When is a film too long? (Friday Question Fun)

Friday Question Fun archive

Last weekend, my wife, mother, and I saw Lincoln and while it’s undeniably one of the better movies of 2012, it felt like a much longer movie than it is. In fact, I hear fairly often that people don’t like sitting through movies that go on past two hours.

When do you feel like a film is too long?

Do you avoid watching movies past that length?

Generally, I’m not put off my any movie length, though I do have to kind of psych myself up for anything approaching or passing the three hour mark. Not that my attention wanders (well, sometimes it does) more that my body gets restless and I need a break.

I will say that if a movie is NOT holding my attention, even a lean 80 minute film can feel like a 180 minute epic. So there is a bit of relativity when dealing with movie runtimes, but for the most part, I think two and half hours is pushing about how long a movie should be.

What about you?

98 responses to “When is a film too long? (Friday Question Fun)

  1. If it’s a great movie, 2.5 hours is usually the max for me. If it’s good, I can handle up to two hours before I start getting antsy. Anything lower quality than that though and I start yearning for the credits around the 90 minutes mark. Movies this year have been crazy long it seems…

  2. This its one of your best .questions yet. I think the maximum length for a movie I can just casually watch is between two and two and a half hours. But of course it depends on the script and how well paced it is. Occasionally I may watch something like Braveheart or The Godfather, but anything over three hours I’d need to actually find time to set aside for. Or just watch it in two parts, over two days…that’s what i did with Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.

  3. Imagine a road trip, going to a destination feels always much longer and coming back home, feels much more faster. So, I have the same thing adapted to movie watching. A movie that feels too long is like driving somewhere and driving and driving and I almost feel frustrated not getting there. But a great movie, a right length movie is like driving home, it is as if you are there before you know it and it feels amazing!

  4. Movies Are Too Long When They Sincerely FEEL Too Long.
    If It’s 2.5 Hours, But Feels Like 2 Hours, Awesome.
    If It’s 85 Minutes And Feels Like 3 Hours, Not So Awesome.
    It All Depends On The Film We’re Watching, Ya Know?!
    Does It Hold My Interest.
    Do I Mind The Length.
    Does It Feel As Long As It Is?
    Does It Feel Shorter Than It Is?
    Does It Feel Painfully Longer Than It Is?
    It’s All About The Film Itself.
    I Sat Through “GETTYSBURG” In The Theater.
    All 4+Hours Of It.
    It Even Included An Intermission.
    But Did It Feel Like 4+Hours?!?
    Not To Me It Didn’t.

    • Very very true
      Recent examples of films I was shocked to learn how long they really were – The Dark Knight and Seven Samurai. But I also know how a short, lousy film can feel like it’s spanning days or weeks.

  5. I normally think most movies are too long. I don’t even have a bad attention span, it’s only bad when it comes to movies. It has to be good for me to watch until the end. 2 hours is normally too long, generally. But I blogged about Life of Pi which was that long and it didn’t feel like it because it was good.

      • At home I’ll watch a movie while eating, or checking things on the internet or sometimes I’ll start reading a book haha. Not for every movie though. My attention span is twice as good in the cinema actually, yeah it does help. Especially if I have popcorn to keep my hands busy.

  6. That’s a good question. If I’m really invested in the characters, like in films such as Magnolia, the time flies by for me. But when the characters are uninteresting, I can get very bored in films that are even less than two hours.

  7. Somewhere between 2-3 hours usually really gets long. Unless it was something me and/or my boyfriend want to see desperately, we usually would just wait for the Blu-ray release so that we can pause. It also depends on the type of movie. My boyfriend once tried to make me sit through Alexander at home and I fell asleep halfway through the first part. And sometimes, it just depends on the plot itself. I love The Last Emperor but it takes a lot of budgeting time and right timing and concentration to sit through it also.

    • That’s kind of the downside of home releases, you have to budget that time around the stuff you normally do at home. Sometimes I find it’s almost easier to just see movies in a theater because you set everything else aside for that time.

  8. Depends on the quality of the movie. I’ve sat through 3 1/2 hr long films that zip buy, and have looked at my watch during a 3:30 minute short.

    But generally if a film is over 3 hrs I go by the director. If its a director I know and trust I don’t think twice. If it is someone I don’t know I’ll look at the reviews to see if it is worth my time.

    If the long film is a foreign film then I usually go by country of origin. I will stay away from it if it is from Spain or France. I have an unfortunate stereotype–admittedly based off a small selection of watched films–of them being poorly edited with scenes dragging on too long.

    • Haha, I’ve done that too with shorts. Especially if they’re on YouTube, for some reason an 8 minute YouTube video feels like an eternity to me.

      I do the same thing with directors and countries of origin, though I usually find foreign films feel longer than they really are in general.

  9. A film only grows long for me when it starts to suck. Now naturally no one can sit through an 8 hour movie in one setting but I don’t care if its 3 or 3.5 hours as long as its good and it has me involved. On the other hand, I’ve had movies that have felt way too long 45 minutes into it.

    • You’re lucky that you’ve never watched a film you thought was too long though I understand what you mean when you say if it’s entertaining you don’t want it to end. I love when movies make me feel like that.

  10. Yeah, I think that the length of the movie needs to be dictated by its content. I echo the sentiments above that some 90 minute movies feel to drag on, and some 3 hour movies zip on by.
    I find myself sometimes putting off a movie because I feel like it is too long for that particular night. I’ll say “I’ll watch that later when I have three hours” and then I’ll start watching some TV show. 5 episodes and 4 hours later, I’ll look up and realize that I’ve spent more time than I intended to. But, in that case, I feel like I have control over the situation because I am choosing whether or not to watch another episode.

  11. I think it depends on a movie’s feel. I have sat through some movies that are three hours that I have enjoyed from start to finish and the amount of time invested in watching hasn’t phased me, but if a film just drags or there really isn’t anything going on to the point where it feels pretty mundane than I feel whatever the point that they are trying to get across is taking too long.

    I tend to watch quite a bit of foreign cinema, especially Asian films that are sometimes two hours long. I think the longest films I have sat through is Cannibal: The Musical (Three hours) and Seven Samurai. There are probably more that I have sat through, but cannot remember off of the top of my head.

      • I think it might depend on how a movie might speak to you or how much you enjoy it. I have sat through shorter films that felt agonizing while trying to watch it all of the way to the end, but that is just me (I think).

  12. I think it just depends on the content. If I’m at home, I can take anything if I can stop and get up and move around and go to the bathroom. If I’m in the movie theater – if this thing – no matter what – is going too long, I’m going to start to get antsy. Take The Dark Knight – excellent movie but I could barely make it to the end (at the theater) without excruciating pain in my bladder….

  13. It definitely depends on the film. If it takes three hours to create an interesting, entertaining and tightly plotted film, that’s fine. But certain filmmakers (Judd Apatow is coming to mind because I recently watched This is 40, which I found funny but problematic) have a tendency to make really overstuffed films with too many characters, and it can feel like the movie’s reached a natural ending two or three times before it finally wraps up. That’s the point when I feel like a film is just too long.

  14. It has to depend on the film. Some films need to be long in order to do justice to the material, and if you cut them down to two hours or less they can be wrecked artistically and their narrative is shot. Other films are bloated at two hours and need to be cut. Some – like Short Cuts – can feel as if they just never never end and you wanna kill yourself with boredom before the second hour even starts. (yup, I HATE Shortcuts, but don’t get me started)

  15. I think the key question to ask is “Does the film need three hours?”. If the answer is yes, if nothing can be cut without ruining the story, then you won’t even notice the time going by.

    If the answer is no, then the film will start to feel like it’s meandering.

    I enjoy good long movies sometimes. Lord of the Rings would lose some of the appeal by not being as long as they are. They’re immersive. They create a world.

    • Lord of the Rings is one of those films where it’s easy to rag on it for being so damn long, but I totally agree that those films simply couldn’t be much shorter. Even the theatrical cuts, which are long, are fairly lean when compared to what they could have been.

  16. Excellent question! Like a few other folks on here, I feel like a movie is too long if my attention wanders or I get bored with what is happening on screen. Considering that most “older” movies tended to run at around 125 minutes, with the odd exception *Revenge of the Jedi only ran 134 minutes yet the cinema put an intermission in the middle of it.* I have gotten used to the 2.5 hour long films that are now the norm, but only if they don’t feel like 2.5 hours. ๐Ÿ˜€

  17. I will sit through a three hour movie if it’s a good movie. A 63 minute pre-code can feel too long if the story is bad (and a 2-hour bad film can feel even longer). For me it depends more on the quality of the story and the performances than the actual number of minutes spent watching, so I don’t pay too much attention to running time unless I simply don’t have the time for a longer one.

    • Very true. I usually glance at the runtimes before I start watching something since my time to do things during the weeknights is limited, but I totally agree that I don’t pay attention to runtimes once the film is playing and has engaged me.

  18. I look at the length of movies for two reasons only: does it fit in my schedule or is it worth ten plus bucks for a movie barely longer than a TV episode. I want my money’s worth in quality and a short 85 minute movie isn’t likely to cover enough ground to make a good film especially comedies. I’ve near given up on them at the cinema. Mind you Woody Allen fair is often short but satisfying. On the drama side length can mean padding or self indulgence (Peter Jackson) but not always (Tarantino) . I look at TV the West Wing or British series The Hour. More in 50 minutes than most films and better quality.

    So long length in a cinema is usually a plus. Sit by aisle and avoid caffeine for the long haul.

  19. Most films today are too long. In the ol’ days films were 87 minutes and it did not hurt the story telling one bit. There’s always acceptions that work well as long films but I think todays filmmakers need to make more films that are 1.5 hours so we have more shorter films. The social weight of a film sometimes needs a longer presentation. Schindler’s List, The Ten Commandments, Braveheart, Gladiator – I did not notice the longer length of these films. A Batman film doesn’t need to be longer than 1.5 hours. The Hobbit – 3 hours? I got sciatica, there is no way I can sit in a theater for 3 hours.

    • That is very long, right around 6 hours, right? I think in the blu-ray release they have made it episodic but I still haven’t set time aside to pop that one in because 6 hours is a big movie commitment.

      • 400 mins, the reason why it is sitting on my shelf for a years. But otherwise when a movie is 2.5 hours I usually stall watching it, curiously with 3 hours I have no problem. It is just the films between 2 and 3 hours that have something making me doubtful.

        • I think I may try to tackle Les Vampires soon, I’d like to have a flurry of silent films at some point soon.
          I know what you mean about films between the 2-3 hour range, for some reason I always feel like it’s too much time when looking at it in terms of minutes on the back cover or whatever.

  20. It’s been said that a movie needs to be exactly as long as it takes to tell its story. If it feels padded or too rushed, the audience will notice. I’ve sat through short movies that seem to go on forever and long movies that whisk by. That said, I prefer movies to be on the long-ish side for no other reason than movie tickets are the same price no matter what the running time is. If I pay $10 for a 2-hour plus movie, I feel like I got a bigger bang for my buck than if the film is only 90 minutes. I felt particularly ripped off by “Jurassic Park III,” which was barely an hour an a half long when the previous two incarnations were over 2 hours each (it didn’t help that the ending was abrupt).

    • I can totally understand wanting to get bang for your buck, I haven’t quite adopted that criteria yet though. I typically go to the theaters to see things that the experience would be better in a theater. Special effects wise, or whatever.

      • Yeah, I’m with you on that. I usually hold off to wait for movies that don’t require a cinematic experience to watch on home video. For some reason, longer movies tend to seem more cinematic while short movies are like TV episodes.

  21. I’d say if the question occurs to you while watching a specific film, then that film is probably too long. Otherwise, if a film is a good one, how can it possibly be too long? (Yes. I think I’ll plunk down my twelve dollars and take my seat. Now please make my enjoyment as short as possible.) It all depends on the individual film. “Desperately Seeking Susan” was under 90 minutes yet it felt like days. On the other hand, “Lawrence of Arabia” seems unspool in under an hour.

  22. Good question; interesting answers. At the cinema, I never pay attention to the run-time. During Dark Knight Rises I didn’t once consider how long the film was playing; during The Hobbit, I was done at just over 2 hours, thinking ‘how much more?’ At home, yeh, I check the run-time to make sure a film fits in the time I’ve got alotted. But in general, if the film is enjoyable, if it’s doing the job intended, the length should never be an issue. I’ve never met anyone who has leaned over to me during a longer movie and said, ‘loving this film… but wish it was over now.’ At most it’s usually, ‘That was great… but now I’ve got numb bum.’

    The fairly recent Edge Of Darkness is a ‘too short’ film. Actually, it’s a conundrum; it’s too short to tell the complex storyline in the detail required, yet feels over-long due to the plodding pace.

    The only film I’ve been to that had an ‘interval’ was JFK… and I didn’t need one.

  23. When it doesn’t feel like it fits the movie. I’m fine with length, but if a movie really could be trimmed down and the length seems unnecessary (Transformers, Pirates of The Caribbean 2 and 3 for example) then I have a problem with it.

      • I don’t understand why movies like that can’t run no longer than two hours. Look at the movies from the eighties and even nineties like this. Rarely were they ever more than two hours. Not sure why they’ve gotten so bloated these days. I think Battleship even clocked in over two hours – geesh.

  24. As a indian, we have movies that normaly are 2h15m long, so i dont mind movies of any length as long as it keeps me busy. If i am watching it home on my laptop than it does kind of play a role but if i am sitting in a theatre than it wouldnt bother me much to watch a good story unfolding. I agree when you say a 80 min movie could feel like forever if its a trash

  25. A movie is too long when it’s called “Django Unchained”.
    So, basically, if it’s got pacing problems and it’s all over the pace, then it’s too long.

    I’ve seen short films that seemed to last forever and I’ve seen films that last 3 hours but I would’ve wanted them to go on and on (“Short Cuts” and “Magnolia” quickly spring to mind).

  26. For me, my limit is 2 hours 20 minutes. This means I never watch the endings of: Gone with the Wind, Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, The Ten Commandments, etc.

    However, having said that, I committed to watching Ten Commandments on the big screen in March. Maybe I will sit through the whole thing this time…

  27. Speaking as someone who can watch a whole TV season in a few days, as long as the movie is good, it doesn’t really matter how long it goes for (eg. The Hobbit). Saying this, though, at the three-hour mark I’d probably need to get up and have a bit of a stretch.

    There are some films, however, that just go for way too long. ‘Australia’, for example, could have easily (and preferably) been split in half and made into two films and the 1927 film ‘Metropolis’ (which goes for 148 minutes) would have been much better had it been shortened to an hour.

    So, in the end, it just depends on hour good the film actually is.

  28. As long as I’m watching the movie in a theater, the length doesn’t matter to me usually. Comedies that go much over the 2 hour mark sometimes start to drag for me but that won’t keep me from seeing it. If I’m at home, though, and it’s a movie I haven’t seen before, I know my attention will start to move elsewhere and subsequently I often go elsewhere.

  29. Of course it depends on the film. Gone With the Wind is 238 minutes and it just flies by. Thatโ€™s an exception however. Iโ€™d say anything over 135 minutes is really pushing it.

  30. I can do long movies, but when watching a DVD I usually pick something around the hour and a half mark. I just need to have the time and don’t often have that.

  31. Any longer than two and a half hours is dodgy for all but a few special films. Then again, I can watch the extended Lord of the Rings films (Return is about four hours long) and not feel bored.

    Good question!

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