‘Too Many Damn Long Movies’: Director Alexander Payne Shares Thoughts On The Current State Of Big-Screen Films, And I’ve Never Felt So Seen

 Alexander Payne on stage at the European Premiere and Cunard Gala screening of “The Holdovers" during the 67th BFI London Film Festival at The Royal Festival Hall.
Alexander Payne on stage at the European Premiere and Cunard Gala screening of “The Holdovers" during the 67th BFI London Film Festival at The Royal Festival Hall.

During his career, Alexander Payne has ventured to “The Cornhusker State” for Nebraska and worked in Hawaiian locations with George Clooney for The Descendants. One details those two well-known movies of his have in common is that they didn’t exceed two hours. In more recent years, there have arguably been a lot more big-screen movies that have had way longer run times. With that in mind, the Oscar-winning director recently talked about the current state of cinema in that regard. To him, there are “too many damn long movies,” and I’ve never felt so seen.

When you watch a Marvel movie like the three-hour-long Avengers: Endgame or flicks from James Cameron or Martin Scorsese, you know you’ll be spending a good portion of your day in the theater. However, is that good for moviegoers? The About Schmidt helmer spoke at the Middleburg Film Festival (via IndieWire) about his view on theatrical run times:

You want your movie to be as short as possible. There are too many damn long movies these days.

There are plenty of acclaimed films that run long, including Titanic, Gone with the Wind and The Sound of Music. More recently, possible Oscar contender Oppenheimer has a run time of about three hours. Also, James Cameron's Avatar: The Way of Water is 3 hours and 12 minutes. (Cameron's explanation for the length was that he wanted to further explore the characters, story, relationships and emotions effectively). Because it’s been 13 years since the first installment in that series came out, I can understand why Cameron wanted to give audiences the full-fleshed story they’ve been waiting for. But then again, I have to say it can be difficult to sit through such a long flick. (We've all had those moments in the theater in which are legs are becoming stiff or we're in need of a bathroom break.) So I can't fully disagree with what the director is saying.

Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which just opened in theaters, also plays for nearly three and a half hours. The New Hollywood-era director has defended his long runtime by arguing that people watch stage productions for that length of time and do the same when it comes to binge-watching TV shows. That's a good point, too and further drives home the point that filmmakers simply have varying views on this topic. But to be clear, Alexander Payne isn't exactly saying that he’s against long films. He shared even more thoughts, saying:

If your movie’s three and a half hours at least let it be the shortest possible version of a three half hour movie. Like ‘The Godfather Part II’ [and] ‘Seven Samurai’ are super tight three and a half hour movies and they go by like that. So there’s no ipso facto judgment about length.

The Election director clearly believes in ripping off the bandage, so to speak. Based on his work, it appears he doesn’t feel the need to prolong any elements of his movies and for the runtime to be as natural as possible. In short (ignore the pun), Alexander Payne simply believes in telling a good story and ensuring that the runtime is fitting for that story and not superfluous, it seems. Funnily enough, Payne thought his new dramedy, The Holdovers, was shorter than he initially thought. All in all, a long film can be throughly engaging but, guys, when it's warranted, there's nothing wrong with keeping a production nice and tight.

Be sure to check out The Holdovers, which opens in theaters on October 27 as part of the schedule of 2023 new movie releases.