As you may have heard, Disney’s big-budget adaptation of The Lone Ranger kinda bit the big one at the box office last weekend, taking in less than $50 million and ensuring a healthy loss for movie that cost at least five times that. Plenty of theories for its tanking have been bandied about, here and elsewhere: Depp’s star is falling, young audiences are unfamiliar with the character, Westerns are always a hard sell. But here’s one more thought: maybe it’s because word got around that The Lone Ranger ran a befuddlingly inflated 149 minutes, and viewers couldn’t imagine sitting through a summer action movie that was that goddamn long. (That gripe made it all the way to the headlines of some reviews.) It’s not just a matter of personal preference, either; over the course of a day’s screenings, that extra half hour adds up to one more Lone Ranger showing that theaters couldn’t sell. Still, it’s not like The Lone Ranger is the sole offender — especially in recent years, more and more filmmakers are pushing their luck with bloated running times that test viewers’ patience and indicate producers and editors falling down on the job.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Runs: 169 minutes Should have run: 105 minutes Why: The Lone Ranger wasn’t director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and star Johnny Depp’s first time overstaying their welcome at the cinema: all three installments in their initial Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy ran well over two hours, for no good reason. The self-indulgence coming to a head in their 2007 installment, which ran a butt-numbing two hours and 49 minutes; when Verbinski handed directorial reins on the fourth film over to Rob Marshall, he knocked it down to 132 minutes — the shortest film in the series to date — but even that seems insanely bloated for what should be a light, throwaway theme-park pirate flick.
Runs:131 minutes Should have run: 95 minutes Why: Consider this: Stephen Sommers’ misfired mash-up of the Dracula and Frankenstein mythos runs nearly as long as both of those 1931 classics combined. If James Whale and Tod Browning could get the job done in 75 minutes, there’s no excuse for a hack like Sommers taking two-plus hours.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Runs: 154 minutes Should have run: 90 minutes Why: Michael Bay’s clobberingly overdone summer epics have been around long enough that it’s worth remembering one simple fact: these are movies about cars that turn into robots. There’s no need to demand moviegoers invest a day on such piffles, and there’s always the notion (seemingly foreign to Bay) of leaving viewers wanting more, rather than sending them stumbling out of the theater, pulverized. Seriously, an hour and a half on these. Trim down the battle sequences and cut out the terrible “jokes,” and be done with it.
Fast & Furious 6
Runs: 130 minutes Should have run: 90 minutes Why: This viewer’s personal preferences notwithstanding, there’s no earthly reason for this weak soup of car chases, amnesia plots, and Vin/Rock glaring contests to go on for over two hours. Junk Jordana Brewster and Paul Walker, skip the laughable trip to the California penitentiary, and maybe put that endless closing chase on a runway that could actually exist — then you might have a reasonable diversion of a movie.
As Good As It Gets
Runs: 139 minutes Should have run: 100 minutes Why: Like the blow-‘em-up summer sequel, the romantic comedy/drama had better have an awful lot to say if it’s going to take more than two hours to say it. As Good As It Gets has some peachy scenes and terrific performances, but writer/director James L. Brooks’ too-leisurely pace keeps the picture from attaining the screwball snap it so desperately needs.
Runs: 143 minutes Should have run: 100 minutes Why: Because then it could have ended when he got off the island and the film was still good, rather than giving us that dopey, mawkish, overcooked third act.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Runs: 115 minutes Should have run: 80 minutes Why: If Adam Sandler movies have to exist — and there’s an argument to be made there — they shouldn’t even approach the 120-minute benchmark. Then again, they do have to have enough time for all of the cameos and supporting roles by Sandler’s SNL castmates and hanger-on pals, no matter how punishingly unfunny or horrifyingly racist they might be.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Runs: 161 minutes Should have run: 130 minutes Why: Chris Columbus’s second Harry Potter movie is the longest film in the series (taking the two parts of Deathly Hollows separately, of course) — and the worst. His inaugural outing had pacing problems of its own, but his slavish devotion to the text and lead-footed direction (to say nothing of the Jar Jar Binks that is Dobby 1.0) make Secrets feel even longer than its draggy two hours and 41 minutes.
Runs: 175 minutes Should have run: 115 minutes Why: Even director Oliver Stone couldn’t figure out how long his 2004 Alexander the Great epic should have been — after its 175-minute theatrical release, he put out a “director’s cut” on DVD that was eight minutes shorter, though that was followed by a 214-minute “final cut” and a 206-minute ultimate cut. But less was more, in this case; there are flashes of greatness (the battle scenes, Val Kilmer’s flashbacks, basically anything with Rosario Dawson) buried in the considerable rubble of Stone’s vision, but a director of greater discipline would be required to dig them out.
Gangs of New York
Runs: 167 minutes Should have run: 135 minutes Why: Then again, even the best of filmmakers can sometimes overindulge themselves. Martin Scorsese spent so long trying to get Gangs to the screen that he may well have lost sight of the picture on the way to its final, belated delivery in 2002. Daniel Day-Lewis is breathtakingly good, the production design is astonishing, and the character players (Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Brendan Gleeson, Eddie Marsan, etc.) are memorable — but the set pieces drag, and that Leo/Cameron romance is a first-class dud.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Runs: 169 minutes Should have run: 60 minutes Why: Because it’s one-third of a 310-page book, that’s why. A three-hour running time might be about right for a single film of The Hobbit — after all, the three, longer volumes of the Lord of the Rings trilogy managed to fit into a movie each. Instead, the proposed three-film trilogy of the single, slender earlier Middle Earth book is hitting the screen at a staggering ratio of more than a minute of screen time per page of text, prompting howls from critics and jeers from The Onion, which ran a hilarious item promising a “53-minute-long scene of Bilbo Baggins trying to figure out what to pack.” Not that over-indulgence is a new problem for director Peter Jackson…
King Kong (2005)
Runs: 187 minutes Should have run: 100 minutes Why: Because that’s how long the original was, and as anyone who’s sat through Jackson’s version can tell you, there wasn’t another entire movie’s worth of material to be mined from this story.
Runs: 162 minutes Should have run: 120 minutes Why: Director James Cameron has never been one for brevity; he hasn’t made a movie that clocked in at under two hours since his second film, the original Terminator (and that’s not even counting his endless, Lucas-style tinkerings and “special editions”). Still, was there anything about his environmentalist tale of oversized 3D CG felines that cried out for a third hour? Even the audiences that made it the top-grossing movie of all time (without inflation adjustment) weren’t exactly left wanting more; its much-ballyhooed re-release in 2010 with nine minutes of additional footage was a rare flop for the filmmaker (not that it mattered, by that point).