Runtime? More like running over time: is there a perfect runtime for a film?

Is there such thing as a perfect runtime? This writer givers their two cents.

Imogen Smillie
29th November 2023
Image Source: Pixabay @Mohamed_hassan
As a lover of both film and television, run-times are always a massive debate (mainly in my own head). And with cinema getting longer and longer, I think it is time we settle the question - what is the perfect run time for a film?

First of all, I would like to confirm that I watch more television than I do film (I know, I’m an intruder!) and therefore no stranger to a good binge watch. With this, you may assume that I’m a fan of a longer film - those pushing 3 hours maybe?

No. Whether it’s my small bladder, or inability to sit still, the longer the film, the more uncomfortable and sometimes bored I become. At least with a binge watching session, I can pause, run to the bathroom, get some food - just generally live life!

In films such as Avatar, and Oppenheimer, I understand that these award winning directors want the time to develop a riveting story with complex relationships and themes. Avatar, back in 2007, felt ahead of its time, and perhaps appeared this way due to the larger picture audiences were able to see of the storyline - by the time the film is over, you feel like you know the characters and the journey they have been on.

with the need of character, story and thematic development, there’s an understanding that some films may need longer than the classic 90 minute bursts

On the other hand, Oppenheimer, whilst also feeling never-ending, also developed characters in its fictitious way. But we must remember, was it really a good idea to overly dramatise the story of the atomic bomb? Yes, okay, it was a cinematic masterpiece with incredible performances from Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr., but even the biggest history nerd would be checking their watch.

However, we can go from one extreme to the other with all those cartoons and teenage dream classics that are capped at 90 minutes. Growing up in the golden age of Pixar, Toy Story (1995) makes a compelling case to me for this length of film. Woody and Buzz can babysit the kids for parents in need of a break, while the nostalgia can be in short bursts for us older watchers. Aimed at the adults, Airplane (1980) reaches 90 minutes, and you don’t need much more. The somewhat awkward humour doesn't need advancement of character development allowing for a quick laugh.

So, lets face it, I’m still going to be debating this topic for years to come. If more films such as Killers of the Flower Moon are released at 3 and 1/2 hours, there’s more chance I will avoid a cinema trip and wait to stream it from home (where I can pause and put the kettle on!). But with the need of character, story and thematic development, there’s an understanding that some films may need longer than the classic 90 minute bursts.

There’ll never be “one perfect run-time” - directors have their preferences, and lets face it, longer runtimes make the headlines. But I think it’s safe to say, there is such thing as a film that’s ‘too long’ (except for the 3 hour long Avengers: Endgame from 2019. That film was simply perfection!).

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