Despite cinema’s relative youth, the art form has already reached an apparent stalemate in terms of potential narrative constraints that can keep viewers interested and entertained. However, when done properly, the idea of limiting the plot of a film to a mere 24 hours can be an invigorating experience. As a result, we’ve compiled a list of 10 great films that all take place within a single day.
10. Clerks (1994)
In 1994, Kevin Smith risked everything with the production of his cult hit Clerks and he managed to spawn a career out of it. This entertaining slacker comedy follows Dante Hicks as he gets called in to work at a local convenience store even though it is supposed to be his day off.
9. American Graffiti (1973)
Before George Lucas started telling stories about distant galaxies, he wrote and directed a stellar coming-of-age film that plays beautifully off of the power of nostalgia. Chronicling a group of recent high school graduate’s last night in town before leaving for college, the film captures the striking time of a universal life transition nearly all can relate to.
8. Groundhog Day (1993)
Launching one of our silliest holidays into the stuff of legend, 1993’s Groundhog Day further emphasizes Bill Murray’s status as a cultural icon. Playing a narcissistic meteorologist, Murray finds himself in a time loop repeating the same day over and over again when covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney.
7. Airplane! (1980)
David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker came together to produce one of film’s most iconic comedies in Airplane!. This satirical comedy utilizes slapstick and Leslie Nielsen to perfection in order to poke fun at the disaster movie genre. Given its iconic cultural status, surely this film belongs on our list.
6. Before Sunrise / Before Sunset (1995), (2004)
Richard Linklater’s set of films examining star-crossed lovers Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Deply) are essentially an extended conversation between two people who are seemingly meant to be together. Both spanning merely a few hours, the two films manage to discuss deeply meaningful aspects of relationships set against a backdrop of two European cities.
5. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
One of the many John Hughes creations from the ‘80s, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is an undeniable classic. Fabulously capturing a restless teen who plays hooky from school, the film is Hughes’ love letter to Chicago that beautifully captures the reckless freedom of running from authority.
4. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
One of America’s first horror classics, Night of the Living Dead paved the way for nearly every zombie movie, television show and music video that followed, and to this day remains the model to which all are compared. The film tracks a group trapped in a rural farmhouse in Pennsylvania and their attempts to ward off the so-called “living dead.”
3. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Browsing Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre can move even the most successful contemporary directors to consider giving up the craft. With multiple films that will undoubtedly remain some of the art’s most celebrated works, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a flawless satire of the nuclear scare of the Cold War that sees a rogue American officer order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union and follows the diplomatic action that must be taken to avoid disaster.
2. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee’s unapologetic and visually tiring film about one of the hottest days in history on the streets of Brooklyn commands attention and holds up in current society. As the day progresses, so too does the heat, perfectly matching the racial tensions that eventually reach a boiling point outside of a local pizzeria. This film is a must-see. And that’s the truth, Ruth.
1. Magnolia (1999)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling tale of several intertwining plotlines and characters is a flawless meditation on the search for life’s meaning and the relationships we hold with others. The film also plays on our expectations for filmic narratives, culminating in a wholly unexpected final scene.