What a Difference A Day Makes: 20 Films That Take Place in Under 24 Hours

“Fruitvale Station”, one of Sundance’s more divisive premieres, finally hits US theaters this week, and its single-day narrative serves as good reminder of the effectiveness of the conceit. In honor of the gimmick’s long history, we’ve compiled a list of the 20 best films that take place under 24 hours, ordered chronologically.

"ROPE" (1948)

How Much Time Passes: 80 minutes

Two self-styled New York intellectuals brandish their will to power by not only murdering a former schoolmate, but inviting his friends and family to the scene of the crime for dinner and a spot of tea. The film is largely shot as a series of continuing ten-minute takes, and, from strangulation to confession, spans the course of just 80 minutes.


How Much Time Passes: About a day

A man has his brand new bike nicked while on a ladder poster-hanging, and he and his son spend the afternoon tracking down leads. Most of the action is confined to a single afternoon, but it isn’t quite clear whether the purchase of the bike takes place early that same morning or the previous day.

"HIGH NOON" (1952)

How Much Time Passes: 85 minutes

The ultimate “real time” movie, “High Noon” covers an intense 85 minutes in the life of a small-town Marshall dead-set against walking away from a shoot out with a man he thought he’d put away to be hanged.

"12 ANGRY MEN" (1957)

How Much Time Passes: About 100 minutes

A dozen adult males on jury duty get hot around the collar as they try to reach a unanimous verdict. Yes, the movie is 96 minutes long, and yes, 93 of those minutes are in real time—but the first three take place a little earlier, in a court, and the last seconds are on the front steps. These are the kinds of technicalities that Henry Fonda would insist be discussed, after all.

"CLEO FROM 5 TO 7" (1962)

How Much Time Passes: 90 minutes

A Parisian woman waits to hear the results of a serious medical test, kicking around the French streets from 5pm until she can call her doctor at 6:30. It’s a real-time film with moral weight.


How Much Time Passes: 3-4 hours

It’s hard to say exactly how much time passes from the point at which planes are sent into radio-silence to bomb the Soviet Union and the point at which the world meets its unfortunate end, but we’re guessing that the flight time from US airspace to missile range is 3 or 4 hours at the minimum.


How Much Time Passes: A few hours

Wally’s loquacious dinner date with Andre seems to take place in real time, but then it is a little odd that their meal would wrap up around the time the restaurant was closing. Add on Wally’s subway trek and wistful cab ride home and we’re thinking this has to be at least a couple of hours longer than the 100-minute running time suggests.

"AFTER HOURS" (1985)

How Much Time Passes: About 16 hours

“After Hours” opens with Paul training the boring new guy at work just before close and finishes with his computer booting up the following morning—that’s a solid 16-hour adventure, conservatively speaking, even if the zaniest parts are confined between midnight and 3am.

"DIE HARD" (1988)

How Much Time Passes: About 4 hours

One man. Terrorists. No shoes. As “Die Hard” begins, John McClane is landing in Los Angeles and riding to the Nakatomi tower around sunset, and from the cut-short party to the heist game straight on down to the finale, there’s no way the night lasted more than 4 hours. Hard to believe so much action was crammed into so little time—I guess we gotta be here for New Years.


How Much Time Passes: 24 hours

A veritable race war in Brooklyn culminating in police brutality, murder, and a garbage can through a pizzeria window, of course, but also a whole lot more than that: this movie is brimming with so much life that it’s amazing it could fit in the span of a single summer day, from one morning until the next.


How Much Time Passes: About 14 hours

“Glengarry Glen Ross” opens with a late-night meeting and even later-night sales calls in the rain, and then quickly flashes forward to a second act set across the following morning. A workplace is robbed, sales are made and then disproven, and Alec Baldwin brandishes his infamous brass balls. All in all it’s a pretty packed day at the office.


How Much Time Passes: 24 hours (if maybe thousands of times)

It’s a bit of cheat, obviously, but who could resist? “Groundhog Day” takes the concept of the single-day movie and reconfigures it as maybe the longest narrative timeline in cinema history, quite self-consciously spinning its wheels until the feedback loop reaches infinity. How many days does Bill Murray even life through before he comes unstuck from time and rejoins history? 50? A few hundred? How long does it even take to learn the piano?

"BUFFALO '66" (1998)

How Much Time Passes: About 14 hours

Vincent Gallo is released from prison and sets out to murder the man who (sorta) put him there, a former football player whose field goal misfire cost him a bet he couldn’t afford. But first, of course, Gallo has to kidnap Christina Ricci from ballet class, pass her off as his loving girlfriend at a family dinner, and go bowling to the sounds of King Crimson. It’s a cute date.

"RUSSIAN ARK" (2002)

How Much Time Passes: 96 minutes (and several centuries)

“Russian Ark” represents Alexander Sokurov’s attempt to do with digital technology what Hitchcock found impossible with film: shot in one continuous, 96-minute take, the film is a real-time adventure through literally centuries of Russian history, taking us (by way of an invisible, first-person protagonist) through the many halls and galleries of a museum caught in one hell of a time warp.

"25TH HOUR" (2002)

How Much Time Passes: One day

Much like “Cleo from 5 to 7”, Spike Lee’s single-day narrative takes on the tension of a moral deadline, with Edward Norton’s convicted felon spending his last day before his lifelong prison sentence mentally preparing himself for the inevitable. It’s all contained in one day, unless you count the vision of a possible life on the lam—a beautiful fast-forward through a second chance that might be.


How Much Time Passes: About 12 hours

Jamie Foxx is a too-meek cab driver with his head in the clouds in Michael Mann’s “Collateral”, and Tom Cruise is the hitman whose night-long job will inspire him to take charge of his life. From Foxx’s early evening ride with Jada Pinkett-Smith to Cruise’s last subway ride into dawn the next day, the movie should clock in just under 12 hours.

"CRANK" (2006)

How Much Time Passes: One day

Everything that can possibly happen to one man in a single day, basically: from impromptu fist fights to public indecency, Jason Statham’s near-dead superhero Chev Chelios runs the gamut at lightning speed. And while directors Neveldine/Taylor take a decidedly liberal approach to representing the passing of time, it’s a good bet that both “Crank” films take up a few hours at most.

"OSLO, AUGUST 31ST" (2011)

How Much Time Passes: One day

This is by far the most depressing film in the list, covering the plaintive final hours of a former addict resigned to never getting his life back on track. It begins in the morning with a day out of the clinic in order to look for work and meet up with some old friends, and it ends with an ill-advised bender and, finally, death. It’s a good reminder that sometimes finite timelines really are finite.