Top 10 Films Set Over One Night

The best films set over one night manage to condense scale, scope and dramatic character arcs into a small amount of story time. As these examples showcase, a good “one nighter” can get close to cinematic perfection.

There is something comforting about watching a film set over one night; the immediacy of a story that takes place during the course of a few short hours appears more intimate, the audience joining the journey in almost real time.

The concise nature of the restrained story time forces events to happen quickly, for characters to forge relationships there and then. It’s increasingly engaging because the audience is there from beginning to end without any stops. There are no lost hours to passing days and periods of sleep, no need for flashbacks and back-story, and no time for extraneous exposition. The audience is along for the ride every step of the way.

There is something comforting about watching a film set over one night…

Discover More: Top 10 Films Set In A Day

10. Panic Room (Fincher, 2002)

Top 10 Underrated Films From Famous Directors, films set over one nightMeg (Jodie Foster) and Sarah (Kristen Stewart) move into a new home. Surprisingly they learn it has a panic room – a reinforced hidden room with independent phone line, security video, and survival supplies. When a trio of burglars break into their new abode, mother and daughter head for the safest place possible. However, what the intruders want is inside the safe haven of the panic room. David Fincher’s terrifically taut thriller is perhaps defined by its simplicity but that is what makes it one of the best films set over one night.

9. Suicide Kings (O’Fallon, 1997)

Suicide Kings, Film, Films Set Over One NightChristopher Walken – brilliant as always – is gangster Charlie Barret. When a girl goes missing a group of rich kid twentysomethings kidnap Barrett to extort the ransom money. The action takes place over one night as the group try to get Barret to play ball while the wily mafia man begins to believe his captors have an insider working against them. The intimate interplay between the ensemble cast gives this thriller an immediacy that resonates. This is delightfully punctuated by a few neat twists and turns along the way.

8. Clue (Lynn, 1985)

Films Set Over One NightBased on the murder-mystery board game Cluedo, and styled in a similar way to Robert Moore’s entertaining 1976 film Murder By Death, Clue sees a group of people summoned to a mansion on the premise they are to meet the man who is blackmailing them all. A wonderful cast and sprightly, kinetic direction makes Clue a real crowd pleaser and undoubtedly one of the best films set over one night.
See also: Top 10 Single Location Films

7. Judgment Night (Hopkins, 1993)

Judgment Night, Suburbia In Peril, Film,Four friends set off in an R.V. to see a boxing match in Chicago. After being stuck in traffic, and believing they will miss the game, the foursome take an alternative route. But they get lost, and after helping a man who appears to have been shot, come under the wrath of local drug dealer Fallon (a terrifically camp Denis Leary) and his gang who want the injured man who owes them money. As the night rolls on the group are tracked by the gang across a hostile neighbourhood, their lives on the line. Another excellent thriller set over one night, Judgment Night has an unsettling backdrop (an urban, concrete jungle, populated by a skeptical under class, that contrasts with its middle class suburbanites on-the-run) as well as a villain sporting a beguiling charm.

6. Night Of The Living Dead (Romero, 1968)

Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero, cult classic horror movie film, zombies, films set over one nightGeorge A. Romero’s seminal zombie film sees Ben Huss (Duane Jones) head a group of people trying to survive the night as a band of reanimated corpses attempt to break in and eat them. The film has been a huge influence on the horror genre, not least courtesy of its indelible images – a child killer with bloodied mouth; rednecks patting each other on the back after another “zombie” kill despite accidentally gunning down an innocent who happens to be an African-American man in Civil Rights era America.
See also: Top 10 Horror Films 1967 to 1979

5. American Graffiti (Lucas, 1973)

American Graffiti, Film, George Lucas, films set over one nightBased on George Lucas’ experiences growing up in the 1960s, American Graffiti follows the last night a close knit group of friends will spend together before college and other commitments take them away from home. The film features a terrific soundtrack (Lucas’ love letter to rock n roll) and some of the Star Wars creator’s best screenwriting. Its influence as a coming of age film can be seen in the later works of John Hughes in the 1980s, and Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater in the 1990s.

4. Night On Earth (Jarmusch, 1991)

films set over one nightJim Jarmusch’s Night On Earth looks at five taxi fares that take place at the same time in different parts of the world. The film seeks to highlight the temporary interactions between passenger and driver when cultures, lifestyles and ideologies are thrust intimately together for a short space of time.

3. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolfe (Nichols, 1966)

films set over one nightThe volatile, narcissistic relationship of husband and wife Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) and George (Richard Burton) is played out over one night in front of unfortunate guests Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis). Burton and Taylor’s performances, underpinned by an electrifying on-screen chemistry, are unmissable.

2. Before Sunrise (Linklater, 1995)

Before Sunrise, Film, Richard Linklater, films set over one nightRichard Linklater is the master of the single night film and his 1995 effort Before Sunrise is one of his best. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train in Europe, decide to spend the evening together, and explore Vienna through the night. Their relationship quickly blossoms as they discuss life, love and the city. The film features career-best performances from Hawke and Delpy.

1. After Hours (Scorsese, 1985)

Griffen Dunne, After Hours, Top 10 Films, New York, films set over one nightPaul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) is a bored office worker who meets the quirky yet mysterious Marcy (Rosanna Arquette). He arranges to meet her again in the hope their relationship can prosper but a series of events conspire against him leaving him to experience a number of misadventures among the unusual characters of a Soho neighbourhood. Despite it being one of Martin Scorsese’s less celebrated works, After Hours is by no means any less worthy of your attention. At the very least, it shows the director’s capabilities extend far beyond grand gangster epics like Goodfellas and Casino, highlighting a more intimate approach that focuses on the self-aware flaws and insecurities of an individual in a world that refuses to be understood. This approach worked brilliantly in Scorsese’s The King Of Comedy two years earlier too. After Hours feels deeply personal to a director trying to rediscover his voice in mid-1980s American cinema, his bored, fragile, wide-eyed protagonist ultimately indicative of an insecure filmmaker demanding attention. He wouldn’t get his wish until 1990’s Goodfellas but it was coming.
See also: Top 10 Male Adventures in Self Discovery

Written and compiled by Dan Stephens

Your turn? Name your fave films set over one night…

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Dan Stephens
About the Author
Dan Stephens is the founder and editor of Top 10 Films. He's usually pondering his next list, often inspired by his adoration for 1980s Hollywood, a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    rtm Reply

    Nice follow-up to your ‘set over one-day’ post, Dan. I agree with your intro that seeing the events in the film taking place in just a few short hours adds the realism as well as tension (whether it’s thriller or drama). Before Sunset is one of those memorable romance largely because of the one-night setting.

  2. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Wow, I’d completely forgotten about Judgment Night. Awesome choice. And having Clue in there too is a laugh!

    Great list – nice follow up to the all-in-one-day one!!

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    Richard Reply

    Great idea for a list! I was reading and scrolling down, wondering if you were going to include my ideal choice, and there it is at No.1! Love that movie!

    I would have also included Halloween, Die Hard, Collateral and Rec. There’s more than you think once you start making a list, isn’t there? 🙂

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    Luke Reply

    Ha! Had you already written this list when I commented? Coincidences… 🙂 Clue for the win!

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    Candice Frederick Reply

    LOVE night of the living dead. but i would substitue training day for panic room. good list!

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    Tom Clift Reply

    Embarrassingly, the only one of these films I’ve seen is PANIC ROOM (which I actually only watched about a week ago, and loved).

    The film that springs to mind that isn’t on this list is COLLATERAL. Probably my favourite Tom Cruise performance, aside from MAGNOLIA…he should play villains more often, it suits his natural smugness

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    Dan Reply

    @rtm: Yeah, I love the immediacy of the story. I find it far more involving than sprawling narratives that take months/years to tell a story. They do have their place – I love Forrest Gump, for example, but the shorter story time film will always rate a little higher in my book.

    @Rodney: Judgment Night was one of those “one night” films I saw late at night on TV – the perfect time to watch these movies I think. It isn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination but Leary is brilliant and its hugely entertaining/suspenseful. Love the locations they use as well.

    @Richard: You’re right Richard – there are more than you think there are. Someone did mention The Warriors – one I had forgotten but I think I would still stick to the ten I chose. Die Hard was on my short list. REC’s another great film, really enjoyed that one.

    @Luke: Haha, yeah I had the “one day” and “one night” lists written at the same time! Clue is a classic! Love that movie.

    @Tom: Not embarassing at all. I’d like to think you’re the perfect audience for these types of lists. I’ve seen far too many movies for my own good so it’s nice to be able to make some recommendations of films people haven’t seen. Collateral is one that did spring to mind – good choice!

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    John Reply

    I love it when “After Hours” gets love like that. Who would’ve thought that Scorsese could do black comedy?

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    Marc Reply

    Oh, great call on Suicide Kings. Now that’s an underrated gem and personal favorite of mine. Thanks for giving it some attention:)

    Night on Earth sounds interesting. I liked Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers. Might check it out.

    A few I can think of off the top of my head are Cloverfield, 11:14, Four Rooms, Friday, Glengary Glenross and with bit of a stretch regarding flashbacks you could use It’s A Wonderful Life. This is great list Dan, fine job:) Also @Richard and @Tom, good call on Collateral. I think I know what I’m watching today:P

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    filmgeek Reply

    In Search of a Midnight Kiss is one of my favourites

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    Dan Reply

    @John: After Hours and another of Scorsese’s dark comedies – The King of Comedy – are my two favourite films by the director.

    @Marc: Some great recommendations there Marc, cheers. Night on Earth is definitely worth checking out. Haven’t seen Four Rooms in ages, I remember enjoying Robert Rodriguez’s section the most I think.

    @filmgeek: I will have to check that one out, cheers for the recommendation.

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    Ripley Reply

    I quite like Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Not sure that counts.

    Night on Earth, meanwhile, kicks ass.

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    Chris Reply

    Collateral (2004) as mentioned in the comments was great, I thought. As is Before Sunrise , surely a modern classic.
    The first half of Night on earth I enjoyed, not the last half.

    A few of these I haven’t even heard of before.

    “Big Trouble In Little China” comes to mind, wasn’t that set during one night?

    I’ll head over to your “set in a day” post ( :

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    Daniel Reply

    Clever list… I would like to add “Murder by Death” (1976). Very similar to “Clue” ! With a cast like Peter Falk, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, Elsa Lanchester and Truman Capote, how can you go wrong ?

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    Goregirl Reply

    The first film that came to mind when seeing the subject was AFTER HOURS and there it is at your number #1 spot! I’m a big fan of that film too! I love Night On Earth also. Clue, Suicide Kings and of course NOTLD are also great picks. Not a fan of PANIC ROOM though. There are dozens of horror movies that take place over the course of a night, and yet the only other film that comes to mind is 13 TZAMETI which I seen recently and thought was great.

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    Jack Deth Reply

    Hi, all:

    These are some great choices! Also a topic that I would not have thought of to explore. Kudos all around.

    I really enjoyed ‘Suicide Kings’. Not just for its plot, which was very cool, but as a playground for firmly planted stalwarts, Walken and Leary. While being a springboard for then up and coming talents like Johnny Galecki and Jay Mohr as spoiled, unwittingly in debt to the mob rich kids.

    You cannot do better than mere mortal, non alien, scathingly acidic, dusk ’til dawn creepiness than ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe’!

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    Marya Reply

    The top 5 is flawless.

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    Raghav Modi Reply

    Nice list. Haven’t seen some of them. I would also add some of the teenage comedies like Projext X and Can’t Hardly Wait, with the latter being one of my favourites.

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    Dennis Reply

    As soon as I saw the category, I was hoping not to be disappointed. I WASN’T; I can watch “After Hours” once a week.

    When I first saw it way back, I drove 60 miles to overpay for a copy on VHS. When available on DVD, I jumped at the chance.

    Scorcese did a brilliant job; Dunne, Arquette Cheech & Chong, the entire ensemble of actors are perfectly cast.

    Probably my all time favorite film.

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    Nice list Dan, hats off to you for putting After Hours at #1, not only is it a great – happened all in one night movie, it’s one of the most entertaining films I’ve ever seen.

    Also good call on Judgement Night!

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    sascha Reply

    Thanks for posting Judgment Night here. I’ve seen it long time ago on tv and forgot the name for years. Gonna watch it again, it has a great atmosphere.

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    Leo Reply

    Love the list–these types of films don’t readily get the respect they deserve, often just being lumped in with those in the “horror” genre, but each have a lot to admire in their own right! I also agree like the comment suggesting “Can’t Hardly Wait” (a truly underrated teen comedy and one of the best) To these I’d add the old ‘disco-era’ “Thank God It’s Friday” and 2000’s more thought provoking “Urbania”–all are worthy additions to any “Netflix” queue.

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    Rockula Bacchus Reply

    I’d have had ‘The Breakfast Club’ in there.

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