Do Any Long Movies Justify Their Butt-Numbing Lengths?

Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is currently playing in cinemas around Australia. It clocks in at exactly three hours (not including ads or trailers). According to most critics, it could have got its point across in a more bladder-friendly running time without feeling truncated. Could the same be said of every lengthy movie? Discuss.

I recently finished reading Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures; an expose of independent cinema that focuses on the careers of the Weinstein brothers and their controversial handling of various movies under the Miramax Films umbrella. One of the book's recurring themes involves Harvey Weinstein's frequent trimming of movies against the filmmakers' wishes. Throughout the '90s, directors who prized final cut were advised to steer clear of the "Harvey Scissorhands" studio if they could land a deal elsewhere. But could it be that Harvey is right?

When I go to see a film at the cinema, I generally expect to be sitting in my seat for between 1.5 and two hours. Movies that deal with weighty, complex issues can stretch the running time out to 150 minutes — but anything beyond that is pushing it. Frankly, if you can't tell your story within these accepted time conventions, perhaps it would be better served as a TV mini series. Or could it be that you're simply being too precious over scenes that aren't essential to the plot?

In recent times, there have been plenty of movies that have been guilty of unnecessary bloat — who could forget the numerous 'endings' that plagued The Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King? Avatar, The Dark Knight Rises and Troy are some other recent offenders.

In my humble opinion, even old classics are guilty of stretching the viewer's patience. While the vistas in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia are undoubtedly spectacular, there's only so much of Peter O'Toole toing-and-froing in the desert that one can take. Likewise, if you took the soulful glances and pointless, flowery monologues out of Gone With The Wind, you could probably cut its 220 minute running time down to about 60 minutes.

But I'm willing to be convinced otherwise. If you can think of any movies that justify running for more than 2.5 hours, let me know in the comments section below. Be sure to include your reasoning as to why the same story couldn't be told effectively in 2.5 hours or under. Your move, cinema buffs!

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    Modern Times Forever runs for 10 days straight,

    Last edited 31/01/14 3:49 pm

    All of the Harry Potter movies from Goblet of Fire onwards are pretty much solid all the way through, with very little padding.

    When determining whether a movie is too long or not, I dont think you can put a specific number of minutes as an answer. Ive sat through movies that are 160+ minutes where the time just flew past and also 88 minute movies where I feel like I lived 3 horrible lifetimes during the course of the movie.

    We are noticing an unfortunate trend with movies/music the days to accommodate peoples short attention spans and make everything shorter or quicker to the point. We seem to be skipping to the next scene or swiping to the next song after hearing 'the good bit' whilst we use to listen to 27 minute songs (Dazed and Confused Live)....or at least I did.

    *Stands down from soapbox*

    When does a movie outstay its welcome? Could range from anywhere from 1 minute to never....

    My 2 cents....

    EDIT: Now Im worried that this comment is too long...

    Last edited 31/01/14 3:14 pm

      Movies have traditionally been only 90mins to 120mins.
      It's only recently that more and more movies are coming out with longer running times.

        Not necessarily.

        Ben Hur - 212 mins (1959)
        My Fair Lady - 170 mins (1964)
        Anatomy of a Murder - 160 mins (1959)
        Seven Samurai - 202 mins (1954)
        Barry Lyndon - 184 mins (1975)
        Spartacus - 184 mins (1960)
        Ran - 162 mins (1985)
        Giant - 201 mins (1956)
        Casino - 178 mins (1995)

        All great movies. I think movies used to be as long as they needed to be without fear of scaring audiences away. Modern movie producers fear longer runtimes because they can seel more tickets with more showings rather than let the story dictate runtime.

        Back then movies used to have intermissions too!

        Last edited 31/01/14 3:49 pm

          Good point, their story probably justifies their length, but those still are very few movies. Compared to the movies coming out almost weekly with longer running times. I think studios are more in the mindset now of longer movies means more epic and more money.
          If you can tell the story in less, the better. The running time of 90mins to 120mins works great for movies.

    I barely noticed the length of Wolf of Wall Street - I was captivated start to finish. But I sure noticed the time when I got out and noticed the movie was 3 hours and the adds 40 minutes. Basically killed my day.

    Heat. There's no filler in this one at all. Mann takes the time to build the picture of the obsession that drives De Niro and Pacino, and if he didn't then it would be nowhere near as powerful as it is. Sure, you could create a two hour version of the movie, but you'd lose much of the character development that's so important. I actually can't think of any optional scenes in it.

      I dunno. The romance between De Niro and that random woman he meets always felt a bit tacked on to me.

    I enjoyed the full Ultimate Cut of Watchmen (with tales of the black freighter edited in) . It runs for well over 200 mins.

    Also a few other good ones that just break the 150 min mark.. Aliens Extended Cut, Terminator 2 Special Edition and Gladiator.

      +1 for Terminator 2. I've watched that movie more times than I can recall and the 154 minute running time doesn't bother me.

      I think The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn was a great length, at 107 minutes. Lots of action and adventure crammed into a relatively short time. Now, if they would just release the second one..

    I enjoyed Wolf of Wall Street & despite feeling noticeably longer than usual I had no idea that it was actually 3 hours. Dances With Wolves will always need the full 3 hours to watch.

    Django Unchained was another recent movie that went for almost 3 hours, I enjoyed that, didn't seem too long at all.

      It definitely lost steam after Djago's capture. Could have done with some trimming methinks.

      its a movie that i enjoyed the first time but on a second viewing it definitely felt too long.
      where as something like T2 mentioned above breezes through with every watch

    The Wolf of Wall Street could've been longer and I would've been happy, I felt some things were rushed! But still the movie was awesome.

    I felt The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was too lengthy, especially the first hour I found for the most part boring and uneventful. The second instalment utilised the 3 hours much better I thought.

      The second installment utilised the time better because it was mostly Peter Jackson's fan fiction, so they weren't stretching the existing content like the first movie.

    Apocalypse now is really long - especially the director's cut - and I love every minute of it - my favourite movie of all time.

    That said, I think most long movies could learn the meaning of brevity

    Worst movie I ever saw was Australia.

    The damn thing finished 3 times and then started again with a completely different plot. Like WTF?

    After the 3rd ending, and the movie not yet being over, I switched it off and burned down my house.

    I still can't remove the shame.

    Length aside, a movie should have one beginning, one middle and one end. Any more or less than that, then the move is too long.

      i started watching australia on a flight to LA.. turned it off after 45 minutes... says it all really.

    Return of the King was not long enough! I'm happy to say the same about all the Lord of the Rings films. Can't say the same for the first 2 Hobbit installments though.

    I don't see anything wrong with a long film as long as the time is well utilised (and usually it is). I don't watch them in cinema though, the seats/leg room is far too uncomfortable for me no matter how long I'm in there.

      The original cinema releases were fine, but the Extended Editions of the Lord of the RIngs movies added way too much boring filler.

      I tend to think 90 minutes is distinctly short for a move at the cinemas. 110 to 130 minutes is about right for a feature film. However, it's as easy for a short movie to be too long as for a long movie to be too short; it depends on how the movie is paced.

      "The Sound of Music" at 174 minutes doesn't feel excessively long. "Tales from Earthsea" at 115 minutes definitely dragged in places. "Epic Movie" at 86 minutes would have been vastly improved by splicing the opening credits against the closing credits...

    Girl with the dragon tattoo, at 150mins isn't over the top long, but one of those movies, where if you blink too long you'll lose the entire plot line

    Shit make movies longer, I'd love it! But anything 3 hours or longer should have an intermission so everyone can piss and stock up on snacks :p

    good luck with Bollywood - 2.5 hours of padding and music. .25 hours of random staring. .25 hours of talking.

    Kingdom of Heaven, just compare the butchered movie release with the directors cut.

    The film goes from hogwash to one of my favourites, and the directors version is a rather long affair. But it all depends on the movie, some do better after trimming, others are immeasurably worse. However as others have stated there is no set time limit, its about any movie wearing out its welcome.

    Last edited 31/01/14 7:05 pm

    Saving Private Ryan comes to mind. Long movie but good all the way through.

    I saw Jobs and Wolf of Wall Street on the weekend. Jobs was noticeably abridged, and could have been another 2 hours and still been rather abridged. There are many key moments that were just missing, especially anything not very flattering about Steve was completely skipped over. A homage to the new-age armchair fan boy. Then it stopped after his return to Apple despite starting by showing us the iPod.

    The wolf of wall street felt like a warts and all production, didn't notice the time until my bladder got the better of me, and the movie went for another hour.

    Go and develop bladder control.
    The end.

    One thing that is dismissed too quickly in this article is the length of ads/trailers at the start of movies in the cinema. At the Hoyts near my old place it was always ~17 minutes of that stuff before the movie started, so I ended up showing up to the cinema 10 minutes "late" with a reserved seat ticket and the movie starting just after making myself comfortable. That 17 minutes might not sound like much but to a bladder it can be an eternity!!!

    I would say that everything depends on how the action and plot develops - for example Inception is 148-minute long but it kept me engaged the whole time - while very many shorter movies were boring and painful to watch just after 10-15 minutes...

    Haha, you guys are lucky, basic Indian movies staples are never less than 2.5 hours long. Even the ones without the song and dance routines.

    The Seven Samurai, the movie on which The Magnificent Seven was based, is over 3 hours but kept my full attention all the way. In this case it's a Japanese village being defended against bandits.

    It depends on the viewer and the movie.

    For movies based on books they tend to be longer as there are so many different 'favourite' scenes that the audience has come to see. Just including the 'essential' scenes for the plot may not be doing the movie justice.

    A different point may be that some viewers love a universe or a theme and want as much as they can, for example I love fantasy, and love lotr/hobbit. I don't mind sitting there for multiple hours because I love all things fantasy and want to see as much of it done as well as AAA movies do it, to immerse my self as much as I can. While others who don't care so much would be annoyed that the hobbit goes on for so long.

    I don't mind long movies, they just need to bring back intermissions. Maybe they can have different sessions where they have them in case some people just want to sit through the whole thing.

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