12 Reasons Why Blockbusters Have Become Unbearably Long

If you’ve been frequenting the movie theater since, say, 2005 or so, you’ve probably noticed tentpole films are changing from standard long movies to straight up endurance tests for your bladder. But why are blockbuster movies so long? Are popcorn movies getting longer or has it always been this way? Are movies in general getting longer? In the '70s, '80s, and '90s, your average summer blockbuster ran between 90 and 120 minutes (obviously James Cameron is an exception). Suddenly, blockbuster running times shot up around the turn of the millennium. Fortunately for you, there’s plenty of handy data to back up feeling that the length of event films has increased. And they might keep getting longer. 

It might seem counterintuitive to make really long films. After all, the shorter a movie is, the more times it can be shown in a day. The more times a movie can be shown in a day, the more money it can make. But with studio tentpoles showing on multiple screens in every theater (if you remember, The Hateful Eight was infamously pushed out of the Arclight Hollywood by Disney's The Force Awakens), this doesn't seem to be much of a concern. 

Are blockbuster films too long? That depends on the movie. If you’re watching the eighth film in a franchise that feels like it’s spinning its wheels while rubbing up against the two-and-a-half-hour mark, yes. If you're watching a two-and-a-half hour film that's Part I in a two-part, five-hour epic based on one book that was split in two to milk cash, dear god, yes. If a super-long blockbuster is telling a nuanced story that can’t be shorter than a cross-country road trip, maybe the running times of event movies don’t really matter.

The goal here isn’t to pass judgment on anyone who enjoys a long blockbuster, or even the blockbusters themselves. Rather, this is all about discovering the reasons movie runtimes suddenly got a whole lot longer when Christopher Nolan and Marvel kicked off the new superhero era not long after George Lucas was given free reign on the Star Wars prequels.