29 Nov 2021
Alfred Hitchcock famously noted that ‘The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.’ ‘North by Northwest’ clocks in at two hours sixteen minutes – make of that what you will. According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an original film needs to be 40 minutes or less to qualify as a short film, whereas a feature film is more than 40 minutes. 40 minutes would feel a little frugal but on Netflix you can access a new category – ‘films under 90 minutes’ which indicates a demand for more digestible runtimes.
Are movies getting longer? Intuitively I thought that, yes, my time in the cinema definitely feels stretched. Lengthy movies are not a modern phenomenon – in 1924 Eric von Stroheim presented an eight-hour version of ‘Greed’ to an incredulous Irving Thalberg. One print of Abel Gance’s 1927 ‘Napoleon’ runs to 562 minutes while Griffith’s ‘Birth of a Nation’ tops three hours.
I used to think that the smoking gun for these bladder bothering marathons was the fault of Marvel Studios whose movies appear to go on for ever – my prejudice perhaps but the final Avengers film was over three hours long. However, some thorough research from Towards Data Science concludes that my intuition is wrong and that for the last 60 years movies on average have the same length no matter what criteria you take into account.
I decided to compare winners of the Oscar for Best Picture from 2010s with the 1960s and found that the average length of the 2010s was 121 minutes while the 60s 147 minutes. Not very scientific but interesting, nonetheless. So next time you are squirming in your seat wishing you hadn’t had a beer before the show don’t blame the filmmakers for your discomfort.
Richard Warburton, Operations Manager