The meaning of the term "fourth wall" has been adapted to refer to the boundary between the fiction and the audience. "Fourth wall" is part of the suspension of disbelief between a fictional work and an audience. The audience will usually passively accept the presence of the fourth wall without giving it any direct thought, allowing them to enjoy the fiction as if they were observing real events. It is the invisible barrier between realities.
The presence of a fourth wall is one of the best established conventions of fiction and as such has led some artists to draw direct attention to it for dramatic effect. This is known as "breaking the fourth wall". For instance, in A.R. Gurney's The Fourth Wall, a quartet of characters deal with housewife Peggy's obsession with a blank wall in her house, slowly being drawn into a series of theatre clichés as the furniture and action on the stage become more and more directed to the supposed fourth wall.
Most often, the fourth wall is broken by having a character directly address the audience (one example is the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder's Our Town). A similar effect can be achieved by having characters interact with objects outside the context of the work (e.g., a character is handed a prop by a stage hand). Another, by Paul from Funny Games; looking at the audience while Anne, the protagonist of the film is searching for her dog.
Productions of William Shakespeare's plays, which frequently feature asides and soliloquies which the characters in question presumably speak only to themselves, sometimes present the dialogue as being delivered directly to the audience. In Sir Laurence Olivier's 1955 film adaptation of Richard III, Olivier addresses the audience directly, a groundbreaking technique in film. A notable case of Shakespeare breaking the fourth wall is the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which Puck suggests to the audience that they pretend, should they have disliked the play they just saw, that the entire production was only a dream.
Various artists have used this jarring effect to make a point, as it forces an audience to see the fiction in a new light and to watch it less passively. Bertolt Brecht was known for deliberately breaking the fourth wall to encourage his audience to think more critically about what they were watching, referred to as Verfremdungseffekt ("alienation effect").
Breaking the fourth wall is often employed for comic effect, as a sort of visual non-sequitur; the unexpected departure from normal narrative conventions is often surprising and creates humor. A very early example of this occurs in Francis Beaumont's play The Knight of the Burning Pestle, which contains three characters who are purportedly part of the audience. They frequently interrupt the performance and demand to be consulted on the plot, ordering a number of sudden (and usually extremely awkward) changes throughout the play, with often comical results.
Such exploitation of an audience's familiarity with the conventions of fiction is a key element in many works defined as post-modern, which dismantle established rules of fiction. Works which break or directly refer to the fourth wall often utilize other post-modern devices such as meta-reference or breaking character.
In the early days of sound motion pictures, the Marx Brothers' stage-to-screen productions often broke this barrier. In their 1932 film Horse Feathers, for example, when Chico sits down at a piano to begin a musical interlude, Groucho turns to the camera and deadpans "I've got to stay here, but there's no reason why you folks shouldn't go out into the lobby until this thing blows over." Bob Hope, who also frequently addressed the audience, uses a similar gag in Road to Bali: just as Bing Crosby begins a number, Hope tells us, "He's gonna sing, folks. Now's the time to go out and get your popcorn."
The technique was arguably first employed in the modern sense (in which the fourth wall is demolished to the point that there no longer remains any significant division between performance and audience- with drama blending into reality or vice versa, depending on one's perspective- rather than merely having an actor make a clarifying note or aside to the audience) in the sensational 1921 premiere of Pirandello's play Sei Personaggi in Cerca d'Autore (Six Characters in Search of an Author), wherein six ordinary people come to the rehearsal of a play to demand that their stories be told as part of the performance. This type of fourth wall breaking is also used in The Aliens Are Coming! The Aliens Are Coming! where at one point it is impossible to tell what is real and what is not in the play, as the aliens end up everywhere.
The fourth wall is sometimes included as part of the narrative, when a character discovers that they are part of a fiction and 'breaks the fourth wall' to make contact with "the real world", as in films like Tom Jones, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1963, Woody Allen's Annie Hall (with Marshall McLuhan) and The Purple Rose of Cairo, Last Action Hero and Jonathan Gash's Lovejoy novels. Both Peter Pan and Captain Hook break the fourth wall in the 1954 musical adaptation of Peter Pan. George Burns commonly addressed the audience in his 1950s TV comedy show, and sometimes even watched it on TV in another room.
The fourth wall has also been broken in literature such as The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov , Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth, Midnight's Children and The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote by Jorge Luis Borges, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino, Travelling People by B.S. Johnson, Double or Nothing by Raymond Federman, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles, which actually has the author inserting himself into the story and discussing what the possible endings he was considering, thus causing the reader to wonder which ending he would choose. It can be intentional as well as some television series involve a character telling the audience important factors, such as gun violence in schools, help people with certain kinds of diseases, and death in immediate family, and to help people with other problems as well.
Mel Brooks frequently breaks the fourth wall in his movies for comedic effect. In one scene from Blazing Saddles, in which Rock Ridge is being invaded by desperadoes, an old woman, who is being pummeled mercilessly by a group of bandits, looks directly at the camera and says forlornly, "Have you ever seen such cruelty?" In another scene in another part of it, Harvey Korman, as he sits plotting at his desk asks questions, then asks the viewers, "Why am I asking you?" The climax features the characters crashing into the set of "another" production -- the fight between the townsfolk and the gunfighters is such that it literally breaks the fourth wall. In Robin Hood: Men in Tights, the characters review the script of the movie during the archery competition scene. Spaceballs features several examples including reviewing the script, a character hitting a camera, the actors' stunt doubles mistakingly being captured, Rick Moranis' character Dark Helmet addressing the camera directly to ask if "everyone [got] all of that" after a lengthy explanation of the plot by another character, and viewing a copy of the movie on an "instant cassette" that was released "before the movie [was] finished." Bernie Mac broke the fourth wall during scenes of reflecting on family life in The Bernie Mac Show.
The TV show The Monkees has employed this technique in a number of episodes, notably, Dance, Monkee, Dance. Micky tries to find a resolution by suggesting talking to the writers. He then precedes to walk off the set of their pad, past the cameras and crew to the writers' room. The writers, being monks, type up a response and Mickey reads it on his way back to the set. When asked what the solution was, he responds, "Man, those guys are really overpaid".
Will Smith breaks the fourth wall in many episodes of his TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. This is often done with glances directly into the camera or him addressing the audience directly. One such example is when in response to a question from Carlton Banks about a young man he left town to avoid fighting responds, "The dude who be spinnin' me over his head in the opening credits!" In the Fox sit-com Malcolm in the Middle, Frankie Muniz's title character often engages in this practice as a means of narration (though, this was done less frequently in later episodes). In the NBC Saturday-morning sitcom Saved by the Bell, the character of Zack broke the fourth wall in almost every episode.
The TV series Moonlighting also had characters who were aware that they were in a TV show, though eventually they overused the technique. The first season of She-Spies, which employed some of the Moonlighting writers, occasionally did likewise. Most recently, Boston Legal has employed the technique, but that show has been careful not to overdo it.
The fourth wall is frequently broken in cartoons, often in very imaginative ways difficult or impossible with live actors. Perhaps one of the most humorous is to "fight the iris", i.e, right before the picture ends and while the image gradually is diminished by a contracting circle, a character uses his hands or body to force the "eye" open in order to interject a wry comment or complaint. (Often the iris seems to stretch and go out of shape like pliant rubber during this stunt.) Often this technique is combined with physical comedy, e.g. having the iris snap back into shape and painfully pinch the person's nose or finger for their trouble. Another variation is having them appear onscreen after the iris is closed, walking or running over a solid black background. Warner Bros. directors like Bob McKimson and Tex Avery used the gag to good effect in the forties and fifties, and many modern cartoon directors have adapted it. The award-winning cartoon Duck Amuck breaks the fourth-wall for literally the entire running-time, with Daffy Duck fighting with his own animator and Bugs Bunny addressing the audience at the very end. A modern example comes from the early 90s cartoon adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When Donatello decodes a villain's clue as written in latitude and longitude, Raphael makes an aside comment, "And they say cartoons aren't educational."
Another common instance of a fourth wall reference is where the character(s) will directly mention the content they're featured in. For example, Ichigo Kurosaki and other Bleach members are frequently seen reading Shonen Jump, the magazine the Bleach manga is serialized in. This is also featured in Gintama. Sket Dance, also makes references to various series (such as Belmonde le VisiteuR and Gintama), which are all featured in Shonen Jump.
Also, Deadpool tends to break the fourth wall in comics. His slogan was "Breaking the fourth wall, one brick at a time!" In one instance, when he meets Bullseye, Bulllseye asks "When was the last time we met?", to which Deadpool replies "Issue 16 I think."
Another Marvel comics character shown to occasionally break the fourth wall is the She-Hulk. At times she is aware that she is a comic book character and would engage in arguments with writers, particularlly John Byrne, as well as to accomplish other feats.
A moment of breaking the fourth wall in the DC Comics occurs when the villain the Joker addresses the reader outside of the comic book. The other characters present in the story just ignore his behavior as he is obviously insane.
Additionally in traditional British pantomime the audience is encouraged and expected to interact with the cast in breaking the fourth wall by booing the villains, who will often respond, cheering the heroes, who will often thank the audience, and by providing hints to the characters as to what to do next, e.g. shouting 'he's behind you' when the villain is sneaking up on the hero, or 'She's in the cellar' when Prince Charming is searching for Cinderella who has been locked in the basement by the Ugly Sisters.
Another way of breaking the fourth wall is when a character changes a part of the scene; for example, in Chowder, Schnitzel is often instructed by Mung Daal to change the scene when they are running low on time.
Another case of breaking the fourth wall is in a halloween graphic novel of the Simpsons, Bart Simpson's Treehouse of horror, Heebie Jeebie Hullabaloo, when Sideshow Bob states that "[They] are all merely pen and ink, creations trapped in a juvenile comic book, when the cover is closed, we will all cease to exist. If you dont believe me then tell me why we are in all these little boxes?!" This drives the town into panic and Homer shouts to the reader "Please for heavens sake don't close this comic!".
In the game Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, when the player gets the item 'Running Shoes', their 'mom' says "Here, let me read the instructions. Press B and blaze new trails of adventure!". Saying "Press B" is breaking the fourth wall, as there is no "actual" B Button in the game universe (though there is one on the game console). Notable instances occur in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and Metal Gear Solid as the character must input a radio-frequency which is never given in-game, but instead printed on the video-game's manual (in Metal Gear 2) or back CD cover (in Metal Gear Solid). This particular kind of phenomenon was also seen in the NES game Startropics, where the user is asked to enter coordinates that are found in the game manual. (An alternative interpretation of this technique is to prevent software piracy, with the assumption that pirated game owners will not have access to the original packaging.) In the video game Super Paper Mario, when Mario is instructed to press the A button,the instructor says," What is this A Button anyway? Are we being watched by another dimension?" In SoulCalibur III, Olcadan often breaks the fourth wall in this fashion because he serves as the instructor in the game's training mode. In Eternal Sonata, the tutorials have the characters (such as Polka and Allegretto) explain the battle commands by speaking about the x button, y button, b button, etc.
The narrative of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty breaks the fourth wall a number of times, by communicating to the player indirectly through the protagonist Raiden. For example, during a codec conversation, Raiden (and by extension, the player) is told to "Turn the game console off, right now!" Later on, the message "Fission mailed" appears on the game screen (instead of "Mission failed") as the artificial intelligence of the GW program in the narrative (and by extension, the game itself) begins malfunctioning.
"I'm Atton. I actually wasn't supposed to make it into the final game, but I was created at the last minute. Blame my agent. I was actually slated for a spin-off to Jedi Knight, but I don't want to talk about what happened there."
Another example of this is the Konami Eyes models in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, posters of the magazine models appear on the inside of lockers and on the backs of doors, even in a codec transmission. Not to mention, a toy figure of Vulcan Raven (from the original Metal Gear Solid) scares Solid Snake during his original sweep of the tanker. In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Snake can find a hidden concrete slab with the hand-prints of several of the game's creators - including director Hideo Kojima - during the Act 2 "Tracking" scenario. Lying Snake down on the slab and activating his OctoCamo results in getting a unique camouflage pattern: HandCamo. Also, later in the game, Snake gets an emergency Codec call from support member Otacon, telling him to change the discs before moving on. Snake, of course, has no idea what Otacon is talking about, and then Otacon remembers that there's no need to change discs since the entire game is burned onto a single Blu-ray disc. Members of the gaming community took this as a subtle dig against the Playstation 3's competition.
One other example of a good easter egg is in the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. In the game there is a very big, red bridge which connects the provinces of San Fierro and Las Venturas. To find the easter egg, the player must acquire a jetpack and fly up to a high girder. Up there the player finds a brown sign stating that "There are no Easter Eggs up here. Go Away": ironically, the sign is itself an easter egg. Along with a billboards that spoofs a GTA clone True Crime: Streets of LA" which reads 'True Grime: Cleaning the Streets'. Also, in Grand Theft Auto IV, if you're able to get to the feet of the Statue of Happiness, there will be a sign that says "No Hidden Content this way". Though actually there is a huge beating heart inside the statue.
To answer this, True Crime: New York City has an easter egg pointed at Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. When you play a certain taxi mission, Marcus says something similar to "Huh, I made it to be a taxi driver... Well, at least I don't have to drive RC vehicles".
Another example is in the game Spider-Man for PC. In numerous levels where you must web-swing to other buildings, there may be a billboard featuring Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3. Another is in the first level of the game. After the large building that has NEW YORK on the side in large green letters, you will swing to another building, and if you look, you may see a billboard advertising an interview with Cletus Cassidy a.k.a. Carnage. This may be a reference to him being a boss in the game. A way to get to many of the game's easter eggs is the code: UATUSEES. The game will enter a "What If? Content" mode. For example: in the second level, you will see a Fantastic Four building that normally has a comic book on it. Instead, you briefly meet up with The Human Torch. He will say something about fighting Mole Man. This may have been a boss that was taken out of the original game. Another example of the UATUSEES code is when you fight Doc Ock in his undersea lair. His fortress will be what is commonly known as "hippyized". The walls will feature a picture of Dr. Love and the floors will be dotted with hearts and smiley faces. Another example is in the Hostage Situation level. Where Spider-Man crawls through a vent and comes out in a room with 3 switches. Open the one that releases the hostage. Walk into the room and you will be greeted with a disco party. The only way to leave is to restart the level or quit to the menu.
In the game Summoner 2, beating the game awards the player with two extra movies. In the first, player characters are shown talking as themselves in the aftermath of the game's events. They are unusually out of character, and make humerous references to the events and locales of the game. Neru the pirate prince (a combat-skill oriented, vendetta-seeking character) even makes a remark about turning the first level of the game-Teomura Island-into a tourist resort, something that is extremely out of place with the rest of the world. The scene still follows the story however, as the main protagonist and a notable party member are not present due to having died/left the world. In the other scene, characters are inserted into real-world locales and give commentary on being a part of the game's production. This too, is made to be humerous, with characters commenting on their character's misfortunes that made the role less than desireable to play and on past jobs. The scene is portrayed to resemble a movie "making of" interview series, or possibly to mimick the commentaries provided by actors in early games like Phantasmagoria that utilized live-action scenes. The protagonist appears inside of a limo to give the bulk of the commentary on her feelings about the production of the game, but the other "dead" character remains absent.
Yet another example is the appearance of sound programmer Dan Forden appearing in Mortal Kombat II in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, shouting expressions after the performance of certain in-game combination moves. It also contains a fatality which involves dropping a MKII arcade machine on your enemy.