"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."
Totalitarian governments are known for many oppressive means of controlling their citizens: taking Undesirables and forcibly removing them from the gene pool, filtering The News such that only information (accurate or otherwise) that makes the government look good can find its way to the eyes and ears of the citizens, collaborating with Mega Corps (of Peace & Love, Incorporated variety) to outlaw the Weird Trade Unions and their La Résistance in their own One Nation Under Copyright, making anyone who disagrees with the government disappear or thrown into Private Profit Prisons, and... making sure everyone goes to sleep on time?
Apparently many writers' favorite way to show that a government is evil and oppressive is to have said government instill on its citizens a practice that many parents would instill on their children anyway. In the minds of many writers, a curfew is the piece of martial law no self-respecting dictatorship can go without. Specifically: the government legally forces everyone to stay inside past a certain hour at night and until a certain hour in the morning. While normally you'd expect the penalty for a rule like this to be a simple ticket or fine, the actual punishments you will find range from immediate jailtime at minimum to summary execution at most. Narratively speaking, the authorities can say that someone is a rebel just for being about; it also means characters can fight in major urban areas without risking innocent lives.
Other times, a democratic nation may declare a curfew in the wake of a natural catastrophe or epidemic, in order to prevent a nasty situation from exacerbating even further and to prevent looting and outright sabotage. Even so, often this curfew is a good early sign that the democratic government is starting to control people's lives, so they're useful as a sign of benign government turning into a cruel regime.
- 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....
- Apparently, Pokémon has one where people aren't allowed on the streets at certain times (though this was only shown in "The Ghost of Maiden's Peak"). It was because of this that an uncharacteristically strict Nurse Joy wouldn't let Ash go out and save Brock from the Maiden's ghost.
- 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, and either way, it makes it a relief when Anti-Hero V shows up to kick their asses.
- Judge Dredd:
- The insane Cal instituted such a curfew during his tyrannical reign as Chief Judge.
- 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.
- King Tyrannus from Swordquest prevents threats to his rule by imposing a nightly curfew in his realm. This is enforced with flying four-armed demons wielding flaming swords.
- Bluto and the Commodore have one over the town in Popeye.
- In Hangmen Also Die!, the Nazis enforce a 7 pm curfew after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, which forces Dr. Svoboda to spend the night at the Novotnys'.
- In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, new Head Peacekeeper Romulus Thread declares a curfew in District 12, under threat of summary execution if anyone breaks it.
- 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.
- In Xchange, everyone is required to carry a dog tag, 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, however.
- 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.
- Discworld: 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. By contrast, Lord Vetinari dislikes curfews. They're bad for business.
- Flawed: The curfew is only for the Flawed, as they must be home by eleven every night. They and their family are horribly punished if they aren't, even if it was for reasons beyond their control.
- 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 Malorie Blackman's book Thief, this is one of the first things that happen to Lydia when she is transported to the future.
- Mistborn: Inverted with Urteau, the city run by a repressive revolutionary government. Taking inspiration from the martyr who promised that the night was safe, the citizens are encouraged to go out at night.
- Mentioned as part of President Clark's declarations as he seizes power in Babylon 5.
- The Barrier: Madrid has a curfew, during which electricity is turned off in Sector 2 homes as part of the electricity rationing. It's a surprise to Álex and Marta, who haven't been to Madrid before the beginning of the series. The extent to which the main characters respect it varies greatly, ranging from a reason to spend the night somewhere to a good time span during which to have secret meetings. Considering that New Spain is currently under dicatorship, being caught breaking curfew is implied to be something that should be avoided.
- Doctor Who: "Rise of the Cybermen" shows a curfew in the parallel world, but no indication that there's anything wrong with the government.
- In the Supergirl (2015) episode "Crime and Punishment", President Baker declares martial law and specifically marks a difference in how humans and aliens will be treated if caught after curfew: humans will be "cited", while aliens (who are also US citizens, by the way) will be "stopped by any means necessary". The aliens aren't stupid and see the writing on the wall. Colonel Haley mentions that her daughter's teacher, an alien, has gone into hiding, which caused her daughter to experience a panic attack and Haley to start re-thinking about her priorities.
- 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.
- Rebel Music from Bob Marley's Natty Dread tells the story about a man being arrested by the police after three o'clock at night during curfew and taken in custody for possession of marihuana.
- "Shut Up, Be Happy":
Curfew is at 7 PM sharp after work.Anyone caught outside the gates of their subdivision sector after curfew WILL. BE. SHOT.
- In Johnny Cash's Starkville City Jail
They're bound to get you.'Cause they got a curfew.And you go to the Starkville City jail
- 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.
- In the prequel Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Prague which already has a heavy police presence in the area around Jensens home and workplace, goes under full-blown curfew when Jensen returns there from a mission in Switzerland. Earlier, the cops would randomly stop you to demand your papers, instantly react with violence if they see you doing anything suspicious and casually insult you, but theyd let you be as long as you behaved. Now, they shoot and kill anyone out on the streets who isnt a policeman. This forces you to either fight through them or sneak past them.
- 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 Developers' Foresight, if you wear the Otacon mask you got in the chapter previous and don't carry any weapons, 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.
- Assassin's Creed Origins: The town of Sais has a curfew, as decreed by Sufetu.
- Lovely People: The setting's social credit system forbids people with too low scores from being outside their homes past a certain hour.
- The episode of The Simpsons "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken" revolves around an enforced curfew for minors after being blamed for vandalizing Springfield Elementary (though unbeknownst to the police, it was a drunk Homer, Lenny, Carl and Barney who were the culprits). In retaliation, the kids start revealing their parents' secrets on radio and the episode ends 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.
- In the Danny Phantom episode where Vlad becomes mayor of Amity Park, he imposes this as an excuse to protect the children from ghosts when in reality, he's doing it to make Danny and his friends miserable.
- Real Life: Dictatorial regimes have in fact been known to do this. The Nazis did this during the occupation of Continental Europe. The Communists did in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. 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 American soldiers did it in Iraq, too. Curfews are an effective countermeasure 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.
- The United States has areas that employ age-based curfews, depending on what city or state you're located in.
- On the state level, 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. There's also an exemption for kids who have jobs, as long as they get their parent(s) and boss to sign a waiver.
- In some larger U.S. cities, curfews exist for anyone under 18 outside at nightnote without adult supervision, implemented mainly to combat gang activity or drug dealing.
- 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. The state with the most confirmed cases of the phenomenon was actually Illinois. And after that, it was a tie between Maine and Ohio.
- There was a similar thing in the towns of South Africa in apartheid times. At 6 PM (18:00) a bell rang in the city hall, meaning it was time for the blacks to leave for their residence in suburbs. Reportedly some whites liked chasing and hunting those unhappy blacks which were too late to leave. With automobiles. And if they would run 'em over, most likely they would get away with that. Mind you, this was only one of the many reasons to dislike the "apartheid" regime.
- Some shopping malls have "escort policies", meaning minors cannot be present without adults after the posted time.
- 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.
- Back during the Sinai War, Israel established a curfew on the Arab areas in Israel, under the martial law in effect in those areas after the War of 1948. The Israeli Border Police were ordered to open fire on people who violated the curfew; while in most places the order was not followed, it was notoriously followed through in Kafr Qasim.
- 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.
- During the Second Intifada and even beforehand, the IDF would often enforce curfews during military activity.
- While not quite the same, the effect of the concept known in German as Sperrstunde is similar. It dictates an hour after which bars (and in some cases discos) have to be closed. Nothing is keeping you from being out and about after this hour, but you really don't have any place to go. Most German cities have greatly reduced the effect of this rule by creating more and more exceptions or gotten rid of it altogether. Some have a nominal one where e.g. fast-food restaurants have to close for an hour ("cleaning hour") before they can reopen. However, the whole issue still differs between each of the sixteen States of Germany.
- Similarly, certain holidays (again, depending on state law) are considered "silent," and you cannot have any type of festivity involving song and dance on those days. In practice, this means there won't be commercial parties, but private parties will only get into problems if they have excessive noise. As all of those holidays are religious and it is worded as a "dancing ban," atheist, secular and civil liberties groups have taken to holding dance-ins on those days.
- During the 2005 riots in French banlieues, curfews were enforced in these zones.
- During the COVID-19 Pandemic, many governments instituted local or national lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus. In some places where lockdowns measures have been eased, there are still curfews. Opponents of such measures argue this trope to be in effect and vehemently oppose them. It is best to leave it without further elaboration.
- Curfews are regularly implemented in the event of a community being struck by a natural disaster like a wild fire or hurricane. This is not only to prevent looting from taking place, but also to insure that the roads are clear for emergency personnel so they can get to where they're needed without delays.