Scene it: Holy Runtime, Batman! Are today’s movies getting longer?

One man talks to Batman.
“The Batman” has a runtime of two hours and 55 minutes, following the apparent trend of longer feature films. (Courtesy: Jonathan Olley/DC Comics)

It’s time to talk about length. 

It seems like movies have been getting longer recently — a lot longer. Normally, I don’t complain about long films, but right now it feels like many movies have become almost insufferably extensive to sit through.

The movie that prompted this observation was “The Batman,” the latest retelling of Bruce Wayne struggling to save crime-ridden Gotham City.

The perception of longer runtimes could be attributed to any number of reasons, including but not limited to the undeniable amount of big screen titles boasting over two and a half hours of content as of late, the attention span of the modern day smartphone addict or perhaps the (lacking) entertainment value of said movies.

With respect to reason one, the majority of films that I have personally seen released this year all possessed borderline ridiculous run times. I used to think “Titanic” (at three hours and 14 minutes long) was the movie to measure all others by lengthwise, but three hours seems to be the norm these days: “Nightmare Alley,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Dune” and “West Side Story” all clock in above two and a half hours. To test whether others also noticed a wider phenomenon, I brought up the topic of longer movies to others and received enthusiastic agreement, with similar comments about “Drive My Car” and “Power of the Dog.”

Moving past verbal agreement to bolster my opinions, I turned to the almighty Google to answer my demand: are movies getting longer?

The short answer to this long question is no.

Apparently, the average length of a movie in 2021 hovered around 98 minutes long. This average fits well within the range of the last decade, around 90-120 minutes per movie, showing little to no change at all. 

But the perception of longer movies is undeniable, which makes one turn to other plausible explanations, such as shorter attention spans, fewer interesting movies or, as suggested by a host of websites, one big Hollywood marketing ploy. 

My first instinct as to why movies might be feeling longer hearkens back to the oft-repeated claim that humans’ attention spans are now shorter than those of goldfish — literally. Thanks to the evils of the newfangled smartphone and its brain-eating stratagems of the infinite scroll and TikTok-length video clips; we are actively getting worse at focusing due to new technology. The study that gives us the goldfish figure demonstrates that humans are only able to focus for up to eight seconds at a time. Though published in several popular news sites such as The New York Times, this particular goldfish claim seems to be based on one 2015 study with dubious credibility. So no, I reject any comparison of my mind to a goldfish, thank you very much.

While a decrease in our ability to focus for long periods of time remains unclear, there appears to be more consensus that our attention spans are decreasing actually due to the sheer amount of content that we are exposed to on a daily basis, from social media to round-the-clock news updates. Furthermore, the pandemic might have contributed to yet another negative outcome: “It’s unclear whether the COVID era has had a quantifiable effect on our attention spans, though experts confirm mental exhaustion is widespread,” USA Today concluded.

Another factor that definitely plays into the perception of increased runtime is the marketing transformation of “going to the movies” as a special event. Nowadays, it is only too easy to stream movies from your couch or bed; one might feel more inclined to wait weeks after the release of a new movie until it has reached their streaming platform of choice to watch it. 

One movie expert suggested that people will only feel motivated to go out and purchase a ticket to the theater if the movie shown is a lengthy epic and thus worth their time and money to leave the comfort of their home to go see. CNN’s Harmeet Kaur agreed, stating that long superhero movies in particular are the types to drive audiences to the box office.

When I went to see “The Batman,” I didn’t enter the theater with the thought that I would get my money’s worth out of the $12 ticket simply due to the two-hour-56-minute runtime. In fact, I almost dreaded having to sit in a chair for that long (call it pandemic-induced mental exhaustion, I don’t know). 

However, what I do know is that my father checked his phone around six times during the movie; the person a few rows up with phone notifications inexplicably set to flashlight strobing effects checked theirs more. An unreasonable amount of people (at least a dozen — if not more) crossed in front of the screen on their way to the bathroom, some returning much later with popcorn buckets. The man next to me took his shoes off as he reclined his seat (I wish he had waited until the movie came out on Netflix to watch it).

All of this tells me that long movies, or at least “The Batman,” can become difficult to endure without distraction. In either case, here’s a plea to the Hollywood marketing overlords for a return of the shorter movie. We value quality over quantity, trust us. After all, it’s not the length of the film that matters; it’s what you do with the film.

Rorye Jones PO ’23 finally got around to finishing “Titanic” and can now reasonably call herself TSL’s TV and film columnist. Yes, she did cry (mainly for the violinists).

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