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)
Meg (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)
Christopher 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)
Based 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)
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)
George 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)
Based 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)
Jim 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)
The 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)
Richard 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)
Paul 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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