Top 10 films running over 2.5 hours

It is a tough task getting film audiences to sit still for over two and a half hours these days. Some films succeed, most do not. Here’s ten that manage the feat…

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When deciding on a film to watch you may be persuaded to opt for a shorter run time. The advantages are always there: you can be entertained long enough whilst also having time for something else. Running time seldom equates to quality though in many incidents, the longer film is usually the better one. How about comparing 182 minute film The Deer Hunter to the 229 minute epic Once Upon a Time in America – the latter does provide a 40 minute extension of value.

So if you are planning on watching a lengthy film, here are ten of the best to seek out:

10. The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)

Nolan’s contemporary classic almost loses out on its place in the list, only just making in to the criteria at 152 minutes long. A film that will forever be celebrated, not only for its Oscar winning performance by Heath Ledger but for the majestic aesthetic that Nolan impeccably constructs.

9. Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1962)

Lawrence of Arabia has an immediate connotation of “epic” when mentioned in discussion. David Lean holds an extremely wide-lens up to the story of T. E. Lawrence and captures the sanguine spectacle of the Arabian Desert as Lawrence marks his history on its sand. Another film that inspired hundreds of filmmakers and one that never fails to amaze you. One of the most intricate of cinematic biopics, Lean details Lawrence’s life in a hefty 216 minute run time.

8. Dances with Wolves (Costner, 1990)

A thorn in a few movie fans’ sides due to it beating Scorsese’s Goodfellas to the Best Picture Oscar, Kevin Costner’s tremendous Western Adventure still deserves plenty of acclaim. 181 minutes that never stops to thrill, engage or astonish its audience; it is a beautiful vision of the American plains and life with the Native Americans.

7. Zodiac (Fincher, 2007)

With a wealth of evidence relating to the 1970 Zodiac crime case, David Fincher could have made an inextricably long film. It’s a shame he didn’t (though there are a few more scenes in the Director’s Cut) but with what he decided on story and length-wise, he created a mysterious, beguiling and nail-biting crime classic. Actors, aesthetic and authenticity all form the exacting director’s stunning 157 minute vision of life during the Zodiac reign.

6. The Lord of the Rings (Jackson, 2001/2002/2003)

Another break in the rules of the Top 10 (though, in this writer’s opinion, The Fellowship of the Ring would be the deciding entry) yet deserving. Arguably one of the jewels in the cinema trilogies crown, and a time-consuming one at that (1st film – 178 minutes; 2nd – 179; 3rd – 201), Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy tale is a monumental delight.

5. The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II (Coppola, 1972/74)

Breaking the rules slightly on this list of top ten, Godfather 1 and 2 should not be separated; nor is it easy to choose one over the other. With the first running at 175 minutes and its sequel intensifying at 200 minutes, both may take up a lot of your time but you can never argue that they don’t deserve it. With Part 1 deemed as the greatest film by dozens of movie magazines and websites, and Part 2 named as the ultimate sequel, these are two landmark films.

4. Heat (Mann, 1995)

The film that brought Al Pacino and Robert De Niro face to face will always have its place in history. Not only with a fantastic duo leading the film, Michael Mann’s writing and directing propels Heat into an array of top lists. As the tale of bank robbers and cops in chase draws to an end at 170 minutes you are disappointed to see the credits roll. It is surpasses any film of the cops and robbers genre and helps mark the 1990s as the decade with the most sublime crime films.

3. Les Enfants du Paradis/Children of Paradise (Carné, 1945)

This French romantic tragedy revolves around the world of theatre actors. The main character Baptiste (played magnificently by Jean-Louis Barrault) is desperately trying to win the heart of an actress who is also loved by three other men. On the surface the film may not sound enthralling but the 163 minute run time is expertly written and crafted. It is a true cinematic pleasure with practically zero flaws.

2. Once Upon a Time in the West (Leone, 1968)

Beginning with a dialogue-free show down at a run-down railway station, Sergio Leone starts his essential Western with style and bravado. The 175 minute film is packed full of tension, gun fights, and a mesmerizing score from Ennio Morricone. Many may argue Leone’s Dollars trilogy with Clint Eastwood takes the trophy of the paramount western though Once Upon a Time is not only the best of its genre but easily one of the greatest and coolest films ever.

1. Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954)

Akira Kurosawa’s grand, historical masterpiece is easily one of the top ten films of all time. It runs at 207 minutes but never loses momentum. It is also one of the very first action films, which became an inspiration for generations of filmmakers (Steven Spielberg has it as one of his main sources of referral when making his own movies).

Notable mentions: JFK (Stone, 1991), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Powell/Pressburger, 1943), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Dominik, 2007), Stalker (Tarkovskiy, 1979), Birth of a Nation (Griffith, 1915), Once Upon a Time in America (Leone, 1984), The Deer Hunter (Cimino, 1978), The Dark Knight Rises (Nolan, 2012)

Written and compiled by Piers McCarthy.

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About the Author
Piers McCarthy runs the website Diegesis Digest which he calls “another Ku-brick in the wall of film blogging”. From the high-brow history to the contemporary cavalcade in movies, and the eclectic episodes of the best TV around, Diegesis Digest is a site dedicated to any thought on film and television.

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  1. Avatar
    Tyler Reply

    So many of my favourite long movies aren’t here. Inland Empire, Satantango, The Best of Youth, Napoleon, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Shoah… you can’t tell me you haven’t seen any of those amazing, amazing movies?

  2. Avatar
    Evan Crean Reply

    The only film on this list that I really take issue with is Zodiac. Normally I love Fincher but I found Zodiac to be quite underwhelming and fairly average. Not terrible by any means, just not one of my favorite long films. Two movies I think could/should have been on here are The Right Stuff and Das Boot which are both over three hours. For me they just flew by.

  3. Avatar
    mark Reply

    Off the top of my a head, a short list of the old favourites:

    Andrei Rublev
    Apocalypse Now (original, not Redux, although it sits on 2.5 hrs, so it might not count)
    Malcolm X

    Also, what about Armageddon? Low brow maybe, but perfectly watchable a few dozen times over.

    Also, also – Schindler’s List.

    Also (x 3) Barry Lyndon (preffered it to the other obviously ignored Kubrick entry – 2001).

    Also (x 4)Pulp Fiction – runs at 2 hours, 34 mins.

    Also (x 5): Clouzot’s Wages of Fear – original uncut version (released in the first half of the 1990s) is officially 6 mins past 2.5 hours.

    I would have put The Good, the Bad and the Ugly before Once Upon a Time …

    Preferred Lean’s Bridge on the River Kwai to Lawrence …

    The Postman before Dances … no, no, no sorry – The Postman just seemed to go on forever.

    As for The Dark Knight, what the hell was it really about? Watched it a few times and I’m still confused.

    Thought Zodiac was a good choice; Benjamin Button as a Fincher entry could also be in there.

  4. Avatar
    Pete Reply

    Some of my favourites on there but I’d definitely have Titanic and Pulp Fiction on my list!

    I’m also glad the bloated Gone With the Wind isn’t here.

  5. Avatar
    Andrew Goode Reply

    Can’t argue with most of this list but like Evan I did find Zodiac underwhelming.

  6. Avatar
    Chris Reply

    Most of my picks have already been mentioned.

    The White Ribbon (2009) is ALMOST 2,5 hours…

    The French new wave film The mother and the whore (1973) is also noteworthy. Not for everyone, but the dialogue is very well-written. Currently on youtube…

  7. Avatar
    ruth Reply

    I’d definitely add Ben-Hur to my list, such a masterpiece. I’m hoping to catch ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ on the big screen come October, that should be fantastic!

  8. Avatar
    Raghav Modi Reply

    What no Indian films 😉 I would have added Lagaan into it just because it got a more prominant worldwide release. Still a lovely list. Zodiac is one of my favourite films. I’m watching Children of Paradise this weekend to review it.

  9. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Interesting list. It’s too bad Goodfellas falls short by 4 minutes as it would be a worth addition.

    My list would have JFK at number 1 Titanic at number 2. Dances With Wolves would be there for sure as would Schindler’s List, The Pianist, Fellowship of the Ring, The Dark Knight, Pulp Fiction and Heat.

  10. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    I just checked and Armageddon is 151 minutes so it would be there for sure. One of the most fun and emotional films I’ve seen. Malcolm X would be there too..

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