10 Movies That Unfold in Just One Night


As we come to the close of a worldwide Internet protest against the SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy bills, we’ve been thinking about the impact that just 24 hours can make. We’re taking a break from politics and making a detour into the cinematic universe to explore stories that use the fleeting nature of time to their advantage. These ten films that take place in just one night sometimes reveal enormous truths for their characters, while others allow strangers to forge fascinating, memorable relationships. There’s an urgency and immediacy to stories that unfold so quickly. With little time to lose, there’s often clarity of dialogue, action, or emotion that arises during dramatic situations. We’ve explored it all past the break. Tell us who you’d add to the list below.

Before Sunrise

Observations on life, love, and longing abound in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. The movie stars memorable screen couple Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy when they meet as strangers on a train and join together for one night in Vienna. As the evening unfolds, each person lets their guard down, stories are shared, intimacy grows, and we become intoxicated by the promise of their chance meeting. Nothing is certain, and although time is short, we’re invited to grow lost in the subtle details and muse on the transitory nature of relationships and all their complexities.

Attack the Block

It’s an eventful evening in South London for a teenage gang who are forced to defend their block from an alien invasion. The film not only relies on the frantic pacing that comes from having just a few hours to defeat the enemy, but also the actual lack of daylight. Director Joe Cornish and his team do an incredible job at lighting Attack the Block, which takes place in the pitch black of night. How else are we to fear the creatures’ crazy glow-in-the-dark teeth? The nocturnal cult/action/sci-fi/horror mashup also fares better under the cover of night, because of its morbid sense of humor.


Everyone’s got something to feel guilty about in Clue. Each guest at the 1954 dinner party that takes place at a secluded, spooky mansion has been naughty and has something to hide. The late night gathering has been designed to force each person to reveal his or her true nature or identity — you know, just like the board game. People die, funny stuff happens, and the highly quotable film only needs one night to find out who the murderer is — though we’re treated to four possible scenarios. Madeline Kahn, Tim Curry, Lesley Ann Warren are just a few of the hilarious cast members that make us wish the mystery lasted a lot longer.

Night on Earth

In different parts of the world, five taxi trips are taking place at the same time. The characters in Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth are all vastly different, but their fleeting time inside the taxicab — rolling through the city streets like a ghost — unites them. Jarmusch sets the perfect mood for each character’s lonely, funny, and tragic stories to be told — transient tales made more powerful by the ticking of the clock.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

One alcohol-soaked night is all it takes for troubled couple Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) and George (Richard Burton) to destroy each other in a heated verbal battle that’s toxic to the core. Love-hate relationship is a serious understatement about the loathsome, but sometimes pitiable, characters that spend a whole evening tearing each other to shreds. We think it’s safe to say that despite the powerful performances from Taylor and Burton, no one really needs two nights of mind games, marital competition, and stinging vitriol.

American Graffiti

George Lucas’ American Graffiti is one of many high school films that take place over the course of one night, but it is one of the major benchmarks for teen cruiser flicks and coming of age movies. We’re shown four vignettes filled with oodles of nostalgia, hope, reflection, and a little adrenaline. Lucas shows us the calm before the storm — early 1960’s America before JFK, the war, and everything audiences were already experiencing in 1973 upon the film’s release. It’s a night for the movie’s characters to look forward, and one for many movie audiences to relive.

Night of the Living Dead

The heroic Ben (Duane Jones) endures one hell of a night in George Romero’s zombie opus, Night of the Living Dead. He’s forced to contend with the screechy Barbra, the cowardly Harry, and hordes of hungry zombie flesheaters. Romero’s movie is an intense ride from start to finish, bleak and nightmarish in every sense, and completely claustrophobic as seven strangers wind up stranded in a deserted farmhouse fighting for their lives. Often times, it’s not the zombies providing the drama, it’s the people. With so many different characters stuck together and under pressure, their tense relationships help form the nihilistic viewpoint that Romero seems to be positing: human beings are incapable of setting aside their differences in order to save each other’s lives.

After Hours

It’s nice to see Griffin Dunne as a whole person and not the rotting corpse he was in An American Werewolf in London. (He was a hilarious corpse, though.) The actor plays a Martin Scorsese Everyman who battles a series of misadventures during a long, confusing night. The quiet word processor begins his evening hoping for a love connection and ends it facing a big city nightmare. Scorsese’s the master of New York anxiety and makes sure to envelope us with it until the sun comes up.

Dazed and Confused

Has Matthew McConaughey ever been better than he was in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused? Featuring a list of Hollywood up-and-comers, the film follows a group of teenagers during their last day of school in the ’70s. Getting stoned, getting laid, hazing, fighting, and self-realizations all happen over the course of one memorable night. The wide-eyed awe and terror the impressionable freshman face when being schooled by the upperclassmen ebbs and flows as the hours pass. It’s basically a documentary on adolescence, and you don’t have to be a kid from the ’70s to get it. Not too much has changed, and not many people can pull it off with the naturalism that Linklater can.

25th Hour

The poignant 25th Hour is one of Spike Lee’s better films and certainly one of the most underrated from the director. Based on a novel by David Benioff, Lee’s adaptation is a somber, often funny, and sometimes downright heartbreaking look at Monty Brogan’s (Ed Norton) last night of freedom — before he’s locked up for seven years after getting pinched by the Feds during a drug bust. It’s a night to reflect on his life and ponder what’s ahead, while struggling with the heaviness that hangs over him during the final stretch of that 25th hour.