Academy Awards: Oscar Loves Long Films, No Matter the Category

How many people like long movies? Personally, there is nothing more satisfying than a well-told hour-and-a-half film. However, it seems Oscar is stereotyped as liking longer movies. When one thinks of a Best Picture winner, they typically think of the long epics – “Titanic,” “Gone with the Wind,” “Ben Hur” and the list goes on.

When one actually delves into the statistics, one finds that the stereotype is much more accurate than people realize. Looking at the top 10 longest Best Picture winners, all 10 are over three hours long.

See below for the list of the 10 longest Best Picture winners:

Longest Films to Win Best Picture

  1. “Gone with the Wind” – 238 minutes – 8 Oscar wins (plus two honorary awards) (1939)
  2. “Lawrence of Arabia” – 216 minutes – 7 Oscar wins (1962)
  3. “Ben-Hur” – 212 minutes – 11 Oscar wins (1959)
  4. “The Godfather Part 2” – 202 minutes – 6 Oscar wins (1974)
  5. “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” – 201 minutes – 11 Oscar wins (2003)
  6. “Schindler’s List” – 195 minutes – 7 Oscar wins (1993)
  7. “Titanic” – 194 minutes – 11 Oscar wins (1997)
  8. “Gandhi” – 191 minutes – 8 Oscar wins (1982)
  9. “The Deer Hunter” – 183 minutes – 5 Oscar wins (1978)
  10. “Dances with Wolves” – 181 minutes – 7 Oscar wins (1990)

Many more films outside of this list still hover around the three hour mark. In fact, the average length of a Best Picture winner is 139 minutes. Only three times in its entire 88-year history, has the Academy awarded a film under 100 minutes – “Marty” in 1955 (90 minutes), “Annie Hall” in 1977 (93 minutes) and “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989 (99 minutes). All three of those films won four Oscars. When a long film wins Best Picture, they tend to win many more. No film above won less than five Oscars, while the average number Oscars won comes out to slightly more than 8 wins.

Long films aren’t just for classic films. In fact, out of all the decades, the ’90s housed the most of these longer films. There were three from this decade – “Schindler’s List,” “Titanic” and “Dances with Wolves.” That’s not even counting other long epics, such as “Forrest Gump,” “Braveheart” and “The English Patient.” Oscar isn’t the only one who loves their epics. Of these six films, two of them were also the highest grossing films of the year.

However, awarding long films has not been a trend as of late. The most recent film on the above list – “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” – opened in 2003, fourteen years ago. In fact, since 2010, Best Picture winners have hovered from 100 minutes (“The Artist”) and 134 minutes (“12 Years a Slave”). The average length for a recent Best Picture winner is 120 minutes.

Let’s take a look at how this year’s Best Picture nominees stack up:

Best Picture Nominees

  1. “Fences” – 139 minutes
  2. “Hacksaw Ridge” – 139 minutes
  3. “Manchester by the Sea” – 137 minutes
  4. “La La Land” – 128 minutes
  5. “Hidden Figures” – 127 minutes
  6. “Lion” – 118 minutes
  7. “Arrival” – 116 minutes
  8. “Moonlight” – 111 minutes
  9. “Hell or High Water” – 102 minutes

Length should not be a factor in this year’s Oscar race. “Hell or High Water” is the only true outlier, as it is the shortest by nine minutes. However, the rest of the films all fall within a 28 minute window. The average length of the Best Picture nominees this year is 124 minutes. This is quite low compared to the average winner. In fact, if running time was any indicator, “Fences” and “Hacksaw Ridge” would fare well, as they run as long as the average Best Picture winner. If we were to look only at films that were between 120 minutes (the recent average) and 139 minutes (the lifetime Best Picture winner average), five nominees are in line for the win. One of them, “La La Land,” is the current Best Picture frontrunner. This falls right in line with statistics for a winner.

Are Best Picture winners the only times Oscar awards a long film? Let’s take a look at the top 10 longest films to win any competitive Oscar.

Longest Films to Win Any Oscar

  1. “War and Peace” – 427 minutes – 1 Oscar win (1966)
  2. “Hotel Terminus” – 267 minutes – 1 Oscar win (1988)
  3. “Spartacus” – 248 minutes – 4 Oscar wins (1960)
  4. “Gone with the Wind” – 238 minutes – 8 Oscar wins (1939)
  5. “The Ten Commandments” – 220 minutes – 1 Oscar win (1956)
  6. “Lawrence of Arabia” – 216 minutes – 7 Oscar wins (1962)
  7. “Ben-Hur” 212 minutes – 11 Oscar wins (1959)
  8. “Exodus” – 208 minutes – 1 Oscar win (1960)
  9. “Ryan’s Daughter” – 206 minutes – 2 Oscar wins (1970)
  10. “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” – 205 minutes – 1 Oscar win (1963)

A foreign film that is just over seven hours long is quite a sit. Still, that’s child’s play compared to the nearly eight hour running time of Documentary nominee “O.J. Made in America.” This gives the epic some hope that it will be able to prevail this year.

One other takeaway from the above is we see here it is not uncommon for a long film to squeak away a lone Oscar win. Out of the 10 longest films to win an Oscar, five of them only won one Oscar. The top two longest films are a foreign film and documentary, respectively. This illustrates that both branches are not averse to long films. This isn’t just good news for “O.J. Made in America.” It’s also good news for the second longest Oscar hopeful this year, “Toni Erdmann” (162 minutes), which competes in Foreign Language Feature.

The other three lone winner films were all in the tech categories. Only one other nominee this year surpassed 2 hours and 30 minutes. Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” runs for 161 minutes and contends solely in the Cinematography category. One can never count out Martin Scorsese and one can see the craft branches are not averse to long epics. This could lead Rodrigo Prieto to his first Oscar win.

What do you think, readers? Are you more inclined to think a longer or shorter film will prevail at the Oscars?



What do you think?

AC Fan

Written by Christopher James

Christopher James has been an Oscar obsessive ever since watching his first ceremony at age 5 when "Titanic" won Best Picture. He is a recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University with degrees in Screenwriting for Film and Television and Marketing. Christopher currently works in media strategy and planning at Liquid Advertising, based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can find Christopher running on the sunny beach, brunching at trendy restaurants or mostly just sitting in a dark room watching movies and TV in sweatpants. Follow me on Twitter @cwj92movieman


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