This list simply offers a wide selection of films which unfold almost entirely (or entirely) at night time; whether it be action, comedy, horror, a classic, a modern feature, a classic film, a blockbuster or a low-key indie feature – they all take place when the sun has set. Sometimes, the night is so much a part of these films that it simply does not seem right to watch them in the day!
As there are undoubtedly many, many more films which take place at night – this list intends to be a wide variety – not all of them and not necessarily the best.
20. The Innkeepers (2011)
This excellent throw-back ghost story from Ti West details the last remaining days of a supposedly haunted hotel before its closure. The two receptionists alternate the night shifts and conduct amateur paranormal investigations in order to prove the hotel’s rumoured spirits exist.
On paper, it is a film that does not seem to be breaking any new ground in the horror genre – taking clear inspiration from films such as Michael Winner’s ‘The Sentinel’ and to some extent, ‘The Shining’; The Innkeepers still proves to be an atmospheric chiller – even when the scares prove ultimately to be false. The final shot of the film is one of the most eerie moments in modern horror.
19. The Crow (1994)
Famously, the movie in which Brandon Lee died during filming – The Crow is a spectacular but undoubtedly melancholic movie given the tragic love story/fantasy revenge narrative and also with it featuring such an iconic final performance by Lee.
In keeping with the dark, bleak visual and thematic tones of James O’Barr’s 1989 comic, the film takes place almost entirely on the wet October nights of Detroit – increasing the film’s pervasive gothic aura and gloomy aesthetic. One of the very best comic book adaptations ever made.
Alex Proyas’ subsequent film, ‘Dark City’ may have been another choice for this list; but seeing as it is set in a world in a perpetual state of night – it may be considered cheating.
18. Die Hard (1988)
It was the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring except… John McClane on his night off, taking down terrorist after terrorist when he only came to L.A. to see his estranged wife!
While Die Hard is widely considered to be an Action or Christmas film, it is easy to forget that it takes place almost entirely at night – making it the perfect film choice for the evening of December 24th if the traditional Christmas feature is not your thing. Die Hard 2: Die Harder could have easily made the list too, but let us just stick with the original and the classic.
17. Dazed and Confused (1993)
After a final school day in 1976 – a group of intrinsically linked teenagers and freshmen hang out at various spots of their neighbourhood including a drive-thru, the Emporium and the moon tower as the late-afternoon changes into the early hours of the morning.
This film really comes to life when night time hits – evoking the nostalgia of hanging out after school when the worries of being ‘grown-up’ seemed so far away and being caught drinking by your parents was the worst thing that could happen! The second Linklater feature on the list – beating out possible entries of his such as Tape. On a side note, it also features one hell of a soundtrack!
16. Rope (1948)
Hitchcock’s famous experiment in using minimal editing and telling a story in real-time. It begins in the late afternoon with two students strangling there classmate simply because they can; Rope then unfolds at an evening gathering in an apartment – not only where the murder just happened minutes previously, but also where the body is now hidden!
Because Rope takes place entirely indoors, Hitchcock’s clever use of set design – with the huge window backdrop of the whole city light lights turning on and the sky becoming dark – enables the audience to remain subtly aware of the real-time passage of events.
15. Collateral (2004)
Michael Mann’s gripping urban thriller starring Tom Cruise – brilliantly cast against type as Vincent – a clinical and hardened hitman and Jamie Foxx as the Taxi driver he is holding hostage in order to complete his objective and take out his targets over a one night period.
Night time L.A. is presented as an unfamiliar and dangerous place where you can find yourself caught up in seemingly anything. We never stray too far away from both of Cruise and Foxx – whose collaboration keep the film holding the attention of the audience. One of Cruise’s finest performances and one of Mann’s greatest films.
14. The Warriors (1979)
This cult New York set urban thriller remains one of the most treasured films from the 1970s. During an organised ceasefire of all the various New York gangs – the leader of the most powerful gang is murdered and the ‘Warriors’ are suspected, forcing them on an all-night retreat to their home turf on Coney Island.
Essentially a modern western, The Warriors is a violent and somewhat controversial film – giving the gritty D-train-ridin’ aesthetic of New York in the 1970s a subtle elevation to reflect the look of a violent graphic novel. The only question that remains is: CAN YOU DIG IT!?!
13. Irréversible (2002)
This rattling and deeply discomforting film from Gaspar Noé is a notorious 21st century shocker – but equally, it is a haunting yarn concerning the fragility of life and the shattering consequences of the seemingly inconsequential actions that are revealed as the film’s narrative unravels in reverse-chronological order.
Unfolding on a solitary night in the streets of Paris – two men seek revenge after a woman is violently beaten and raped during an agonizing nine minute stationary shot with no cuts. An intensely affronting film that will take you to places where you will never, ever want to return to.
12. Strange Days (1995)
Kathryn Bigelow’s sorely underappreciated 1995 sci-fi thriller combines the urban dystopia of Blade Runner with the high-octane action of Terminator 2: Judgement Day – not a surprise considering it was scripted by Bigelow’s ex-husband – James Cameron.
The film documents the last two days of the 20th Century through the nocturnal eyes of a cop-turned-street hustler, Lenny Nero as he deals in clips (memories recorded via “S.Q.U.I.D.” devices) and uncovers the death of an influential black artist in L.A.
Strange Days ceases to be a fascinating film – it boldly captures the impending anxiety of approaching the then-new millennium whilst weaving an imaginative mystery narrative. The scale and length of the film gives the feel of a highly eventful and monumental night out (minus the rape and murder) by taking place in so many locales and with very, very little of the 142 minute duration taking place in the daytime.
11. Key Largo (1948)
An ex-solider is requested to travel to a remote hotel in the Florida Keys where he meets one of his fallen comrade’s widow and father. It is later revealed that a notorious criminal, Johnny Rocco, is hiding away at the hotel with his henchmen – so that when a hurricane hits the conflicting parties have to spend the night together.
John Huston’s angst-ridden post-war thriller boasts an all-star cast and a high concept premise, but it was nowhere near as successful as his hailed previous works in the 40s such as ‘The Maltese Falcon’ or ‘The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre’. That said, any film packing Hollywood legends Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson is going to be worth the watch.