What Is Your First "Fourth Wall Breaking" Moment?

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psykhophear

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Definition: The Fourth Wall is a theatrical term for the imaginary “wall” that exists between actors on stage and the audience. ... The same effect often occurs in movies, only the fourth wall in that instance is a camera lens.

My first "breaking the fourth wall" experience was in Muppet Treasure Island; when Billy Bones supposedly dies, Rizzo the Rat said, "he died? And this is supposed to be a kids movie!"

I laughed without knowing it was a fourth wall breaking moment. It didn't occur to me there was such a thing until I saw Cinemassacre's review on the original TMNT cartoon series many years later. Only then when I was realized other movies and games do that too like Killer Is Dead, No More Heroes, Metal Gear Solid, The Secret of Monkey Island and many more.

Share us your very first "breaking the fourth wall" moment.

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BeachThunder

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*turns towards the audience* "it was probably Play School or something like that. Kids' shows are filled with 4th wall breaking."

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FacelessVixen

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Probably Space Balls, granted that I was too young to know that the whole Space Balls: The Movie bit was breaking the fourth wall because I was, like, 10 or something at the moment. If not that, then either the first Austin Powers movie explaining time travel, or Wayne's World then they were taking shots at merchandising. I'm sure that there were Saturday morning cartoons and Disney movies that broke the fourth wall, but those are so far gone from my memory at this point.

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psykhophear

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echasketchers

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The Muppets did that a lot in general. The Muppet Christmas Carol is probably the first time I remember there being an explicit fourth wall breakage. What with the whole "Gonzo is Charles Dickens" plotline where he and Rizzo talk to the audience periodically.

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Zeik

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#7  Edited By Zeik

Pfff, I dunno. It's such a common trope that it could have been anything.

Since you brought it up, maybe the original TMNT? I certainly watched that a whole lot as a kid and it was one of the earliest cartoons I still remember, but I'm preeetty sure it wasn't my first cartoon.

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TheFlamingo352

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Yeah the muppets are probably a strong contender...what are the other three walls?

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SpaceInsomniac

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#9  Edited By SpaceInsomniac
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In a game, it would have been the original Monkey Island, which I thought of before I read the first post in this thread.

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The cartoons I grew up watching were full of 4th wall breaking moments. Muppet Babies, Tiny Toons, Animaniacs. I remember when the Tiny Toons went to Wacky Land they were so aware that they were in a cartoon that they crossed a chasm by not looking down, because looking down is the moment you fall in a cartoon. Maybe not the best example. The Animaniacs were constantly talking to the audience. "Remember, kids, Yakko spelled backwards is "O-kkay." The wheel of morality was a regular segment:

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Here's a favorite scene of mine from The Muppet Movie:

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Mmmslash

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@theflamingo352: Imagine a studio set, with it's three walls. The 'fourth wall' is that non-existent fourth wall that WOULD exist, if it weren't a film/television show/etc. It separates the audience from the narrative.

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#12  Edited By BisonHero

Realistically, for me it's either some sort of Muppets production, or a Bugs Bunny or other Looney Tunes production. For whatever reason, they didn't really register at the time because you already have to suspend your disbelief a lot with the Muppets since they're obviously not real so them jokily talking to the audience didn't seem that out of place, and there are so many winks and nods directly to the audience in Looney Tunes stuff that it just seems part of that format. Same with Spaceballs. The fourth wall breaking just seemed to suit the style of comedy where nothing is really super serious.

Things that actually registered more as "this is a weird thing for a character to be able to do" were whenever I first saw Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Wayne's World.

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notnert427

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I don't know what my first one was, but breaking the fourth wall annoys the fuck out of me. I just find it to be the most vapid form of humor. It's also fairly insulting when you think about it. I promise; I'm aware that I'm watching a movie/show or playing a game, so a character "pointing that out" always completely fails to amuse. What it tells me instead is that they can't make a funny narrative in and of itself and they know it, so they try to bolster it with some shit commentary. The absolute worst is when they have a character constantly telling the audience what the joke is or how they're supposed to react. Fuck. That.

I guess it's fine for kid's shows and the like where perhaps leading the audience by the hand can serve a purpose, but man, I bounce directly off of that shit now. It's like every one of those lines to/for the audience should be accompanied by cheesy finger-guns and a wink. Just have good, natural-sounding dialogue/banter between characters. We'll somehow manage to follow along and put it together, and if it's done well enough, maybe we'll actually get somewhat engrossed in your narrative and develop our own feelings towards the characters. Wouldn't that be something?

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redwing42

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you already have to suspend your disbelief a lot with the Muppets since they're obviously not real so them jokily talking to the audience didn't seem that out of place

You shut your goddamned mouth. The Muppets are absolutely a real thing, and I won't have anyone saying differently.

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flagranterror

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#16  Edited By flagranterror

@notnert427: I don't entirely agree, but I understand your point. I do agree that "gag humor" is lifeless and low-brow. Animaniacs (to cite an example in the thread) used the fourth wall as a shortcut to get information to the viewer to get around the time constraint of making a TV show for kids. That stuff doesn't hold up, it's too forced and obvious. I also don't think that fit into the trend of late 90s cartoons being kind of strange and surreal.

There are occasions though where I think it works if it's subtle and unexpected. It works well in American Beauty. It works well in Deadpool I think because that movie is so absurdist anyway. It works in The Wolf of Wall Street. It works in Amélie because it's critically important to her character. It also works in High Fidelity, which, similar to American Beauty, is really about one character and their relationships with other characters. It's a different context ("am I crazy" vs "hear me out") but I think it's effective.

It's a fine line. Even when Frank Underwood raps his ring on the desk of the oval office at the end of the first season of House of Cards, looking directly into the camera, are we really that surprised? Is he speaking to us as a viewer, or as the President, speaking to us as citizens? When the media asks something of us as viewers is when the fourth wall can be a tool instead of a crutch.

Game-wise I like how in the REmake if you shoot the screen it looks like there are bulletholes in it.

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notnert427

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@notnert427: I don't entirely agree, but I understand your point. I do agree that "gag humor" is lifeless and low-brow. Animaniacs (to cite an example in the thread) used the fourth wall as a shortcut to get information to the viewer to get around the time constraint of making a TV show for kids. That stuff doesn't hold up, it's too forced and obvious. I also don't think that fit into the trend of late 90s cartoons being kind of strange and surreal.

There are occasions though where I think it works if it's subtle and unexpected. It works well in American Beauty. It works well in Deadpool I think because that movie is so absurdist anyway. It works in The Wolf of Wall Street. It works in Amélie because it's critically important to her character. It also works in High Fidelity, which, similar to American Beauty, is really about one character and their relationships with other characters. It's a different context ("am I crazy" vs "hear me out") but I think it's effective.

It's a fine line. Even when Frank Underwood raps his ring on the desk of the oval office at the end of the first season of House of Cards, looking directly into the camera, are we really that surprised? Is he speaking to us as a viewer, or as the President, speaking to us as citizens? When the media asks something of us as viewers is when the fourth wall can be a tool instead of a crutch.

Game-wise I like how in the REmake if you shoot the screen it looks like there are bulletholes in it.

I don't know that I'd really count American Beauty. I guess the narration is fourth-wall-breaking, but that didn't really bother me. The way it's filmed features a bunch of head-on shots where it looks like the characters are talking to the audience, but I can't recall a moment in the film outside of Spacey's narration in which they actually are. If you want to call it a fourth-wall-breaking film, I won't fight you too hard, but I would then say that it's an example of how to do it well.

I didn't care for it much in Deadpool, honestly. I think Ryan Reynolds brought enough charm to that character without the fourth-wall stuff, and I think the movie was cheapened by including it. Still, I'll admit that Reynolds pulls off the cocky, irreverent stuff better than most, and Deadpool was fairly enjoyable in spite of actively breaking the fourth wall on multiple occasions. As an aside, Reynolds is kind of awesome and I'm not sure why he hasn't gotten more feature roles in quality movies.

I really dislike The Wolf of Wall Street as a movie, but not for any fourth-wall reason. From what I recall, it was mostly narration in that film anyway, and Scorcese has often framed his films as such. Goodfellas and Gangs of New York are two of his that I thought used it effectively, FWIW. I never saw Amelie, and it's been a long time since I've seen High Fidelity, but from what I remember of it, it was a Ferris Bueller-esque situation where it kind of fit the angsty tone and didn't particularly irk me.

I haven't watched House of Cards, but that kind of sounds like what American Beauty did, and I actually enjoy when something appears to be fourth-wall, but isn't. On a related note, one of my favorite examples of this is the narration at the end of S3E13 of Justified (terrific show, BTW; everyone go watch it). It throws you off because to my recollection, nowhere else in the entire series is narration used, and what initially sounds like Olyphant telling the audience how he felt transitions into a scene it which he's telling his ex about his day, which is a departure for his character in the show on top of that. That kind of subversion is masterful, and I love it.

Those are some interesting examples you brought up here, though, so thank you for that. They helped me clarify that I don't just hate all times the fourth wall is broken, and that I can even enjoy it, provided it's done with some nuance. Good discussion, duder!

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monkeyking1969

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#18  Edited By monkeyking1969

I'm guessing the since I watched the The Three Stooges and Little Rascals/Our Gang since I was five years old, that that was my first experience. You can thank UHF television for so many Generation-X kids having seem most sitcoms, monster films and trash comedy from 1950 to 1980.

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The first one that blew my mind is Metal Gear Solid, specifically when the characters notice Psycho Mantis's music stop.

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BladeOfCreation

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In The Empire Strikes Back, when they're evacuating Hoth Base and C-3PO turns to the camera and says, "Typical," after almost being left behind. This may not be the very first example I ever saw, but it certainly sticks in my head because I remember reading an article in Star Wars Insider when I was a kid that mentioned this scene and explained what a fourth wall break was. So it's always the example of think of, because that's when I learned what the term meant.

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#21  Edited By fisk0  Moderator

I really don't know, felt like a whole lot of late 80's and early 90's games, kids TV shows and movies had a moment where a character knocks on the glass of the TV screen in a "are you still paying attention" moment or to dump some exposition on the viewer which they couldn't figure out to present naturally between the characters. The former was part of the idle animation or game over screen of Cool Spot, Commander Keen and the first Hugo the Troll game.

I think at least one Sierra adventure game also did it (one of the Space Quest games I think?), possibly LucasArts as well.

As I grew up I felt that was such a common trope that I really have no idea of where I saw it first.

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It was in the episode of Tiny Toon Adventures where Sneezer was practicing the trumpet in a back room, but he really sucked and it sounded just like farting when the sound came through the cafeteria vent, so everyone in the cafeteria was trying to figure out who was farting. At one point, Babs Bunny looks at the camera and says, "Who wrote this?" It was - and still is - fucking perfection.

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psykhophear

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My brother flipped out when I showed him this! Good times.

The first one that blew my mind is Metal Gear Solid, specifically when the characters notice Psycho Mantis's music stop.

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Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door has a few scenes where characters will address the player directly, and during tutorials they'll talk about stuff like the existence of an "A button", even though Mario has no idea what they're talking about. As a kid, that stuff blew my mind.

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elmorales94

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I mean, breaking the fourth wall is a pretty central component of most early childhood TV shows. Blue's Clues and Dora the Explorer were entirely based on it, almost to the extent that the wall didn't exist at all.

The first time I saw a fourth wall break that I had to think about--that made me stop and say "huh, that doesn't seem quite right," was almost certainly Animaniacs. That or Looney Toons.

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Probably that classic Chuck Jones Daffy Duck cartoon Duck Amok.