The Economics of Too-Long Films


I went to see Public Enemies last night. It’s pretty good. Stylish, elegant, well-acted, but a bit on the dull side—for some reason Michael Mann seems obsessed with trying to drain the excitement out of pitched gun battles. But even that wouldn’t be such a problem if not for the fact that the movie just seems way too long.

This is, it seems to me, a surprisingly common problem with would-be summer blockbusters. And it’s a problem I have a lot of trouble understanding. After all, movie studios would seem to have a strong incentive to make movies shorter. With a shorter movie, you should be able to pack more showings into a given day and sell more tickets and popcorn and such. And yet I feel like it’s way more common to walk out of a theater feeling that a movie was too long than to walk out feeling like I wished there’d been 15 more minutes. I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. So what’s going on?