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It's not just you — movies are getting longer

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

It's one of the most anticipated movies of the fall season.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RASCOE: Martin Scorsese's "Killers Of The Flower Moon" hits theaters in October and stars Leonardo DiCaprio.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Money flows freely here now.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I do love that money, sir.

RASCOE: But don't forget the snacks. And, you know, wear very comfortable clothing because it's three hours and 26 minutes long, which got us here at WEEKEND EDITION thinking about a controversial topic - long movies, love them or hate them. Good thing we got two experts on hand, NPR film critic Bob Mondello and Chris Klimek, host of Smithsonian Magazine's podcast "There's More To That." Welcome to the program, both of you.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Good to be here.

CHRIS KLIMEK: Hello, Ayesha. Nice to be here.

RASCOE: So, OK, let's just dive into this. Three hours plus for a movie is a huge commitment, is it not? I'll start with Bob.

MONDELLO: It is not.

RASCOE: It's not?

MONDELLO: No.

RASCOE: Oh...

MONDELLO: Now, tell me. Tell me. Now, let's be real about this. Do you binge-watch things on television?

RASCOE: From time to time (laughter).

MONDELLO: And that's more than three hours at a time, right? So what's your problem?

RASCOE: It's - no, no, no. OK. And, Chris, how do you feel about this? Let's just set the table right here.

KLIMEK: You know, I think I can answer by saying that I have seen this summer's three-hour "Oppenheimer" twice. Yeah. No, I love a long movie.

RASCOE: You love a long - OK, so here's my thing. And this is what I will say just to lay out how I feel, there was a point where I was watching old Eddie Murphy movies. And I watched "Beverly Hills Cop," and it was, like, 90 minutes. This is the way movies need to be. Let's just get it in and out.

MONDELLO: And you know who agrees with you? Shakespeare.

RASCOE: OK, see?

KLIMEK: Right.

MONDELLO: Now, Shakespeare, in the beginning of "Romeo And Juliet," he has the prologue that says something about two hours' traffic on this stage, which is what everybody thought, in Elizabethan times, drama should be. Two hours, right? Now, he wrote some stuff that was longer. He wrote some stuff that was shorter, but two hours is about right. And for movies, that's what people have been assuming for a long time. But sometimes, you've got more to say about a movie. Sometimes, you've got a lot more to say. Take a movie like "Gone With The Wind."

RASCOE: Yes.

MONDELLO: OK. That's almost four hours, right? And nobody much complains about that.

RASCOE: But didn't they used to have intermissions? Back in the day, couldn't you get up, go to the bathroom or something during the movie?

MONDELLO: Yes. And, in fact, actually, let's listen to the moment that you're about to get up and go to the bathroom and buy some popcorn.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GONE WITH THE WIND")

VIVIEN LEIGH: (As Scarlett O'Hara) As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KLIMEK: (Laughter). By the way, the concession stand is open, everyone.

(LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: Exactly.

RASCOE: So, Chris, like, when did long movies really take off? I mean, obviously, you had "Gone With The Wind" was way back in the day, but it seems like, for a time there, maybe in the '80s and '90s, like, movies were maybe more 90 minutes. When did they start getting really long?

KLIMEK: There have always been long movies. There's always been an attempt to treat the length as a signifier of prestige when you think of, like, the David Lean epics like "Lawrence Of Arabia" and things like that. I think some of that was, you know, competing in the middle of the last century with the new television. I mean, "Beverly Hills Cop" is a perfect example of - you know, right? - 1984, right? - 105 minutes long. I'm pretty sure "Ghostbusters" from that same year is about the same length. Like, you still had movies that were positioned for prestige and Oscars and all that that were allowed to be long. But the mainstream hits were really not allowed to be more than two hours. The biggest hit of the following year, "Back To The Future..."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BACK TO THE FUTURE")

MICHAEL J FOX: (As Marty McFly) I got all the time I want. I got a time machine.

KLIMEK: ...That runs just under two hours. The thing that Bob said about the intermission got me thinking about how inconsistently that's been applied. I mean, in this modern era, when we've had the, you know, the three hour and two minute "Avengers: Endgame" and "Avatar: The Way Of Water," which I think is 3:12, neither of them have an intermission. But every time I write about this, I go back to "2001: A Space Odyssey," which, you know - 1968. It is only 2 1/2 hours, and it has an intermission.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY")

KEIR DULLEA: (As Dave Bowman) Well, let's get on with it.

GARY LOCKWOOD: (As Dr. Frank Poole) OK.

KLIMEK: So it is, like, standard length for a Marvel movie these days.

(LAUGHTER)

KLIMEK: You know, but if you...

MONDELLO: Well, there was - back in the day, there was a reason for that, though. When - back when there were - where theaters were freestanding. They weren't, like, 20-plexes. If you had a movie that was longer than about two hours and 10 minutes, then you couldn't get two shows in a night, right?

RASCOE: OK.

KLIMEK: That makes sense. Yeah.

MONDELLO: If you wanted a 7:30 and a 9:30 show, if you pushed either of those times too far in the other direction to 7 and 10, audiences don't come to those...

KLIMEK: Right.

MONDELLO: ...Shows. So that was the logic. In a multiplex, they can just put it on in another house. So you can have five shows that are about 7:30 and get lots of audience.

KLIMEK: Yeah. I think there is almost an aesthetic use of the intermission to build suspense in "2001." When - we know this because if you watch this film on home video now, the intermission card, you know, still comes up when you're watching the movie. But it's right after we realize that HAL 9000, the computer that runs this spaceship, realizes that the two astronauts intend to disconnect him, to kill him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY")

DOUGLAS RAIN: (As HAL 9000) I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.

KLIMEK: I don't know if it's the most famous scene in the movie, but certainly the most quotable scene in this very dialogue-light film - that comes right after the intermission.

RASCOE: So it sounds like y'all are naming some of the ones that you feel like got it right with - by being long. But what about some of the ones that shouldn't have been that long, and they were too long...

KLIMEK: (Laughter).

RASCOE: ...And it was just too much? (Laughter).

MONDELLO: Chris, you know what I'm going to say.

KLIMEK: Sure.

MONDELLO: I cannot think of a major superhero movie that couldn't be cut by 20 minutes.

RASCOE: Oh, my gosh. So Bob says superhero movies. Who was too long for you, Chris? Who is, like, too long?

KLIMEK: Oh, wow.

RASCOE: Don't be nice.

KLIMEK: You're really letting me grind an axe here, and I appreciate it. Every "Fast & Furious" movie.

RASCOE: Oh, my goodness.

KLIMEK: Why are those two hours and 20 minutes, every single one?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FAST & FURIOUS 6")

VIN DIESEL: (As Dominic Toretto) You don't turn your back on family.

KLIMEK: Because they're all ripped off from Kathryn Bigelow's "Point Break," which is under two hours. "John Wick: Chapter 4" was, I think, 2:49. Like, "John Wick 4" is 70 minutes longer than "John Wick 1." And, you know, that movie was a hit.

RASCOE: Do you think it's better to watch a long movie at home where you can pause it, go to the bathroom, take a breather, or do you think it's...

MONDELLO: It is never better to watch a movie at home. That goes...

RASCOE: (Laughter). Never (laughter)?

MONDELLO: That is...

KLIMEK: Yeah.

MONDELLO: There are no circumstances under which a motion picture that was created for the big screen should be watched at home. On the other hand, I understand the rationale for watching it a second time at home, and that's fine.

RASCOE: OK.

KLIMEK: Yeah.

RASCOE: The second time.

KLIMEK: Look. I mean, I am someone who - this is not an exaggeration. This is not hyperbole. I was diagnosed with a blood clot in my leg in 2019...

RASCOE: Oh, gosh.

KLIMEK: ...Twenty-four hours after I sat through the 3 1/2-hour, intermissionless "The Irishman" in a theater.

MONDELLO: Ouch.

RASCOE: Whoa.

KLIMEK: So I don't recommend that. You know, take a blood thinner if you have to.

(LAUGHTER)

KLIMEK: But, yeah, but I will always stump for the theatrical experience.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Bob Mondello and Chris Klimek of Smithsonian magazine. Thank you so much.

MONDELLO: Thank you.

KLIMEK: Thank you, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.