Don’t get me wrong, I love a short movie. High Noon, This Is Spinal Tap, Toy Story, Rashomon and Eraserhead all clock in under 90 minutes and are absolute classics. And in an age where bloated blockbusters routinely pass the two-hour mark, many studios would do well to remember the beauty of a taut tale told well.
However, there are stories that cannot be spun with such surgical precision, narratives that require three hours or – gasp! – longer to unfurl. Back in the day, this wasn’t so controversial. Gone With The Wind is just under four hours, while Lawrence Of Arabia, The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur all pass three hours 30 minutes.
But since ticket prices for longer films are the same as shorter ones (which can be screened more times per day and thus generate more moolah), there’s a financial incentive to rein in runtimes. Couple this with modern audiences’ supposedly diminishing attention spans, and you have the popular belief that two-hour (or less) movies are the best way forward.
There is, however, evidence to the contrary. Peruse the list of top-grossing films of all time and you’ll find the top three (Avengers: Endgame, Avatar, Titanic) are all whoppers. Similarly, IMDb’s leaderboard of top-rated movies is dominated by titles of two hours plus (The LOTR Trilogy; The Godfather Parts I & II; The Dark Knight). It appears that, despite the received wisdom, punters still love an epic.
Now, I’m not advocating that everything needs to be like The Innocence (the 21-hour Bangladeshi film and current record-holder for longest theatrical movie ever). But the recent explosion of long-form TV – particularly with Netflix and Amazon’s season dump model – means that audiences are more accustomed than ever to bingeing four hours of viewing in a single go.
It’s a trend that streamers seem to be waking up to, with Netflix also releasing Martin Scorsese’s gargantuan passion project The Irishman late last year to widespread acclaim. You see, watching a film is like having a meal: sometimes you want a fast-food fix, but other times you want to kick back, luxuriate in the atmosphere and feast for hours. Or is it just me?
Each month our sister publication Total Film magazine argues a polarising movie opinion and gives you the opportunity to agree or disagree. Let us know what you think about this one in the comments below and read on for more.