Are Movies Getting Longer?

By Stephen Follows | March 6, 2016 10:34 pm PST
Sleeping cinema goers

This article is re-published from – the Film Data and Education blog extraordinaire – by kind permission of the site’s editor and article author Stephen Follows. You can find the original piece here. We warmly recommend that you check out his other writing, always data heavy and eminently readable. 

Either I’m getting older or movies are getting longer… and longer … and longer.   So which is it?  I took a look at the numbers.

I studied the running time of the top 100 US-grossing films since 1994 (2,200 films in total) and all films shot in the UK 2005-14 (2,142 films). In summary…

  • The median length of a top 100 US-grossing films between 1994 and 2015 was 110 minutes
  • Running times have increased in six of of the past seven years
  • The longest films are historical and western films and the shortest are animations and documentaries.
  • Peter Jackson makes the longest movies in Hollywood, with a median running time of 169 minutes.
  • The median running time of UK feature films (2008-14) was 94 minutes.
  • Films with lower budgets have shorter running times
  • The complete extended Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies are a combined 21 hours long

Length of Hollywood movies

Between 1994 and 2015, top US-grossing films had a median length of 110 minutes and the years with the longest average were 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. So I think it is fair to say that movies are starting to get longer, although it’s not forming a uniform trend.

Length of Hollywood movies

Half of all Hollywood movies are between 96 and 120 minutes long, with the most popular running time being 101 minutes.

Length of Hollywood films spread

The longest films are historical and western films and the shortest are animations and documentaries.

Length of Hollywood films by distribution

Which directors are making the longest films?

If you’ve been in a cinema over the past decade then you won’t be surprised to hear that Peter Jackson makes the longest movies in Hollywood, with a median running time of 169 minutes (i.e. two hours and 49 minutes).

I looked at the films of all 116 directors who had at least five movies on my list of 2,200 top US-grossing films (1994-2015). The table below shows the 30 directors who make Hollywood’s longest movies.

Peter Jackson169110201
Martin Scorsese159121180
Quentin Tarantino154111165
Michael Mann149120170
Michael Bay147118183
Christopher Nolan144113169
Steven Spielberg143107169
Ridley Scott142116157
David Fincher139112166
Roland Emmerich135109165
Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski135127138
Clint Eastwood134110155
Robert Zemeckis13496150
Oliver Stone133118192
Gore Verbinski13398169
Edward Zwick133112154
Ang Lee131120138
Spike Lee129115142
Judd Apatow129116146
Chris Columbus128103161
Wolfgang Petersen12798163
Nancy Meyers127120138
J.J. Abrams127112135
Richard Donner127105135
Martin Campbell127114144
Bryan Singer127104154
Gus Van Sant126105136
Barry Levinson12697147
Sam Mendes125117148
Stephen Sommers125111131

The longest movie was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King at a staggering 201 minutes (i.e. three hours and 21 minutes).  Other long movies included Titanic (194 mins), Nixon (192 mins), Wyatt Earp (191 mins), Grindhouse (191 mins), The Green Mile (189 mins), Magnolia (188 mins), King Kong (187 mins), Pearl Harbor (183 mins) and The Wolf of Wall Street (180 mins).

Titantic old RoseThe second longest film on our list is Titanic.  The story goes, when James Cameron first told studio executives the final running time, they freaked out.  They demanded cuts, to which Cameron responded in his world-renowned measured tone by saying “You want to cut my movie? You’re going to have to fire me! You want to fire me? You’re going to have to kill me!”

They should count themselves lucky – he originally wrote it as a four hour epic.

 Length of British films

I also looked at all films shot in the UK between 2008-14, inclusive.  The median running time was 94 minutes.

Length of British film by shoot year

At first glance, it may look as though UK films are significantly shorter than Hollywood films but this is a consequence of the differing criterias for the two datasets, rather than there being a cultural difference between the movies that Britain and America produce.  The two datasets are measuring slightly different things; i.e. all films made in the UK versus only the best-performing films in America. This means there is a much higher percentage of low and micro budget films on the UK list.  So that raises the question – does the budget of a film affect the running time?

According to the UK data, yes.  As budgets rise, the running time also rises.

Length of British film by budget

To spot-check the idea that UK films are not massively shorter than equivalent US films, I compared the data for UK films over £10 million (2008-14) and the top 100 US-grossing films over the same period. The resulting median running times are not too dissimilar, at 112.8 minutes for UK films and 107.7 minutes for US films.

Notes on movies getting longer

A few notes to go alongside today’s research…

  • All results in today’s article are medians, rather than plain averages.  I chose this as it seems that in most categories there are some very long films which would bring up the overall average, giving a slightly skewed picture.
  • The top US-grossing films are the 100 films each year with the highest box office gross in North America, according to IMDb.  The years linked to top US-grossing films are the years each film was first released in American cinemas.
  • The UK films are all films shot in the UK, according to the BFI (who also provided the budget ranges). The years linked to UK films relate to the year they were shot, not released.
  • The table relates to films within my dataset, meaning that if a director made a film before 1994, or a film that didn’t appear in the top 100 grossing films then it will not have been included.


So it turns out that movies are getting slightly longer, but also that my patience with long movies is getting much shorter.  I enjoyed the Lord of The Rings trilogy but just couldn’t face The Hobbit trilogy.  Together, the extended versions add up to…

  • The Fellowship of the Ring – 228 mins
  • The Two Towers – 235 mins
  • The Return of the King – 263 mins
  • An Unexpected Journey – 182 mins
  • The Desolation of Smaug – 186 mins
  • The Battle of the Five Armies – 164 mins
  • Total = 1,258 minutes (or 2 minutes shy of a whopping 21 hours)

That’s the enough time to watch every Police Academy movie… twice.

The original article by Stephen Follows was published 18 January ad can be found here.

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