The plan is simple. It's an average night and the hero is settling in for a quiet, peaceful night. Maybe they want to go to a party, maybe they need to pick up their friend. Maybe they just want to make through the night.
Of course, it's not that simple. It never is. The powers that be keep putting roadblocks in their way. On their way to the mall, their car breaks down. The man they flag down for help steals the car. The first officer on the scene is a paranoid lunatic. The problems keep piling up and what started out as an ordinary day turns into...well, One Crazy Night.
Stories like this take a conflict that could be stretched out over several days and compress it into only a few hours.
One common element is this kind of plot is that the protagonists have to complete their mission and get back their home/headquarters/etc. (and possibly clean things up) before their parents/bosses/etc. get home/back and find out what's been going on.
Another is the nature of the event. They have to be extraordinary. For example, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? takes place over one night, but the events of the story are fairly mundane. It's not this trope, it's Extremely Short Timespan.
Note: This trope is nearly always a comedy trope; it lends itself well to comedy. However, there are serious examples, such as A Christmas Carol.
If the events of the plot take place over more than 24 hours, it isn't this trope. Subtrope of both Extremely Short Timespan and A Simple Plan. The Wild Teen Party will often overlap with this. Compare and contrast with What Did I Do Last Night?, where the character pieces together a similar adventure the morning after. Compare It Was a Dark and Stormy Night.
- Adventures in Babysitting. In what should be an hour-long trip to the city and back to pick up her runaway friend, Chris and the kids she's baby-sitting get a flat tire, witness an attempted murder in a domestic dispute, get pick up by car thieves, get into a gang fight and meet Thor. Possibly the trope codifier.
- Fun Size. A Spiritual Successor to the above, four friends go on the hunt for a missing boy on Halloween en route to the biggest party of the year. The boy is having adventures of his own.
- The Night at the Museum series. Both movies feature a security guard trying to keep control of a museum where all the exhibits come alive at night.
- After Hours is a very Black Comedy by Martin Scorsese in which Paul, a mild-mannered office drone, seeks out a pretty girl he met in a bar. He goes to her apartment, only to change his mind and leave. All he wants to do is go home, but a series of chaotic, life-threatening events ensue, including a character committing suicide, Paul getting assaulted, Paul getting kidnapped, and more.
- Trojan War. Brad wants to have sex with the school's alpha girl and needs to buy a condom. Good luck...
- Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist involves the titular protagonists having a Meet Cute and then trying to find a concert by an obscure indie band called "Where's Fluffy?". It turns into an epic all-night quest in which they fall in love.
- In Superbad, Seth and Evan want nothing more than to use a fake ID to get some alcohol that they can take to a party. An incredibly complicated all-night adventure ensues.
- Date Night is about a married couple in suburbia who go out for a fancy dinner in Manhattan. They steal someone else's table at the restaurant. This leads to an all-night chase by the mob and two corrupt cops, and a police-sting climax.
- Night On Earth, a 1991 film featuring five vignettes, each of taxi drivers in different cities taking passengers to their destinations, all happening on the same night. The Rome bit has Roberto Benigni as the driver, who picks up a priest and proceeds to make an ever-more outrageous and hilarious confession.
- Four Rooms grabs bonus points for night being the New Year Eve and doubles them, since it's Ted's first day at the job, triples since he's the sole hotel staff member on duty. Over the course of the night, he's seduced by cultist witches, gets coerced into kinky sex, has a pair of kids vandalize their suite, find a dead body and start fire there on his watch, and finally acts as a hatchet man in a Hitchcock-movie-inspired bet.
- The Irony of Fate is a Russian film from 1976 about a doctor who goes out on New Year's Eve to celebrate his engagement with friends. A series of unlikely events rooted in the Russian fondness for vodka and the Soviet fondness for cookie-cutter architecture leads to the doctor going home to the wrong apartment in the wrong city. Hilarity and romance ensue as he tries to explain his situation and figure out how to get home to Moscow from Leningrad.
- The movie Clue, like the game it's based on, features a a cast of colorful characters trying solve a murder before they're all killed. Hi-jinks ensue as everyone from a singing telegram to J. Edgar Hoover show up to interrupt them.
- Two of the three films in the Harold and Kumar Stoner Flick series about two buddies and their misadventures.
- In Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Harold and Kumar get the munchies after lighting up and go out to get White Castle burgers. What follows is an epic comic adventure that involves, among other things, racist cops, a jailbreak, hang gliding off a cliff, an escaped cheetah, sexy British twins with diarrhea, and Neil Patrick Harris As Himself.
- In A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, the heroes accidentally wreck Harold's elaborate Christmas tree, which means they have to go out and get a new one on Christmas Eve. Cue another epic adventure which involves waffle-making robots, The Mafiya, beer pong, babies getting high on coke, an encounter with Santa Claus, and Neil Patrick Harris As Himself.
- The World's End is about Gary, a middle-aged man child (Simon Pegg), who gets all his school buddies back together to recreate the pub crawl that they couldn't finish when they were teenagers. The pub crawl is complicated when they find out that most of the townspeople have been replaced by robots, but Gary insists on pushing on with the pub crawl as they brawl with the robot hordes.
- Will Friedle's character in My Date with the President's Daughter asked a random girl at the mall to go to the dance with him. She turned out to be the President's daughter. She talks him into ditching the Secret Service agents and they spend the rest of the night en route to the dance while dodging the agents and other people looking for trouble.
- In Into the Night, Ed doesn't even have a plan, he just goes on an aimless drive after finding out that his wife is cheating on him. He ends up at LAX for no particular reason, where he has a Meet Cute with Diana the jewel thief. A madcap all-night adventure involving the CIA, the FBI, a pile of money, and the Iranian secret police ensues.
- One of the most famous examples is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Brad and Janet's car breaks down on their way to see the professor who introduced them. They go to a nearby castle to use the phone (Castles don't have phones, asshole!) and...things...happen.
- Sleepover (2004) is an example of this trope. In the movie, the characters are tasked (during the titular sleepover) with completing a scavenger hunt to win a bet and the whole thing is resolved at the big dance.
- Rough Night: The women try to have a bachelorette weekend (albeit a crazy one in it's own way). Then they kill the stripper...
- Au Revoir Crazy European Chick. Perry gets forced to take the weird exchange student, Gobi, his family is hosting to the school prom. Once there, she immediately slips into a slinky black dress and takes on a murder spree across the city.
- Non-comedic example: upon waking on Christmas morning in A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is surprised and delighted to find that "the spirits have done it all in a single night!"
- The episode "Deal Me Out", centers around a poker game. In between, the characters have to deal with a con man, a violent soldier and a paranoid CID officer.
- "It Happened One Night" deals with the entire camp observing black-out conditions due to enemy shelling - which happens to turn out being their own artillery; during this time, Hawkeye deals with a spastic shell-shocked soldier in Post-Op, Klinger trains a new corpsman pulling guard duty, Frank literally tears Margaret's tent apart to look for his love notes she kept, B.J. worries about his patient whose had an excessive amount of blood I Vs, and Potter and Radar work to try to get the shelling stopped.
- "No Sweat" has the camp unable to sleep during a miserable heat wave; B.J. stays up muttering about the letter he got from Peggy with a list of household chores for when he returns home, Klinger stays up taking apart and putting back together the P.A. system, Potter reluctantly takes a sleeping pill to help him sleep, and Margaret suffers from a severe case of prickly heat on her butt.
- An episode of Growing Pains starts out as a supply run for a class project and turns into a night on the town chasing girls.
- The Friends episode "The One Where They're Up All Night" opens with the characters watching a meteor shower on the roof, then moves on to various other things that happen that night. (Chandler and Monica keeping each other awake, Phoebe being harassed by a smoke alarm, Rachel and Tad going back to the office to look for some paperwork, and Ross and Joey trying to get down from the roof.)
- Sanford and Son
- In "Surprise Party," Lamont, Grady, Bubba, Rollo, and Esther throw Fred a surprise party on the night of his return from St. Louis. After Fred comes home and makes a mess of his own party, he overhears Lamont trying to mend Grady's broken feelings by telling him he was just as good a housekeeper and businessman as Fred; now with Fred's feeling's hurt, he wanders off into the night to a nearby bar to drown his sorrows, but returns later to pass out on the couch. The episode ends with the morning after and Fred's massive hangover.
- In "The Oddfather," Donna pays Fred a visit one night to discover he's been rushed to the hospital after getting involved with a crime involving an innocent bystander being killed by a notorious local mobster; the rest of the episode deals with Fred's night in the hospital being monitored and protected by the LAPD, and also receiving visits from Donna and Esther, and later the media for him to identify the mobster to have him convicted of his crime.
- Blue Water High: In "Dreams and Dramas", the group attempt to keep Fly out of the house while they organise her surprise party. This results in Fly and Heath getting stranded miles from home, being caught in the rain, taking shelter in a caravan, the owner of the caravan towing it away, and them accidentally setting wire to the van while they attempt to signal the driver. Meanwhile, the others are holding a party without the guest of honour, which turns into a Wild Teen Party when gatecrashers arrive.
- Ghost Trick is set during a single night, because the main character is a ghost who will fade away at dawn. Sissel saves an innocent man from prison, uncovers a foreign conspiracy, meets some other ghosts, and finds out Whodunnit to Me?. Subverted when the climax moves to the past, and when the epilogue moves to a parallel timeline. Oh, and Sissel won't fade when the dawn comes; that was a Motivational Lie.
- Cow and Chicken.
- "The Babysitter" takes place in one night, in which Mom and Dad go out on the town, and leave Cow in charge of babysitting Chicken; after Mom and Dad have a happy time at the Sad Club, and return to see Cow is (in their perspective) a great babysitter, they leave on the spot for an extended overseas vacation.
- "Night of the Ed" deals with Dad deciding one night that the family needs a pet, and brings home a jackal, leaving Cow and Chicken home alone with the savage (albeit miniature) beast.
- Ed, Edd n Eddy:
- In "A Glass of Warm Ed," Double D and Eddy spend nearly an entire night trying to keep Ed under control as he sleepwalks and eats almost all of the food he can in the cul-de-sac. Although the episode ends with the aftermath the following morning, most of the episode takes place that one night.
- An even better example comes from "Boom, Boom, Out Goes The Ed". Ed blames a blackout on mutant man-eating moles. Everyone except for Edd and Eddy (and Rolf and Kevin, the former of whom ropes the latter into helping him restore power) fall for it, and chaos inevitably ensues.