It’s become common. You go to the movie theater, you sit down for a relaxing escape, and you find yourself two hours later realizing you’ve got another forty minutes to go. Whether it be a fantasy epic or the latest deluge of superhero adventures, even the most cookie cutter of genre flicks have been stretched like taffy in a desperate attempt to stuff as much in as possible.
According to Kristen Acuna of Buisness Insider, the films of 2012 were 1.2 times longer than they were in 1992.
- Aladdin — 90 minutes
- Home Alone 2 — 120 minutes
- Batman Returns — 126 minutes
- Lethal Weapon 3 — 118 minutes
- A Few Good Men — 138 minutes
- Average: 118.4 minutes
- The Avengers — 143 minutes
- The Dark Knight Rises — 165 minutes
- The Hunger Games — 142 minutes
- Skyfall — 143 minutes
- The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2 — 115 minutes
- Average: 141.6 minutes
In twenty years we’ve added roughly twenty-three minutes to a film on average. That’s like tacking a half-hour of television onto the end of a film.
Over the past few years, critics have continually brought up length in their reviews. Richard Roeper said of just the first film in The Hobbit trilogy…
About the Academy Award nominated Wolf of Wall Street Scott Tobias quipped…
Even if we table the matter from an artistic or critical standpoint, it is obvious that we live in a world of Youtube clips and six second Vines. The media consuming culture is backpedaling, for better or worse, and attention spans are shorter.
Marketplace reports that, in 2000, Americans could hold attention for about twelve seconds. Three years later, in 2013, that dropped to eight. Goldfish can hold for nine.
So, unless you’re swimming in a glass bowl, today’s cinema creates an odd dichotomy— we’ve got longer movies than ever, but no attention for them.
So how do we fix it?
For most of the 1950's through 1970's, intermissions marked the epics. From Seven Samurai and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World to The Sound of Music and The Godfather some of cinema’s most remembered films have the intermission in common and, in retrospect, it gives them a somewhat regal flare even when seen in a living room. Such breaks are more akin to a live theater experience and that association gives such a film’s viewing a weird event like quality.
But, as time moved on, pushing extra screenings on the schedule become more important than popcorn and, with the surge of multi-plexes springing up in every mid-western mall, concern grew that such a break just gave the sneaky sorts the opportunity to jump into another darkened theater. And so with the passing of 1982's three-hour biopic Gandhi, the intermission was dissolved in the mainstream American cinema.
It’s time for a return.
It’s not like the concept of the intermission has been killed all over the world. In fact, in India’s thriving Bollywood, it wasn’t until 2011's Mumbai Diaries that a film even came out there without one. It’s still very much common place in that culture. So why bring it back to America now? Who benefits from a ten minute break? In theory, everyone.
If a director or producer knows that they have two separate blocks to show off their film, we could see a restructuring to how such long stories are told. Beyond that, film critics, who watch films constantly, have less movie watching fatigue and suddenly, instead of reviews complaining that the film drug in the third act, they’re reengaged post their popcorn/bathroom break and everyone is happier for it. The filmmaker gains the appropriate space to tell the story and a critic’s full bladder doesn’t as often get in the way of his possible enjoyment or criticism.
Movie Theaters Benefit
With concession food still being a big income booster for theaters, regaining that extra opportunity to shill it can only be helpful. Beyond that, I’m too much of a cynic to believe theaters would allow a film’s composer to simply score behind an intermission card so, best case scenario, we get a minute of instrumental vamping to bookend eight extra minutes for commercials. Sure some could say a Coke ad in the middle of Lawrence of Arabia would kill the mood, but intermission is supposed to be a palate cleanser so, while I hate commercials as much as the next guy, I’d be happier to have a lower ticket price because the theater can make it up in intermission revenue.
As attention spans dwindle, having an intermission would allow viewers to refresh not only their popcorn, but their brains. Film overload can be dumped and that weird post-film exhaustion occurs less. At its most base, viewers also gain an opportunity to check in with those pocket computers all the kids are talking about and they just might feel less inclined to whip out those glowing screens during the actual film. On a more positive note, intermission would allow movie lovers a chance to converse and analyze what they’ve seen so far and maybe even gain insight on plot points they’ve missed.
With the rise in binge-watching television, today’s American viewership is attuned to blocks of content with small breaks so adding intermissions back to the cinema experience may even feel closer to the experience they regularly enjoy at home.
So will we see a return of the intermission to the American cinema? One would hope. I don’t see films getting any shorter in the future, but my bladder isn’t getting any bigger either. You give me that ten minutes and I just might buy another soda, enjoy the whole movie, and not leave red-eyed and tired after three straight hours of full-sensory immersion.
That sounds like a win for everyone.
And now back to your feature film presentation…