List: Ten Awesome Movies That Take Place In A Day

Some of The Movie Sleuth writers teamed up to write this list of ten awesome movies that take place over the course of one day. Tom Cruise thinks you should read it.

"Where's Carl? We hate that
little bitch."
Narrowing down the endless possibilities, The Movie Sleuth presents a focus on 10 examples of what we believe are some of the best movies that take place in one day, irrespective of genre or the date of inception.  We feel these unique pieces manage to consistently engage the viewer without eroding one’s attention span with several corresponding intervals, each title excelling from beginning to end as their plots unfold over the course of 24 hours.   

Night of the Living Dead (1968 – written and directed by George A. Romero)
 Arguably one of the single most influential films of all time, George A. Romero’s micro-budget horror classic defined the quintessential “movie zombie” as we still recognize it today. Taking a cue from the claustrophobic entries in the Howard Hawks canon, the film follows a small group of survivors trying to make it through a single night alive by barricading themselves into a small farm house out in the country while flesh-eating “ghouls” shamble about, ready to… slowly leap out and bite them. But the zombies are beside the point. Romero’s film becomes a sociopolitical allegory in which the true antagonist is our own inability to work together when things get just a little too tough, and the zombies—grotesque and mindless as they may be—are blameless freaks of nature. To this day, this is a tense horror film with a prescient message that transcends time and culture. The slow burn pace combined with almost documentary style visuals cast a spell that still hold us in its grip almost 50 years later.

"I reeaallly wish it was a beaver
in my lap."
Groundhog Day (1993 – written and directed by Harold Ramis)
 There are some movies we can say “wouldn’t be the same” if it was a different actor in a role; then there are movies that would not exist if it was anyone but Bill Murray. Groundhog Day is more than a film. It’s a cultural perennial that has seeped into our collective consciousness. Because under the veil of its comic plot is a poignant character portrait, a dramatic struggle, and a touching love story that ties it all together. It’s as hilarious as it is heartfelt, playing out each repetition of each gag exactly as many times as it needs, and wringing real laughter out of human comedy borne from understanding as well as slapstick. It also engages us at the fundamental level that all films should strive for, making us ask ourselves, “What would we do if we were forced to live the same day over and over?” The character of sardonic weatherman Phil Conners, and Bill Murray’s pitch-perfect portrayal of his transformation, give us hope that we would travel the same arc. After we crashed a few cars, maybe blew some stuff up, and had a little fun first. More than the one-note joke its premise suggests, Groundhog Day is something profound, moving, and yes, hysterically funny.

Magnolia (1999 – written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)
 When I think of a filmmaker who can direct his own manic energy with laser focus, I can think of no better example to fit the bill than Paul Thomas Anderson when he made Magnolia. This is pure imagination, unhinged, yet grounded in a darkly brooding reality, dusted with a generous coating of the surreal, cooked and served to perfection. At three hours, one would think it a test of patience to watch even this all-star cast at the top of their game—Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Robards, John C. Reilly, just to name a few—but it’s rocket ship of an emotional roller coaster that leaves you breathless. Anderson catapults his camera through the lives of random people going about their day, slowly weaving his tapestry together through confrontation, deliciously profane dialogue, and even background easter eggs, until we realize that even the most unconnected people in this cleverly stacked Jenga of a narrative are essential in each other’s lives. Remove just one, and the whole tower of Babel falls. For me personally, the arrival of Magnolia and American Beauty, in the same year marked my emergence as a true film fanatic. Revisiting it again after 15 years, I’m reminded of how remarkable it is that PT Anderson was even younger than I am now when he made it, yet his understanding of human nature spans this universe in ways that will continue to astound for the decades to come.

Falling Down (1993 – directed by Joel Schumacher)
"I am sick and tired of being called
Zodiac. Now, it's time to die."
Michael Douglas plays William Foster, the walking, screaming symbol of all of our minute fantasies we've escaped to in the midst of a hard day at work. Performed with literally brutal honesty, Douglas takes us on a vicarious ride through many of our darkest, but hopefully completely innocent and harmless desires. This is the film Bobcat Goldthwait wished he had made with the far more overt, and less disciplined God Bless America. Nothing has quite come close to the cathartic rewards Falling Down brought upon audiences more than two decades ago in 1993. Arguably, this would be Joel Schumacher's career peak with 8mm, Phone Booth, and a couple episodes of the excellent House of Cards following. If you haven't seen Falling Down, it is undoubtedly a timeless piece that nearly any American can relate to. Although, the price of a can of soda in 1993 would seem like little reason nowadays to lay waste to an entire store with a baseball bat.

Die Hard (1988 – directed by John McTiernan)
"White Castle!!!! Why did
I eat that?!!!! Everyone clear out!"
Another timeless action classic that never ceases to amaze me. For reasons that baffle our leading scientists, 
I'll go a year or two without watching Die Hard. When I finally come back to it, I'm stunned at how entertained I am from beginning to end. Willis is the perfect every-man who beats a building full of terrorists with a smart ass attitude and no shoes. The thing that's so charming about Die Hard, is that for how ridiculous that sounds, it's totally made believable by Willis' natural performance and McTiernan's pacing and direction. Not only is this one of the best "movies-in-a-day," it's also one of the greatest action films ever made, setting benchmarks for action film archetypes, backdrops, and themes—all of which would be copied and ultimately come up short for decades to come.

"Hello God. Are you up there?
I'm really sorry about Twilight."
Cosmopolis (2012 — written and directed by David Cronenberg)
While known primarily for being one of the greats of body-horror, from The Fly to Scanners, David Cronenberg has stepped away from that in recent years. He has started attacking more dramatic fare. But his cold, detached style has not changed. That is most prevalently seen in his 2012 epic Cosmopolis, which tracks multi-billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) as he travels across New York City in a limo to get a haircut. In town he encounters a “protest against the future,” his wife, and a problem in the stock market that leads him down a path of self-destruction. All taking place within a single day, it works as an allegory for the imbalanced class system in a dystopian America. What makes it even more interesting is that it presents current-day capitalist America as a dystopia. Is our world already irreparably ruined? The speed at which one can receive information, utilize secrets, or even destroy oneself makes the single day the film takes place over feel like an eternity.

"A movie about pizza and race
relations. Got a problem with that?"
Do the Right Thing (1989 – written and directed by Spike Lee)
Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing closed 1989 with this still controversial masterpiece about racial tensions boiling over the course of a day in the life of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.  The film concerns Mookie (Spike Lee), a teenager working in a predominantly African American neighborhood for an Italian pizzeria run by Sal (Danny Aiello) and his two sons.  On a particularly hot summer day, an irate customer asks why the walls of the restaurant aren’t decorated with African American celebrities.  Over the course of the day, conflict and confrontation over this matter will ensue.  Brisk, colorful and episodic, the film is a kaleidoscopic slice of life told as an ensemble melodrama, cross cutting between the inhabitants of the neighborhood and the employees of Sal’s Pizzeria.  Unlike the far more didactic and manipulative Paul Haggis melodrama Crash, Lee’s film gives equal time to both sides of the argument about racism and leaves the viewer with more questions than answers.  In addition to making a profound statement about the nature of racism, it’s also a delightful exercise in pure cinema.  Take, for instance a shot of the drunk elder Da Mayor (the fantastic Ossie Davis) finally gaining acceptance from his one major detractor, Mother Sister (Ruby Dee).  As excitement and joy fills Da Mayor, a street light from overhead turns on with a subtle sound of a bell ring.  The film is full of wonderful little moments like that which harken as far back as the Golden Age of Hollywood, a style of theatrical filmmaking Lee understands far better than most of his critics give him credit for.

"Al, how many times have I got
to tell 'ya? No male hookin'
on this corner!!!" 
Dog Day Afternoon (1975 – directed by Sidney Lumet)
Sidney Lumet’s 1975 crime dramedy Dog Day Afternoon tells the unbelievable true story of two bank robbers (Al Pacino and John Cazale) who take its employees hostage and inadvertently create a media circus as hundreds of law enforcement officials and spectators befall the building.  Told in real time and loosely based on the story of bank robber John Wojtowicz, Dog Day Afternoon is a scathing satire of media exploitation and the strange camaraderie which forms between the thieves and the employees.  At one point, Pacino brings the head teller (Penelope Allen) out as a human shield to help negotiate the hostage crisis.  The woman looks about the crowd with excited delight and smiles for the television camera.  She might technically be a hostage but she’s absolutely having the time of her life as well.  When a pizza delivery boy brings in food for the thieves and hostages, he leaps in the air exclaiming ‘I’m a star!’  What begins as an ordinary crime drama transforms into a brilliant comedy about how any situation can be elevated into a major celebrity event with the aid of television cameras.  As law enforcement closes in and tries to end the situation, you get the feeling those in captivity don’t want the party to end.

12 Angry Men (1957 – directed by Sidney Lumet)
"Who am I to judge? I say we
hang his sorry ass."
Sidney Lumet’s jury room drama 12 Angry Men is one of the greatest films ever made in the history of cinema.  Spanning one long day in court, the film concerns 12 jurors deliberating on whether or not to convict an 18 year old boy accused of stabbing his father to death.  A clear cut case in the courtroom, everyone unanimously votes guilty except for one dissenting juror (Henry Fonda) who believes there is more to be discussed before making such a hefty judgment.  Taking place largely in the jury room as day becomes night and rain falls, it’s an intense, heated debate with conversing, convincing, and confrontation over the validity of each juror’s verdict.   Based off a teleplay by Reginald Rose, Lumet’s film is both a minimalist drama and an insightful portrait of the jury trial system in the court of law.  As a director, Lumet makes extensive use of silence, close ups of intense faces, and allows room for each juror to grow into fully fledged characters.  Though remade in 1997 for television by William Friedkin, there’s a reason the Library of Congress inducted Lumet’s adaptation into the Hall of Fame.  It hasn’t aged a bit or lost any of its relevance with time. 

"Stupid painting."
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986 – written and directed by John Hughes)
John Hughes is considered one of the great auteurs of the 1980s for successfully creating the dramedy, or comedy with heavy overtones of drama to give his stories weight and meaning.  One of his greatest examples is the timeless 1986 classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, starring Matthew Broderick in the title role as a high school student playing hookey for one last time before the summer lets out.  Covering one day in Chicago, he picks up his girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara from Ridley Scott’s Legend) and his best friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) while dodging his parents, embittered sister (Jennifer Grey) and the watchful eye of his high school principal, Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones).  Throughout the film, Ferris speaks directly to the viewer about how to skip school, some of the city’s finest highlights, and lamenting the plight of his depressed friend Cameron.  It is with Cameron that the film’s heavy drama seeps in, with Ferris trying to imbue some happiness into the unhappy sod’s life as he struggles with acceptance from his distant, materially possessed father.  Viewers took away timeless asides from the film, including an unscripted downtown parade Ferris crashes, the deadpan Ben Stein as the world’s most boring teacher, and Yello’s Oh Yeah dominating the soundtrack.  This is one really cool film that reminds us that everyone needs a healthy break from responsibility from time to time.

-J.G. Barnes

-Andrew Kotwicki
-Blake O. Kleiner
-Greg Dinskisk