This weekend “21 And Over” will show its possibly fake IDs to young adults across the country. A comedy written and directed by two of the writers of “The Hangover” (naturally), it chronicles a wild night in the lives of a group of young, college-bound kids. The film details the misadventures of Jeff Chang, who has an all-important med school exam on the morning following his 21st birthday. But prodded by his friends looking for an excuse to party, a booze- and babe-filled birthday celebration ensues that manages to put his entire future at risk.
This isn’t the first movie to take the concept of a wild night and use it as the setting for an entire film. More than a few have come before (including last spring’s “Projext X“), but the contained setting has served as inspriation for directors of note including Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater (all featured here) and many more. So we’ve rounded up ten movies worth tracking down, that take viewers on one wild ride during the nighttime hours. Any we left out, any favorites we forgot? Let us know below.
“After Hours” (Martin Scorsese, 1985)
The mother of all “wild night” movies, this adrenalized, darkly hued Martin Scorsese comedy, largely thought of (along with “The Color of Money“) as one of his lesser ’80s confections, was originally envisioned as a Tim Burton film (unable to raise financing for “The Last Temptation of Christ,” Scorsese stepped in when Burton exited the film). “After Hours” stars Griffin Dunne as a likable yuppie (he claims to be a “word processor”) whose night gets progressively worse, beginning with an encounter with a mysterious blonde (Rosanna Arquette) in a diner. He eventually goes to her apartment, which is where things really start to deteriorate (he loses his money on the cab ride over, is seduced by the blonde’s roommate, and takes some questionable drugs), and eventually he’s implicated in a series of neighborhood robberies, witnesses a suicide, gets roughed up in a punk rock club, has an encounter with a deranged Mister Softee truck driver, is winged by a taxi cab door, and becomes a papier-mâché mummy. At one point, on the run from an angry vigilante mob, he witnesses a woman shooting a man to death. He shrugs and says, “I will probably get blamed for that.” The film is anchored by a zippy lead performance by the perennially underrated Dunne, a script by Joseph Minion that is simultaneously quick-witted and deadpan, a flurry of outstanding supporting performances (by John Heard, Teri Garr, a topless Linda Fiorentino, Cheech & Chong and Catherine O’Hara) and lush nighttime photography by Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus that turns neighborhoods of downtown Manhattan (particularly SoHo), into soggy post-apocalyptic vistas registered in whooshing whips pans and snappy zooms. (Also of note: Howard Shore‘s almost John Carpenter-esque minimalist electronic score, which adds to the film’s singularly unsettling aura.) One of Scorsese’s most bafflingly underrated movies, it is a testament to how a night can go from bad to worse (and then even worse still) and has become a shorthand for what happens when things get really fucked.
“Attack The Block” (Joe Cornish, 2011)
Reinvention is a word that gets tossed around a lot, and while it might be a slight stretch to apply that to Joe Cornish‘s alien outing, there’s no doubt that the writer/director flips many genre tropes on its head with “Attack The Block.” On paper, a straightforward invasion-from-another-world flick, that’s where the similarities end with the other movies of its ilk. Set in a grimy council estate, the film is led by charismatic John Boyega who plays Moses, the head a loose group of young toughs who suddenly find themselves thrust into the position of having to save their homes, and rest of the world at the same time, from beings from beyond. Over one chaotic and increasingly dangerous night, Moses and his pals will find some creative ways to dispatch the frightening creatures crawling up the side of his building, all while getting a chance redeem his selfish, troublemaker image. It’s an incredibly energetic and confident debut by Cornish, who finds humor and heart all within plenty of splattery, alien action. The beat-driven score by Basement Jaxx only adds to the frenzy in a movie that finds a new spin on a tried and true convention.
“Go” (Doug Lima, 1999)
A way of maxing out the madness for one of these wild night movies is to fracture the narrative, turning it into its own little anthology, which exactly what director Doug Liman and screenwriter John August did for “Go,” a kind of kaleidoscopic son-of-“Pulp Fiction” that is composed of three interlocking stories, loosely revolving around a pre-Christmas rave. The main thrust of the story involves a drug deal for ecstasy pills, one that grocery store girl Sarah Polley wants to pull off so she can avoid eviction; her scheme eventually garners the attention of a villainous drug dealer (Timothy Olyphant) and a pair of marginal actors (Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr – holy ’90s!) who are now snitches for a weirdo cop (William Fichtner). In these two stories (already), there are counterfeit drugs, a hit-and-run accident, stripteases and more. There’s another story centered around a dudes’ trip to Las Vegas, which has its own set of “wild night” moments, including a trip to a strip club, a stolen sports car, and some discharged firearms. Also Taye Diggs keeps getting mistaken for a parking attendant/bathroom attendant/bellhop because of his garish blazer. Eventually all of the plot threads tangle together and the movie’s cleverness gives way to genuine heart. “Go” is a wild night movie refracted through rave culture, post-modernism, and whatever came after the MTV age; dazzling and daring and dangerously fun.
“Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist” (Peter Sollett, 2008)
If you want to know how the landscape of New York City, both culturally and physically, changed over the decades, then watch “After Hours” (which we’ve already established is the big daddy of wild night movies) and “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist” (a kind of wimpy younger brother). Both take places in similar neighborhoods (although ‘Nick and Nora’ is more geographically scattered), but while “After Hours” had an air of bombed-out danger, in which our lead character waltzes down streets of abysmal emptiness, “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist” showcases a New York full of hopeful optimism – clean, hip and welcoming. The craziness that befalls Nick (Michael Cera), a straight young man in an all-gay band, his new love interest Nora (Kat Dennings) and their various friends (including the adorable Ari Graynor, in a giddily funny performance), is somehow cuddly, antiseptic and circled in chunky plastic bubble wrap. It’s a testament to the charming, freewheeling (90-minute) fun of “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist” that it doesn’t much matter that no real harm is ever going to come to any of the twenty-something hipster characters – just because it’s safe doesn’t mean it is any less wild. Plus, as the title would suggest, it’s got a great soundtrack for your next wild night out.
“Adventures in Babysitting” (Chris Columbus, 1987)
An ’80s family comedy from Disney (released under their slightly more mature Touchstone Pictures banner), it centers on a babysitter (Elisabeth Shue), who brings her charges with her into the big bad city to rescue her stranded friend (a similarly youthful Penelope Ann Miller). Of course, anything that can go wrong, does go wrong, including car thieves, a very important Playboy magazine, and a towering mechanic (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) who looks uncannily like comic book character/god Thor. The addition of children to the “wild night” formula injects an additional element of wily danger, and it was a structure closely (lovingly) followed by David Gordon Green a couple of years ago with his offbeat studio comedy “The Sitter.” While “Adventures in Babysitting” was directed by John Hughes contemporary Chris Columbus and replicates many of the things that made John Hughes movies so successful (including, apparently, it’s queasy pseudo-racism and its Chicago setting), with slightly more late-’80s edge, it’s not a certifiable classic, but if you’re stuck babysitting, there are worse things you could put on.
“From Dusk Till Dawn” (Robert Rodriguez, 1996)
In a kind of warm-up for their horror drive-in double feature “Grindhouse,” “From Dusk Till Dawn” is a genre mishmash written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by his BFF Robert Rodriguez, in which a wild night becomes extravagantly wilder when the entire movie becomes something different. It almost feels like Tarantino knew that his initial story, about a pair of murderous outlaw brothers (George Clooney and in an ultimate moment of wish fulfillment, Tarantino himself), knew that he couldn’t top the outrageousness of “After Hours” so he said, “Fuck it,” and mutated the script halfway through, adding a bunch of Mexican vampires and turning it into an all-out horror romp. For the most part, this ballsy experiment works, with the squishier second half of the movie nicely complementing the more earthbound initial sections (which also include a prolonged kidnapping and several murders), and the extension of the wild night conceit into the realm of the supernatural is something that is too rarely engaged in. It is pretty wild, too, with obvious touchstones like “After Hours” giving way to explicit references to things like John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” and George Romero‘s “Dawn of the Dead.” In the end, it’s all just bloody good fun.
“American Graffiti” (George Lucas, 1973)
Back before “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” George Lucas was interested in transporting us to a location far more familiar – America in the summer of 1962 (its famous tagline was “Where were you in ’62?”). It follows a typical coming-of-age format (one that another of our “wild night” entries follows – but more on that in a minute), with a group of friends on the cusp of fracture. Most of this has to do with going off to school and all of the feelings that go along with that. Lucas wisely chose to depict the night as a series of vignettes, with an emphasis on dialogue and aimless “cruising” (riding around in cars, not hitting on gay men), which gives ample opportunity to get to know the cast of likable characters (among them: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Candy Clark, and Cindy Williams) and allows the wackiness of the night to escalate gradually. “American Graffiti” was a smash both commercially and critically (people forget that it was nominated for Best Picture) and inspired not only its own middling sequel (“More American Graffiti“) but also the phenomenally popular television series “Happy Days” (with Howard playing a similar role). Its wild night is unwieldy in a smaller, more human way, which might be why it’s so identifiable and emotionally resonant. It’s wildness you can relate to.
“Dazed and Confused” (Richard Linklater, 1993)
Enjoying the general conceit of “American Graffiti” but set more than a decade later (1976), Richard Linklater’s masterpiece is a coming-of-age fable about growing up and staying young. The film is set, uncannily, on the last day of school – for some this means graduation for college, for others it’s the beginning of the thorny transition from middle school to high school – and there’s one big party that everyone is going to attend. Most of the wildness of this lone wild night has to do with hazing and the outrageousness associated with this huge party. Linklater is a filmmaker who is never in a rush, and lets us get to know these characters in this pivotal moment in their lives, always allowing time to linger on outsider oddness, like the character played by Matthew McConaughey who has graduated from high school but still hangs around for the chicks, or dialogue that maybe rambles more than it should. It’s staggering the number of actors who were cast in “Dazed and Confused” and went on to bigger and better things (McConaughey, Parker Posey, Milla Jovovich, Eric Stoltz, and Ben Affleck to name a few). Also staggering is that for all it’s wooh-party, wild-night atmosphere, it’s also absolutely heartbreaking.
“Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle” (Danny Leiner, 2004)
Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) are a couple of overachieving stoners who really have the munchies – and they want White Castle. In the course of their very crazy, very wild night to acquire said foodstuff, they encounter a backwoods redneck named Freakshow (Christopher Meloni, having the time of his life), are forced to perform surgery, get attacked by a raccoon, smoke weed with a leopard, and have an encounter with a comically exaggerated version of Neil Patrick Harris. While it’s probably never going to enter the National Registry of preserved films, “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle” is a ball of fun, and goes to some very unexpected places, crafting a lovingly rude homage to late-night aimlessness, coming across as equal parts “Dazed and Confused” and back issues of Mad Magazine and the National Lampoon. Penn and Cho, too, make surprisingly solid heroes, like Hope and Crosby lost in a cloud of marijuana smoke.
“Night On Earth” (Jim Jarmusch, 1991)
An international portmanteau, bringing together a great cast working their cinematic passports, there probably few films that will take as many places in just a couple of hours, like Jim Jarmusch‘s “Night On Earth.” Following five cabbies and their passengers — Winona Ryder driving movie agent Gena Rowlands in L.A.; Armin Muller-Stahl driving Giancarlo Esposito and Rosie Perez in NYC; Isaach De Bankolé driving Beatrice Dalle in Paris; Roberto Benigni driving Paolo Bonacelli in Rome and Matti Pellonpaa driving Kari Vaananen, Sakari Kuosmanen and Tomi Slamela in Helsinki — at the same point in time, the film motors unvenly with the opening L.A. portion, but shifts into an easy gear for the rest of the running time. The warm and funny New York section is caried by the easy charm of Esposito and Perez, while the genuinely hilarious Rome segment reunites Benigni with Jarmsuch (they paired on “Strangers In Paradise“), with the comic actor in top form. There is a romance and poetry to watching life and the city race by through the windows of a cab (or any car really) that Jarmusch perfectly captures, and the entire effort is aided by songs from Tom Waits. While perhaps not as discussed or admired as other Jarmusch movies, and maybe not as wild as the others on this list, it’s no less special, and few nighttime journeys are as memorable as this.