How Long Is The Ideal Movie Running Time? It’s Certainly Not Oppenheimer Length

 Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer.
Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer.

When it comes to the current state of big-screen films, movie runtimes have been a major topic of discussion. Some will say less is more, while others don't mind filmmakers taking their sweet time to better develop their stories. Now, a new study gives some insight into what the ideal running time for feature-length movies should be, and let’s just say it’s not Oppenheimer length.

Christopher Nolan's historical drama may have crossed a major milestone, achieving a wild box office haul of $974.8 million worldwide. But that doesn’t mean everyone wants their films to be as long as its runtime of 180 minutes. In fact, The Guardian reported on an online survey done in April by Talker Research (formerly OnePoll US), which found that 2,000 respondents would prefer a film’s runtime to be 92 minutes which is about an hour and a half. 15% conducted said they were fine with films being two hours long, while only 2% found it acceptable for a movie to be over two hours long.

It’s interesting that the survey’s findings concluded that audiences would prefer a shorter movie. Especially when you consider that nine of the ten highest-grossing movies of all time were over two hours. In fact, three of some of the best long movies (Avengers: Endgame, Avatar: The Way of Water and Titanic) were each three hours. The only exception was the 2019 remake of The Lion King, running at only 118 minutes.

Filmmakers tend to be very quick to defend their film’s long runtime as soon as it's released. For example, James Cameron fought for Avatar 2’s long run time by comparing a viewing of a long movie to binge-watching short episodes of a TV series. (And, yes, he gives you all permission to leave in the middle of the movie to use the restroom.) Martin Scorsese shared the same point when defending Killers of the Flower Moon’s length, emphasizing the need to respect cinema. That's an especially poignant notion when thinking about movie theaters incorporating unauthorized intermissions into the 206-minute movie.

More on Oppenheimer

Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer
Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer

Cillian Murphy Talks The ‘Genius’ Of Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer Ending And Drops Some F-Bombs In The Process: 'What A F---ing Ending'

Research findings from What to Watch surmised that the runtimes of the most commercially successful movies have been starting to rise. There was an average of 141 minutes in 2022 compared to 1981’s 110 minutes. This could be because of the flexibility of streaming service platforms compared to traditional movie theater schedules. Another reason could be because of the growing emphasis on visual effects and action scenes in movies today. Most recently, Dune: Part Two’s runtime was long AF, as it clocked in at 165 minutes. And fellow 2024 movie release Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is set to be 148 minutes long.

Surprisingly enough, some of the best movies with huge box office numbers tend to be at least two hours long such as Oppenheimer. One could argue that Christopher Nolan's Best Picture winner needed to stretch out in order to showcase the titular American physicist’s studies of the atomic bomb, his place in the Los Alamos Laboratory, and his 1954 security hearing.

Whether audiences like it or not, it feels like long runtimes are here to stay as upcoming big-budget films continue to feature long stories that movie at steady paces. If you have 180 minutes of time to spare, Oppenheimer is available to watch using a Peacock subscription.