Carl: Well, it is a cartoon, sir.
Major Monogram: What did I tell you about breaking the fourth wall, Carl?
Carl: Sorry, sir.
Anyway, the Fourth Wall is the fact that in any work of fiction the characters are unaware of the fact that they're fictional characters in a work, the audience observing them, and whatever medium conventions occur in between the two.
Breaking the fourth wall is when a character acknowledges their fictionality, by either indirectly or directly addressing the audience. Alternatively, they may interact with their creator (the author of the book, the director of the movie, the artist of the comic book, etc.). This is more akin to breaking one of the walls of the set, but the existence of a director implies the existence of an audience, so it's still indirectly Breaking The Fourth Wall. This trope is usually used for comedic purposes.
It should be noted that other sources will refer to any fiction that draws attention to its fictionality as "Breaking the Fourth Wall". Our definition is a bit narrower: Breaking The Fourth Wall only occurs if the characters acknowledge the audience or the author, whether directly or indirectly, got it? It's not enough that I recognize my status as a wiki page, it's the fact that I'm commenting to you about it!
Although Breaking the Fourth Wall are mostly Played for Laughs nowadays, serious fourth wall breaking is not unheard of. Such if the person is suffering from insanity or goes under some kind of existential crisis.
Named for the theatrical convention of building sets with right, left and back walls, while the audience observes the action through an imaginary "fourth"note wall located at the front of the stage. Breaking the fourth wall would occur when the actors would step through where the virtual fourth wall should be and address the audience directly.
This is a very old trope: William Shakespeare's characters often addressed the audience. They broke it regularly in Ancient Greek theater, too, pretty much as soon as they'd invented the Fourth Wall - or, arguably, before inventing the Fourth Wall. It was an commonly-used technique in the epic theatre movement of the early-to-mid 20th century.
When a series breaks the fourth wall on such a regular basis that there may as well not be one in the first place, then you've gone straight into No Fourth Wall.
Can be expressed using Medium Awareness. When done literally, it's Camera Abuse. See also: Narrator (this trope is their job), Postmodernism (loves this trope), Aside Glance and Aside Comment (particular kinds of this), Animated Actors (an animation-specific subtrope), and Who Would Want to Watch Us? (characters lampooning the premise). He Knows About Timed Hits often involves breaking a videogame's fourth wall through necessity. For a detailed discussion of the line between this and No Fourth Wall, see Sliding Scale of Fourth Wall Hardness. If the creator of a work, the audience, or you, personally, interact with characters in a way that isn't Audience Participation, it may well be From Beyond the Fourth Wall.
Often used for Lampshade Hanging. But if a character lampshades without addressing or acknowledging the audience, it's just Lampshade Hanging. Similarly the fourth wall can be broken with no lampshades in sight.
If somebody is not in the break and doesn't understand who the ones breaking the wall are talking to, see Audience? What Audience?. If the other characters are aware of the wall but are also aware that they're not supposed to show that they're aware, that's Scolding the Fourth Wall Breaker.
If it's made ambiguous whether or not the fourth wall is being broken, it's Leaning on the Fourth Wall. If something slams into the screen and literally breaks it, it's Camera Abuse or Interface Screw. If the characters are attempting to use, or implied to have used, the fourth wall to escape into the real world, especially with malicious intent, it's The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You.
- Anime & Manga
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- Happy Heroes features several jokes that break the fourth wall. For example, there is an episode where Little M. comments that Big M.'s idea for a machine to sabotage a School Play (he intends to make one that scatters banana peels everywhere and make everyone slip) seems rather childish. Big M. says that, since this is a cartoon, of course it's going to seem childish somehow.
- Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf also features several fourth-wall-breaking moments. Among them are:
- In Joys of Seasons episode 84, after Wolnie accidentally gives away the surprise gift Wilie wants to give him, Wolffy says not to worry since "I'm the best actor in this cartoon!" and he should be able to pretend to be surprised easily.
- The spin-off series Pleasant Goat Fun Class is designed to be educational, and it often accomplishes this by having the characters directly talk to the audience about various topics.
- In episode 41 of Rescue Across Time, Wolffy tells Weslie he's known him for 5,000 episodes (an inaccurate number - the series up to that season actually has over 2,000 episodes).
- The Firesign Theatre used this occasionally on their albums, often either combined with Medium Awareness, or within a Show Within a Show, which would interact with the main characters.
- Doctor Whooves Adventures do this Once an Episode, during the ending credits, usually for the humorous asides and general funnyness.
- In Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, Harold and George occasionally break the fourth wall by talking to the audience and even freeze the movie at certain points to explain what's going on.
- Dino Time has a strange case of this. The main character breaks the fourth wall in three early scenes, but after about 20 minutes into the film he never does it again.
- At the end of a particularly downer scene in The Emperor's New Groove, Kuzco literally stops the movie reel and uses a marker to remind the FILM that the movie is about HIM, and not Pacha. Later, after considerable Character Development, Kuzco gets in an argument with Narrator!Kuzco, telling him to shut up and stop whining.
- Kubo and the Two Strings:
- At the very start of the film, Kubo does his signature "if you must blink" speech, but tacks on a few things to provide some backstory exposition, which makes it seem like he's directing this specific speech at us. It's like he's telling us to pay attention.
- At the end, Kubo says "The End" in voice over.
- In Lilo & Stitch:
- When Lilo gets Stitch to move his hips to the side, he looks at the viewer and oohs in wonder before the duo immediately go into their dance.
- The titular duo look directly towards the viewer twice during their dance at Mrs. Hasagawa's fruit stand.
- A more subtle fourth wall-break happens earlier in the film when Stitch is adopted, with a nice little Easter Egg on his adoption paper.
- The Lion King (1994), in the middle of "Hakuna Matata".
Pumbaa: And I got downhearted...
Timon: How did you feel!?
Pumbaa: Every time that I—
Timon: (slaps hands over Pumbaa's mouth) PUMBAA! (looks at the fourth wall) Not in front of the kids!
Pumbaa: (also looks) Oh! Sorry.
Simba: (also looks, with a perplexed expression on his face)
- In Mulan II, Shang walks away and Yao asks Mulan, "What's his problem?" When Mulan walks away, he asks the screen, "What's her problem?" Then he asks, "Who am I talking to?"
- Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe:
- In the song "We're Back," Phineas mentions Disney+ by name and the fact that they can stream this film. The version that plays during the credits omits this verse.
- Baljeet says building a portal will take at least a montage. It ended up only taking a scene flip.
- When Perry peers from the bushes, he actually shushes his backup singers who do in fact sing it quieter.
- When Super Super Big Doctor's ship speeds up to Warp 2, reality breaks down to its bare essentials, with the film breaking down to a colorless animatic, then to a storyboard with temporary voices, then to Dan and Swampy pitching the storyboard to the audience.
- The song "Silhouettes", which plays over the credits, describes the format of the Creative Closing Credits.
- In the finale song, "Us Against The Universe", Isabella takes a verse to thank all the folks who worked on all the animation.
- In Quest for Camelot, Devon does this in a blink and you'll miss it moment:
"But we can't fly! (to the audience) We explained that before our song."
- In The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, when the background characters refuse to go the surface.
Random Fish: All secondary characters come with me.
- Used straight, and topped with a turtle themed green lampshade in Turtles Forever. When 80's version Raphael keeps breaking the fourth wall, other characters pause with confused looks. The third time he does it, The Dragon gets angry and starts shaking him. "Why do you keep doing that? Who are you talking to?! THERE'S NO ONE THERE!"
- When it comes to it, this is the whole plot of the movie. The 2003 Shredder learns about the fourth wall and decides to destroy it forever.
- Chuck Jones is infamous for this, but in his movie The White Seal, the fourth wall is broken constantly by characters looking straight into the camera. At certain points, it happens repeatedly with only seconds between them.
- In Wreck-It Ralph, when Turbo is giving his Motive Rant to Vanellope, he mugs for your attention right the hell out of nowhere in one single frame.
- There was this gem from Hulk Hogan on a November 2010 episode of TNA ReAction:
"Well, brother, we're lightening the load around here. We're trimming the fat. We're thinning the herd. I mean, you know, it's pathetic. It's pathetic, that Dixie would let this company get in the shape it's in. It's her train of thought! Raven? Who hasn't had a damn shower or bath? Y'know, with RVD, and that whole crew out there? They meant to professional wrestling what Hulk Hogan, who sold out Shea Stadium? who put 94,000 people in the Pontiac Silverdome? who slammed a 700-pound giant? They mean to professional wrestling what Hulk Hogan means?"No wonder this company was in the shape it's in. It's time to get rid o' the trash, the garbage, the worthless piece of crap out here, and we started with Dixie Carter. Yeah, we're gettin' very real around here. We are so, real, it's unbelievable. Because, if you don't get over like I said, you're fired. If you don't draw number, if you don't entertain, if you don't put asses in seats, if you don't put the coinage in the piggy bank, you're fired. No more games. No more, "Kayfabe." "It's a work." "I've won 34 tag team belts." Who gives a damn how many fake belts you won!? If you don't draw money, you get fired around here. If you don't put asses in seats, you are gone."
- Professional Wrestling as a whole exists in a weird space where there is no fourth wall...but there is. The universe portrayed in the ring is considered "real", for all intents and purposes. The people who enter the ropes, be they the living undead, obliviously narcissistic, or rich beyond belief; that's who they actually are. The audience has to believe that they exist both on and off the clock just as you see them. Likewise, they are constantly aware they are on television and performing before a live audience, so the concept of a fourth wall in the traditional sense is not there. The actual fourth wall is Kayfabe, which is something you generally do not want to break (as the notion is almost critical to the concept of pro wrestling making sense at all; even admitting its existence, like the above, is a surefire way to throw Willing Suspension of Disbelief out the window and even the audience knows it).
- CM Punk, through his scathing Worked Shoot promo on 6/27/2011, created an on-screen character for himself where he could fly between the fourth wall and reality. He even lampshaded his own fourth wall-breaking in the promo.
- The Rock does this a lot. For example, in reference to the brief John Cena / Zack Ryder / Eve Torres love triangle in early 2012, Rock pointed out that Cena is married in real life.
- Triple H is the patron saint of this, especially when teaming with Shawn Michaels and DX. From addressing his real life romance, marriage, and baby to the mantra of his heel Authority run being, "best for business" to flubbing a line on live TV and addressing it he does not let up, not even in video game form.
"Put down the controller, get off the couch, and hit the gym fatass!"
- The Cashore Marionettes do this occasionally; one of the most significant instances is the skit "The Quest", in which a puppet scales his own puppeteer like a mountain, accompanied by triumphant music.
- The Muppet Show:
- In the first broadcast episode, Kermit the Frog (a puppet) is shown sipping milk from a glass with a straw; he takes a moment to say to the audience, "Think about this, friends."
- Also, comes up in one of Statler and Waldorf's closing comments to an episode:
Waldorf: How do they do it?
Statler: How do we watch it?
Waldorf: Why do we watch it?
Statler: [looking at the camera] Why do you watch it?
- Pili Fantasy: War of Dragons: The series open with the death of Su Huan-chen, the protagonist, and two comic relief friends of his note that it's unlikely this is really how the story will start.
- John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme uses this fairly regularly, especially in the latest episodes.
- Possibly the most explicit example is in Season 5, Episode 4, where one of the sketches is actor Simon Kane getting increasingly annoyed at actor and writer John Finnemore about the fact that he always plays the discontented characters. During the sketch, he frequently points out that John Finnemore has written all of this, and it isn't even his opinions.
- Series 2, episode 4: Margaret Cabourn-Smith gets grumpy about the fact that her only role in the last sketch is as an owl.
- In The BBC's remake of Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel, Michael Roberts, playing Groucho Marx playing Waldorf T. Flywheel, would often ad-lib in character as Groucho, but not necessarily as Flywheel. On at least one occasion he commented on what had been a topical reference in 1932, and its complete failure to get a laugh in 1990.
- A common joke in Destroy the Godmodder. Quite a few of the characters (especially the ones that know the one summoning them, and even more since the players themselves are characters) are quite knowledgeable about the fact that the entire thing is fictional.
- Lampshaded when the 'Fourth Wall'note is destroyed by Jack Noir, which results in Minecraft being completely open to outside attack. And boy, does it get attacked.
- And then there's the fact that apparently a large chunk of the multiversal community is aware that as a whole, most universes are generated by stories from the real world, which the denizens of the multiverse can't view.
- Taken Up to Eleven by Bill Cipher, who outright makes references to events taking place "pages away," indicating that he is aware of the game's nature as a forum game.
- Twilight Sparkle's Secret Shipfic Folder has Cheerilee, who knows she's in a shipping card game and wants no part of it.
- In the My Little Pony Collectible Card Game, the backs of the 2013 demo cards have Derpy Hooves saying "This is a demo, right?"
- This is part of Guise's power in Sentinels of the Multiverse. In the video game adaptation, he's shown editing his own character bio, and most of his cards are themed around parodying various comic book trends and genres. His card game version is also somewhat aware he's in a card game; one of his cards has him using the card type bar as a club, and his backdrop image in the video game adaptation has him point out a card for you to play. In a Letters Page Live convention spot, the creators were asked how far Guise's Medium Awareness extended; they immediately pointed to a Guise cosplayer in the crowd and say "well, there he is".
- In the former Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast ride at Universal Studios, there was a scene where SpongeBob is flung through Bikini Bottom, saying hello to everyone along the way. When greeting the regular Bikini Bottom citizens, he refers to them as "secondary characters".
- In the Revenge of the Mummy Ride, towards the end ride it appears to have ended, with a worker behind glass saying the ride is over. This worker is then killed by the Mummy and the ride continues. When the ride ends, you see a recording of one of the makers of the ride, wishing you a good day. He is then also killed by the Mummy.
- At The Simpsons Ride, also at Universal Studios, there is one last bit of motion simulator craziness because, in the words of Krusty the Clown, "Every amusement ride needs to stop by the gift shop." Made even funnier by the fact that it has no gift shop: the nearest one is over at Men in Black: Alien Attack!
- In Disney Parks's The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, while the ride vehicle travels up and down on the track, Tigger is heard to say "I almost bounced right out of the ride!"
- Then there's Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway at Disney's Hollywood Studios, where a boiler explosion in the titular engine blows a hole in the movie screen itself, causing the rodent duo and Goofy to invite riders into the short through that hole to experience it from the inside.
- Subverted at the end of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney: We see Phoenix talking to what sounds like the player. He's actually talking to the members of a jury.
- In Akatsuki no Goei the maid Tsuki tells Kaito that he's Tae's boyfriend, bodyguard, teacher and more and he gets irritated at the long string of uninterrupted kanji. So she replies by saying the same thing, except this time it's all in hiragana, meaning it's nothing more than a long, incomprehensible string of syllables. That's why kanji exist in the first place.
- In Asagao Academy Normal Boots Club Mai does this frequently throughout the story with other occasional examples from some of the boys.
- In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc when Monokuma starts expositing on the backstories of the culprit and victim in Chapter 2, he says to hold O (or Ctrl in the PC version) to skip it in case you didn't want to hear all this.
- Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony deconstructs this, by revealing that the various fourth wall breaks of Monokuma are actually because the series have been turned into a reality TV show. When the characters discover this, they are utterly shocked as they realize all of their memories and emotions were fiction. This reveal almost entirely cripples the surviving members, until Shuichi comes to the realization that even if everything is fictional, their experiences and pain are real. The final battle is against the embodiment of the TV audience itself.
- Deconstructed in Doki Doki Literature Club!. Monika, a side character meant to introduce you to the game, possesses Medium Awareness and was driven insane by the knowledge that neither she, her world, nor her friends really exist. This caused her to become obsessed with the actual player since they are the only part of her world that's real.
- Monster Prom: In an event where Liam asks the player if he knows about a crowdfunding site called Startkicker, the Narrator will abruptly snark about whether Liam knows the reason why he exists, since Monster Prom was a game crowdfunded on Kickstarter.
- Hatoful Boyfriend is pretty aware that it's a dating sim, and a silly one at that. However, the standout moment is the introduction to the sequel Holiday Star, in which Ryouta directly addresses the audience to explain that it takes place on a separate timeline from the original game to prevent continuity errors.
- Steins;Gate: Near the beginning of the novel, Okabe Rintarou talks to the audience for a good time while he stares very near the camera. He actually is refusing the idea of him being a fictional person and you (the audience) being the real one, while the other two characters on the scene just act as him being delusional (which he actually is, so his actions 'make sense' In-Universe), so it might also qualify as a Leaning on the Fourth Wall.
- Dora the Explorer and the Destiny Medallion: Dora asks the audience whether they can solve the puzzle, and stands there looking at the camera waiting for them. This makes Diego call her crazy.
- The opening sketch of Drew Gooden's "Vine: Where Are They Now?" video ends when one of Drew's characters realizes the news anchor is also himself, leading the other character to point out that they're in a sketch he wrote, and that the only reason this is happening is because he couldn't find a good way to end the sketch.