A Militsya patrol stops a passerby a few minutes before the curfew (they're under martial law). They check his documents and everything seems to be in order, so they let him go. But when the man turns to leave, one of the officers shoots him in the back.
"What the... why'd you do that!?" his colleague exclaims. The first officer shrugs.
"Oh, I know where he lives. There's no way he's getting home before the curfew."
Curfew: the piece of martial law no self-respecting dictatorship can go without. Specifically: a curfew on everybody, often at an unreasonable time, enforced by burly if not overly observant guards.
Curfews are a good early sign that a government is controlling people's lives, so they're useful as a sign of benign government turning into a cruel regime. Narratively speaking, the authorities can say that someone is a rebel just for being about, and mean characters can fight in major urban areas without risking innocent lives.
A common feature of a Dystopia
Anime & Manga
- Dressrosa in One Piece had a curfew implemented when Doflamingo usurped the throne 10 years ago. The exact reason is not known yet, but it seems to be related to another law that forbids humans and Living Toys to enter each others' houses, so it may be more than just a strict law...
- In V for Vendetta, Evey gets in trouble with the Fingermen over prostitution. And curfew. Toned down to just curfew in the film, though given the punishment they were going to give her is the same, that just makes it worse.
- Bluto and the Commodore had one over the town in Popeye.
- Cal instituted such a curfew during his reign as Chief Judge in Judge Dredd.
- As did the Dark Judges during the Necropolis arc. They tried to discourage people getting shot as "there are so many more interesting ways to die."
- In one Sonic the Comic story, set when Robotnik was still ruler of Mobius, badniks started declaring new, asinine laws around a town, including a curfew set at a time that had already passed, meaning everyone broke the law retroactively.
- In Runaways, Molly's evil parents enforced a curfew upon her by using their psychic abilities to force her to sleep. This is implied to be the cause of her notoriously low stamina.
- In Xchange, everyone is required to carry a dogtag, fitted with a trackable chip, apparently replacing plastic and paper IDs. It is illegal to be out after curfew, if you don't have a proper tag. It is never revealed what the punishment is, though. The government is not a dictatorship, though.
- In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, new Head Peacekeeper Romulus Thread declares a curfew in District 12.
- In The Running Man the Cadres apparently enforce this in what is left of the United States. It's not a major plot point, but announcements in the background talking about a midnight curfew, and violators being "permanently detained" can be made out.
- A City In Winter — enforced by death, no less
- Ankh-Morpork experienced this under the rule of Homicidal Lord Winder as seen in Night Watch; it may have occurred under other Patricians as well.
- Occurred in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — just in Hogsmeade, though, as it's the only all-wizarding settlement (not for lack of trying on Voldemort's part).
- In the Delirium Series, love (called "amor deliria nervosa") is considered a disease and at age 18, all Americans are "cured" of the ability to love. The curfew for "uncureds" is set to add appeal to the procedure and also to stop lovers from meeting.
- In Malorie Blackman's book Thief, this is one of the first things that happen to Lydia when she is transported to the future.
- Doctor Who:
- Mentioned as part of President Clark's declarations as he seizes power in Babylon 5.
- This is one of the theories of the origin of a popular Ashkenazi Jewish Klezmer song "7:40". In Imperial Russia, Jews couldn't show up in Odessa after dark if they weren't registered residents (and even that was the case, they had no right to leave their ghettos after dark). So any Jew from outside Odessa who had business in the city had to arrive on a morning train which entered the city at the eponymous time (7:40 am), and leave in evening.
- In Misspent Youth by Robert Bohl, a game where you play a group of teenage anarchists out to change the world, the group creates Systems of Control that are sci-fi-ish details about the world that The Authority uses to mess with your lives. As in the real world, the authorities frequently use curfews to control children.
- You first gain control of the main character of Zork: Grand Inquisitor seconds before the town's curfew goes into effect.
- In the Konquest mode of Mortal Kombat Deception, the main character returns to meet his former ally and all-around Knight Templar Hotaru in the town he's just conquered, only to be arrested for breaking curfew. Judging by appearances, he is held in a cell awaiting trial for over a decade.
- One of the options in political simulator Democracy 2. It will take a lot of political influence and it will make you unpopular very quickly.
- In Quest for Glory II, it's against the law to be out at night in the fascist city of Raseir, fallen twin to the free city of Shapeir.
- Deus Ex features a curfew in Paris now that it's under martial law, enforced by twitchy military robots.
- A fan-made prequel and Game Mod 2027 features Moscow under martial law. Police and bots will shoot at anyone caught out after dark.
- The online video game The Curfew is about a future Britain where this (unsurprisingly) has happened.
- In Metal Gear Solid 4, the town in which chapter 3 takes place is under a very strict curfew, any PMC registered person outside after a period of time is arrested (or in Snake's case, shot at) under suspicion of being part of La Résistance. Naturally you have to tail a resistance member who's breaking curfew - what else were you expecting?
- However, in an amusing instance of The Dev Team Thinks of Everything, if you wear the Otacon mask you got in the chapter previous, the guards will pat you down and let you move completely freely, passing you off as a citizen on his way home.
- In Dragon Age II, hallmarks of Meredith's reign as Templar Knight-Commander apparently include curfews and midnight raids on families suspected of sheltering mage relatives. It doesn't stop Hawke and co. from going wherever they please, but most of Meredith's methods tend do more damage than they prevent.
- In The Sims 3, there's a curfew for child and teen sims. When their curfew is up, child sims will automatically head home or to the nearest adult family member. Teen sims can stay out past curfew and sometimes they even get the desire to do so. If they stay out long enough, a police officer will show up to take them home, where they will be scolded by an adult member of their family. Teen and child sims are not considered out after curfew if they're accompanied by an adult member of their family.
- In Batman: Arkham Origins, all of Gotham is under a curfew due to the city expecting an implausibly powerful winter storm making it unsafe for people to be on the streets that night. This means the vast majority of people out and about fall into three categories: Cops, Crooks, and Batman.
- The episode of The Simpsons "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken" revolved around an enforced curfew for minors after being blamed for vandalizing Springfield Elementary (though unbeknown to the police, it was a drunk Homer, Lenny and Carl who were the culprits). In retaliation, the kids started revealing their parents' secrets on radio and the episode ended with a musical number and the curfew being extended to everyone under 70.
- Fire Nation-occupied settlements in Avatar: The Last Airbender .
- In The Legend of Korra, Tarrlok's idea of a sane response to anti-bending revolutionaries is to impose curfews on every non-bender in Republic City. Taking this a step further, he shuts off the electricity to a whole district just to goad them outside, where he can accuse them of breaking curfew and have them rounded up.
- In Transformers Animated, new leader Sentinel Prime wastes no time in establishing a curfew on Cybertron, allegedly to protect against the looming Decepticon threat.
- In an episode of Darkwing Duck, Gosalyn is sent to the future, where the Gosalyn-less Darkwing has become a vicious dictator called Darkwarrior who does this. Gosalyn even notes "Only my dad would set a universal curfew at 8 o'clock."
- The Mirror Universe in the Superman: The Animated Series episode "Brave New Metropolis".
- The Smurfs go through this in the episode "Tick Tock Smurfs" when Brainy subjects every Smurf to his own personal time schedule.
- Real Life: Dictatorial regimes have in fact been known to do this. Augusto Pinochet is said to have enforced his curfew with snipers. Mubarak tried it in Egypt recently. It was quite ignored indeed.
- Not only dictators, the Americans did it in Iraq, too. Curfews are an effective counter measure against insurgencies or when you're expecting trouble. Not only is there the implication that people not following the curfew must be Up To Something, but it can also help to ensure that innocents are out of the way if and when trouble happens.
- In some states, the laws for new drivers under 18 often include a curfew, usually 11 PM or midnight. Though there are exceptions made for those driving because of emergencies, school/religious functions, or because they are licensed EMTs.
- In some of those states, there's also an exemption for kids who have jobs, as long as they get their parent(s) and boss to sign a waiver.
- This was actually a historical and very grim way racial segregation was enforced in the US. A "sundown town" was one in which non-ethnic-Europeans would be assaulted and/or killed if found there at night. Non-europeans could not buy land in these communities, and being caught in them after dark could lead to harassment, expulsion, or even lynching, sometimes at the hands of local law enforcement. This phenomenon was not limited to Southern white-on-black oppression - the technique was used against blacks, Native Americans, Jews, and Chinese minorities, and the state with the most confirmed cases of the phenomenon was Illinois.
- Also happens on occasion for more reasonable cases where a city is struck by a riot or an increase in violent crime.
- Temporary curfews are often imposed in the wake of hurricanes or other natural disasters. It can be an arrestable offense if it looks like you're out to cause trouble.
- One noteworthy Real Life example occurred during the Jewish rebellion against British rule in the League of Nations Mandate of Palestine in 1947: in an effort to regain control, the British authorities imposed a 24-hour curfew, meaning that Jews were simply not allowed to go outside at all. This still didn't work.
- Shortly before the American Revolution broke out, the British colonial government imposed martial law on the ever rebellious city of Boston. This was pretty much the last straw for Bostonians because that fabled "shot heard 'round the world" would be fired soon afterward.
- In Turkey, a 24 hour curfew took place every five years, in order for the census to be done. It was a case of curfew being done not out of authoritarianism but simply lack of technology, and most Turkish people treated it as a day off. Because nobody expected trouble, the worst you could expect if caught violating curfew was detainment for the rest of the day. Once the system was computerized, the whole curfew method of performing census was done away with.