Do Feature Films Have to be Longer to be Better?

Now that it’s 2022, fans are focused on only a few feature films. The one radiating the power of a supernova is The Batman. Not that it matters to fans in the geek and comic communities, but the run time for Matt Reeves’ magnum opus is 2 hours and 55 minutes.

That’s three hours long with an extra-large trough of soda at your side. Do some meditation before you go, thinking only of barren deserts. Tie it in a knot and stop thinking about running water. Whatever it takes, that’s a conversation for another day. But, do it!

That time unveiled by WarnerMedia has many fans and critics asking the same question: “Do feature films have to be longer to be better?”

  • Spider-Man: No Way Home was 2 hours, 28 minutes
  • Eternals may have felt like an eternity for some at 2 hours, 37 minutes
  • No Time to Die was the longest James Bond movie, ever at 2 hours, 43 minutes
  • The Irishman was 3 hours, 29 minutes
  • The Hateful Eight was long enough, but the Extended Cut on Netflix is 3 hours, 55 minutes
  • Zack Snyder’s Justice League spanned 4 hours, 2 glorious minutes

If you look at those run times, feature films are extending themselves because more story needs to be jammed in the script to be considered “great.” But does it?

Does Size Matter (in Feature Films)?

Source: Getty Images

Is it a trend that directors are paying time-and-a-half to the crew? Are some production teams guilty of jacking around the set, so they lose track of time? Do the governing bodies insist on a specific time limit for feature films to be considered?

For decades, 90 minutes has been the benchmark for a feature film’s running time. Why?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has written in their bylaws that a feature film only needs to be 40 minutes. The American Film Institute (AFI) agrees. The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) believes there needs to be more story at 60 minutes and above for a feature film.

Yet, go to the movies today, and that’s a much different and more long-winded story. You’re sitting through 15-20 minutes of trailers, followed by another 10 minutes of PSAs and alerts to turn off your phone and COVID protocol. Then, the movie hits. Of course, if you’re sitting through a film of certain nerd proclivities, you must sit through 10 minutes of credits to get to the post-credit scene.

By the time you get home, four to five hours have passed. Where did the day go? Welp, you left the damn thing in the theater. When fans left Venom: Let There Be Carnage in just over 90 minutes, people wondered if they missed something because that movie was shorter than whatever that was Ken Jeong showed the world in The Hangover.

Crunching Numbers and Popcorn

Source: SKarramba Production/Shutterstock

Think about some of the mega blockbusters you remember seeing in the theater recently. That condition known as “numb-ass” sets in for each of these feature films:

  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ended the saga in 2 hours, 22 minutes
  • Avengers: Endgame assembled in 3 hours, 2 minutes (and Infinity War was 2 hours, 29 minutes)
  • Of course, WarnerMedia demanded “Josstice League” to be 2 hours exactly, so when Zack Snyder doubled that with his version, fans loved every bladder-knotting minute.
  • DC Comics get the memo with Aquaman at 2 hours, 24 minutes
  • Both versions of Suicide Squad and The Suicide Squad were about the same length at 2 hours, 10 minutes and 2 hours, 12 minutes, respectively

Is the new standard 120 minutes? Do screenwriters feel like a complete story doesn’t happen without eclipsing two hours? Whatever the case, the gold standard doesn’t appear to matter anymore for feature films.

To wit, meet Przemyslaw Jarzabek.

He is a data scientist with a serious shine-on for feature films. For a pet project, he went through IMDB’s cavernous database of about 5.3 million titles to scan feature films’ runtimes.

There are 1,313 unique genres to thumb through. And he did. Eventually, he whittled the list to 27,591 core feature films to measure.

The shortest feature film was 43 minutes and the longest was 450 minutes. I think the RunPee app would short circuit having to rock the potty breaks for a 7.5-hour movie. The oldest movie was released in 1911. Suffice to say, Prze…eh…something did his homework. Around 1930, runtimes really started the uptick.

For cinephiles, that should make sense. Think about the cinematic era: Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932), Duck Soup (1933), The Thin Man (1934), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), The Adventures of Robin Hood (!938), The Wizard of Oz (1939), and the trendsetter, 3 hours, 42 minutes of Gone with the Wind (1939).

So, what was the change? Talkies. The Silent Era of movies was gone. The point? We all had something to say once people were listening.

Are Movies Running Out of Time?

Are Feature Films running out of time because they are so long?
Source: Columbia Pictures/Eaves Movie Ranch

Are movies becoming too long? Yes and no. But, be honest, you only notice the duration when the movie has lost your attention. Sure, the need for a bio-break may remind you of the feature film length, but if that movie is great, you’ll find strength to run to the bathroom later.

We have an individual idea of what a film deems to be “too long.” Better yet, have you ever left a movie saying, “You know, that movie could have been 30 minutes shorter.” Of course, you have. And that’s the moment you should consider now.

If the movie sucked, it’s too long. If the movie is a fantastic story, your bladder is full but what a great film!

Think about any of the movies listed above. Picture sitting through a feature film from Christopher Nolan, the Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Ridley Scott, or James Cameron. (Titanic, anyone?) Time doesn’t stand still during those movies–it flies by because of the masterful storytelling.

Source: FizX/YouTube

One other thing: Those feature films that come out during the holidays are usually set up for a nice Oscar push, but longer films get better reviews too.

For example, The Lord of the Rings trilogy averaged 186 minutes. The Harry Potter movies averaged 147 minutes. All 10 of The Fast and Furious movies? They offer an average of 118 minutes. Coincidence? I think not.

It seems when judging a feature film, time is a subjective thing, much like the movie itself. To butcher an adage: “Length is in the bladder of the beholder.” And if the movie is spectacular, you be holding your bladder as long as it takes.