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Are Movies Becoming Longer?

(Design by Graham Jones | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


Do you remember how you felt when you learned that “Avengers: Endgame” was a three-hour-long film? I recall seeing an article announcing it on X, formally known as Twitter that made me ecstatic. After the cliffhanger ending of “Infinity War” and the secretive marketing of “Endgame,” the lengthy runtime convinced me we were in for a truly epic finale.

At that time, the runtime stuck out, it felt special. Two years and one pandemic later, a three-hour runtime doesn’t seem all that crazy. In the last six months, seven big-budget blockbusters have had runtimes that surpass two and a half hours including “John Wick: Chapter 4,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and “Oppenheimer.” Looking at the bigger picture, it seems as if average movie runtimes have risen in general, with most films coming in around two hours and 10 minutes. Is this just a coincidence or is there something more to this trend?

I should make it clear that “long movies” have been around far before “Endgame” was released. Films like “Titanic,” “Schindler’s List,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Gone with the Wind” all had runtimes that exceeded three hours and came out before the year 2000.

So, are long movies actually all that extraordinary despite a history of them? I would still say maybe. The long movies I listed earlier were all still cherry-picked from a pool of hundreds of thousands of movies released over time, most with runtimes under two hours. Because of this, it seems the general public has decided films running over that length are unusual.

Depends on the Story

Filmmakers tell a story, however, they feel that story is best communicated will define how long the runtime is. For Martin Scorsese, he felt the tumultuous tale of Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street” was best told in 180 minutes. For Brad Bird, he thought the story of a boy befriending a friendy, gargantuan robot in The Iron Giant” was best told in 86 minutes.

A filmmaker rarely walks into a production with an intended runtime in mind. Knowing this helps clue us into why there have been so many long films recently. With all the constant advancement in filmmaking technology and the strive to always go bigger, storytellers are going for more ambitious stories than ever before.

Since the pandemic, an ongoing conversation about preserving the theater experience and ensuring passion for the art of film continues. It’s possible that each studio listened to audiences and produced films with the intention of making the next “savior of cinema” film, creating stories that audiences have to see in a theater. This also tracks with the absurd budgets that studios have handed out to their recent blockbuster productions, many of which have exceeded 250 million dollars. All of these ideas feed into a rising trend in films with long runtimes.

It may be that everything I’ve claimed is complete fiction and this year’s frequently longer films is all just by chance. In fact, my perception of recent films sporting longer runtimes may just all be in my head.

As someone who makes visits to the movie theater three or more times a week, I notice when a film runs a bit longer than usual. To the average moviegoer who will visit the cinemas just a few times a year, runtimes mean nothing. To me “Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One” having a runtime of two hours and 43 minutes was something to note. Up until now, the series sat comfortably with runtimes all under two and a half hours. Friends and family members who also saw the film hadn’t noticed the length until I told them. While films may be getting longer, it may not be something that the majority of movie-goers notice.

Art Evolves

It’s evident that studios are releasing films with longer runtimes on a more frequent basis. The many reasons behind why that may be are deeply intriguing to me. Like with all forms of media over time humanity will adapt to the ever-evolving structure of film and longer runtimes will become normal. Today, people happily sit down and binge eight hours of content to get through a season of television but will also become entrenched in 30-second skits on TikTok. What this means for film is hard to say. Will shortening attention spans kill the art form due to a growing time commitment? Or, will the public begin to view watching a movie, no matter the length, as an event? Either way, film will continue to be what it’s always been—an escape from reality. So, get comfy because that escape may just be getting a bit longer.


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About the Contributor
Graham Jones, Arts Writer, Audio Producer
Graham Jones was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and moved to Utah to study film. Despite his passion for cinema, Graham joined the Chronicle to engage with the University of Utah community and pursue his love for journalism. Outside of the student media office, Graham can be found buried deep into the pages of a graphic novel or lip-syncing to the greatest hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

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    Patrick WigginsAug 8, 2023 at 11:26 pm

    Related to long movies. There’s an app for that. You start it running when the movie starts and lets you know when a boring part is about to start so you can run to the restroom without missing much. Really.:) It’s called Runpee and I’ve used it several times.