Best Movies That Happen in Real-Time, Ranked – MovieWeb

A film that takes place in real-time is an artistic and refreshing choice for cinema. Let’s look at the best ones, ranked.
When it comes to cinema, the story is one of the most crucial parts of the entire project. Good actors are a must, and beautiful cinematography is essential, but without a compelling story, the film is not going to be a hit. The beautiful thing about storytelling is that there are so many options to work with. Most films follow the three-act structure, which has been the blueprint for filmmaking since the beginning of the medium. With that said, some filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Harmony Korine aren't afraid to throw the rule book out the window to make something original and authentic.
In recent years, we have seen filmmakers utilize the power of making a film in one single take. Films like Sam Mendes' 1917 use the one-take method to make it feel as if you are following the characters in real-time. Not all films need to be one take to be told in real-time, of course. Telling a story in real time is a very compelling artistic choice for the fact that you are taking a journey with the character with no breaks whatsoever. Adaptations of plays are a great way to utilize this technique, and we have also seen it executed in action films as well. Although it may not be for everyone, it is something that should definitely be appreciated in the world of cinema. Let's dive into the greatest films that take place in real-time.
Related: Best Films That Take Place in One Day
Tom Tykwer wrote and directed the highly original film, Run Lola Run. The story follows Lola (Franka Potente of the Jason Bourne movies) who has a limited amount of time to raise an immense amount of money after a money delivery job goes very wrong. The film is high energy from beginning to end, and the audience can feel the dread and stress that Lola feels with each passing second. At the same time, Potente's performance is top-notch, and the cinematography is amazing.
Before Sunset is Richard Linklater's follow-up to his acclaimed film, Before Sunrise. The film follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) close to a decade after their first encounter. Like the original, the film follows the two while they talk about life, love, and many other topics. The dialogue in this film is interesting and compelling from start to finish and the chemistry between Hawke and Delply is unmatchable.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Birdman was a monumental achievement that reinvented Michael Keaton's career, showcasing possibly the finest performance of his life. The film is shot in the one-take style and follows a famous actor, Riggan (Keaton), as he struggles to execute a Broadway play. The movie is captivating from start to finish, and telling the story in real-time works beautifully. It is a thought-provoking film on entertainment, fame, and self-acceptance.
With 1917, Sam Mendes told an epic World War I story using the one-take method that follows two soldiers (George Mackay & Dean-Charles Chapman) on a deadly mission in real-time. One can only imagine the hard work and talent that had to go into the elaborate set design and stunts to pull off this film. It is suspenseful and adrenaline-filled from start to finish, proving Mendes' capabilities as a filmmaker.
Paul Greengrass portrays the tragic events of September 11th, while focusing on the bravery of the passengers and crew of United 93. The film, aptly called United 93, makes you feel as if you are actually on the plane because of Greeengrass' brilliant directing style. This is a story that worked perfectly, being told in real-time. Greengrass went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director.
Fred Zinnemann's High Noon is a classic western that tells the story of Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper), who has to go up against a deadly gang by himself. The film is full of drama, suspense, and features fantastic performances from Cooper and the rest of the cast. Telling this story in real-time makes the film all that more satisfying, and we are given one of the greatest westerns of all time.
12 Angry Men was adapted from the play of the same name, and tells the story of twelve jurors struggling to reach the verdict of a murder trial in New York City. The film is completely dialogue based, and we follow the jurors through every moment of their journey towards a verdict. 12 Angry Men is filled with tension and conflict from start to finish. It features fine performances from Henry Fonda, Jack Warden, and the rest of the ensemble cast.
Sidney Lumet directed one of the greatest films of the 1970s, telling the true story of a bank robbery that went very wrong. After Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) rob a Brooklyn bank, we follow them through their journey involving police, hostages, and very high stakes. Dog Day Afternoon is a compelling story from start to finish, and both Pacino and Cazale deliver some of their finest work of their career.
Quentin Tarantino's breakout film, Reservoir Dogs, was a highly original piece of work that features an amazing script and epic performances. It is a heist film that never shows the heist, and instead, we watch the criminals as they figure out their next moves in an abandoned warehouse. Tarantino's film makes the audience feel as if they are right there with the gangsters every step of the way. It was a monumental achievement in filmmaking, and telling the story in real-time was a perfect choice.
Jonny Hoffman is an evergreen writer for Movieweb. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Cinema and Digital Arts. Jonny also works as a screenwriter, filmmaker, and SAG-AFTRA actor. He currently resides in New York City.

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