Does size really matter? Arguments for the perfect length of a film

How long should a film really be? 90 minutes? 2 hours? Over 2 and a half hours? Arguments have been made for each...

Pauline Trotry
24th December 2021
Credit: The Noun Project
When trying to pick the perfect film to watch, usually the length of a film is a deciding factor. Some films look too short and other wayyy too long. But what exactly is the perfect length of a film?

90 Minutes

I weigh in on this pretty contentious issue with the (maybe controversial) opinion that films should have a runtime of 90 minutes: an ample time to tell a comprehensive story, and if whoever is making the film doesn’t think so, then it should be made into a TV show instead. 

When films go over 90 minutes, my attention span peters out...

When films verge over this, my attention span peters out, I get restless, and the film doesn’t have as much of an impact on me. And I’m sure in this Tiktok, content flooded, constantly moving visuals shoved down your throat society, most people would find the same. Maybe if all films were undeniably on-the-edge-of-your-seat captivating then sure, make them longer. But most films are not. Many films are bad. So stick to ninety minutes, please.

Not all monsters hide under your bed... Credit: Netflix

(Then again, I admit to often watching films at 1.5x speed so you should probably disregard this opinion.)

Maud Webster

2 Hours

As someone who watches a lot of films, I feel quite confident in saying that the best length for a film is 2 hours. With that, there’s time to fit in enough dialogue and information so that everyone knows what’s going on and situations are explained. But scenes aren’t dragged on forever, and you don’t have any boring filler content that gets the audience thinking about how much they need a wee or the assignment they have due tomorrow. 

If you have too much story to fit into 2 hours, then that's too much information

Of course, there are exceptions that I wouldn’t change, such as Inglourious Basterds (153 min) and Reservoir Dogs (only 99min) which are obviously famous not for their run times, but although neither are 2 hours, both are the right length for what that film had to say. Some would argue that the perfect length for a film depends on the film itself, but it’s not that deep. If you have too much story to fit into 2 hours, then that’s too much information for one person to digest in one sitting. Some films are just too long. For example, The Irishman (209 mins) which I tried 3 times to get through- but it had too many endless conversations and a painfully slow pace that I didn’t expect from Scorsese. I understand that it’s deliberate as the film spans over 50 years, and the scenes that did interest me were exceptionally done, but that further proves my point! If only the film was shorter, maybe I would be a bigger fan. 

Parasite (2019) is often argued as a perfect film, but is it a perfect length? Credit: IMDb

Two examples of perfectly paced films that fall right at 2 hours are some of my favourite films: Parasite (132 mins) and Beautiful Boy (120 mins). Parasite, being a very dramatic and political story, has tension where it needs it and slows down when it needs to, and maybe that’s what makes it such an incredible watch. Beautiful Boy, a (more) emotional watch, has the same qualities, flawless dialogue, and is, in my opinion, one of the best films ever made. 

Overall, a film being 2 hours is ideal as it allows for enough, but not too much, of everything a film needs. 

Selin Hasan

2.5+ Hours

Perhaps 2.5 hours is not the best running time for every film. 2.5 hours of Transformers: Age of Extinction might have been a mistake. But many of the best films ever made are unapologetically lengthy.

In IMDb’s Top 250 Films, only one of the top 10 is less than 142 minutes.

 In an audience-led film ranking such as IMDb’s Top 250 Films, only one film from the top 10 is less than 142 minutes. So, if the length does not always equal quality, in general, beloved films run for over 2.5 hours. Of course, a studio is more likely to invest in lengthy films if they are guaranteed to be commercially successful, which in turn means they are more likely to be directed by an acclaimed filmmaker who can keep the momentum of the film going for over 150 minutes (Scorsese’s The Irishman is one of many examples). But a longer running time also allows for more subtle characterisations and more elaborate plots. With the current obsession with the complex characters and stories of TV shows, the desire for manufactured emotional bonds between stories and audiences is arguably higher than ever.

An epic tale or an epic drag? Credit: IMDb

So, avoid resolving your abandonment issues incensed by the end credits of shorter films and turn to the comfort of 2.5 hour-long stories. 

Pauline Trotry

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