It may sound boring to have a film take place within one location, but history proves that there are many gripping, enthralling and highly entertaining films with just one set. Not only must the writing be of the highest standard, but there must also be a fantastic director who knows how to hold the audience’s attention. Additionally, actors of the highest caliber are required as otherwise, interest in the story will wane. Here are the best one location films ever created (a few have a scene or two in a different location, but are largely contained to just one place).
Based on the Hasbro board game, the 1985 mystery comedy film by Jonathan Lynn remains one of the most fun and entertaining whodunit films created. Set in a Gothic Revival mansion, Clue sees seven strangers invited to a party at a New England mansion, where they are given pseudonyms (the same as the game) and the butler reveals that they are all being blackmailed. Predictably, the lights go out and a murder takes place. Soon, the body count rises as they attempt to figure out whodunit. Wildly over the top, it also has many nods to the popular board game, including the fact that it has three different endings. Not to be taken too seriously, Clue also pays homage to the “old dark house” whodunit genre, in particular, films such as The Cat and the Canary, And Then There Were None and Murder By Death.
Although technically this film takes place on a journey between Birmingham and London, it is still all set in one location and with just one actor. With Tom Hardy playing the role of Ivan Locke, the entirety of the film takes place in his car as he travels down the country to be with the woman he had a one night stand with who has gone into labor. Hardy is the only actor we see, as he holds a total of 36 phone calls during the journey with his boss, his colleague, his wife who he confesses to, his son and the woman he is driving to be with. During these calls, his life begins to crumble around him. Only an actor of Hardy’s caliber could pull off making this an entirely absorbing film, and it is essentially a one-man show and a huge test of his acting skills.
Based on the play of the same name, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope is a fantastic example of his skill as a director (he made a few other limited location films too). Taking place in real-time and appearing as a single continuous shot, Rope follows two men who attempt to commit the perfect crime by murdering a former classmate. They then host a dinner party where, unknown to their guests, the body of the man is in a chest in the middle of the room. There are shots as long as 10 minutes without an edit, and at the time this kind of filming was groundbreaking and amazed audiences. Hitchcock has stated that the film was an experiment that didn’t work out, but nonetheless, it remains an important film and goes to show that sometimes all you need is a single room to create a gripping tale.
7. Phone Booth
A phone booth may sound like the most boring possible setting for a film, but director Joel Schumacher ensured that his 2002 film is intense, gripping and highly entertaining throughout. Although there are a few shots away from the booth, the action is primarily contained in the small box which Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) finds himself unable to leave. The premise sees Stu using the last remaining phone booth in the city to contact the woman he has been seeing behind his wife’s back. After hanging up, the phone immediately rings again so Stu picks up and the caller, who knows his name, tells him not to leave and that he has a suppressed sniper rifle aimed at him. The caller then states that he must confess his feelings for the woman to both her and his wife if he is to walk free.
Those that are claustrophobic best avoid Buried, as it is a film that deals with many people’s biggest fear—being buried alive. Whilst there are a few scenes that take place outside the coffin, it is largely an up close and personal view of Ryan Reynolds as he desperately tries to get himself out of the unbearable situation he finds himself in. He plays Iraq-based truck driver Paul Conroy, who is attacked by terrorists and awakens to find himself buried alive along with a lighter, flask, flashlight, knife, glow sticks, pen, pencil, and a mobile phone. Through the phone, he can hold conversations but learns that the US government will not pay the ransom and instead attempt to rescue him. It is an agonizing yet completely gripping watch as Conroy becomes increasingly desperate, all before an unforgettable climax.
Whilst the characters in Cube indeed travel through a few different “cubes,” there was only one constructed and it still feels very much like a single location. Certainly, a film that Saw found inspiration from, 1997’s Cube sees six strangers awaken to find themselves trapped in large glowing cubes that are rigged with traps. None can remember how they got there or know where they are. They can travel between cubes via a door, with the only difference being the lighting being different in each cube which helps to retain a claustrophobic feel throughout. They must figure a way out of the death traps, all whilst battling their inner demons too. The film now has a cult following and is famed for its surreal Kafkaesque setting, which certainly helps to keep it an intriguing, odd and gripping film.
Written and directed by David Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones, Moon follows Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), a man completing a three-year solitary stint mining helium on the far side of the moon. Near the end of this, Sam experiences a personal crisis and begins having hallucinations, which sees him crash his rover into a harvester. He has only a robot (voiced by Kevin Spacey) for company, effectively making it a one-man show set in a very lonely facility on the moon. In one setting and with just one character very far from civilization, Moon brilliantly explores themes of loneliness, isolation, reality and what it means to be human. It is a thoughtful and poignant film, but it would not have been anywhere near as successful as it was if it were not for Sam Rockwell’s stunning and entirely absorbing performance.
3. The Breakfast Club
An immensely influential and popular high school movie, Jon Hughes’ The Breakfast Club is an instant classic and a terrific one location movie with a great message behind it. Taking place at Shermer High School on Saturday morning, five students report for detention for nine hours. Although not strangers, the characters all come from different cliques—there is the athlete, the brain, a princess, a criminal, and the reclusive outcast. Over the day, they come to realize that they are much more than their respective stereotypes and not all that different from one another. The film is considered one of the great school films and one of Hughes’ greatest pieces of work, plus it went on to birth “The Brat Pack.” Exploring such interesting and heartwarming themes, you hardly notice that the film is contained in one location.
2. 12 Angry Men
Nearly 60 years on, you will struggle to find a better one location film than Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, which was adapted from Reginald Rose’s teleplay of the same name. As the title implies, the film follows 12 angry men who argue furiously in a room to create an incredibly tense atmosphere from start to finish. These 12 men are a jury who are deliberating the guilt or acquittal of a defendant based on reasonable doubt. The defendant, who is referred to only as “the boy,” is on trial for murder. With a stunning performance from Henry Fonda as one of the jurors, the absorbing film explores the techniques and difficulties faced with consensus building, and how conflict is inevitable when you have a range of personalities like you do in a jury. The film is now preserved in the National Film Registry.
1. Rear Window
Another Hitchcock entry and one of the all-time great thrillers, 1954’s Rear Window is hugely tense throughout and this is a testament to the terrific setup, the masterful direction of Hitchcock and the excellent performance from James Stewart. The film has been parodied and paid homage to countless times, and frequently appears high on the greatest movies ever made list. The film is almost entirely shot from a single point of view, but this is barely noticeable as it is so tense. After breaking his leg, Jeff (Stewart) is confined to a wheelchair in his village and begins to spy on his neighbors with his camera. He soon becomes convinced that a neighbor has murdered his wife, and does everything he can from his limited position to prove so, resulting in some unbearably tense scenes which are now considered classic Hitchcock moments.