Avengers: Endgame arrives in theaters this weekend, boasting a 181 minute run time. Here’s why we hope the Avengers can help make three hour movies cool again.
When Marvel Studios announced that the hotly anticipated Avengers: Endgame would clock in at over three hours, the internet raised its collective eyebrow. Whether you’re thrilled by the atypical runtime or skeptical of this length, one thing is for certain: nowadays, three hour movies are a novelty.
What was the last three hour movie you saw in theaters? Maybe you attended a Fathom Events presentation of Godfather Part II, or perhaps you soaked up all 180 minutes of The Wolf of Wall Street when it was released in 2013. Scorsese’s debaucherous depiction of Jordan Belfort’s rise and fall on Wall Street is one of the few mainstream Hollywood movies in recent years to commit to a full three hour runtime.
With a few notable exceptions, Hollywood studios have completely eradicated the three hour movie from the mainstream movie theater. In addition to Scorsese’s Wolf, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King and King Kong are among the few notable exceptions.
Three hour epics were once a Hollywood tradition that fielded unforgettable films like Judgement at Nuremberg, Schindler’s List, The Deer Hunter, and of course Titanic. For a time, the biggest movies in Hollywood were adapted straight from iconic novels, detailed memoirs, stage plays, or even entirely original works. These three hour films, or even three hour adjacent (say anything over two hours 45 minutes), barely manage to make it into the mainstream market, let alone establish themselves as iconic, long-lasting works.
Instead, Hollywood studios turned their attention, and pocketbooks, to big budget action and adventure films that run at a pared down length of somewhere between 130 and 150 minutes. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a movie with such mainstream appeal as Avengers: Endgame reach the 180 minute mark.
Of course, this shortening is not happening in a vacuum; media is getting shorter across several different platforms. In the last decade, we’ve seen the rapid reduction in both the episode runtime and season length of television. The popularity of social media supported the rise of micro-entertainment in the form of Snapchat, Vine, and now TikTok. It’s only natural then that movies would follow suit.
However, Avengers: Endgame poses a unique opportunity to reintroduce the three hour movie to audiences. Here, on a sterling silver 181 minute platter, is a chance to show people the peculiar joy of what a movie can accomplish when it’s given the room to do so.
It is often the position of a film studio to ask directors cut down their movie to a more considerate length. In fact, it’s common that a studio will commission a director for a film with an agreed upon length before a movie even moves into production. What feels so special about Marvel making Avengers: Endgame a full three hours is that it doesn’t feel planned. For more than a decade, Marvel has made movies using very specific methods — one of which included keeping their movies long, but not too long. Now, they’ve broken their own rules. In doing so, they’ve created an opening in the market.
Whether because Marvel believes they’ve cornered the market (they have) or that fans won’t care (by and large, they won’t), something convinced them to approve a three hour cut of the film which means that there should be room for more in the future. The opportunities are endless! Why not start by giving us a three hour Star Wars movie? Imagine how much better the Harry Potter films could have been if only they’d been allowed to breathe. Three hour movies shouldn’t be reserved for simply comic book heroes.
Last year’s A Star Is Born starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is the perfect example of a film that could have benefitted from a longer edit. As evidenced in both the bonus scenes on the home release and in the “extended” cut released in theaters in February, there were plenty of missing pieces that would have brought great value to the film. Hollywood studios, however, remain resistant to longer runtimes — which seems foolish and unnecessarily restrictive.
This isn’t to say that every movie should be three hours. I’m not a complete masochist. However, I believe audiences will show up for movies regardless of length. It’s not like these long films ask that much of audiences? The advent and rise of binge-watching should make three hours seem like nothing to most people. Instead of watching three episodes, commit to a single sitting of a three hour open and shut story — you won’t be sorry. Besides, at the rate TV is going, all new seasons will end up the length of a movie anyway. Let’s just cut to the chase already.