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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

7. Kids (Larry Clark, 1995)


Time it takes place: Afternoon to the following morning
Running time: 91 minutes

In retrospect, we could consider this the grittier and extremely unromantic counterpoint to Nick & Norah’s version of teens being teens in New York City. The Harmony Korine-scripted drama is a harsh and somewhat dated but necessary look at kids with too much freedom and way too much temptation for all the indulgences of the big city.

6. The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985)

John Hughes filmmaking The Breakfast Club
Universal Pictures

Time it takes place: 7 am to 4 pm
Running time: 97 minutes

There is almost as much to hate about this movie as there is to love, but it’s the quality of the good stuff that allows us to dismiss things like Ally Sheedy’s makeover and the generally unrealistic situation. Sometimes stories can just be a kind of experiment where you throw characters together and imagine what happens, and that’s how you get a forced scenario drama like The Breakfast Club. Fortunately, what happens is insightful and endearing and yes ultimately all wrong but also mostly enjoyable.

5. Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003)


Fine Line Features

Time it takes place: Early hours of a school day
Running time: 81 minutes

There are scenes that take place prior to the single-day setting of Elephant, but thanks to the nonlinear narrative they can be dismissed as flashbacks. The gist of the Columbine-inspired drama is that it’s about, initially, an ordinary day at a high school populated by ordinary teens, including the two who inexplicably go on a shooting spree, killing their fellow students. It’s disturbing yet effectively powerful in its sparse simplicity.

4. Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993)

Time it takes place: Morning to morning
Running time: 102 minutes

Although heavily inspired by another movie on this list that ranks higher, Dazed and Confused has nowhere near the substantial value of its predecessor. It’s really just a good time movie. A very well-scripted good time with some fun performances and a great soundtrack.

3. Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955)

Rebel Without A Cause by Nicholas Ray
Warner Bros.

Time it takes place: 3 am to 3 am
Running time: 111 minutes

The main thing that keeps this film from a higher ranking is also what makes it such an alluring picture: it’s remote in its romanticism, a little too melodramatic and stylish in its performances to identify with in spite of their depiction of identifiable feelings. It’s an amazing film that always has been, even in its own time, situated behind a pane of glass. We want it to be more approachable than it is, want to be part of it and be as cool as James Dean is in it, but it’s not possible. It’s fitting we may see it now more often through the eyes of other characters, like those in La La Land and on Riverdale.

2. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)

Ferris Bueller

Time it takes place: 7 am to 6:30 pm
Running time: 103 minutes

The rebellious title character may be our host through this iconic yet implausible truancy adventure, but the protagonist of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is definitely Cameron. Some may even believe he’s the only real person among the main characters. And just as Ferris is something of an overly prominent supporting role, so is the high school backdrop an inessential but formally impeccable context for what’s really a universal and timeless human story of finding joy in life, as played out by kids restricted by the specific authorities of educators, parents, and ultimately themselves.

1. American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973)

American Grafitti

Time it takes place: Early evening to the following morning
Running time: 112 minutes

“Where were you in ‘62?” For the sake of audiences, “‘62” is not a year so much as a time in all our lives. It’s the eve of adulthood everyone goes through, albeit not all in the form of cruising around town set to Golden Oldies. That’s why American Graffiti, despite being set 55 years ago, remains the most relatable teen movie ever. It’s hard not to find at least one character in the ensemble to identify with. The movie could be set anytime, the year I graduated, the year you graduated, whenever. The fact that it is specifically 1962 serves a metaphorical significance in that it’s a final year of a certain innocence for America. Yet for a movie so intently emblematic, it’s also very natural and comfortable, a deeply satisfying entertainment.

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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.