2019 is seemingly the year of the long movie, as a handful of high profile films have been released this year that approach or exceed the 3-hour mark. Avengers: Endgame broke the 180 minute mark earlier this year, and other big ticket items like Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and IT Chapter Two came pretty close. What do all these films have in common? They were all solid films commercially and critically, but also a little too long.
After talking to folks and seeing a lot of reactions around the web, I’ve come to realize various people feel the same way I do. All of these films were good, but they could’ve been a lot better if they had their runtime kicked down by 20 or even 30 minutes. I believe that a small percentage of films can justify running over two-and-a-half hours, and next to none can justify releasing a three-hour film in theaters. Here’s my reasoning, and why we should all get back to pushing for shorter films in theaters.
Holding An Audiences Attention For 3 Hours Straight Is Tough
Despite theaters’ best attempts to limit the number of distractions in a theater by instructing folks to silence cell phones, holding one’s attention during a 3-hour movie is a struggle. Bathroom breaks, snacks, calls from family and friends and now even waiters shuffling to and fro delivering food during a screening can really distract from what’s happening in a movie. No matter who you are, one of these things can and will derail a moviegoing experience.
It’s going to happen in just about any movie regardless of runtime, but has a much higher chance happening in a long movie. What’s worse is this will happen whether the movie is good or bad. It’s not necessarily something that can be helped, especially in 2019 when any number of distractions constantly have us plugged in or on guard. We all have lives and needs, and spoiler culture can force us to the theater even when the timing may not be the best.
Yet we show up and sit down in a theater that waits for no one, and hope one of those distractions doesn’t derail the screening and leave us permanently confused for the rest of the film. There once was a time where intermissions were a thing in theaters, but they’re increasingly rare and non-existent in this modern era. Ironically enough, one can order enough beer in a theater to get belligerently drunk and ugly cry during Black Widow’s death scene, so perhaps that’s a sign of the times.
Theaters Don’t Fare Well With Long Movies
While there have been many innovations and gimmicks introduced to movie theaters in recent years, they still exist for one purpose. You’re there to see a movie, and then leave. The shorter the movie, the more showings theaters can cram in a day, and the more opportunities they can make money. Three-hour movies mean less showings, or more screens occupied by the same film, which is a risk.
Now, I say that knowing full well the top 3 highest grossing films of all time all are around the exact length of time I’m arguing against. I can also say that 15 of the top 20 highest grossing films are under 2 and a half hours in length, and a vast majority of them were released in the current decade. As for the top three, they are all separated by around a decade each.
So once every 10 years, a film close to 3 hours does huge numbers and makes theaters very happy. That’s not to say the rest are just duds taking up theater space, but there’s more than enough films doing big numbers that are shorter. Theaters have to do less to accommodate folks in shorter showings, and therefore, everyone presumably has a much better theater experience.
Long Movies Can Create Unrealistic Expectations
When a film’s runtime is announced to be close to or exceeding 3 hours, fans tend to react with excitement. After all, when Avengers: Endgame was announced, our imaginations kicked into overdrive with visions of a 3-hour battle with Thanos across time and space, maybe another major enemy being introduced, and a seemingly limitless introduction of new heroes.
In reality, we got a film that was lighter on action than Avengers: Infinity War, but still a great film that critics and audiences adore overall. Did I enjoy Avengers: Endgame? Absolutely. Do I think it could’ve easily shaved its runtime down by 10, 15 or 20 minutes to keep the action flowing better? You bet. I know that’s not a hugely popular opinion, but I know I’m not the only one who feels the same way.
Then on the other side of the coin, there’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, which is 2 hours and 45 minutes of almost non-stop action. Critics and audiences responded far more negatively despite my nagging suspicion that everyone seemingly knew at that stage exactly what type of movie they were walking into. Age of Extinction still made over $1 billion at the box office worldwide, so maybe there’s something to be said for audience expectation and film’s length correlating with one another.
If We Need Three Hour Movies, Let’s Move Over To Streaming
While I am generally wary and disheartened by news that any movie exceeds two-and-a-half hours in length, I have to admit I was super excited to learn the runtime of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. I should add that I was exceptionally excited because I was going to get to watch the latest work from an acclaimed director from the freedom of my own home.
There, I can take bathroom breaks when I want, go get snacks, and even stop and take a phone call all without missing a second of the film. It’s a game changer, and in my opinion, one of the best ways to enjoy any 3-hour movie.
Unfortunately, even this is marred by the fact that streaming is still struggling to establish itself as a viable alternative to the theater experience. That means that many of the movies that would be best experienced, absorbed and enjoyed from home are still being shown first in sub-optimal conditions. It’s a change we could see in our lifetime people, and while I do have love for the traditional theater experience, there’s no place like home. That’s especially true in the case of long movies, so let’s get this trend rolling in the next decade.
Do you feel seen by this article or do you have another viewpoint about what films are and aren’t an acceptable length? Share any wisdom you may have below, and continue to stick with CinemaBlend for all big things happening in the world of movies and television.