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.

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.”

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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The World’s Last Blockbuster Has Been Transformed Into an Airbnb—and It Costs Just $4 Per Night

The Last Blockbuster on Earth is located in Bend, Oregon.
The Last Blockbuster on Earth is located in Bend, Oregon.
Airbnb

In March 2019, a Blockbuster store in Bend, Oregon, became the last remaining Blockbuster on Earth. If you aren't satisfied just browsing the shelves and the candy selection of the rare '90s relic, soon you'll be able to book it for a night for the cost of a movie rental.

As CNN Travel reports, the last Blockbuster location will be available to rent on Airbnb for $4 a night beginning August 17. Sandi Harding, the manager of the video rental store since 2004, has set up the space to recreate the experience of renting a VHS tape and having an old-school movie night at home.

Settle in for an old-school movie night at The Last Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon.Airbnb

A sofa in the makeshift living room features a pull-out mattress complete with retro Memphis pattern sheets. After getting cozy in bed, guests can enjoy their choice of movie from the store's robust VHS collection on a big, boxy TV. And naturally, popcorn and other movie theater snacks are available onsite.

Be Kind. Rewind.Airbnb

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Bend Blockbuster's opening. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, having a big celebration was impossible, so Harding found a way to mark the occasion with a more intimate event. "With everybody being stuck at home and re-experiencing family time together, we thought it would be fun to enjoy some family time in a throwback '90s environment," she told CNN.

When the bookings open on Airbnb on August 17, guests will be able to reserve their one-night stay for September 18, 19, or 20. The space is limited to four people, with guests from the same household preferred.

[h/t CNN Travel]