the cut opinion pages

Movies Should Be 97 Minutes Long

Photo: Bettmann Archive

The best web page I’ve found recently, which I will bestow upon you now, is this IMDb guide to “Best Movies Less Than 100 Minutes Running Time.” This will be the list I turn to when I am in the mood to watch something but not in the mood to commit to what feels like half my life to a movie that probably isn’t even that good. Movies are getting longer, but they are not getting better, and I have had enough.

Do you know how long Noah Baumbach’s torturous divorce drama Marriage Story is? Two hours and 17 minutes. It could have easily lost half an hour. Do you know how long the wacky whodunnit Knives Out is? Two hours and ten minutes. I really liked it, mostly, but it could be 20 minutes shorter, and it would be better for it. I liked It okay, but It Chapter Two is two hours and 50 minutes long. That is outrageous. I could watch four episodes of the Real Housewives in that time.

A lot of my issue here has to do with movie theaters, I’ll admit. Even at my favorite theater in New York, where the seats recline and almost nobody is there (now you know I don’t mean the Alamo Drafthouse), somebody is always yapping, or checking their phone, or eating seaweed chips too loud. It’s hard to be trapped in a room where you’re meant to be quiet for more than two hours at a time. I mean, I can manage, but for others, it’s evidently impossible. And when you get above the 2.5-hour mark? Forget it. People start getting up to pee. People start checking the time. It’s a distraction from the distraction the movie is meant to be.

You can watch movies at home, and I do, much more often than I go to the theater, but at home, if I’m asked to sit for more than two hours without being given breaks for ads, or between episodes, I start losing my mind. I get on my phone, then I lose the plot, then I ask my wife what’s going on, and then she gets mad at me for not paying attention. I still don’t think this is totally my fault. Movies should be shorter, and less boring. I realize I am right now confirming everything every boomer has ever said about millennial attention spans. That’s fine.

But consider this. Here are some of the movies on the IMDb list of movies under 100 minutes: 12 Angry Men. Stand By Me. Monsters, Inc. Mean Girls. Office Space. All great movies! The original Toy Story was 81 minutes long. The latest Toy Story is 100 minutes long. This is not progress.

I have not seen all the movies on this IMDb list, but because of their length, I am willing to give any of them a shot. If my wife suggests a movie that to me looks bad, I will watch it anyway, if it is 97 minutes or less. Something about that two-digit figure gives me comfort that if I hate this movie, I won’t have lost too much. When a friend asks me to go see a 7 p.m. movie, and I check the running time, and it’s 97 minutes or less, I am thrilled, because I know I’ll be done by 9 p.m. 97 minutes is the just-right porridge size of movie times: not too long, and not too short.

There are exceptions. Magic Mike XXL is two hours and ten minutes long. Nor am I saying I’m a good judge of movie quality. I love the Step Up movies too much to claim credibility. I’m just saying that I think most movies could afford to lose ten minutes or more. We don’t need all that moody staring. Exposition is overused, too often heavy-handed. Most monologues are overwrought. Ninety-seven minutes can almost always cover it.

Movies Should Be 97 Minutes Long