The fourth wall in theatre and cinema is a metaphorical wall that separates the performers and actors from the audience. The performers pretend they are in a fictional world and this gives the sense of involvement to us when we watch a drama or a movie. Deadpool is a comic-book and film character that is known to punch through the fourth wall pretty regularly. It basically means that Deadpool knows he is a fictional character and does not really exist outside a movie or a comic.
Comic-book fans have known this for decades, but the character and his habits were mainstreamed in 2016 when the first film starring Ryan Reynolds came out. The writing of the film painted a comic-accurate character and Reynolds did the rest by delivering the lines so effortlessly that it has become hard to separate him from the character.
Breaking the fourth wall is just one of the traits that make Deadpool so cool. But this trait is special as it makes him unique among comic-book characters. There are others, but nobody does it as frequently as he does. He is like a simulation inside the Matrix who knows he is a simulation. And the best thing is that this does not distract us from the experience. In other pieces of work, it would probably be counter-productive. With Deadpool, nothing he does seems out-of-character.
That was about comic books. This phenomenon is not wholly unknown in films. There may be solid reasons to break the fourth wall but let’s discuss them some other time. Here are five films that broke the fourth wall.
Fight Club: David Fincher’s thriller Fight Club had Edward Norton every now and then addressing the audience.
Alfie: Before Michael Caine was a handsome old man, he was a handsome young man. In 1966 film Alfie, he plays a womaniser and describes his sexual exploits – to the audience.
Goodfellas: Ray Liotta narrated most of this Martin Scorsese movie in a voice-over. In the end, though, he directly addresses the audience.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: Robert Downey Jr breaks the fourth wall by summing up the movie to the audience. Val Kilmer joins him.
The Wolf of the Wall Street: Leonardo DiCaprio breaks the fourth wall in this movie, also directed by Martin Scorsese, like this.