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The Best Teen Movies Set in One Day

We rank the classics and duds that take place in 24 hours or less.
Ferris Bueller
Paramount Pictures
By  · Published on February 28th, 2017

In Before I Fall, a teen girl relives a single day over and over, a la Groundhog Day. For many other teens in cinema, reliving a single day over and over involves fans rewatching movies set during that short span of time. As it turns out, a lot of teen and high school movies take place in less than 24 hours. Maybe because when you’re that young, a day can seem like a lifetime. And apparently your whole life – or at least your attitude about yourself and the world – can change in the course of a night.

Below is a ranking of 14 movies – enough to almost fill a 24-hour marathon if you so choose (with some time leftover for breaks) – that fit the temporal qualifications. Sorry, technically Sixteen Candles, Three O’Clock High, Superbad, Wet Hot American Summer, Brick, and Scream don’t quite fit. And don’t even try with the Back to the Future argument.

14. I Love You, Beth Cooper (Chris Columbus, 2009)

I Love You Beth Cooper

Time it takes place: Afternoon to next morning
Running time: 102 minutes

For a guy who came up under the wings of Steven Spielberg and John Hughes and has delivered at least two serviceable Harry Potter movies, Chris Columbus has no reason to have made a teen movie as bad as this. If you do watch all these in a butt-numbing marathon, you may regret starting with the lowest ranking movie since this feels a lot longer than its 102-minute running time. It’s also the only one we’d otherwise recommend avoiding at all costs.

13. Losin’ It (Curtis Hanson, 1983)

Time it takes place: End of the school day through the night
Running time: 100 minutes

Outside of seeing a young Tom Cruise and the wasted talents of Jackie Earle Haley, there’s not much to appreciate with this teen sex adventure written by the guy who slightly ruined American Graffiti (he wrote its forgettable yet existing sequel). Some friends head to Tijuana overnight to lose their virginity, they meet a nice woman along the way and things go even less interestingly than you’d expect.

12. The Slumber Party Massacre (Amy Holden Jones, 1982)

Time it takes place: Early morning through that night
Running time: 77 minutes

Many slasher movies primarily involve teens and many of them primarily are set within a 24-hour period, but this might be the only one to truly take place over a single day and night. It’s a fine by-the-numbers entry into the genre if you don’t take it seriously, and it likely offers some scares for teen girls watching while at a slumber party. For the rest of us, it’s a humorous near-parody of its own.

11. Teenagers from Outer Space (Tom Graeff, 1959)

Teenagers From Outer Space

Time it takes place: Early morning to the end of the day
Running time: 86 minutes

Thanks to the title of this B movie, which has been worked over by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang, we can count it as a teen movie, even if its only teen character is an alien who is never actually referred to as such. He’s a rebel with a cause, and that’s to stop an invasion by his own kind before the day is through. Of course, it’s hokey, but it has that cheap old sci-fi flick charm and is an artifact worth having around.

10. Empire Records (Allan Moyle, 1995)

Time it takes place: Closing time to the following closing time
Running time: 90 minutes

If you’ve ever actually worked at a record store – or anywhere, really – you’ll know the entirety of Empire Records is about as believable as GWAR addressing you directly from one of their music videos. Teen employees only wish their jobs were like those of the abundant and redundant staff on screen, and many certainly act like they were. Still, if you accept that it’s a ridiculous movie, it can be appreciated for a number of specific elements, including the cult popularity of Rex Manning.

9. Can’t Hardly Wait (Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, 1998)

Cant Hardly Wait

Time it takes place: Late evening to the next morning
Running time: 101 minutes

More Ethan Embry! If you’re a certain age, you love Can’t Hardly Wait, and if you’re not, you probably don’t. There’s a lot about it that is similar to teen movies of any generation, in that it’s filled with a combination of relatable and stereotypical characters just enjoying themselves and maybe facing some basic dramatic situations during the course of a party. But it’s also the kind that doesn’t resonate outside of the generation it catered to directly. And that’s fine. Every age group needs its own, non-classic teen movies.

8. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Peter Sollette, 2008)

Nick And Norah Infinite Playlist

Time it takes place: Afternoon to the following dawn
Running time: 90 minutes

What could just be a typical teenage rom-com set over the course of a single night is made distinctly special due to the charm of its actors, including leads Michael Cera and Kat Dennings as well as a very funny Ari Graynor. Like the rest of the best, it’s also strongly supported by its setting, here the hangouts of lower Manhattan, and its soundtrack.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.