films The 25 Best Movies That Take Place in One Day

Ann Casano
477 votes 1.3k views 25 items Embed

List Rules Vote up the 0ne-day movies that make the best use of their 24 (or less) hours.

Some cinematic narratives develop over the course of years, decades, maybe even centuries. And then there are the movies in which the entire story takes place in 24 hours or less. Here are the best one day movies.

A lot of films that take place over one day are obvious selections. High Noon practically develops in real time. You probably also recall The Breakfast Club, which takes place from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm on a Saturday.

However, some of the movies on this list are not so obvious. Did you realize that Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic (in running time, at least) Magnolia takes place over one single day? Do you remember that all the events in Alien unfold in less than 24 hours?

Check out those films about a single day and more in the list below. Then, be sure to make your voice heard and vote up for all the best movies that take place over 24 hours.  

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Alien is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The 25 Best Movies That Take Place in One Day
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Jaws in space? Ridley Scott's 1979 classic expertly blends science fiction with horror. A spaceship lands after receiving a distress call. One of the crew members, Kane (John Hurt), is attacked. He winds up unknowingly bringing an alien life form back on the ship with him, and, of course, all hell breaks loose. Alien could make this list for its shocking and iconic chestburster scene alone. However, Scott's Academy Award-winning movie is a tension-filled classic that still to this day leaves spectators breathless, its tension ratcheted up by the extremely compressed time frame of the film. 

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Reservoir Dogs

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Quentin Tarantino's 1992 directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs, follows a group of career criminals, and one undercover cop, in the aftermath of a jewel heist gone terribly wrong. All the men are given pseudonyms (Mr. White, Mr. Pink, etc.) to protect their identity, as the structure of the story unfolds in a non-linear fashion, which gives the structure its inherent genius - the present tense action of the movie unfolds over the course of a few hours, but through flashback, the audience sees months in the lives of the characters. 

Tarantino immediately established what would become his trademark style, characters having long, seemingly meaningless discussions, during the first scene of the movie. What does Madonna's "Like a Virgin" really mean? Not many rookie filmmakers would be brazen enough to spend precious first-act minutes on a conversation that has absolutely nothing to do with the narrative of the movie.

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Do the Right Thing

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It's the hottest day of the year in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Spike Lee's magnum opus, the Oscar-nominated Do the Right Thing (1989), examines race relations in a small city neighborhood, without offering any solutions to the problems. Lee lets the characters simmer over the course of 24 hours, until, finally, at the end of the movie, there's a massive, violent eruption. A black man dies at the hands of a police officer, and Sal's Pizza Parlor (owned by a white Italian-American) is destroyed. The movie may have been made in 1989, but it could easily be a story about what is going on today.

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12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The 25 Best Movies That Take Place in One Day
Photo: United Artists

Sidmey Lumet's 1957 directorial debut, 12 Angry Men, tells the story of 12 jurors who must decide the guilt or innocence of a man on trail for his life. At first, it seems like a slam dunk case; the guy certainly appears guilty. In fact, during the first vote, every juror votes guilty, except for Juror 8 (Henry Fonda), who needs much more information.

Over the course of the next several hours, personalities clash as the debate heats up. Juror 8 insists the group go over every single detail, and make sure, unequivocally, that the man is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt in order to achieve an unanimous verdict. In the end, the audience never finds out if the man is guilty or innocent. That wasn't the point of the story.

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Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) is a demented black comedy that takes place in a single day and, for the most part, in one room. The screwball lunacy of the movie, which was based on a play, involves a character who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt and is trying to build the Panama Canal in his basement, a notorious criminal who had plastic surgery to hide from cops and ended up looking like famous Frankenstein actor Boris Karloff, two nice old ladies who poison people to save them from their misery, and a hapless Everyman caught in the middle of it all. 

Carey Grant's performance as the regular guy in this vortex of insanity is comedic genius, and watching him come apart in near-real time, as he discovers a body in a window seat and is confronted by the Karloff criminal (who, by the by, is his estranged brother), is a joy to behold. Frank Capra, well known for gentle, humanist films like It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, dives head first into the craziness of Arsenic and Old Lace, and the film is the better for it. 

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The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The 25 Best Movies That Take Place in One Day
Photo: Universal Pictures

John Hughes's seminal 1985 coming-of-age comedy The Breakfast Club tells the tale of five totally disparate high school students from different cliques who spend a Saturday in detention together. It takes the characters a while to warm up to each other, but once they push aside their differences, they wind up sharing their most intimate and painful secrets. The physically confined space of the movie, and its restrictive time frame, gives the feeling of watching live theater. 

The letter submitted by the group at the end of the day perfectly wraps up the themes of the movie:

Dear Mr. Vernon:

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain and an athlete and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.

Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.

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Dog Day Afternoon

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There's not much to say about Dog Day Afternoon (1975) that hasn't already been said. This '70s classic, starring a young Al Pacino and directed by Sidney Lumet, also on this list for 12 Angry Men, is part of the National Film Registry, won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and landed Al Pacino at number four on Premier Magazine's list of the greatest screen performances of all time for his portrayal of Sonny Wortzik. The plot revolves around a bank robbery gone horribly wrong and the subsequent hostage situation, and the movie touches upon sereval social and political issues of the '70s. 

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High Noon

High Noon is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The 25 Best Movies That Take Place in One Day
Photo: United Artists

Will Kane (Gary Cooper) and Amy (Grace Kelly), who is a Quaker and Pacifist, get married at 10:00 am. Kane's ready to leave his job as town marshal and open a shop in another town, but finds out a criminal named Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), who he put away years ago, is out of the jail and coming to kill him in the name of vengeance. Sure, Kane could up and leave, but he knows Miller and his gang will destroy the town. Kane stays and fights, against his wife's wishes, even though no one in town is willing to help.

All Kane can do is wait. Miller and the gang are arriving at noon. The film plays out in real time, and High Noon's ticking-clock narration creates edge-of-your-seat tension. The film won four Academy Awards and broke the mold of the traditional violent western.

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