Some films will simply not be contained; they will say what they have to say and how they want to say it, and they will take their sweet time doing so. I suppose if you are a passionate, dedicated director and have a platform, you’re going to try and keep attention for as long as you can and tell your story, your way. That’s what the following movies are doing. They are long; really long. These aren’t some experimental art house films that run days on end that serve to have some grand meaning or purpose. No, we’re talking about narrative films where a director and those involved simply made something that couldn’t be held to typical run times, somewhere between 90 minutes and two-and-a-half hours.
Certainly, running times for most films, at least major Hollywood blockbusters, seem to have steadily increased over time; audiences now expect to be at the theater for a fair amount. Any superhero film or summer spectacle runs well over two hours, and most are hitting the 150 minute mark. Perhaps it’s easier to endure because theaters are comfier, but even Oscar-nominated films over the years are taking their time telling a story. Then there are those films that far exceed our expectations. They are those that test the will of the viewer, and are usually best watched in the comfort of home. The following list of lengthy films were mostly released in full for the first screening, later cut down or divided by studios for the purposes of actually allowing people to sit through and enjoy.
Just because something is long though, doesn’t mean it’s worth watching. Some certainly are, both because they are these rare, truly epic stories that also happen to be told well. For our purposes here, we are avoiding experimental films, art house productions and as well as documentaries. So find someplace where you can cozy up because here are the longest feature films worth watching.
12. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – 201 Minutes
A fantasy movie winning the Academy Award for Best Picture is something pretty spectacular, and while that specific honor can be debated, it’s no question that the final installment in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings franchise is something special. This part three of the trilogy is the most expansive, the biggest and certainly the longest. Coming in at three hours and 21 minutes, this thriller doesn’t quite feel as baggy, at least not until its overlong epilogue, and of course features some incredible battle sequences and fantasy mayhem.
11. Apocalypse Now Redux – 202 Minutes
The lengthier cut to Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War masterpiece clocks in about three hours and 17 minutes, nearly an hour more than the original edition. This jarring story starring a young Martin Sheen and a grizzly Marlon Brando, is iconic for many reasons, and worth revisiting time and time again. An emotional and visceral look at the horrors of war and the depths of moral depravity, Apocalypse Now is unforgettable, in both forms. Of course, despite its greatness, the documentary about it, Hearts of Darkness, is still arguably better. That’s only an hour and a half though.
10. The Ten Commandments – 220 Minutes
The Easter classic from 1954 is still one of the most iconic films in cinematic history, over 50 years later. Starring Charles Heston as Moses, The Ten Commandments is to this day, a powerful and well-made film, a religious epic for everyone that easily bested that recent Exodus movie starring Christian Bale. The film by Cecile B. DeMlle almost reaches the four hour mark, and is often divided up into two parts, but still worth watching in full. It’s also been preserved by the U.S. National Film Registry.
9. Hamlet – 240 Minutes
One of the greatest Shakespearean plays received an incredible adaptation to the big screen in 1996. It is the only unabridged film version of Hamlet, and there’s good reason for it – because staying faithful to the source material means you’re making a film over four hours. In fact, Kenneth Branagh’s opus, in which he also stars as the fated Dane, runs at four hours and twenty minutes. Still, it’s a gripping and potent film, buoyed of course by the source material but enthralling too for Branagh’s performance and the dedication from all those involved.
8. Cleopatra- 242 Minutes
The most ambitious film ever made at the time, Cleopatra is a fascinating and staggering watch. The four-hour epic, which director Joseph Mankiewicz originally made at six, stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and is known as much for what took place on screen as off. Notorious for going far over budget and being plagued by production troubles, as well as having to change directors and filming location, Cleopatra was still loved by audiences. That is mainly due to its two leads, but despite blowing out the box office in 1963, it still lost money.
7. Les Miserables (1934) – 280 Minutes
Arguably the greatest adaptation of the Victor Hugo work, Les Miserables of 1934, is detailed and expansive, as you would expect from a film that lasts over four hours. This is not the musical of course, but the faithful narrative from the book from writer and director Raymond Bernard. It follows ex-convict Jean Valjean in his search for redemption amid the French Revolution across several decades. The latest musical version starring Hugh Jackman was great, but this one was too – and quite different.
6. Fanny and Alexander – 312 Minutes
Though this film was originally meant for television, and various shortened versions are in existence, there is indeed a 312-minute film cut of this family drama by Ingrid Bergman. Made in 1982, the story follows the titular siblings and their well-off family living in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1907. Upon the death of the patriarch of the family, however, the children’s lives are changed dramatically when their mother remarries a man who isn’t as he seems. This far more demanding and harsh husband and father turns things for the worse, and despite the long running time, Bergman’s film is a captivating watch.
5. 1900 – 317 Minutes
This epic 1976 Italian film by Bernardo Bertolucci, has an original cut of 317 minutes, and was screened at the Cannes Film Festival before later being trimmed down and divided into two parts for its theatrical release. The film stars Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu, Donald Sutherland and Burt Lancaster, among others, and includes a most notable explicit sex scene. Aside from that moment and its outrageous run time, it’s a story that speaks to political corruption and social class in Italy from the turn of the century through to the end of World War II, a powerful film that is completely watchable and impressive.
4. Nymphomaniac – 325 Minutes
Lars von Trier endeavored to make an excessively sex-filled drama that told various stories in different ways, infused with humor and horror, while trying to mean a lot of important things. The result was a film that was over 5 hours long, and sort of a mixed bag. The run time wouldn’t cut it for the studio, which clipped over an hour off of it, and released it in two parts. While by no means a masterpiece, it certainly is a strange and compelling watch, featuring great performance by both new and notable actors, including Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. And of course, if you’re going to watch, you best watch the version von Trier wanted you to watch.
3. From What is Before – 338 Minutes
Lav Diaz is known as a sort of master of long cinema, producing lengthy work after lengthy work. He’s not just notable because he makes such long films, but because he makes pretty great long films. From What is Before runs at five and a half hours, but you wouldn’t know it. Chronicling the slow downfall of a small neighborhood in the Philippines, this black-and-white drama is chilling and powerful, a thoughtful piece of work that deserves the viewer’s attention, and indeed captures it.
2. The Best of Youth – 354 Minutes
This 2003 Italian film by Marco Tullio Giordana is often presented as a two, three or four part series, but when it was first made and screened, The Best of Youth was shown in whole. And it also was lauded, winning Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival. This family drama, whose theatrical version runs at just under six hours, chronicles the life and times of the Caratis, particularly the pair of brothers, from the 1960s through to 2003. The two young men grow from reckless youth through to dedicated parents and then seniors, dissecting those important and decisive moments during one’s life.
1. Melancholia – 450 Minutes
This one takes it all. If you have an afternoon to kill – or really, an afternoon, an evening and some of the night – you can check out Lav Diaz’s borderline crazy-long film Melancholia, clocking in at seven and a half hours. Like his other work, it’s in black and white, and sure takes its time. The film follows an attempt at grief therapy for three people who were left alive after losing their loved ones and colleagues amid war and chaos. Of course, that’s the simple way of putting it; not only is the film long, but it commands your focus and thought, challenging the viewer with what is an incomparable, if not unforgettable cinematic experience.