With the recent success of Avatar: The Way of Water and excitement for Damien Chazelle‘s newest film Babylon, it seems that longer movies are not only getting praise, but reveling in their runtimes as well. Both being over three hours long, these new releases have the time to delve deep into their characters, narratives and interactions to make something truly memorable.
While shorter movies absolutely have their place, longer movies give an audience the chance to really engage with everything happening on screen. The Letterboxd Top 250 list might be the best highlight of this, as the more eclectic, obscure taste of its user base propels some hidden gems of long-form cinema into the spotlight.
10/10 ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962) – 228 Minutes
Released at the very end of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Lawrence of Arabia follows the story of a British officer’s pursuit in aiding Arab tribes in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. Becoming a messiah and colonialist “savior” to the nation, his dangerous inhibitions prove to be disastrous.
The almost four-hour runtime can be daunting for casual viewers, but like many epics from this era, an immense craftsmanship and sense of scale shouldn’t mean any lack of engagement. Its presentation is accessible and unpretentious, allowing the beauty of the vast deserts to vividly contrast the retrospectively harsh reality of this supposed “hero.”
9/10 ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ (1984) – 229 Minutes
Featuring great performances from mob movie regulars Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, Once Upon a Time in America provides a sweeping view on the experiences of former gangster David “Noodles” Aaronson over three eras of his life, from sadistic violence to unforgivable regret.
Director Sergio Leone stuck primarily to the Western genre in his celebrated career, yet switching things up in his final film proved that he was extremely versatile. Most mafia movies tend to run a little long, Once Upon a Time in America being the epitome of that fact, but the viewer’s patience will be rewarded with a complex and layered story.
8/10 ‘An Elephant Sitting Still’ (2018) – 234 Minutes
Featuring multiple people pleading for an escape from the downward spiral of their situations, the rumor of an elephant that simply sits and ignores the world in the northern Chinese city of Manzhouli becomes an obsession. In An Elephant Sitting Still, this poetic passivity is the key metaphor across a runtime of just under four-hours long.
The methodical loneliness presented on screen parallels the offscreen tragedy shortly after release from the unfortunate passing of director Hu Bo at only 29 years old. His film is a difficult and painful watch, but also a masterful, deliberate display of relentless misery that will surely resonate.
7/10 ‘A Brighter Summer Day’ (1991) – 237 Minutes
With a warm color palette to match 1960s-era Taiwan, A Brighter Summer Day is a coming-of-age film about a young boy navigating his way through the trials of his first love, friendships and harsh realities of injustice.
Auteur Edward Yang would make the most acclaimed films of his career on unfiltered emotion and raw feeling, such as the beloved Yi Yi in the year 2000, and A Brighter Summer Day would end up being his lengthiest. What is ultimately featured is a complex tapestry of relationships, motivations and heartfelt desires.
6/10 ‘Love Exposure’ (2008) – 237 Minutes
It is hard to even pinpoint exactly what Love Exposure is about, as over the course of almost four hours the ambitious scope covering so many drastically different topics can be dizzying. What is explored is a group of young people and their eccentric natures, odd professions and hobbies and relationships with each other.
There is no expecting what will happen next in Love Exposure. It packs in everything from genuine romance and bloody action, to dark humor, tense drama, and certainly lots of NSFW imagery. It might be a bit too frenetic for some, but it certainly provides an unforgettable experience.
5/10 ‘Happy Hour’ (2015) – 317 Minutes
In Happy Hour, four women in their thirties reassess their private relationships and relationships with each other after a startling revelation regarding one’s marriage. The film pulls no punches in exploring these connections, clocking in at over five hours long.
Maybe most notable as being from director Ryusuke Hamaguchi before winning an Oscar in 2021 for the also lengthy Drive My Car, his 2015 release holds the record for being the longest Japanese film ever made. This length allows a deep, analytical look at the real core of people and how we think of one another.
4/10 ‘Napoleon’ (1927) – 333 Minutes
Over five and a half hours long, this biopic on Napoleon Bonaparte covers his entire life from youth to multiple conquests and invasions. Napoleon is acclaimed as one of the best silent films and for utilizing many innovative techniques, such as masterful fluid camera motion in an era when most shots were static.
Perhaps better suited as a historical retelling rather than a piece of entertainment, Napoleon is nevertheless impressive for being released nearly 100 years ago. Albert Dieudonné is dynamic as the titular tyrant, and the ambitious techniques displayed here are influential to modern cinema even today.
3/10 ‘The Best of Youth’ (2003) – 366 Minutes
Over the course of nearly four decades, The Best of Youth is a multi-generational saga following two Italian brothers through some of the most significant events of their culture’s history after they lose their familial connection.
Being originally planned as a television miniseries may give some explanation as to why this comes in at over six hours long. Jumping between years of the same performers, much like Boyhood in 2014 did, these characters share in joy and hardship over the course of their lives in this grandiose epic.
2/10 ‘War and Peace’ (1965) – 422 Minutes
Acting as a complete retelling of the 1869 novelization of the same name, War and Peace is a war drama split into four gigantic parts and clocking in at just over seven hours long. It recounts both the War of 1812 against Napoleon Bonaparte’s invading army alongside the romantic endeavors of Countess Natasha Rostova, highlighting the duality of the title.
War and Peace may not be for the faint of heart, but that doesn’t leave it without merit. Tackling both large displays of battle and aggression with softer moments of emotional romance, it showcases meticulous attention to detail in both aspects. Surely indulgent, but only to allow the audience a full view of its achievements time and time again.
1/10 ‘Sátántangó’ (1994) – 432 Minutes
Known primarily for its enormous length, Sátántangó is a sprawling drama covering the civilians of a small Hungarian village dealing with the aftermath of the fall of Communism. When a villager thought to be dead returns and tries to persuade others to form a commune with him, the scheme turns tragic in an over seven-hour experience.
There is no polite way to put it: Sátántangó is an agonizingly slow watch that will leave many overwhelmed. However, for those who are patient and dedicated, the longest film on the Letterboxd Top 250 can be a rewarding and challenging artistic endeavor worthy of the praise it receives.