One of the reasons that people enjoy watching movies is because it is a form of escapism entertainment. Sitting in a darkened theater and watching images of flickering light makes it easy for most moviegoers to get lost in the illusion that what is happening onscreen is real. For this reason, most movies try not to call attention to the process of watching or creating a film, since this would destroy the carefully crafted illusion of reality.
However, there are certain movies that break this unspoken rule of filmmaking by drawing attention to the fact that they are movies. Meta-movies revel in highlighting their own existence as movies by focusing on the moviemaking process, by breaking the fourth wall, or by making references to things that exist outside of the film’s world. Here are seven of the best self-aware movies to blow your mind.
1. Last Action Hero
A young, movie-loving boy (played by the intensely annoying Austin O’Brien) is pulled into the screen while watching his favorite film series, the Jack Slater movies. Slater, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a muscular, one-line-spewing, unkillable action hero in the vein of, well, all of Arnold’s previous characters. He lives in a world of heroes and villains, where the good guys always win, and the bad guys all have awful aim. The boy, whose non-stop whining is endlessly agitating, tries to convince Slater that they’re in a movie, but Slater doesn’t believe him. Chaos ensues.
In the twenty years since Last Action Hero‘s debut, its reputation has been ardently discussed by action fans and critics, some of whom maintain the movie is absolute trash and some of whom defend it as an ambitious but flawed gem. This much-maligned action flick bombed at the box office and is continually considered Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biggest disappointment. Directed by John McTiernan, the action film master who gave us Die Hard, Predator, and The Hunt for Red October, Last Action Hero mixes satirical farce and genuine (or at least attempted genuine) emotion in ways that no film previously attempted.
It’s undeniably a mess, and its own internal logic is jarringly inconsistent, but more often than not its jokes hit home with the precision of a sniper shot. Schwarzenegger has never been more winning, except maybe in James Cameron’s True Lies (another, far more expensive action-comedy flick that didn’t mind smirking at its own reflection), and the action scenes really are thrilling. The best scene: The boy tries to prove to Jack Slater that he (Slater) is really Arnold Schwarzenegger by taking him (Slater) into a Blockbuster (remember those?) and showing him a copy of Terminator 2, only to find Sly Stallone staring stoically on the movie’s cover. It’s brilliant.