Is two and a half hours now becoming the acceptable given for a big blockbuster movie’s running time? A few thoughts.

This past weekend, Marvel Studios continued its enviable record of success at the box office with Eternals. The film is the 26th in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s raced to success, with $161m already banked around the world. Congratulations to all concerned.

I know people who like the film. I know people who don’t. This isn’t one of those posts that debates that. Conversely, I know an awful lot of people who inwardly groaned when they saw that the running time was going beyond two and a half hours. Even appreciating that included a lengthy end credits list, paying testament to the hundreds upon hundreds of brilliant people who made the film, it still feels a bit exhausting at first glance.

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It wouldn’t do in isolation, of course. Few people were upset when the last Avengers film clocked in at three hours, given how much it had to wrap up. But still, as much as it’s nice studios don’t mandate a locked running time as much as they once did – we’ve perhaps got Justice League to thank for that (Warner Bros’ initial attempt to get that into two hours very much backfired) – it does feel that the bigger films are getting longer. And not always because they need to.

On the surface, all this might sound like a churlish complaint. Maybe it is. But I often come back to the mantra that few people walk out of a cinema and wish a film could be longer. More often, we’re leaving and thinking there was a good 20 minutes that could have been chopped out there. Of course, the vast majority of us aren’t professional editors so couldn’t tell you so for sure. But the fact that we often feel a movie is too long is still valid.

Across recent weeks in particular, our cinemagoing bottoms have been tested. The excellent Dune flew by for me, but still lasted 155 minutes, and I very much noticed that when I stood up afterwards. The recent James Bond movie No Time To Die clocked in at 163 minutes, and by the end, completely felt it. It used to be the exception to the norm that a film would last this long. Now, when Venom: Let There Be Carnage clocks in 97 minutes, it almost feels like a mistake at first glance. It must have been hacked to death in the editing room! Test audiences must have hated it! What’s gone wrong?

No Time To Die

Nothing, in the case of Venom 2. That was the film it was supposed to be, for better or worse. The same for Ghostsbusters Afterlife, that in modern parlance is sprightly at 127 minutes (including post-credits sting). But ahead of us now are Spider-Man: No Way Home (which fresh rumours – unconfirmed, to be clear – suggest is pushing two and a half hours) and The Batman (again, early rumours suggest it’s going to be in that ballpark). Be it series opener or closer – and most of us were reconciled to final chapters in sagas pushing running times (although quite what It Chapter Two was doing anywhere near three hours continues to baffle me) – long feels normal, very long no longer a surprise.

This kind of article, of course, has become a tale as old as time in the internet era, with some variant of it appearing somewhere online every month or two, albeit with the running times nudging upwards year by year. The words remain familiar, the numbers just go up. And the same counter arguments are correctly cited: it’s not all films that are getting longer. There are shorter movies out there. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to see it. All valid.

But I love blockbuster movies, as well as small independents. Whilst indies are steadfastly sitting at around 90 to 100 minutes for the most part – especially the tiny ones, for whom every shooting day is gold dust – the huge studio films do feel more and more like they’re going the other way. I, as with many cinemagoers, am not as young as I once was. The logistics of getting a night out at the movies can be tricky, and then finding films that finish at a time that accommodate having to get up early in the morning ain’t easy either. I don’t think I’m particularly alone there. Heck, I braved The Irishman at the cinema – all four hours of it – and knew after two and a half hours I was in trouble. I’m only human.

Perhaps it’s the old fashioned nerd in me that still thinks fundamentally the core challenge of cinema is to set up, tell and conclude a story in two hours. Sure, things have changed, and cinematic universes with ongoing narratives have changed the dynamic. Furthermore, a story should of course be as long as it needs to be.

Venom Let There Be Carnage

Yet I’m slowly becoming that person that I used to take the piss out of: the one who looks at how long a film lasts, and occasionally winces when I see the result. As much as I love a really good, well done, slow burn long movie, experience tells me that they are in very short supply. Conversely, films that comfortably outstay their welcome, have me fidgeting in my seat and wondering if at least one person in the edit suite said “could we at least try and lose another five minutes?” Well, they’re more common than articles of this ilk. Rest assured if this particular article didn’t work for you, they’ll be another one alone shortly, although not as soon as the next very, very long Hollywood movie.

I’ll end on a positive, with a salute to Sam Clements, and his work with the 90 Minutes Or Less Film Festival podcast. He and his guest seek out films that are done and dusted in an hour and a half, a proper public service for those with small children, or who fall asleep easily, or who have to get up in the morning, or who simply prefer their stories a little bit zippier.

And oftentimes, you can squeeze in nearly two of the movies he cites in the time it takes to watch a blockbuster sequel…

Lead image: BigStock

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