Are Movies Getting Longer, and Is This a Good Thing?
When cinema initially emerged as a form of entertainment, films were relatively short in duration. During the era of nickelodeons, which attracted people from all social classes, the movies screened at these theaters were shorter compared to today’s feature films. However, in recent years, starting from 2022, American cinema has witnessed a shift in the types of movies being consumed. While the average movie runs for around two hours or less, some of the biggest blockbusters now extend beyond two and a half hours. This trend has sparked a debate about whether intermissions should be introduced for movies that exceed three hours.
Other national cinemas, such as Bollywood and Chinese cinema, have been producing lengthy films for decades. American movies used to be longer in the past, but nowadays, the trend leans towards allowing more time to fully develop the story on screen. However, this shift has both advantages and disadvantages for the film industry. Creating these types of movies is more expensive, making it difficult for independent filmmakers without significant studio support to produce them. Additionally, it is crucial to execute such films effectively, as poorly executed longer movies can become tedious and lose audience engagement during the final acts. Let’s explore the reasons behind this phenomenon in more detail.
The Emergence of Three-Hour Movies
In 2022 and 2023, several major movies have surpassed what was previously considered unimaginable running times. Damien Chazelle’s film “Babylon,” released in late December 2022, can be seen as a pivotal moment in this recent trend. Despite mixed reviews, “Babylon” had a runtime of three hours and nine minutes, leading to complaints from casual moviegoers and fans who felt that the plot lacked coherence and couldn’t sustain their interest for that long. While “Babylon” may appear as an occasional anomaly, movies like “The Irishman” also exceeded three hours in duration. Even upcoming films like “Avatar: The Way of Water” and Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated “Oppenheimer” are expected to join this exclusive club of lengthy movies. For instance, “John Wick: Chapter 4” almost reaches the three-hour mark with its runtime of two hours and 49 minutes.
Considering that audiences have become accustomed to shorter content like TikTok videos and other forms of short-form media, it is surprising that people still desire to sit down and watch these lengthy films. However, this is not a new phenomenon, as even beloved classics like “Titanic” had a runtime of three hours and 15 minutes. Nevertheless, for a movie to justify such a long duration, it must be skillfully crafted to captivate the audience and keep them engaged until the end. Otherwise, it may become a tedious chore rather than an immersive experience.
Bollywood movies, in particular, are known for their extended runtime, exploring multiple subplots, themes, and incorporating dance numbers. The Bollywood model has successfully kept audiences invested in the journey of their favorite and least favorite characters. Longer movies allow the audience to form a deeper connection with the characters on screen, provided that the script and direction are executed effectively.
However, when it comes to lengthy movies like “Babylon,” they tend to polarize audiences due to the depth they delve into. “Babylon” serves as a prime example of how a film’s length can divide opinions. It attempts to incorporate elements of history, romance, and crime drama, but it struggles to find a seamless transition between these genres. This lack of cohesion can cause viewers to lose interest if they are not in the right frame of mind or if they find it difficult to follow the narrative structure.
Longer movies offer an opportunity to showcase exceptional writing and characterization. However, they can also create barriers in terms of resources, support, and distribution. When theaters prioritize longer movies, it limits the number of screens available for other films, which can disadvantage independent, BIPOC, and international filmmakers who may require greater exposure. Additionally, if more resources are allocated to longer, mainstream movies, it further diminishes opportunities for those who have received less recognition in the industry.
In conclusion, the trend of longer movies in American cinema has sparked discussions about the need for intermissions and the impact on the film industry as a whole. While these films provide an opportunity for more comprehensive storytelling, they also present challenges in terms of cost, execution, and inclusivity. It remains to be seen how this trend will evolve in the future and how filmmakers will navigate the delicate balance between captivating audiences and accommodating different storytelling styles.
When cinema first became a medium, movies were quite short. Back then, when nickelodeons were becoming an event or spectacle for the masses, places people could go to across all social classes, the films being screened at these kinds of theaters were shorter than what is expected today of a feature film. Recently, beginning in 2022, American cinema has been noticing a shift in what kind of movies are being consumed. While the average movie might be a little or under two hours, some of the biggest blockbusters of the year are pushing past two and a half hoursleading some to prompt this question: should we be having intermissions if a movie is going past three hours?
Other forms of national cinemas, especially in Bollywood and Chinese cinema, have been consuming these kinds of long movies for decades now. American movies were once longer, but it seems like these days the trend is skewing toward having more time to tell the story on the screen in its full glory. However, this can be a boon and a bane for the film industry. Not only is it more expensive to create these kinds of movies, locking out filmmakers without major support from studios, but it also has to be done right, or it can be a drag to get the final arcs. Let’s deep dive into why this is the case.
The Rise of 3-Hour Movies
In 2022 and 2023, several big movies were clocking in at what seemed unfathomable before. Damien Chazelle’s Babylonwhich came out at the end of December 2022, can be seen as a turning point in this recent trend. Chazelle’s Babylondespite the mixed opinions about it, clocked in at three hours and nine minutes, and casual moviegoers and fans alike were complaining about how the plot seemed all over the place and that it couldn’t sustain the film for that long. While it may seem like Babylon was an anomaly that appears once every couple of years, it wasn’t the beginning. Movies like The Irishman also were over three hours long.
Then came Avatar: The Way of Waterwhich saw similar complaints. Christopher Nolan’s hyped film Oppenheimerwhich comes out July 2023, will also join this exclusive club, as its run time has been said to clock in at three hours and nine seconds. Even John Wick: Chapter 4 almost reaches three hours in its length, as it has a running time of two hours and 49 minutes. For audiences that have become acclimated to TikTok and short-form content since the pandemic years and the idea that audiences are worsening with their phone usage and managers, it becomes surprising that people theoretically are wanting to sit down and watch these kinds of films.
This isn’t a new invention though — even a beloved classic like Titanic clocks in at three hours and 15 minutes. However, a film has to be well crafted to fully get away with such a long running time, and keep the audiences at the edge of their seat. Otherwise, it fails to captivate and instead becomes like a chore, or obligation, to finally get to the end.
A Sometimes Tedious Deep Dive
Bollywood movies are particularly long, with their storylines diving into many different subplots, themes, and dance numbers throughout. If there’s something to note about the Bollywood model, it’s that these kinds of movies have been able to keep audiences cheering and booing for their favorite — and least favorite — characters as they progress through their physical and emotional journeys. There’s a certain kind of magic that comes with longer movies that allow the audience to truly become one with the characters on the screen, but that’s if the script and direction are done right.
When it comes to longer movies like Babylonthey tend to divide audiences because of how deep the movie goes. Babylon becomes the ideal example of polarization in terms of length because it tries to do a lot in its three hours. It transitions between a historic movie, a romance, and, towards the end, a crime drama of sorts. As it never truly finds its footing in one genre and progresses through them in a way that doesn’t feel seamless at times, it ends up creating a hole that the audience can fall through quite quickly if they’re not feeling up to it or particularly astute that day.
Longer movies can be a great time to show off excellent writing and characterization. However, it can also be a medium of gatekeeping with resources, support, and distribution. When theaters across the country are stuck playing fewer movies because a three-hour movie takes up more screens consistently, it typically shuts out indie, BIPOC, and international filmmakers who may have needed that exposure more than a Marvel movie. At the same time, if more resources are being pooled into a longer, more mainstream movie, it also denies the same opportunities to those who have had less of a spotlight.