Is There an Ideal Movie Length?

Michael Blann/iStock via Getty Images
Michael Blann/iStock via Getty Images

In the numerous box office post-mortems that came in the wake of Doctor Sleep, the Warner Bros. follow-up to 1980's The Shining, entertainment industry analysts cited its runtime as one reason the Stephen King adaptation failed to find its footing with viewers in 2019. Projected to earn $30 million on its opening weekend, the two-hour-and-31-minute film apparently kept moviegoers with short attention spans at bay, grossing just $14 million.

But was that really the case? Another King adaptation, It: Chapter Two, came in at nearly three hours and was a major success, making nearly $500 million worldwide after being released in September 2019. Can a movie’s critical and commercial success really be determined by its running time?

For an answer, it helps to understand why filmmakers have, according to data scientist Dr. Randal Olson, seemed to settle in a sweet spot of between 90 and 120 minutes for many major motion pictures. Back in the earliest days of film exhibition, theaters were sent reels in canisters that had to be swapped out by projectionists, with each reel lasting between 11 and 20 minutes. This change was often done manually, which was hard on the projectionists. Theater owners also preferred shorter films, so they could schedule more screenings per day—and thereby make more money. As a result, movies usually weren't longer than two hours.

That changed between the 1930s and 1960s, when theaters and studios were feeling threatened by the advent of television. With attendance dropping, studios felt compelled to make movies more of an event experience, expanding the aspect ratio to a sprawling 1:85:1 or 2:35:1 widescreen format—early films were a boxy 4:3—and offering longer films to help consumers justify a night out at the movies. Epics like 1959’s Ben-Hur (three hours, 44 minutes) and 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia (three hours, 48 minutes) were hits despite their length. During this period, movies gained an average of 30 minutes in their running times, and often had intermissions about two-thirds of the way through.

From 1970 to 1985, however, things changed. With the threat of television fading, movies shrunk by an average of 10 minutes. One theory for the shrinkage is that movies became shorter to fit the standard storage capacity of VHS cassettes, which were increasing in popularity at the time. Ever since, movies have largely remained stable at the sub-120 minute run times, with the average length for a movie in 2018 coming in at a breezy 96.5 minutes.

Even individual shots in movies have shrunk: The length of the average shot before cutting away has fallen from 12.5 seconds in 1930 to 2.5 seconds as of 2010.

Film canisters are pictured
Bet_Noire/iStock via Getty Images

The late film critic Roger Ebert observed this trend, writing in 1992 that a filmgoer’s subconscious had started to expect films to come in no longer than two hours. But he also argued that the idea that films used to be truncated wasn’t always so. Early screenings, after all, featured cartoons, short features, news reels, and other entertainment that could keep people in their seats for hours. Now, recommending a film over that barrier usually leads to complaining. (Try it: Tell a friend a movie you like is nearly three hours long. Watch their eyelids get heavy.)

Is a runtime of under two hours really something we’ve been conditioned to prefer? Some moviegoers think so. A 2015 survey of 1647 British movie fans reported that 55 percent found a movie under two hours to be preferred. But that may depend on the genre. Comedies average 90 minutes in length; dramas tend to run longer. The average running time of a Best Picture winner from 2000 to 2016 was 131 minutes. Which makes it seem as though audiences are willing to accept films running longer if they perceive them as more serious.

Exhibitors still have a say in movie length, too. Longer films tend to mean fewer screenings per day, which means reduced profits. It also means long films get sub-optimal screening times during the day. Ideally, a film should be screened around 8 or 9 p.m. to afford people a chance to see it at a convenient hour. If a film is under two hours, it can also screen at 5:30 and 10:30. But if it’s creeping toward three hours, that means other showtimes begin much earlier or much later than moviegoers prefer. Not many people will opt for a three-hour epic that begins at 11 p.m.

But exhibitors are outside forces motivated by financial interests. At home, there’s no such concern, which would make an entity like Netflix perfect for evaluating audience preferences. The service is famous for analyzing viewership data, which informs many of their acquisition and original programming choices. So what’s the average length of a Netflix-produced film? As of 2017, roughly 97 minutes long—about the average length of all movies in 2018.

While there are always exceptions—Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic The Irishman is three hours and 30 minutes, Quentin Tarantino’s lauded Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is two hours and 41 minutes, and Avengers: Endgame, the highest grossing film of all time, is nearly three hours—such seat-squirming lengths are usually reserved for filmmakers who have earned the confidence of the audience. Seeing a new Scorsese film run long might be a cause for celebration. After viewing, you may think it impossible to be as satisfied if an hour had been hacked from it. But if a first-time director releases a nearly four-hour film, you may be more inclined to skip it.

In the end, it might be best to follow Ebert’s rule of thumb: “Bad movies are always too long," he wrote, "but good movies are either too short, or just right.”

Friends's Lisa Kudrow and Matt LeBlanc Once Pitched the Idea of a Phoebe and Joey Romance

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It's hard not to get sucked into all the romantic relationships that Ross, Chandler, Monica, Joey, Rachel, and Phoebe had on the hit '90s sitcom Friends. And if you're a devout fan of the show, you probably have some opinions of your own on the various love interests seen throughout the 10 seasons. Or you may even have rooted to see relationships play out that never happened. For those viewers who ever hoped to see Phoebe and Joey get together: you're not alone. That was one romance Lisa Kudrow and Matt LeBlanc pushed for, too.

During a joint interview with Entertainment Weekly back in 2016 (per Insider), Kudrow and LeBlanc, who played Phoebe and Joey, respectively, revealed that they had pitched a secret affair between their characters at one point in the show. When asked why the pair never got together, LeBlanc explained:

"Towards the end we actually pitched the idea that Joey and Phoebe had been having casual sex the entire time. We’d go back and shoot all the historical scenes and just before a moment that everyone recognizes, there’s Joey and Phoebe coming out of a broom closet together. But they were like, 'Nah.'"

While the idea sounds like it was shot down pretty quickly, imagine the Central Perk crew finding out that Joey and Phoebe had been having an affair all along. But for now, this reveal from the actors is all just a "moo point" at the end of the day.

[h/t Entertainment Weekly]

You Could Get Paid to Watch Disney+ While Social Distancing

She’s excited to belt out both parts of Aladdin and Jasmine’s "A Whole New World."
She’s excited to belt out both parts of Aladdin and Jasmine’s "A Whole New World."
demaerre/iStock via Getty Images

In October 2019, Reviews.org chose five lucky couch potatoes for its “Disney+ Dream Job,” a position that paid people $1000 and gave them a year-long Disney+ subscription to watch 30 Disney programs in 30 days.

Now, the technology review site is accepting applicants for a similar (albeit less time-consuming) role: 10 people will receive a $200 Visa gift card and a free year of Disney+ to watch one single Disney film. Since most Disney movies are around 90 minutes long, your one-time wage works out to about $133 per hour.

To enter, all you have to do is send an email to giveaways@reviews.org with “Dream Job” in the subject line and your name and the title of your favorite Disney film in the body of the email. Winners will be selected at random, so you don’t have to worry about trying to pick the “right” movie or explaining why you’re the right person for the job. You do, however, have to be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen. Submissions will be accepted through Thursday, April 10, and winners will be notified by email on the following Monday, April 13.

While October’s dream job was more about drumming up excitement for Disney+, which was a brand-new platform at the time, this one is all about encouraging social distancing and supporting people through the coronavirus crisis. With Disney+’s wide array of entertainment at your disposal—from National Geographic animal documentaries to animated classics you loved as a kid—you might feel a little less bored while you’re camped out on your couch.

If you want to check out Disney+ for yourself, head here to learn how to get a free seven-day trial.

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