The 3-Hour Runtime


Daniel Torrillo


In the good old days of Hollywood, a movie would be considered too long if it was over two hours long. For example with a runtime of 175 minutes, the movie studio had legitimate concerns about the paying public willingness to sit through the Godfather upon its release in 1972. Nowadays, most movies being released, whether it’s a superhero film, a period piece or a gut-wrenching drama, are all nearly 3 hours long! 


Over the past year, I have sat through numerous movies, from “Babylon” to “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and while most of these movies were good, well-made and have received acclaim and multiple nominations for the 95th Academy Awards, they were all 3 hours long or more. When I go to a movie theater, my main priority is to enjoy the movie and get sunk into the story. When I went to see these films, about halfway through, my main priority was waiting for the movie to be over. I constantly kept checking my phone to see how much time was left. It’s not that the movies weren’t any good, I was just punchdrunk. The worst part about most movies being 3 hours long is that the movies that I’ve seen could have easily been about 2 and hours or so if the movie production team had cut back on superfluous storytelling during post-production.





Set in the early 1920’s of Hollywood, Babylon revolves around numerous characters, telling the story of their rise to success during the silent film era and their downfall during the transition into talkies. I am not saying that “Babylon” was a bad movie, in fact I actually thought it was very well-done. It had some really entertaining moments, sharp and ambitious direction from Damien Chazelle, the same person behind Whiplash and La La Land, and the actors really gave it their all, most notably Brad Pitt and Diego Calva. 


Despite all this however, the movie as a whole was difficult to really dive into and be swept up into its world due to its sprawling 189 minute runtime, which came as a result of too many characters dealing with their own unrelated stories with numerous scenes that serve no purpose to the film’s message but only show how crazy Hollywood was back in the 1920s. For instance there is an extended scene of transporting an elephant to a mansion out in the desert only to have the thing poop on the transporter or an out of nowhere scene about a main character wrangling and getting bit by a live rattlesnake. “Babylon” could have easily been 2 hours long if they had cut various characters’ extraneous storyline and dialed down on the craziness, as it had already been established that this was a bizarre time period during the over the top, but outstanding 20-minute opening party scene. 


“Avatar: The Way of Water:”

Sixteen years after the events of the first movie, “Avatar: The Way of Water” tells the story of Jake Sully, now fully a member of the Na’vi community, living with his family in the jungle on the planet of Pandora. After years of living with his family in peace, Jake’s old colonel from his human days, Miles Quaritch transforms into an Avatar so he can hunt down Jake and kill his whole number as revenge for thwarting his plans from the first film. To keep his family safe, Jake takes them to part of Pandora with the Na’vi reef people, those who live by and have experience with the sea, and learn their ways of living, hunting and providing for their families. 


If I am being honest, I was never a fan of the first “Avatar.” I felt that it was too long, had a predictable plot, and was really only good for its groundbreaking visual effects. “Avatar: The Way of Water,” is not much different than its predecessor and in many ways, it’s actually worse. When I was watching this film in the theater, I was uninterested and un-entertained by the story because each scene felt extremely long. It shouldn’t have to take longer than 6 minutes to explain a plot point in the story or 20 minutes to have the protagonist or any member of his family develop a relationship with unfamiliar people or animals considered dangerous, but the filmmakers don’t seem to feel this way. The visual effects were the best thing about this movie, but does a person really want to go to a movie only for amazing visual effects and CGI but a clunky storyline running at over 3 hours? I sure don’t. 



To put it in perspective, the studios in Hollywood need to start thinking more about the greater good of their audiences. The core concept and point of filmmaking is to create something moving and entertaining for a vast number of people, but that won’t be the case if the audience is bored to death waiting for the movie to end. While it does show that the filmmaker wants to tell a story very thoroughly with stylistic flourishes, a movie should be able to get the point across in 2 hours. It is reasonable for Hollywood to do something about this before the common runtime expands to 4 hours long and runs the risk of alienating paying customers who take the time to go out to the movie theaters.