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10 Films That Break the Rules

Film is full of "rules," or perhaps better termed, expectations. Some of the greatest moments come, however, when directors subvert those rules intentionally. Here are 10 such instances.

We talk so much about the technical and artistic rules of filmmaking, but it's just as important to examine the times when those rules are broken and understand why they're so effective in context. Perhaps my favorite such example is the breaking of the fourth wall in "The Great Train Robbery." The film was released in 1903, when the art was still in its infancy and audiences had little expectations of the medium, so when Justus D. Barnes fired his pistol at the camera, people screamed and ducked. The shot is so famous that Scorsese paid homage to it almost a century later in "Goodfellas," as you can see below:


On another token, the instance that arguably most revolutionized the experience of film was the murder of Janet Leigh early on in "Psycho." Before the movie's release in 1960, audiences generally came and went as they pleased during movies, but because of the highly unusual move of killing the main character early on, Hitchock insisted theater managers close the doors after the start of the film and encouraged audiences to be on time to enjoy the film in its entirety, a practice which generally continues today.

Do you have any favorite instances of rule-breaking in film? Share them in the comments! 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Interesting that they don't mention a single film by David Lynch, who to my mind is the biggest rule breaker of them all. Mulholland Drive, for instance. What the hell was that about?

They mentioned Lynch's Eraserhead #2 Surrealism