Good Time hits theaters today, telling the story of a Queens criminal (played by Robert Pattinson in a change-of-pace role) trying to stay two steps ahead of the cops over one crazy, increasingly tense night. It’s a terrific thriller that captures all the excitement and unpredictability that can result when a seemingly innocent evening suddenly spirals out of control.
With its tight timeframe and quickly escalating suspense, Good Time is actually part of a grand tradition of movies set during a single, madcap evening in which anything that can happen will happen.
To properly celebrate them, here’s a rundown of 10 other movies that set their action after hours. Some are dark comedies, while others are shoot-‘em-up blockbusters. A few mix action, laughs and gore. But all of them are better watched once the sun goes down.
‘American Graffiti’ (1973)
In the early 1970s, amidst the darkening national mood thanks to Watergate and Vietnam, upstart filmmaker George Lucas wanted to do “a movie where people felt better coming out of the theater than when they went in.” That simple notion gave birth to American Graffiti, which takes place over one night in Modesto, California in 1962, capturing the optimism and exuberance of youth.
But its teen characters — played by, among others, burgeoning stars Ron Howard and Richard Dreyfuss — aren’t all about drag-racing, sweetheart dances and hanging out at the local drive-in diner. The movie is also a warm reminder of that wistful moment when young people realize that their childhood is almost over and that the adult world — in this case, college — is beckoning. American Graffiti spawned the super-popular sitcom Happy Days, but the film’s chronicling of eternal male-bonding rituals is always flecked with acknowledgement that these guys won’t be together much longer and will have to move on with their lives.
‘After Hours’ (1985)
When Paul (Griffin Dunne) started his evening, he was just looking for a little excitement. The unlikely hero of After Hours is a bit of a loser — he’s a computer programmer who doesn’t like his job and seems pretty lonely — so when he meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) at a restaurant and she invites him to her apartment, he starts to wonder if his dull life is finally turning around.
It’s a hopeful setup that After Hours quickly turns into a surreal, increasingly nerve-racking dark comedy as one bad thing after another happens to Paul. Suicide, death threats, violent punks, kinky exploits, insane waitresses: Director Martin Scorsese milks the scenario for every ounce of paranoid dread, the film working as a waking nightmare for an ordinary guy who suddenly realizes just how funky and strange the world becomes during the hours he’s normally safely in bed.
After Hours’ air of anxiety was so stifling, some critics had a hard time laughing. As Roger Ebert famously put it in his rave review, “[I was] so emotionally depleted that there was a moment, two-thirds of the way through, when I wondered if maybe I should leave the theater and gather my thoughts and come back later for the rest of the ‘comedy.’”
‘Evil Dead II’ (1987)
Plenty of horror films operate in short timespans — look no further than George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead — but among the nuttiest is this brilliant sequel to 1981’s The Evil Dead. An inspired mixture of slapstick and gore, Evil Dead II stars B-movie king Bruce Campbell in his iconic role as Ash, an oafish bro who has to fend off all types of demons while boarded up in a cabin alongside some randos.
Director Sam Raimi, who would go on to greater fame as the man behind the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies, treated horror like a Looney Tunes short, giving everything a sped-up energy that made the scares and laughs far more pronounced. As such, Evil Dead II is a manic, madcap experience full of hilarious gross-out moments, inspiring legions of low-budget, splatter-comedy imitators like Dead Alive and Dead Snow.
‘Adventures in Babysitting’ (1987)
The 1980s had no shortage of comedies about suburban teens getting into PG misadventures, but one of the more charming was this Elisabeth Shue star vehicle that instantly made her a lot of young guys’ biggest crush. In Adventures in Babysitting, she plays Chris, a likable high school student who, after her boyfriend cancels their date, reluctantly decides to babysit her neighbor’s daughter. But that plan goes haywire after she has to go downtown to rescue her friend who’s stuck at the bus station, bringing the little girl, her teen brother and his horny, dopey friend along.
Blown tires, gunplay and fraternity parties ensue, but Shue holds the whole thing together, effortlessly portraying the most adorable, snarky girl next door ever. Whether she’s singing along to “Then He Kissed Me” during the opening credits or stumbling her way through an impromptu blues performance at a club, the future-Oscar-nominated actress embodies the exuberant, awkward essence of being a teenager.
‘Die Hard’ (1988)
It’s bad enough that New York City cop John McClane is stuck in L.A. on Christmas Eve trying to save his marriage with his distant wife. His day instantly gets a whole lot worse when international terrorists descend on the building where she works, taking everyone hostage except for McClane — who has to save the day all by his lonesome.
Die Hard launched Bruce Willis’ post-Moonlighting career, turning him into a major movie star. But it was also the coming-out party for Alan Rickman as the wonderfully snide villain Hans Gruber: The celebrated English actor would play a number of different roles in his life, but after Gruber, he’d always be best known for bad guys in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and the Harry Potter movies.
Die Hard is very much part of the one-crazy-night genre, but it helped birth a particular strand of claustrophobic thriller as well, paving the way for “Die Hard on a bus” (Speed) and “Die Hard on a boat” (Under Siege).
‘House Party’ (1990)
Released in the midst of hip-hop’s commercial ascension, House Party starred rappers Christopher Reid and Christopher Martin (better known as Kid ‘n Play) as high school kids getting ready to throw a rager.
The hijinks are fairly benign, but the movie’s an energetic romp filled with dance-offs, run-ins with the police and plenty of beautiful women to distract our goofball heroes. Watched now, House Party is also a great time capsule for that cultural moment when rap music was still this new, novel thing — basically, party music without the social commentary or bling-bling consumerism.
‘Dazed and Confused’ (1993)
Richard Linklater is a filmmaker who often uses compact storylines. (Each movie in his Before trilogy takes place over less than 24 hours.) But Dazed and Confused best fits this list. Whereas American Graffiti looked at a bunch of high school kids on the last night before a new school year, Linklater’s movie focuses on the final day of a school year, following a group of teens wanting to get drunk, party and maybe even get laid. Set in 1976, the movie culminates in that evening’s activities, and Linklater encapsulates all the teen types — nerds, jocks, horndogs, burnouts — with specificity and compassion.
Almost alone among modern directors, Linklater is a guy who sees how precious particular moments in a young person’s life can be. As a result, Dazed and Confused’s laid-back, rollicking vignettes actually build to something poignant and thoughtful, which probably explains why the film is so endlessly watchable.
‘25th Hour’ (2002)
Often, this subgenre of movies is about exploring just how bad one night can go. But in the case of 25th Hour, it’s not really the night that’s fraught with peril — it’s what comes afterward that’s terrifying. Edward Norton gives one of his best performances as Monty, a New York drug dealer who’s about to go to prison for seven years. Before he does, though, he wants one final blowout with his best friends (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper) and his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson).
It’s a night of much drinking and recriminations, as long-held animosities and regrets finally come to the surface. Filmed by Spike Lee in the aftermath of 9/11 — we see the fallout from the attack everywhere — 25th Hour has an added emotional wallop, as both the main character and the city he loves wonder what await them in the future.
‘Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle’ (2004)
A sneakily subversive comedy camouflaged with tons of pot jokes, Harold & Kumar made stars of John Cho and Kal Penn, who played the eponymous best friends. On one level, the film was just another variation on the old Odd Couple dynamic: Harold (Cho) is sober-minded, responsible and hard-working, while smart-ass Kumar (Penn) wants to put adulthood on hold as long as possible.
After getting high one evening, they’re hit with a serious case of the munchies, seeking out an available White Castle to sate them. That’s a simple plot, but Harold & Kumar isn’t just really funny but also pretty observant about American culture clashes, calling out Korean and Indian stereotypes while finding room to revitalize Neil Patrick Harris’ career by turning him into a drug-addled lunatic. (By the way, after the lame sequel, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, the creative team righted the ship by doing another one-crazy-night comedy, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.)
‘Attack the Block’ (2011)
The movie that brought John Boyega to the world’s attention, Attack the Block is a scruffy charmer that just so happens to also be a fairly intense alien-invasion action-thriller. The future Finn of the Star Wars sequels plays Moses, a British youth who’s part of a crew of teen criminals looking to get in trouble during Guy Fawkes Night. Instead, his gang discovers that extraterrestrials have invaded London — and only these scrappy kids have the bollocks to take them on.
Combining laughs and scares, Attack the Block featured a hip cast that includes Nick Frost and new Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker. But the film also has a few things to say about London’s class system, crafting a smart commentary about how society’s most disenfranchised are often the ones who have to confront problems the upper-class never have to face — in this case, gnarly interstellar critters.