fortunate to have some great performances and incredibly meta moments with characters breaking the fourth wall, and by doing so, making us feel like their personal confidants during their journey.
Fourth Wall Breakers
The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
The subtly of when the characters break the fourth wall in this Jim Jarmusch film isn’t just a bit of light-hearted fun, it’s actually a somewhat genius tip of the hat that flows perfectly with the dry humor the whole movie.
Some critics were not fans of the nonsensical nature of the film, but the all-star cast zombie comedy was playfully fun and the entire story seemed to not take itself too seriously.
The occasional wall breakage throughout the film was both charming and delightful, which complimented excellently against the gore of the zombies ripping through the quirky small town characters in the movie.
One major bit of non-wall breaking brilliance comes with Tilda Swinton’s absolutely scene stealing performance, where she may possibly have the best intro and exit in any film in the past couple of years.
The Deadpool Movies (2016 & 2018)
Without a doubt there is a no bigger fourth wall breaker in any medium than Deadpool.
Granted this isn’t just a skill that he only does in film, he started this feat in comics, then later a number of animated appearances on television, and video games as well to top it off.
Brought to life in the early 1990s by famed comic book creator Rob Liefeld, the “merc with a mouth” is known for his off brand humor, gruesome violence, and his ability to know he’s a fictional character.
This is something that is displayed heavily in the rated R blockbusters starring Canadian actor (and all around perfect guy) Ryan Reynolds.
In the 2016 film, Deadpool broke the fourth wall on the big screen to the excitement of longtime comic book fans (and people who just wanted to see Reynolds play himself while shooting henchmen), and of course, it was awesome.
There are very few people in Hollywood as charming onscreen as Reynolds, and the pairing of him to red spandex wearing mercenary is as perfect as casting can get.
Even if you’re suffering from some serious superhero fatigue, Deadpool manages to poke fun at the genre, and takes breaking the fourth wall in film to whole new levels of surreal madness.
While Ryan Reynolds may own the big screen when it comes to talking to the audience straight on, the award-winning multi-talented Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a dominate force on the small screen.
Fun Fact: This Amazon Prime TV series is easily one of my favourite shows of any genre that has ever been created. It is a binge watch that I wish I could erase from my mind to do all over again… it’s seriously that funny and well written.
The title character (whose name is never said in the show) played by creator Waller-Bridge, speaks directly to the audiences as a way to display her deepest and darkest inner thoughts throughout the first season, which makes for a shocking and interesting development in second half of the series’ run.
The show only had two short seasons before concluding perfectly, but during its entirety it managed to use the fourth wall breaks for some of the best comedic and dramatic moments in modern television.
With only 12 episodes the series racked up: 46 awards, 48 nominations, and both seasons received 100% scores from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s one helluva watch, and it ends as explosive as it began.
Looking dead into the camera isn’t something that works for every project, but for the charismatic characters that are able to simultaneously live in two worlds, they often build a deeper connection with the audience.
Especially for those of us who grew up with Ferris Bueller or Austin Powers, and are nostalgic for simpler times with stories that keep us with one foot in reality, and another in the fictional comedy hijinks of the iconic characters.