The Best Films (Mostly) Set In A Single Room

There's no denying that movies have become spectacles of technological prowess. And who doesn't love a sweeping epic? But sometimes, it's nice to get back to basics. You know, like a few characters talking in a room. Sure, it sounds boring in theory, but there are plenty of films set (mostly) in one room that tell compelling stories, because resourceful directors and talented actors aren't afraid of practical limits. These movies are great examples of what can be achieved in one location, and they're some of the best films. Period. From the legendary John Hughes to the relatively unknown director Craig Zobel, these filmmakers leave behind the bells and whistles in favor of straightforward storytelling. It pays off. 


Dating back to 1948, Rope was the first film Alfred Hitchcock made in color. He based it on a play called Rope's End by Patrick Hamilton, about two college boys who kill their friend and have to cover up the body. After the homicide, things get painfully uncomfortable. Instead of going to confess their sins or call for help, they hold a dinner party in their apartment while the dead guy lies in a wooden chest. Among the guests, the fiance of the deceased. The guys are unhinged.

The movie all takes place in the apartment. To move things forward, there's plenty of talking, arguing, questioning, and movement. It basically plays out as one long conversation with various characters involving themselves at different points, but the conflict is palpable. Hitchcock was a master at developing eerie atmospheres and visual cues that support the drama. Combined with the perfect casting of Farley Granger and John Dall as the conniving boys, and James Stewart as the suspicious professor, it's no surprise that Rope has continued to be influential all these years later. 

The Mist

Even though it never gets enough love, The Mist is one of Frank Darabont's best films. Adapted from a Stephen King novel, the story takes place almost entirely in a supermarket with a bunch of terrified local residents. They have reason to be scared out of their wits because a freak storm has unleashed gigantic alien creatures onto the mist-filled streets. Thomas Jane does a brilliant job of remaining stoic yet showing vulnerability as he tries to figure out what the hell is going on. (He never gets enough recognition, but he's a great actor.)

Grocery stores aren't the safest place to be when tragedy strikes, and understandably, no one is equipped for an invasion of otherworldly lifeforms. Hence, they are stressed. What do people do when they're stressed? They take out their frustrations on others. It's a terrifying film that might creep into your nightmares (or daydreams) weeks later, but only because you'll be craving more. And hey, Spike is making a TV show of it now, so everybody wins. If you like post-apocalyptic vibe of The Road, The Mist has a similar feeling but less stillness and more chaos. It's a thriller with well-observed characters dealing with the extremity of life and death. No time for calm.


As the name suggests, Buried takes place in a coffin. Ryan Reynolds plays a truck driver who gets captured by guerrillas in Iraq and buried alive, aka the most unlucky thing that could ever happen. He's totally trapped, and the cell phone in his pocket is the only saving grace. The film plays out in a series of desperate conversations he has with military representatives and family members. 

Even though movement is severely restricted and the only source of light comes from his cigarette lighter, the claustrophobia and darkness become their own characters. The more and more sweaty and panicked this guy becomes, the more excruciating it is to watch. You can thank director Rodrigo Cortés for that because making a 95-minute movie in a coffin is no easy task. As for Reynolds, he proves he can carry a movie by himself. 

Funny Games

German director Michael Haneke made Funny Games in 1997, and then remade it for American audiences ten years later. The story is pretty brutal but the kind of thing you can't look away from. Two guys take a family hostage in a vacation house and force them to play sadistic games in order to stay alive. Michael Pitt, Naomi Watts, and Tim Roth star in the remake, which is a shot-for-shot replica of the original.

In a confined setting, telephone lines are cut off. Characters are bound and gagged. The villains find inexplicable joy in each gut-wrenching activity. Even the pet dog is the victim of senseless violence. Instead of being passive witnesses, the audience become involved when Pitt's character asks if they will bet on the family's survival. It's arguably the best performance of his career. 


Another film based on a Stephen King story, 1408 is a slow-burning nightmare. John Cusack is a horror author who visits a hotel room in New York with a reputation for inexplicable occurrences. It appears normal at first, until the radio turns on by itself and the doorknob breaks off. He was warned not to go in there, and now he's trapped. The film is incredibly visual despite the many white walls and drab interior decoration, and Cusack is engaging as a guy who's seriously evaluating his life choices. Although it's terrifying, there's nothing grotesque about 1408. It provides the kind of mind-bending scares that are distinctly missing from the typical blockbuster menu at any local multiplex. Director Mikael Hafstrom's last film was Escape Plan with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it's be great to see him tackle some old-school thrills again. 


With Saw, James Wan introduced himself as a modern master of suspense. Two strangers wake up in a grimy bathroom, chained to pipes, with a dead guy sitting between them. It's not ideal, but at least they have plenty to talk about. It's a simple premise that necessitates the need for only one location, which is smart for a low-budget first feature. The situation that unfolds is so unfathomable and the characters so cruel that audiences went nuts over this movie. Why? It comes down to morbid curiosity. There's something satisfying about watching terrible people commit heinous crimes. 

Naturally, Saw turned into a franchise, but Wan only produced one sequel and then went on to do Insidious and The Conjuring. Now he's making Aquamanwhich will probably be the biggest movie of 2018, though hopefully not as gory as his previous work. 

12 Angry Men

An older but still fantastic film, 12 Angry Men was directed by Sidney Lumet in 1957. It follows a murder trial with 12 jury members deliberating over innocence and guilt. They all reach agreement, except one. Henry Fonda plays the juror who encourages the others to re-examine the case. As they discuss the evidence, the curious backstory of each jury member is explored. It's an intricate character study that proves a concept that's hard to accept: we don't see things as they are, we see things as we are.

If you've never seen a thriller from the '50s, 12 Angry Men delivers a slew of memorable performances. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, including best picture and best director.  Remarkably, it was Lumet's first theatrical feature.

Wait Until Dark

With Audrey Hepburn as the star, it's surprising that Wait Until Dark isn't better known. It's a thriller directed by Terence Young (who helmed a couple early James Bond films) in 1967, based on Frederick Knott's play of the same name. Hepburn plays a blind woman who is confronted by a criminal gang and accused of interfering with one of the baby dolls they had used to smuggle heroin across the country. 

You might not recognize him, but a very young Alan Arkin plays one of the villains. He's truly menacing in black sunglasses and a leather jacket, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth (very unlike his recent roles). Most of the film takes place in an apartment, and the choreography is especially well done. Hepburn's portrayal of someone dealing with sudden blindness after an accident is mesmerizing, and she was nominated for an Academy Award. The film is worth the time, and it doesn't feel dated. 


This is a little-known film from director Craig Zobel in 2012, but no less deserving of praise. Compliance is set in a burger restaurant where a teenage girl is accused of stealing money from a woman's purse. She falls victim to a police scam that painfully unravels, much to the confusion of the store manager. It's based on real events that took place over a number of years and involved nasty prank calls that ended in minors being taken advantage of at their place of work. Compliance is frustrating to watch, but it's worth sticking in to the end. Dreama Walker is thoroughly engaging as the victimized teen, but Ann Dowd is the reason to watch this film. As the manager, she gives an emotionally layered and ultimately heartbreaking performance. After her latest role in The Handmaid's Tale, she's finally getting the attention she deserves. 

The Breakfast Club

If movies can define a decade, The Breakfast Club takes the '80s. Written and directed by John Hughes, this film is an uproariously funny and painfully real depiction of teenagers dealing with the everyday sludge of, well, being a teen — they're stuck in detention. And it sucks! No one likes each other, and everyone is anxious ... until they realize it's not so bad after all. There are some mutual interests in the group (like a mutual hatred of authority). From Emilio Estevez to Molly Ringwald to Ally Sheedy to Anthony Michael Hall, every actor is so memorable. The movie is a reminder that being a kid is hard but also amazing, because you do get to figure out stuff at a reasonable pace and make spectacular mistakes that no one will hold against you. 

After you fly through The Breakfast Club, there are a slew of other films written by John Hughes to check out. Home Alone and Ferris Bueller's Day Off are obvious ones that you probably know backward and forward, but Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink are also up there with his best work. And some people even have a soft spot for Dennis the Menace. Movie marathon coming right up. 


This is not one of Roman Polanski's most well-known films, but it's extremely well done. Carnage is based on a play by Yasmina Resa, and it concerns two sets of parents who meet to discuss the behavior of their preteen sons who were caught fighting at school. Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz are one couple, and Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly are the other couple. The bulk of the film consists of adults awkwardly talking in the living room, and although it highlights the stress and agony of parenthood and marriage, the sharp dialogue gives it some comic relief. They're trying to work things out in a polite and cordial way, but the situation devolves into irrational yelling and the inability of anyone to see other points of view. Basically, they're no more mature than their kids.