Movies are made up of hundreds of shots that have been edited to make a thematically continuous story. These shots can span extremely widely in space and time. But one of the toughest feats to achieve is to tell a story in real time. So, here is the list of top films ever that take place in real time.
10. Timecode (2000)
This deserves a place for the sheer effort it took to plan and shoot this film. While it is not a cornerstone of filmmaking, it is an exercise in experimental films. The USP of the film is that four frames are juxtaposed on the screen. And each frame is a continuous shot. It does start out disconcerting the viewers because of the sheer amount of things going on. The story is fairly ordinary about a few characters with the world of Hollywood lurking in the background. But soon, you realize that you have to look at the big picture and all the frames come together to form a fairly comprehensible movie.
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9. Buried (2010)
When a film is limited to a particular period of time, naturally a single location is used. It also adds a sense of claustrophobia that turns up the intensity of the movie without having action or lame exposition to build to a climax. And ‘Buried’ is an example of exactly that. It follows the story of an American Trucker who is buried alive in a coffin in the middle of a desert, armed with only a phone and a lighter. The movie takes place entirely in real time and inside the coffin. The tension builds up as the protagonist literally struggles for breath. With a great performance by Ryan Reynolds, the only actor we see in the flesh, and a very difficult story to tell effectively, ‘Buried’ will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.
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8. Phone Booth (2002)
A very different story but a very similar premise to ‘Buried’, this movie is a fairly underrated gem. It also hinges mainly on the performance of the protagonist but Collin Farrell does a great job. The film chronicles the extortion of a busy publicist held hostage at a gun point by a sniper. It is a very thoughtful movie that delves into morality, ethics, and legality. Tension keeps building as the movie progresses and stakes rise but the movie stays true to being a movie in real time.
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7. Run Lola Run (1998)
This one is a race against time as the titular Lola’s boyfriend loses money that he had to give to a mafia boss and Lola has to save him by getting him the money in 20 minutes. The movie follows three different possibilities as Lola runs around trying to make the money. The movie shows the future of all the characters she crosses, through photo shots, furthering the central idea of “What Ifs”. Every 20 minute possibility is distinctly different and takes place in real time as the various characters have different impacts on the lives of each other. The movie brilliantly showcases the way we affect other people’s lives through seemingly insignificant encounters. The film may be in German but it puts forth universal ideas making it a movie worth your time.
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6. Russian Ark (2002)
The fact that this entire movie is a single continuous take makes it quite obvious that it takes place in real time but this movie transcends time altogether. The continuous movie brings history to life in the form of a master-class in production design as historical figures from Russian history become parts of what is essentially a tour around a huge museum. The film becomes a surreal experience as time goes on and what you are left with is a visual masterpiece of a movie.
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5. The Man from Earth (2007)
A masterpiece of writing, ‘The Man from Earth’ is a great script written by Jerome Bixby over three decades made into a brilliant movie. It is a film that doesn’t bring attention to the real-time aspect but accepts it at face value. The entire movie is a group discussion that takes place after a history professor retires and casually confesses that he has been alive for approximately 14,000 years. What ensues is a deeply intellectual dive into the philosophical and psychological understanding of humanity and all that we hold dear. The story modulates the intensity to create an overall arc for the story with a satisfying ending. The fact that it takes place in real-time adds to the sense of reality of the film.
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4. My Dinner with Andre (1981)
This is a very highly acclaimed movie that has been a sleeper hit. It has picked up a huge cult following for its simple portrayal of a conversation between two estranged former colleagues over dinner. It toys with the conflicting views of the world that the only two characters embody. The actors, Wally and Andre play fictitious versions of themselves as the movie explores their views as they change through the course of the film and after. The real-time conversation may feel excruciatingly insignificant till you start realizing what the movie tugs on. In its unresolved conflict lies a look at the human mind that will leave you a changed person.
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3. Rope (1948)
Another one of Hitchcock’s great films, ‘Rope’ is a brilliant thriller. While it does not take place in real time, it compresses a span of 100 minutes in 80 minutes by speeding up some of the action. This technique magically makes you feel like you watched the entire 100 minutes as proven by a 2002 analysis of the film. Alfred Hitchcock shot the movie in 10 long takes, limited by the reel that a camera could hold, ranging from 4 to 10 minutes. The plot is quite innovative too as it follows two friends who murder a classmate and put the body in a chest to prove their intellect and hold a party with the chest in the center of the room. Most of Hitchcock’s filmography consists of great movies that are all overshadowed by ‘Psycho’ and ‘Vertigo’ but ‘Rope’ deserves every bit of attention it gets.
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2. Before Sunset (2004)
While the first installment of the trilogy took place over 12 hours, ‘Before Sunset’ takes place in real time as Jesse and Celine meet again at a bookstore in Paris. The two of them meet and talk while roaming around Paris before Jesse has a plane to catch. It makes the movie a brilliant journey as the viewers become voyeuristically involved in the relationship that is blooming in front of their eyes. The film depicts time in a very real way even outside of the movies running time. This is shown best in the blurriness of the memories they have from 9 years ago as they cannot agree on the details. Richard Linklater has used the technique of storytelling in real time in his fairly unknown ‘Tape’ also to great effect.
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1. 12 Angry Men (1957)
This is a movie that takes place inside a jury room where 12 jurors are tasked with deciding the fate of a young boy charged with murder. The film starts with a long take as the jurors get seated in peace but soon tensions rise and egos clash. The jurors have very distinct personalities thanks to the brilliant direction of Sidney Lumet. The summer heat permeates through the strong characters as they become more irritable but Henry Fonda’s character puts forth an unpopular yet strong opinion that ends up commenting on the system of law as well as human emotions. Every beat of the movie elevates to the final point in a beautiful crescendo. The movie is a masterpiece that has been validated by securing the fifth place in IMDb’s Top 250 and it speaks to the simplistic beauty of films that take place in real-time.
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