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Movies Are Becoming Longer
The average length of a feature film has risen 24% since the 1930s. This is being driven, in part, by the growth in franchise films and Americans' increasing free time.
2023 has been a year of long movies. Two of the highest-profile films, Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, clocked in at 3hr 26m and 3hr 1m, respectively. Nolan’s movie required 11 miles of film reel for IMAX theaters.
Over the past century, films have become increasingly long. According to an analysis by The Economist, the average runtime of a movie has risen from 1hr 21m in the 1930s to 1hr 47m in 2022. That’s about a +24% increase. For the top ten most popular movies each year, the average runtime has risen by +50% to 2h 30m.
So why are movies getting longer? The Economist blames the proliferation of franchises: Films are stuffed with dozens of cameos to create long, drawn-out spectacles. Disney’s Marvel films are famous for this approach.
But I also suspect broad social changes have been changing viewers’ habits and expectations. One is Americans’ greater quantity of leisure time combined with growing convenience of at-home streaming. Eighty years ago, you had to travel to and from a downtown cinema after a day of backbreaking work. Today you can binge-watch all day within walking distance of your refrigerator and bathroom. Rushing to fill all this empty time are media companies like Netflix, which take a simple plot and stretch it out to fill dozens of hours. Casablanca (102 minutes) would today be diluted, like fine wine mixed with gallons of water, into seasons’ worth of sitting. Along the way, the classic filmmaker’s art of compression—how to compress a deep mood or complex character into a single line or gesture—has been hopelessly lost.
Worst of all, the growing clout of big-name directors, who always want longer films, has come to overpower the clout of production companies, who often have a better understanding of what the typical moviegoer is looking for. Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, when occasional three-and-a-half blockbusters did appear—like Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, or Doctor Zhivago—the directors at least consented to give the audience a merciful intermission break. Just after the premiere screening of Scorsese’s new epic at the Cannes Film Festival, many reviewers had to stampede to the restrooms as soon as it was over.
Did You Know?
Who’s Cooking? According to a new global survey by Gallup and Cookpad, people cooked an average of 6.4 meals a week in 2022. This average has remained fairly steady since this survey began in 2018. The country that cooks the most is El Salvador, with an average of 8.8 home-cooked meals per week. Not far behind are France and Venezuela (both 8.6). The countries that cook the least are Jordan and Taiwan, with 3.1 and 3.4 meals per week. The United States falls in the middle at 6.1 meals per week. In nearly every country, women cook considerably more than men. On average, women cook just under nine meals per week, while men cook about four. While this gender gap narrowed somewhat between 2018 and 2021 thanks to men cooking more, it has basically since returned to what it was pre-pandemic. There is only one country where men prepare more meals than women. In Italy, men outcook women by an average of 0.4 meals per week.
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