Figure 7: Running Time

This is the evolving distribution of feature film runtimes, with nominees for the Oscar for Best Picture highlighted. Median runtime is plotted atop 50%, 90%, and 100% intervals. Select a genre to explore.

After several decades of steady increase and a brief overshoot in the 60s, movie runtimes have been surprisingly consistent for the last 50 years with 50% of films falling between 90 and 105 minutes (dramas have a slightly higher and wider distribution).

More interestingly, Best Picture nominees are remarkably long. Even relative to only dramas (which tend to be longer), 95% of Oscar nominees fall in the upper 50% by runtime in the year of their release, 82% fall in the upper 25%, and an incredible 41% fall in the top 5% by runtime. This trend extends to winning as well; the longest nominee for Best Picture has won in 35 of the 86 Academy Award ceremonies (Expect 16 if winning is not correlated with runtime).

The complete list of movies on IMDb was filtered slightly differently than it was in Figure 5. To be included, a film must have been reviewed under either the MPAA Film Rating System or the Production Code (or at least been released in the US, if prior to 1931), have a runtime of at least 40 minutes, have no genre tag of ‘Adult’ or ‘Short’, not be serialized, and have a parseable runtime listed with IMDb. This produces a master list of 37,362 films. Where multiple runtimes are available, unannotated entries are preferred, with American runtimes favored over unattributed or foreign ones. Films are plotted by the year of their first screening (which on occasion is not the year a film was eligible for Oscars).

We could argue all week about causation on this one…

I find myself saying, It was good, but they could have cut quite a bit an awful lot; I was genuinely surprised by how flat the runtime trend turns out to be.

The longest film to pass the filter for inclusion is The Best of Youth, which was originally screened as an intact six-hour film. Fortunately for the vertical axis, **** (1,100 minutes), The Clock (exactly 24 hours), and The Cure for Insomnia (5,200 minutes) didn't make it through the filter.

(I actually recommend sitting in on The Clock for a little while if you ever have the opportunity.)


  1. IMDb Plain Text Data Files courtesy of IMDb. Used with permission.
  2. Academy Awards Database