A-List: Worst Movies Over Three Hours

By J. Don Birnam

December 8, 2015

Someone's angry about this list.

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Ron Howard’s latest epic, In the Heart of the Sea, opens in theaters this weekend. Howard has never been a verbose movie director, with most of his famous movies clocking in the efficient range of two hours. Many epics, of course, are famously long, with the Lord of the Rings trilogy clocking in at nearly ten hours put together. Indeed, I've been excited to catch to great Oscar contenders this week, The Revenant and The Hateful Eight, both of which are almost 180 minutes long. And are great.

It is a different type of film that we look at today, however, as we explore movies that take at least 180 minutes to watch, and that consist of 180 minutes of mostly pain and agony. What made these directors think that they needed to spend so much time on so much exposition? Why the 25 seemingly different endings? Could they not have trimmed 10 minutes - or 30 - here or there?

If you have other three hour snoozers you’d like to pan—you know what to do on Twitter.

No question, it is a shame that some of these movies are on this list. For one, I am a big fan of a nice and long narrative that really explores the characters and their personalities. From Titanic to Judgment at Nuremberg to The Godfather Part II to Lawrence of Arabia, some of my favorite movies are well over three hours long. Epic directors, like those behind Fanny Alexander, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Seven Samurai, know how to tell a story for an extended period and grip you. You never feel like the movie drags on.

Not so with the following dreadful five, from which I narrowly excluded the unbelievable Nixon biopic by Anthony Hopkins, which pointlessly took over three hours of our lives.


5. Dances with Wolves (1990)

I won’t win a popularity contest by listing the 1990 Best Picture winner, made when Kevin Costner could do no wrong, but the frontier/western epic has always seemed to me to be pointlessly long and overwrought. Back when the best way to make Oscar bait movies was to make showy costume epics (of which I’m normally a big fan), Dances with Wolves took it to a whole new level.

The story focuses on a Union general who travels west and his dealings with certain Native American Indians and how they bring about his downfall. The story is duly romantic and emotional - nostalgic for the disappearance of the frontier and of Indian cultures, but Costner’s acting is comically exaggerated and the sentimental investment mostly predictable.

Perhaps a trimmer version would have felt more coherent and less like it was trying too hard. Indeed, a 120 minute version of this may have been one of the best movies of all time. But, in its full, gluttonous glory, and as the movie that ousted Goodfellas at the Oscars, no less, it does not hold up as a three-hour epic. Not only that, but it’s been remade into a much better movie this year, with 30 minutes off that runtime: The Revenant.

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