With the recent release of Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, clocking in just minutes under the three and a half hour mark, the online social media discourse surrounding long film runtimes has seemingly never been more prevalent.
Every time a movie over three hours comes out in theaters, this debate seems to rage again. It’s quite inescapable, actually. In just the past few years, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, Damien Chazelle’s Babylon and James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water have released to much chatter online centering around one question: do these movies need to be this long?
The recent uptick in these conversations makes sense as it does seem like average movie runtimes are getting longer, with seemingly every new blockbuster clocking in at around two and a half hours now, oftentimes even longer. Evidently, not everybody is happy about this. A long-gone generation of filmmaking with epics like Lawrence of Arabia and Gone with the Wind managing to be box office hits, cultural landmarks and Oscar winners simultaneously has long passed by.
Attention spans are getting shorter as short-form content on TikTok takes everybody by storm. Intermissions, which used to be built into programming to give projectionists the opportunity to switch reels, came to a swift close in 1982 with the release of Gandhi. Having these intermissions made movie-going feel more like an event and an experience, akin to seeing a broadway show or a live musical performance.
With all of this in mind, I must confess that I’ve gotten quite sick and tired of people making preconceived notions about a movie simply based on the runtime in front of it.
Now are there movies that have been too long for their good? Absolutely. I certainly don’t think anybody needed Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny or any Marvel movie post-Endgame to be two and a half hours long. But they were. The Dial of Destiny had many problems, though, the runtime just being one factor out of so many others.
People seem too quick and dismissive about the idea of committing multiple hours of their time to a film, as if binging streaming shows for hours on end isn’t essentially the same concept. The diminishing value in many people’s eyes about the theater-going experience with the popularity of streaming has also posed a challenge for longer, more patient dramas that require attention and care from the audience.
With so much of the discourse being centered around how long movies like Killers of the Flower Moon are, it also feels like it’s unfortunately taking away time and space to engage with the actual important content of the films.
For example, Scorsese made a painful and unbelievably crafted story about the Reign of Terror, generating important conversations about complacency in racism and helping to spotlight the Osage community. The film simply wouldn’t have made such a strong impact on critics and audiences if it was cut down — especially with such a long and sprawling true story at its core. Yet the 206-minute runtime seems to be all that many people can talk about.
A big part of this conversation is also about theater etiquette. From my experiences going to the theater and with my friends who also frequent, it feels like people have gotten this idea instilled into them that they can’t leave the theater ever to use the bathroom or to take a break. Getting up for a few minutes is totally okay! I get it, while missing a few minutes of a movie and having to awkwardly squeeze by people to leave isn’t the most ideal situation, with context clues, it is entirely possible to catch up on your own.
A solution that I think could really help is bringing back intermissions in certain theaters, giving audience members the option of having a break in the middle to breathe. I myself sometimes struggle with a shortened attention span and am not always in the mood to watch a super long movie. And that’s fine! But taking up space online arguing against long movies simply for being long feels ridiculous. Frankly, it’s just not that interesting of a conversation anyways.
There’s so much great art out there, and limiting ourselves to what we watch simply based on something as trivial as a runtime is just defeating and pointless. If we open our eyes to all different types of stories, both short-form and long, we embrace new ways of understanding the world around us.