Many people are familiar with breaking the fourth wall. This is when a character addresses the audience directly, breaking through the “fourth wall” between the viewers and the action. Essentially, the screen is the fourth wall. Breaking the FIFTH wall is something else, entirely. This is when a movie or actor makes a meta-reference to characters that they themselves have portrayed in previous, unrelated work. With all that said, here is the list of top movies that break the fifth wall.
1. Flushed Away (2006) – Wolverine almost wears his yellow costume
In this CGI (made to look like Claymation) film, Hugh Jackman provides the voice of Roddy St. James; a pampered, pet-rat living in an upper-class British home. During his morning routine, while getting dressed, a replica of Wolverine’s comic-book costume is seen. Jackman famously played the character for 17 years but ironically, never once wore this outfit in any of the films.
2. Deadpool (2016) – Ryan Reynolds isn’t a fan of Ryan Reynolds
This film absolutely annihilates the fourth wall but also breaks the fifth wall (more than once). The most prominent example that was seen as early as the trailers, shows Wade Wilson demanding that his super suit not be “green or animated.” This is a dig at Ryan Reynold’s turn as Hal Jordan in ‘Green Lantern’ which was widely disliked.
3. A Million Ways to Die in the West (2013) – NPH keeps getting more and more meta
Neil Patrick Harris is a man of many talents. He famously portrayed a fictionalized version of himself in the Harold and Kumar films and is no stranger to self-parody. His most famous role as an adult is the womanizing Barney Stinson from ‘How I Met Your Mother’. Stinson is a catch-phrase generator who constantly yells “Challenge accepted!” (even when no challenge has been issued) During a scene in Seth MacFarlane’s western, the protagonist (played by MacFarlane) challenges NPH’s character to a gun dual. I’m presuming you know how he responds!
4. Ocean’s Twelve (2004) – They buried the lead on this one
Danny Ocean’s crew needs access to a valuable Fabergé egg in order to steal it. In order to get into the museum where the egg is housed, the crew enlist Danny’s wife, Tess, to pose as a celebrity that she resembles. Tess looks quite similar to Julia Roberts and manages to fool the museum staff. Tess is, of course, played by Roberts, herself.
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – The Gospel according to Quentin Tarantino
Nick Fury fakes his death. At the film’s prologue, Captain America, Falcon, Black Widow and Fury all meet at Fury’s “grave.” The tombstone contains an epitaph: Ezekiel 25:17. This is a direct reference to Samuel Jackson’s character in ‘Pulp Fiction’. It’s even more notable that the quote on Fury’s stone begins: “The path of the righteous man….” This is not the text of the Biblical verse; it is the text from the Quentin Tarantino classic.
6. Transformers (2007) – I don’t think many would accept this as an apology
In Michael Bay’s multi-million-dollar toy commercial, the alien robots arrive on earth by plummeting to the planet’s surface like asteroids. People take notice and start grabbing their cameras to film the action. One character, in the midst of his excitement, declares that what he’s witnessing is much cooler than ‘Armageddon,’ one of Bay’s earlier films. It’s nice to see that somewhere, Bay can laugh at himself but I doubt this will change anyone’s mind about his movies.
7. Pixar (1995-present) – Multiple films
In ‘Toy Story’, Buzz Lightyear sits enclosed in a milk crate that is weighed down by a toolbox, a BINFORD toolbox. Binford is the name of the fictional company from Lightyear voice actor Tim Allen’s sitcom, ‘Home Improvement.’ Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head) insults a literal hockey puck; an insult that Rickles has used many times in comedy. In ‘Cars,’ George Carlin voices Fillmore, a VW bus who is a hippie. The voice Carlin uses is Al Sleet: The Hippie, Dippie, Weatherman, a character from Carlin’s stand up career. Many more examples exist, I’m sure.
8. Birdman (2014) – If this movie wasn’t written with Michael Keaton in mind, it should have been
This 2014 Best-Picture winner looks like the entire movie is one, uninterrupted camera shot. It’s loaded with great actors at the top of their game. It’s brilliant in ways more than one. Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, a washed-up actor who is known for his portrayal of a famous Superhero in a film series several years before. Edward Norton plays Mike Shiner, a widely-respected actor who is notoriously difficult to work with. Everything above that is true about Keaton and Norton’s characters in this film, is (or was) true about the actors themselves.
9. The Freshman (1990) – Marlon Brando recreates is most famous role, hates the result
In this film, Matthew Broderick plays a student who unwittingly gets involved in the antics of Carmine Sabatini, a crime boss played by Marlon Brando. Sabatini looks, sounds and behaves exactly like Don Vito Corleone from ‘The Godfather’ also played by Brando. Brando just replicated his earlier performance in one huge meta-joke. Despite critical acclaim, Brando reportedly hated the film.
10. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) – Ben Affleck is a time-traveling, meta-human superhero in real life
In this Kevin Smith film, Ben Affleck plays Holden McNeil, reprising the character from Smith’s previous film, ‘Chasing Amy.’ Later in the film, Ben Affleck also plays Ben Affleck. As McNeil, Affleck shows our heroes the internet and what it is saying about the upcoming movie based on them. When Jay and Bob inquire which actors will be playing them, McNeil speculates that it will be “Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.” Jay doesn’t know who those two are, so McNeil clarifies that they are “Those kids from Good Will Hunting” and later admits that he himself wasn’t a fan but concedes that “Affleck was the BOMB in Phantoms.”
Affleck also decries the internet message boards full of the sort of whiny people who would later complain about his casting as Batman. In Smith’s ‘Jersey Girl,’ Affleck refers to his street-sweeper as “The Batmobile.” In Smith’s ‘Mallrats’, the opening credits parody comic-book covers. Affleck’s cover is a parody of Batman called “Butt man”. This was 20 years before he was cast as Batman. In a nutshell, Ben Affleck is Daredevil, The Flash, The Doctor, Batman, The Terminator and not Ben Affleck….all at the same time!
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