films The 25 Best Movies That Take Place in One Day

Ann Casano
516 votes 107 voters 1.6k 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


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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12 Angry Men


12 Angry Men is listed (or ranked) 3 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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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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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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Ferris Bueller's Day Off is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The 25 Best Movies That Take Place in One Day
Photo: Paramount Pictures

Clever, lovable Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) made skipping school look like the most fun ever. Ferris, his girlfriend (Mia Sara), and his best buddy (Alan Ruck) have an overwhelming amount of fun in a single day. They pull off an elaborate ruse in order to trick their high school principal (Jeffrey Jones), drive around Chicago in a rare Ferrari (actually a Ferrari replica, the Modena Spyder, which apparently far exceeds the Ferrari in quality), and even participate in a parade. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) was just one of John Hughes's classic 1980s movies, and perhaps his most fun.

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Die Hard


Die Hard is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The 25 Best Movies That Take Place in One Day
Photo: 20th Century Fox

It's Christmas time in Los Angeles in the 1988 action drama Die Hard. Off duty New York City cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) gets a note from his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia): "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs..." However, the office party they attend gets busted up by a group of German terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman.) McClane must outsmart the highly trained terrorists in order to save lives at the Nakatomi Plaza. Die Hard is everything a great action movie should be: smart, funny, well-acted, and an awful lot of fun to watch.

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