Narrative/fiction movies with unexpected moments of "reality" or fourth wall-breaking or other interesting metaness?
May 3, 2007 3:08 PM   Subscribe

Narrative/fiction movies with unexpected elements of "reality" or fourth wall breaking or other interesting metaness? Illustrative examples inside (without spoilers): Sling Blade, Bamboozled, Shortbus, Timecode, South Park, etc.

I'm less interested here in pervasively-meta movies (like Adaptation or Being John Malkovich) and more interested in traditional narrative movies that have unexpected real/meta moments or elements. Some examples, of various kinds:

• in Sling Blade: Billy Bob Thornton's long look into the camera during his walk around town (which he's called a purposeful fourth wall break, meant to remind the viewer he's spinning a tale).
• in Bamboozled: the real reactions of shock and confusion we see from the studio audience during the filming of the TV pilot (apparently the extras playing the audience were told they'd be filmed as a studio audience, but were not told what they'd see onstage), which adds an interesting element to the end viewer's own reactions/shock.

• in Shortbus, Bound, Brown Bunny, Baise Moi and others: unsimulated sex, either obvious onscreen or reported by the actors involved.
[• all the movies in my actors who play their own instruments thread.]
[• all movies in which actors do either stunts or other acts you'd expect to see done by doubles (this is less interesting to me unless something about the situation overlaps other categories like A or C).]

• in Timecode: film director character proposes shooting a movie using the multiscreen technique used to shoot Timecode, and other characters think this idea is pretentious.
• in South Park: four-letter words discovered to have direct, life-saving utility (movie is based on a show often criticized for "gratuitous"/useless explicit language).
• in Full Frontal: a few meta-twists for the standard "movie in a movie" idea (such as the scene from The Limey that fits into one of Full Frontal's existing scenes without any change of nesting level).
• in Dancer in the Dark, Lost in Translation and others: especially self-referential casting (famously childlike-whimsical-fanciful musician as character with same qualities; iconic aging actor as iconic aging actor; etc.).

... So which other examples should I check out? Please let me know why if possible, BUT PLEASE NO SPOILERS (no revealing plot developments/surprises). Thanks for your help!
posted by lorimer to Media & Arts (75 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

In Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the characters make two or three jokes (spread out through the film) that wonder what viewers would waste their time watching such a ridiculous movie then peer into the cameras briefly. These are the only fourth wall breaches in the movie.
posted by milestogo at 3:24 PM on May 3, 2007

The rather twisted German thriller Funny Games by Michael Haneke (who apparently is directing an American remake) might qualify. There is some breaking of the fourth wall, along with other unexpected developments that show that the characters are aware they are in a movie.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 3:31 PM on May 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

A/C: Fight Club includes a lot of narrative self-reference and recurring small notes of audience playfulness.
B, in a sense: both The Machinist and Sixth Sense contain (starring and cameo, respectively) actors self-starved to a shocking degree for the role.
C: The Player, with Tim Robbins.
posted by cortex at 3:31 PM on May 3, 2007

A. Zodiac, Silence of the Lambs, the new Manchurian Candidate all feature direct eye contact. I've always felt that Jonathan Demme and David Fincher use direct eye contact to ramp up the tension in a scene. It breaks that observer feeling viewers have by making eye contact, thereby changing the audience from viewer to participant. (That's just my own two cents! ;) )

B. A Very Long Engagement features Jodie Foster speaking fluent French, a language in which she is fluent. Lots of movies about famous musicians feature actors/actresses singing/playing themselves, like some of Jamie Foxx in Ray and all of Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line.

C. Up Close and Personal features an aging Robert Redford as an aging, but excellent news editor.

If I were home with my film collection, I'd do better, but this is what I've got off hand.
posted by santojulieta at 3:34 PM on May 3, 2007

Near the end of Neverending Story the young princess tells Sebastin the audience is watching all along.
posted by Freedomboy at 3:39 PM on May 3, 2007

Annie Hall might be a good one. There's the talking to the camera, of course, but there's also the footage of Allen on the Dick Cavett show which is supposed to be 'Alvy Singer' on the Dick Cavett show.

Sideways: A scene pans over a bunch of childhood photos of 'Miles', really childhood photos of Paul Giamatti, one of which shows him with his father, Bart Giamatti, who sports fans would know right away as the former baseball commissioner.

Sunset Blvd: A goldmine. Gloria Swanson, washed-up silent film star, plays 'Norma Desmond', washed-up silent film star. They even watch one of Swanson's/'Desmond's' old movies during the film. Erich von Stroheim as the butler, Cecil B. DeMille plays himself, Buster Keaton at the bridge table, and probably a million other little bits I'm too young to catch.

Interesting topic.
posted by otio at 3:51 PM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: Great answers so far! Thanks!

I'll add an important one I forgot: the sad memories of The Limey's main character are footage of the same actor, many decades younger, playing a similar character in another movie.
posted by lorimer at 3:59 PM on May 3, 2007

I asked a question about double acts and breaking the fourth wall a while back. You might want to check out some answers there.
posted by jourman2 at 4:00 PM on May 3, 2007

In the "actors really having sex" category, I've always heard that the opening sex scene in the Betty Blue was real. Don't know if that's absolutely true, or if several of my boyfriends have just had the same wishful thought.
posted by scody at 4:05 PM on May 3, 2007

The 1963 British film, Tom Jones, based on the Fielding novel, frequently breaks the fourth wall, and is referenced in the 1979 classic, The Muppet Movie, which does the same.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:06 PM on May 3, 2007

Another one: In the self-referential casting category, there's David Bowie as an alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth, which was released just a few years after he "killed off" his own space alien persona, Ziggy Stardust. (The movie also contains a scene in a record store where there's a display for Bowie's Young Americans album.)
posted by scody at 4:12 PM on May 3, 2007

In Peter Pan, Peter gets the audience to clap to save Tinkerbell.
posted by jtfowl0 at 4:18 PM on May 3, 2007

Blazing Saddles, at the end where they literally break out of the Western and into another movie set.
posted by doctor_negative at 4:24 PM on May 3, 2007

John Carpenter's In The Mouth Of Madness: Sam Neill's character enters a cinema and watches a movie recapping most of his ordeal till that point. Spoilerish: the central idea of what the Sutter Cane character is trying to do to the world is very much massively fourth wall breaking.

Apocalypse Now: may be one of those Hollywood legends, but I heard a long time ago that Martin Sheen was actually drunk off his ass and having a major mid-life crisis the day he shot the corresponding scene for his character in a Saigon hotel room.

Abel Ferrara's Dangerous Game: now this is meta for you, during a movie shot that is part of the movie, a simulated sexual scene between the characters turns into a real sexual act between the characters. It doesn't look like it's a real one between the actors though (one of which is Madonna).
posted by Iosephus at 4:28 PM on May 3, 2007

From Top Secret:

Nick Rivers: Listen to me Hillary. I'm not the first guy who fell in love with a woman that he met at a restaurant who turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist only to lose her to her childhood lover who she last saw on a deserted island who then turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of the French underground.
Hillary Flammond: I know. It all sounds like some bad movie.
[Long pause. Both look at camera]

posted by Bonzai at 4:33 PM on May 3, 2007

may be one of those Hollywood legends, but I heard a long time ago that Martin Sheen was actually drunk off his ass and having a major mid-life crisis the day he shot the corresponding scene for his character in a Saigon hotel room

It's true. Sheen was indeed drunk when they shot that scene, and did actually injure himself when he punched the mirror. (He also had a heart attack at another point during the shoot.)
posted by scody at 4:42 PM on May 3, 2007

Three dance films famous for their very self-referential casting: The Turning Point (except for MacLaine, Skerritt, and Bancroft, virtually the entire cast is one long American Ballet Theatre in-joke); All That Jazz (Reinking is playing herself, as is the assistant choreographer, Kathryn Doby; Fosse's daughter makes a cameo); and The Band Wagon (Astaire is playing a character suspiciously resembling himself; the Martons are based on the film's real musical writing team, Comden & Green).

There's a joke about character actor Ralph Bellamy in His Girl Friday, which features...Ralph Bellamy.

William Daniels must have set some sort of record for longest-running self-referential joke in show business: after he played John Adams in 1776, William Daniels not only would up with a lock on the Adams clan in a number of miniseries and documentaries, but also sang part of 1776's opening number in an episode of St. Elsewhere and taught at John Adams High School in Boy Meets World.

Edward Hardwicke, the second Dr. Watson in the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes adaptations, pops up as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the film Photographing Fairies.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:42 PM on May 3, 2007

Urban Legend. As IMDB says, "At the end of the movie, students from an unnamed college recount the movie's events as an urban legend. They joke about the tale's validity, and one says, 'And I bet Brenda was the girl from the Noxzema commercials.' Actress Rebecca Gayheart, who plays Brenda in the film, did indeed appear in several commercials for Noxzema."
posted by adipocere at 4:43 PM on May 3, 2007

There was that Arnold Schwarzenegger film where he was both himself and his movie character. Found it. The Last Action Hero.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:45 PM on May 3, 2007

Another in-joke: in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, there's a nod to Sean Bean's running portrayal of Richard Sharpe -- when Bean (portraying Boromir) touches The Important Sword Whose Name I Don't Recall, he nods and says, "still sharp."
posted by scody at 4:51 PM on May 3, 2007

In Human Traffic, Howard Marks does a monologue on spliff etiquette (also Carl Cox plays a club owner). First time I saw it, when Howard Marks starts up there were hoots in the audience from those who recognised him, and lots of whispered questions from those who didn't.
posted by pompomtom at 4:53 PM on May 3, 2007

What about Goodfellas? Liotta goes from narrator (in voiceover) to speaking directly to the camera near the end of the film.
posted by O9scar at 4:53 PM on May 3, 2007

there was the awful movie that has a major plot point revolving around a character resemblin the actress who plays her. Oceans 12
posted by Megafly at 4:54 PM on May 3, 2007

It's true. Sheen was indeed drunk when they shot that scene, and did actually injure himself when he punched the mirror.

Yeah, the real injury can definitely be vouched for. The freak out scene chronologically is supposed to take place after the mission (hence the song playing, "The End"), but before the mission starts you get a scene where you can see he has his hand all bandaged up and someone asks him what happened and he explains it as a "fishing accident on R & R."
posted by juv3nal at 4:55 PM on May 3, 2007

B) In Big Night, Stanley Tucci cooks a plain but flawless omelette, no edits.

A) In The Tingler, Vincent Price urges an audience (and by extension, the movie crowd) to scream.

C) In Superman Returns, Lois Lane changes clothes in the Daily Planet stockroom before going off to face Luthor.
posted by Superfrankenstein at 4:56 PM on May 3, 2007

The Purple Rose of Cairo
posted by jtfowl0 at 5:00 PM on May 3, 2007

Robert Downey Jr. narrates Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and directly addresses the viewer several times. At the end of the movie several characters that were killed in the movie reappear (so does Abraham Lincoln, but he wasn't a character in the movie).

Matthew Broderick addresses the audience in Ferris Buehler's Day Off.

Kermit the Frog and the other Muppets watch The Muppet Movie in The Muppet Movie.

The plot of Get Shorty is the story that becomes the movie, and the end of the movie is a scene showing the movie being filmed.

Audiences for Mr. Sardonicus ("The Only Picture With the Punishment Poll!") got ballots, and near the end of the movie the film's director (William Castle) appears onscreen and tells them they can vote on the villain's fate and choose between a merciful and a vindictive ending. (Only the vindictive ending was actually part of the movie.)

Clue has several endings.

Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story, which Roger Ebert described as "a film about the making of a film based on a novel about the writing of a novel."

Also in Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola, Vittorio Storaro, and Dean Tavoularis are shown filming a war documentary; they're the director, cinematographer, and production designer for Apocalypse Now.

In Wayne's World 2, Mike Myers says, "Can't we get a better actor?" and Charlton Heston replaces the original actor and finishes the scenes. The Wayne's World and Austin Powers movies have lots of other examples.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:30 PM on May 3, 2007

Nick Frost's character in Hot Fuzz is a big fan of Point Break and Bad Boys II, and scenes in Hot Fuzz reference both movies.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:35 PM on May 3, 2007

"The Baby of Macon" by Peter Greenaway (The Cook, The Thief, etc.) is a pretty disturbing movie that has a very disturbing fourth-wall break near the end.
posted by svenx at 5:42 PM on May 3, 2007

In Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind Joel is in his head, recalling a memory of Clementine (Kate Winslet). In the memory he's walking through a crowded parade trying to find Clementine, but he's actually yelling "Kate". I believe they later edited to be pretty seamless though.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:48 PM on May 3, 2007

Everything Albert Brooks has ever done.

Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Boris Karloff plays a fellow confused for Boris Karloff in Arsenic and Old Lace.

As the last episode of Seinfeld approached, there were several rumors and speculations about what was going to happen. All of these rumors--e.g., Jerry and Elaine ending up together, NBC picks up the sitcom, everyone dies--were adopted into the script of the final episode, but as red herrings.
posted by commander_cool at 5:59 PM on May 3, 2007

More Karloff: playing aging horror star Byron Orlock in Peter Bogdanovich's Targets, with Bogdanovich as a young director trying to convince him to star in his next movie, ending with a scene at a drive-in where events onscreen and off interact.
posted by jessenoonan at 6:21 PM on May 3, 2007

Practical Magic has a scene in which the sisters are drinking tequila and sinking the Lime and the Coconut Song; I believe the actresses (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) were actually drunk in that scene.
posted by purenitrous at 6:21 PM on May 3, 2007

The first thing that springs to mind for me is in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, where at the end of the movie they watch a movie "inspired by" the actual adventures of Pee-Wee, in which Pee-Wee plays a bit role. Poorly.

God, I know I've heard half a dozen more of these sorts of things, but I can't think of one.
posted by crinklebat at 6:24 PM on May 3, 2007

"In Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the characters make two or three jokes (spread out through the film) that wonder what viewers would waste their time watching such a ridiculous movie then peer into the cameras briefly. These are the only fourth wall breaches in the movie."

There's actually a bunch more meta references in that film, to all the films that Smith had done before that, so I'm not sure if that's what you're looking for.

Also: in Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, there's a scene where Saruman is preparing gunpowder. Wormtongue leans over with a torch, and Saruman pushes him away; see the analogous scene in the extended cut of Raimi's "Army of Darkness."

Big Lebowski features Sam Elliot, the narrator, appearing at the bowling alley a few times. But that might be a little more intentionally meta than what you're looking for, anyway.

Aren't most of the kids in School of Rock playing their own instruments?
posted by thecaddy at 6:37 PM on May 3, 2007

There is that famous scene at the end of the 1956 original Invasion of the Body Snatchers where the main character, seeking to save the disbelieving crowds from their doom at the hands of the aliens, suddenly looks dead into the camera and screams

'They're here already, You're Next!"

This was supposedly a subtle reference to the Red Scare that was gripping America at the time.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 6:51 PM on May 3, 2007

In Spaceballs, the villains rent of Spaceballs from a video vending machine (in the future, movies are released on video before shooting has been completed) and fast-forward until the point where they rent the movie. Then they skip ahead a little further to see what the heroes are up to.
posted by contraption at 6:56 PM on May 3, 2007

In The Blair Witch Project, directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick drop a threesome of young anonymous actors in the forest for eight days with cameras, a loose plot outline, and only return at night to make scary noises.

Harmony Korine
also seems to fit the bill as a director and Letterman guest.
posted by bookley at 7:20 PM on May 3, 2007

Audie Murphy and Jackie Robinson played themselves in biopics about them.

Wikipedia List of films that break the fourth wall.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:29 PM on May 3, 2007

In Tarantino's half of Grindhouse, "Death Proof", there's a moment right before things get violent where Kurt Russell looks straight into the camera across the hood of his car and grins nastily.

(This moment, by the way, inspired cheers from a crowded and appreciative audience the first time I saw it.)
posted by hermitosis at 7:40 PM on May 3, 2007

The psuedo-documentary Kids (very last scene, I won't spoil it). Disturbing film, just fyi.

David Lynch's Inland Empire, in some very elliptical ways.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Actually, I think most Monty Python films break the fourth wall.

Jadorowski's The Holy Mountain.
posted by treepour at 7:48 PM on May 3, 2007

In Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, a 340-ton steamship was pulled over a mountain without special effects.

Herzog's Aguirre, Wrath of God is pretty much a film-length example of the blurring between reality and fiction.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:53 PM on May 3, 2007

Here's an odd ball: the in animated film Hellboy, Sword of Storms. Kate Corrigan and a psychic assistant encounter a collection of tsukumogami, supernaturally-animated objects. The psychic, finding himself surrounded by a dancing teapot and umbrella, exclaims, "It's like being in a cartoon!" Which, of course, it is.
posted by SPrintF at 10:01 PM on May 3, 2007

There's a joke about character actor Ralph Bellamy in His Girl Friday, which features...Ralph Bellamy.

If memory serves, Cary Grant says of Bruce, played by Ralph Bellamy, something like "nice fella, looks like that actor, what'shisname, Ralph Bellamy."

Also in His Girl Friday, Cary Grant (birth name Archibald Leach) speaks in passing of an old acquaintance named Archie Leach.

[The next paragraph doesn't contain any plot spoilers for Caché, but it does describe a visual flourish arguably crucial to the film.]
Michael Haneke's Caché frequently switches without warning between cityscapes and scenes presented on a TV screen and and the same cityscapes and scenes presented as scenes of real-time. It's a most disconcerting and effective involvement of the viewer, reminding us that we are watching events unfold on a screen and, I think, tacitly making us complicit in the action.
[The End.]

Boris Karloff plays a fellow confused for Boris Karloff in Arsenic and Old Lace.

Actually, that's Raymond Massey being told he looks like Boris Karloff.
posted by Elsa at 10:48 PM on May 3, 2007

Yo so I'm watching Zardoz and after the first scene, after the floating head I mean, Sean Connery points a gun at me and fires and the screen goes black and we get opening credits.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:14 PM on May 3, 2007

Either or both of these films might be more meta than you're seeking, but:

Ingmar Bergman's Persona is interrupted by an apparent melting of the film cellluloid.

In Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, Peter Falk plays himself.... but, crucially, there's more going on.
posted by Elsa at 11:15 PM on May 3, 2007

David Bordwell identified an amusing meta-joke from "Crank" recently involving subtitles. Still doesn't make me want to watch the film, though.
posted by John Shaft at 2:01 AM on May 4, 2007

Amelie, the main character looks at the audience with conspiratorial glances many times.
posted by like_neon at 5:05 AM on May 4, 2007

Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which has several film adaptations, has Puck address the audience at the end. ("If we shadows have offended/Think but this and all is mended...")
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:24 AM on May 4, 2007

C) the last episode of The Larry Sanders Show had Sean Penn as a guest on Larry's show briefly talking about his (then-new) movie Hurly-Burly. Penn names a number of co-stars including Garry Shandling, and follows that up with an admission that Shandling was a bad actor. Larry Sanders, the character, was played by Shandling.
posted by flipper at 6:08 AM on May 4, 2007

#2: Lars von Trier's The Idiots. I think he filmed unsuspecting extras reacting to the actor's odd public behavior. And there's the sex.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:23 AM on May 4, 2007

Lots of great suggestions for my Netflix account (if I had one).

Here's one more: Head.
posted by notyou at 7:43 AM on May 4, 2007

In Fight Club, there's a scene where Brad Pitt's character and Edward Norton's character are drunk, and hitting golf balls into an abandoned building.

Pitt and Norton really were drunk, and the golf balls were sailing directly into the side of the catering truck.
posted by ShawnStruck at 7:47 AM on May 4, 2007

In Broken Flowers, Bill Murray's real-life son makes a crucial appearance in the last scene. I think most people probably missed that. Anyway, it blew my mind when I was reading the credits. Check it out: Homer Murray.
posted by mike_bling at 8:04 AM on May 4, 2007

Here is a list of movies about making movies as well, which may fit your criteria, being pretty meta throughout: Man Bites Dog, Day for Night, 8 1/2, Contempt, Close Up.
posted by mike_bling at 8:21 AM on May 4, 2007

Thriller: a Cruel Picture: dreadful film, made worse by a mostly unexpected anal cumshot. Charming.

Pola X: really good French adaptation and updating of Melville's Pierre. The scene is pretty hot, though the context makes it quite creepy.

O Lucky Man! features the director of the film, Lindsay Anderson, in two scenes essentially appearing as himself.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:26 AM on May 4, 2007

In "White Oleander" Renee Zellweger's character shows a clip from her past as a B movie actress; the clip shown is actually from Zellweger's turn in one of th "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" flicks.
posted by hermitosis at 9:37 AM on May 4, 2007

In 10 Items or Less (no, not the sitcom on TBS, but an unrelated independent film), Morgan Freeman plays an unnamed, bigshot Hollywood actor. There are repeated references to a film that Freeman's character was in with Ashley Judd.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:32 AM on May 4, 2007

Strange Brew with Rick Moranis
posted by solipsophistocracy at 10:42 AM on May 4, 2007

Not a movie...but there's an episode of Home Improvement where trick-or-treaters come to the door dressed as Simba from the Lion King and Buzz Lightyear, both characters voiced in animated movies respectively by Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Tim Allen, actors in the TV show.
posted by rcavett at 7:07 PM on May 4, 2007

The drunken Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now is no myth. True and confirmed by all involved many times.

But my favorite Apocalypse Now scene that fits the bill: at the dinner, where Willard is being given his assignment, the General is giving a monologue about Kurtz, and talking about the conflict in every human heart, good and evil, rational and irrational; that every man has his breaking point, and Kurtz has reached his.

During this scene, the camera is on Willard, who stares directly into the camera. It always gives me chills, because it shows Willard is weighing these words, but he also staring at ME, seemingly forcing me to consider these words as well.
posted by The Deej at 8:37 PM on May 4, 2007

Holy crap.

Nobody has mentioned the Office yet? Either version?
posted by filmgeek at 10:04 PM on May 4, 2007

Oh, and hitchcock's cameo's in his films.
posted by filmgeek at 10:05 PM on May 4, 2007

Dialogue in the Crosby/Hope "Road to....." movies frequently breaks the fourth wall for (splendid) comic effect.
posted by hydatius at 1:29 AM on May 5, 2007

In Austin Powers...I think it's the 3rd one, the very beginning (and ending) is a movie-in-a-movie with the real Austin Powers talking to Steven Spielberg (!!).

In Spaceballs, numerous. President Skroob (Mel Brooks) runs into the control center and says: "If I walked, the movie would be over" or, "Spaceballs the Flamethrower", "...lunchbox", "...the breakfast cereal!" etc.

Finally, in another Brooks film/play, The Producers, one character says "Why does Max go far Stage Right?" with an equal phrase in the movie which I forget. Something like "camera 2" or something.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 1:45 AM on May 5, 2007

Just a note: "Spaceballs the (product)" is later in the movie, I don't think I was too clear.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 1:46 AM on May 5, 2007

All the guys in "That Thing You Do" learned to play (and did) as bandmates. Although they didn't sing.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:04 AM on May 5, 2007

Will Farrell's character in Stranger Than Fiction can hear the voiceover narration.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:28 AM on May 6, 2007

Oh, and Julia Roberts in Ocean's 12.

Prospero's Books has some really odd framing devices.

Bill Murray in Lost in Translation is playing an aging actor, and then watches himself in a film.
posted by santojulieta at 8:37 AM on May 6, 2007

Burt Reyolds played football in college and plays a former football player in The Longest Yard (1974). He plays a coach in the 2005 remake.

Troy Donahue plays a character named Merle Johnson in The Godfather, Part II; Donahue's real name is Merle Johnson.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:36 AM on May 6, 2007

There was a season-long arc of Seinfeld where the main characters were negotiating with NBC to get a Seinfeld-like program on the air, featuring characters based on the characters in the show.

The Burns & Allen TV show regularly broke the fourth wall; George would try to figure out what Gracie was up to, and would turn on the television broadcast of the Burns & Allen show to find out.

In the 1988 "Switching Channels" Christopher Reeve plays a character who is scared of heights, a not-especially funny play on his Superman character in a not-especially funny movie.
posted by commander_cool at 11:15 AM on May 7, 2007

Can't believe I forgot: I Love Lucy wrote in Lucille Ball's real-life pregnancy into the show (1952-53) when she and Desi Arnaz were expecting Desi Jr. (Trivia: the fact that the Arnaz baby turned out to be a boy was a happy coincedence, as the writers/producers had already decided that the characters of Lucy and Ricky would have a boy -- namely, Little Ricky -- regardless of the actual sex of the Arnaz baby.) It wasn't actually the first on-screen TV pregnancy (the first time was in 1948, on Mary Kay and Johnny), but it was certainly the first that was so widely watched and anticipated.
posted by scody at 12:08 PM on May 7, 2007

Coming back late to add:

Aha! Just last night, I watched The Imposters, a straightforward narrative with an intact fourth wall, until the scene in which the plot requires Oliver Platt's character to understand something being said in a forgeign language.

To get around the language problem, he reads the English subtitles (which appear left to right across the scene in front of him, or backwards and right to left when he looks at the scene in a mirror).
posted by Elsa at 7:08 AM on May 8, 2007

Type A. Jeffrey contains a scene of a male homosexual kiss, which cuts immediately to a movie theater crowd where someone says "Ew!"
posted by JDC8 at 9:18 PM on May 8, 2007

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