‘Ideal’ movie running time is 92 minutes, poll claims

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I can think of many good movies that I enjoyed that I would have preferred to be shorter. I think overly long movies, like movies, for example, that are 3 hours, in most cases, feel self-indulgent, and a little bit of a challenge to watch, while I think had the same story been shorter, it would have been more enjoyable, while likely not losing its great movie status.
And I don't really understand this. That is not how I watch movies, especially great movies. If your main argument is the story, meaning the overall plot, is the same if you take out four or five scenes or trim a half an hour worth of footage, why are you even watching a movie? The plot is often the least consequential element of a great movie. If you broke it down to a This Happened, Then This Happened, Then This Happened, and That Made That Happen, The End outline, most stories are very similar. In the hands of a bad storyteller or a bad filmmaker a genre story can be so routine your eyes glaze over. In the hands of a great filmmaker, a type of story you have seen four dozen times can still seem fresh and fascinating and be inherently rewatchable. A great filmmaker has levels to the characters and brilliant cinematography and a unique tone or point of view that go far beyond what the actual story is. If you only want to know what happens and how it ends, lots of scenes and moments can be cut. In a crap movie they probably should be cut. To cut them from a master filmmaker's work is sacrilegious.

For example. The two scenes in GoodFellas involving Spider are totally extraneous to the overall plot. If you are being ruthless and cutting anything that doesn't advance the story, that is something you would cut immediately. From that perspective it's just two more scenes where we see Tommy is dangerous. Two more scene where we see that things can turn from laughter to death in an instant. Two more scenes where Henry is reminded this isn't all just fun and games. But if you think GoodFellas would be a better film without those two scenes, that they are self-indulgent because they don't really tell us anything new about the characters or change the plot, then why are you watching a movie in the first place? If you only want to know what happens in the quickest manner possible, read the summary on Wikipedia. Or you let Scorsese immerse you in this world and go along for the ride, even if it means you have to stay up past your bedtime.

One of the perfect examples of an "extraneous" scene in a great movie is the Mike Yanagita scene in Fargo. To a lazy viewer who just wants to get on with it already this whole thing seems like a waste of time. Marge meets some rando she barely remembers from high school and he awkwardly cries and hits on her after telling her a sob story. WTF? But it is one of the most important scenes in the whole movie. When she calls her friend afterwards and finds out just about everything he told her was a lie, it makes her reevaluate her interview with Jerry at the dealership. Marge's human instinct, even as a police investigator, is to take people at face value, to give them the benefit of the doubt. Once she realizes what a creep Mike Yanagita is she goes back to Jerry and presses him, leading to him fleeing the interview and confirming he was involved with the kidnapping plot.

Not every single seemingly random or extraneous scene is as key as that one, but in the hands of great filmmakers they all add something to character motivation or tone or the viewing experience in general. If you want a tidy plot that wraps up in 48 minutes watch any episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and be done with it. If you want to watch a great movie why in the heck would you be looking at the clock?

I would not cut a single frame from Lawrence of Arabia or Amadeus or Zodiac or Raging Bull or The Godfather. They have long running times, yes. They sure don't feel long. Are most filmmakers working on the same level as David Lean, Miloš Forman, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, or Francis Ford Coppola? Of course not. To me the shorter a Zack Snyder movie is the better. But when you do have truly great films, who cares if they are 90 minutes or four hours long?
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Also, what's so bad about self indulgence? It seems there is an underlying resentment whenever an artist operates on their own creative whims, instead of catering towards the expectations of whoever is watching. I want my movies to take those big swings, even if they miss. That is how interesting things happen. Even failures are better when the indulge themselves. When they take chances. When they risk looking foolish.


I would watch a self indulgent movie that isn't very good over nearly any movie that is crafted to appeal to the 'no self indulgence allowed' crowd, any day of the week. I've got limited interest in artists who worry if they are testing the patience of their audience. I want artists to push it as far as they can go.



Trouble with a capital "T"
I think overall this is correct. How successful a movie is is about a lot more than its length, and well constructed movies that are longer may be appropriate to the story and work well. I think this was Roger Ebert's view. However, I do think that it is very possible to have a great movie that is too long. In my opinion, and I understand views differ on this, if you can't watch a movie in one sitting, or doing so feels like an endurance challenge, the movie, for me, is too long. I can think of many good movies that I enjoyed that I would have preferred to be shorter. I think overly long movies, like movies, for example, that are 3 hours, in most cases, feel self-indulgent, and a little bit of a challenge to watch, while I think had the same story been shorter, it would have been more enjoyable, while likely not losing its great movie status.
Like you said it depends on the movie and how big the story is. I've seen long movies and enjoyed every minute of them. But there's sure alot of 2.5 hour films being made today that only needed to be 2 hours. If the director isn't making the film for an audience, then who are they making it for? Seems like the art of editing is gone out the window these days. Orson Welles once said a film is made in the editing room.

One of the biggest complaints I've seen in reviews here at MoFo is: 'the movie felt too long'...that says something when alot of people are bored by a film they see as overly long.



Trouble with a capital "T"
Also, what's so bad about self indulgence? It seems there is an underlying resentment whenever an artist operates on their own creative whims, instead of catering towards the expectations of whoever is watching....
True, at least for me. See my post after yours, (I wrote that as you were posting, I hadn't seen your post until after I posted mine).



Holden, very interesting perspective. It sounds like what you are saying is that there's a lot more to the enjoyment and the quality of a movie than the plot or the character development, and that some of these scenes, which some may find unnecessary or extraneous, actually have a deeper purpose or be serving a deeper function. I think that's a point of view that I hadn't considered, but I think you are right that that might be where these differences lie. I do think that I interpret movies more in terms of their plot and character development, and if a scene doesn't tell me much about either, or the scene is duplicative of another scene, and I'm not feeling like I'm learning anything new, or the story is not being driven forward by the scene, I perhaps am prone to see that scene as unnecessary. I also think about pacing, and that's one of the reasons that I think movies that go beyond 2.5 hours, and certainly that are three hours or above, are usually experienced as being too long. The pacing of a 3 hour movie almost always drags, for me, whereas a movie that is 2 hours, if well constructed, that has within it characters and a story that I care about, usually does not. I am almost always looking at my watch repeatedly at a movie that is above 2.5 hours.

I must confess, though, I really haven't seen "Fargo" or "Goodfellas" in a very long time, so it's hard to really evaluate your argument given my lack of familiarity with these movies. Since we are both pretty big Clint Eastwood fans, I'm wondering if you could make your same argument using a movie that I'm much more familiar with, like "In the Line of Fire"? Can you point out some scenes in that movie, or another Clint Eastwood movie that is from his later era, that he acted in (these are the films I'm most familiar with), that some might see as extraneous and worthy of cutting out, but that you actually see as serving a deeper purpose that might not be obvious to every viewer, but that you see as essential, and explain your reasons why? It does not have to be "In the Line of Fire", but that's probably the Clint Eastwood movie I've seen the most often. Thank you!



That being said, I'd love to watch a Filipino or Ghanian or Paraguayan version of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King that's 92 minutes long. The Soviet Hobbit was better than Jackson's, for example.
So would I, but when I say it shouldn't be 92 minutes, I meant it would be bad if the actual version, the only one we can watch, were that length.

If we still get to "keep" the films as they exist, then I'd love to see people attempt to make shorter versions of all those historical epics. It would be fascinating. But only as an extra, not as a replacement.

A whole lot of movies are clearly shorter than they need to be. There's something consumerist and evil in wanting to cut a film down to an easily digestible 90-minute-long product. But yes, there's a huge difference between saying this as a viewer who wants something easier to watch versus saying this as a producer who wants to butcher somebody's vision.
I understand why shorter films might seem more "commercial," but I think this has shifted. The appetite for successful IPs is voracious. It seems you can't give Star Wars or Harry Potter or MCU fans (as a whole) enough #content. We need lack of interest around the margins when they start churning it out at ridiculous levels but over time they seem to draw these things out more, rather than less, to the point where I almost see the 2+ hour MCU film as more overtly commercial now.

Anyway, it's all about the why. There is nothing inherently commercial, I don't think, about films being shorter. I often worry that little correlations like this unfairly color our reactions to things, the same way certain visual choices "feel" cheap because we associate them with how TV is traditionally shot, for example. I think a lot of arbitrary conditioning dresses itself up as criticism.


This has more to do with being busier, right? Or maybe lazier and less willing to be challenged? As we age, we become less adventurous and ambitious and have to deliberately fight it to stay as we were before. For one, I became too complacent with my cinephilia.
It's a lot of things. But yes, the cliche is that as one becomes older they become less interested in novel experiences. I find myself trending the other way in any particular case, which I think/hope offsets the increasing jealousness with which I dote on my own time.



Re: self-indulgence.

Presumably it's because self-indulgence isn't a particularly good thing in most walks of life. All else being equal, we tend to admire people who try to serve others. Doesn't mean self-indulgent art can't be interesting, of course. It's more a commentary on the personality of the creator than the value of the art.

I really enjoy the idea of a director spending three years and $100 million trying to make sure a single emotional beat lands as well as possible for as many people as possible. I think that's remarkable, and a testament to how good we have it as viewers, that something like that happens with relative regularity.

I think an orientation around others tends to produce better stuff than a focus on oneself. Connecting with other people is pretty hard as it is, and I think when it happens through something self-indulgent it's more coincidence than design. Someone might reasonably argue, of course, that this makes it all the more special. And I'm already on record as saying the thing I love most about art (and most of life) is the exploration of other minds, so I certainly like that a few of those excursions be to strange places that bear no resemblance to me or anything I usually think about.



As I again spout this platitude, a bad movie is too long & a good movie is too short. That’s what I find.
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A lot of interesting points thrown around that I agree with. Obviously there isn't and shouldn't be a blanket metric for this. Films should be as long as the filmmaker feels. That doesn't mean that they will always succeed in their quest, but there shouldn't be a dagger hanging above them forcing them to make a film shorter. Do I rejoice when a film is 90 minutes or less? Hell yeah, but that's because I don't have a big window to watch things at night and I need to balance my time between wife, kids, chores, etc. and from that perspective, I understand how 90 minutes might seem "ideal". But nah, let them come as the filmmaker wants and I'll keep finding my way around them one way or the other.
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Trouble with a capital "T"
From the story article on the 1st post:
Killers of the Flower Moon with an unauthorised intermission. Scorsese had previously defended his film’s running time, saying: “You can sit in front of the TV and watch something for five hours … there are many people who watch theatre for 3.5 hours … give cinema some respect.”
What is Scorsese smoking? No one sets in front of a tv for 5 hours without pausing what they're watching and hitting the bathroom or kitchen for some snacks. You can't pause a movie in a theater, so if you need to use the bathroom you miss a part of the movie.

Scorsese says, "give cinema some respect"...No one is beholding to his artistic whims. It's his movie and he can make it how he wants. But don't whine if people stay away from the theaters because they don't want to set on their ass for 3.5 hours. It's the audiences lives and their time.. and they aren't beholding to Scorsese or any director's whims.



Like a lot of things in life, "it depends". A 3 1/2 hour Rom-Com? No. A 90 minute version of Return of the King? Not that either. What I also "know" (or have been told at least, buy a theater owner) is that long movies are a big gamble. Yes....here he goes again, talking about money, but yeah, all that. Ask a theater owner whether they want to have one or two seatings in a pre-midnight operation. A 3 hour epic is a big gamble, because it's only one after-dinner seating. With a seating somewhere in the 7:30-8:00 slot, it gets tight getting butts in and out of seats in time for a movie that ends before 11. That's only gotten worse in the pandemic era when so many of us are hiding in the basement and it's hard to fill seats for any showing.

A 92 minute movie seems rather artificially specific, but that 1.5 - 2 hour duration is probably the sweet spot for anything that's not a guaranteed blockbuster. So few movies in recent years have been butts-in-seats blockbusters that theater operators are more risk averse. 92 minutes is probably right.

I admit that I do yearn for the time of the full-house, LOTR-like, long movies, but a lot of things would have to come back in place for that Wagner opera-like event to happen.



Also, what's so bad about self indulgence? It seems there is an underlying resentment whenever an artist operates on their own creative whims, instead of catering towards the expectations of whoever is watching.
Re: self-indulgence.

Presumably it's because self-indulgence isn't a particularly good thing in most walks of life. All else being equal, we tend to admire people who try to serve others. Doesn't mean self-indulgent art can't be interesting, of course. It's more a commentary on the personality of the creator than the value of the art.

I really enjoy the idea of a director spending three years and $100 million trying to make sure a single emotional beat lands as well as possible for as many people as possible. I think that's remarkable, and a testament to how good we have it as viewers, that something like that happens with relative regularity.
The dictionary definition of self-indulgence is:
Excessive indulgence of one's own appetites and desires.

Indulgence of one's appetites, desires, or inclinations; -- the opposite of self-restraint, and self-denial.
I don't think anyone would suggest that it's a bad thing for a filmmaker to "operate on their own creative whims" - quite the contrary. It is usually what makes a movie unique, or memorable.

It's bad when that trait becomes excessive - and obviously not everyone might agree on when someone has become wildly self-indulgent.

As it happens, I would say that both Heaven's Gate and Killers of the Flower Moon are very good examples of wildly self-indulgent films - movies that were made when their respective filmmakers were at a point in their careers when they obviously felt like nobody could say "no" to them and were willing to let them work with humongous budgets that first-time directors would never in a million years be allowed to work with (for that kind of material at least).

The underlying stories in both of those films, both based on important events in U.S. history, are undeniably fascinating and worth dramatizing. I think both of them could make extremely good mini-series or, in the proper hands, become pretty good movies. But they probably shouldn't be nearly 4-hour-long movies. It seems like the most important facts could easily be narrowed down to a narrative that was, at most, 150 minutes or so. If you feel you want to tell the story in greater detail than that, then the mini-series format is probably best, because it really gives you the room to go into as much detail as possible, and it can easily be 7 or 8 hours long.

There are definitely movies that are so packed with events and story lines that they truly justify a running time that's closer to 4 hours. Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather Part II, The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, the complete cut of Once Upon a Time in America are all examples of movies that are around 4 hours long and don't feel a minute too long. They aren't self-indulgent movies, imho, but something truly epic in scale and narrative drive.



Also, what's so bad about self indulgence? It seems there is an underlying resentment whenever an artist operates on their own creative whims, instead of catering towards the expectations of whoever is watching. I want my movies to take those big swings, even if they miss. That is how interesting things happen. Even failures are better when the indulge themselves. When they take chances. When they risk looking foolish.
Whether it's self-indulgent or independently creative or authentic artistry mainly depends on the product.

Yeah, again with the money, but since making a movie is, at least in part, gambling with your backers' money, the results will tell. They want profit, you want greatness and Art. This works if a film maker's vision works and the money comes in.

Money wise, this isn't like doing an oil painting, which is fairly cheap; it's a movie and even a cheap one costs a lot. It's not about resentment, it's about self-indulgence with someone else's money. If the film maker can self-fund, that's great, but it's rare that they can, so the tension between "artistic vision" and "make me some money" is inevitable.

I've often thought I'd take my idea and make the Great Movie, but, so far, my lottery tickets have not paid off.



The potential problems with self-indulgence go much deeper than impacting the financial bottom line. It's about making a movie to please yourself rather than to make an entertaining film that your audience will likely enjoy. It's about being primarily motivated by your own interests and passions rather than those of the viewer. When your viewer is not even a consideration in how you make the film. As a result, self-indulgent films, regardless of how well made they are, are often much less entertaining to watch.



Whether it's self-indulgent or independently creative or authentic artistry mainly depends on the product.

Yeah, again with the money, but since making a movie is, at least in part, gambling with your backers' money, the results will tell. They want profit, you want greatness and Art. This works if a film maker's vision works and the money comes in.

Money wise, this isn't like doing an oil painting, which is fairly cheap; it's a movie and even a cheap one costs a lot. It's not about resentment, it's about self-indulgence with someone else's money. If the film maker can self-fund, that's great, but it's rare that they can, so the tension between "artistic vision" and "make me some money" is inevitable.

I've often thought I'd take my idea and make the Great Movie, but, so far, my lottery tickets have not paid off.

And once again, I will repeat, some backers invest in talent. They invest in that self indulgence. It's why there are already so many great and self indulgent movies that have already been made. They believe it is worth the risk. They believe they can recoup that investment with quality (a word you clearly do not understand the meaning of, maybe we can get FilmBuff in here to supply you with a dictionary definition of it)



Also, catering to audiences has never been a sure bet either. They fail all the time. And it's often these sure bets where they invest absurd amounts of money, where losses can be crippling. The issue is believing 100's of millions of dollars are needed for film production. It isn't. Only in the rarest of instances should that much money ever be required. That is the stupid investment. Especially since they frequently do not put any talent behind the camera in these investments. They believe nothing but buying up an IP, and investing in marketing, should suffice. Sometimes they get away with it (as probably about half of the super hero movies out there have shown), but eventually the bottom drops out (as is happening now).


But please, keep repeating the completely obvious statement that people don't want to lose money when they invest it like only you have ever realized this. Like anyone who values creativity has somehow overlooked this element in their calculations.



Presumably it's because self-indulgence isn't a particularly good thing in most walks of life.

One perfectly good reason why it should be encouraged in art. To shake out all the thoughts and feelings and obsessions that otherwise have no place to go.




It's more a commentary on the personality of the creator than the value of the art.


There isn't really any separation between these things. Maybe you're thinking of craft, which definitely overlaps artistic expression, and can frequently enhance it or clarify it or make it more palatable. But craft isn't art. Craft doesn't care much about personality. That is the job of art.


I really enjoy the idea of a director spending three years and $100 million trying to make sure a single emotional beat lands as well as possible for as many people as possible.

This has its place. But I find most directors who fuss too much over these kinds of things go flat for me. You can usually sense that fussiness which, in turn, sucks authenticity from the experience. Like when someone over rehearses for a job interview and they might say everything absolutely perfectly, but they hardly seem human.


I think that's remarkable, and a testament to how good we have it as viewers, that something like that happens with relative regularity.


Does it happen regularly though. Or is there just lots and lots of competently made emotional beats that have been stripped hollow from being overworked (see Shawshank, clearly singled out to make some more unnecessary enemies)

I think an orientation around others tends to produce better stuff than a focus on oneself.

Hard disagree. I think the vast vast vast majority of established greats spent at best a modest amount of time catering to others. And then there are the rare birds who do. Certainly Spielberg. Probably Hitchcock and Kurosawa, to a degree. Howard Hawks and John Ford and John Huston and Chaplin, sure. And while there are certainly others I'm already starting to struggle.


Where on the other hand we have Godard, Cassavetes, Von Trier, Herzog, Tarr, Kubrick, Melville, Fassbinder, Welles, Tati, PT Anderson, Fritz Lang, Rohmer, Suzuki, Coppola, Tarantino, Bergman, Fellini, Lynch, Jodorowski, Tarkovksy, Spike Lee, Wong Kar Wai, all of the good martial arts directors,Lorraine, Bertolucci, Errol Morris, Pennebaker, DePalma, Murnau, Altman, Almodovar. Even an Ozu, who was a story teller and a commercial director, was self indulgent by what he omitted. And that's off the top of my head.


Connecting with other people is pretty hard as it is, and I think when it happens through something self-indulgent it's more coincidence than design.

I don't think this is hard at all. Unless you consider connecting to be with the maximum amount of people. And, ya, that usually has to be by design, which is part of my problem. Any one movies doesn't need to be made for everyone and his mother. It just needs to find its niche audience (which can still be quite large) and the way to do this is for the artist to be honest and transparent with who they are and what they want to say when they are creating. It of course won't always work, especially if they are particularly untalented, but if you are honest and you have something or anything to say, there will be people out there it resonates with. And that is hardly coincidence. It's just good practice on how to connect with other humans.


Someone might reasonably argue, of course, that this makes it all the more special. And I'm already on record as saying the thing I love most about art (and most of life) is the exploration of other minds, so I certainly like that a few of those excursions be to strange places that bear no resemblance to me or anything I usually think about.


We agree here. But when you connect with these expressions, you are responding to art. And your response wasn't simply a coincidence



I started by Blu Ray disc of 'Satantango' last night. Will hopefully watch in either 2 or 3 sittings. I very much doubt the Director thought he was going to make a fortune enterteining people when he was in the editing room with this one.



92 minutes seems a bit extreme for me but not too far off. I start to have second thoughts about watching a movie when I see the runtime is past 2 hours and really start to question if I actually want to watch it if it's more than 2.5 hours.

I recently watched Killers of the Flower Moon and while I thought it was very good, that 3.5 hour runtime was not needed and it negatively affected my enjoyment of it. That epilogue in particular had me rolling my eyes.



I started by Blu Ray disc of 'Satantango' last night. Will hopefully watch in either 2 or 3 sittings
Don't be a weak person. Watch it in one sitting.