Film News

We Can Binge For Hours on End, But We Can’t Sit Through a Three-Hour Movie?

Martin Scorsese’s latest movie is over 3 hours long? What a disgrace! Now, excuse me while I spend 10 hours binging Netflix’s Dark Crystal TV show.

According to, um, science, the average, properly hydrated human can go nine to ten hours without peeing, that is assuming your bladder doesn’t take in any more than 600 milliliters of urine during that period. Under normal circumstances, that should be doable. However, any number of mitigating factors can cut into that expected hold time, like pregnancy, health issues, or, I dunno, sitting in an AMC movie theater and drinking a large Coke which is the equivalent of 1,537 milliliters of liquid. Granted, due to the way our body absorbs liquid that doesn’t mean all 1,537 milliliters of pop will become pee, but that’s more than enough to make you squirm in your seat if the movie stretches on too long.

Planning Your Bathroom Break

All moviegoers – or parents/guardians taking kids to movies – have been in that position at some point. In fact, there’s at least one app whose sole purpose is to help people plan their bathroom breaks during long movies. Seeing the three-hour-long Avengers: Endgame? Better plan an early trip, like when Black Widow and Cap are talking about needing to move on. You’ll miss important exposition if you leave a little later and the best jokes and action scenes if you leave much later. Heading out to the 160-minute-long Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? Maybe head for the bathroom when Tarantino self-indulgently plays out an entire scene from Rick Dalton’s western TV show. Spoiler: Rick eventually forgets his lines.

As such, whenever news drops of some upcoming film daring to break past the 2-hour barrier and challenging audiences to endure up to and sometimes over three hours of sitting in a movie theater our common response is to worry about how many bathroom breaks we’ll need. I’ve heard it more than a few times in the commentary surrounding The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s upcoming awards contender which reportedly clocks in at three and a half hours long, aka 210 minutes. “That is too many minutes, no matter how good the minutes are” reads the lede of a Jezebel piece about it.

Now, I am not here to pee-shame anyone – that’s a thing, right? – nor do I mean to simplify this down to a mere issue of people worrying about how long they’ll be able to sit without needing a bathroom break. There are certainly far more substantive arguments to be made against self-indulgent filmmaking and questions to be asked about whether the demands of quality storytelling can ever truly support a movie that runs longer than the average, notoriously-long MLB game. (Scorsese’s last film, Silence, for example, is way too long at 161 minutes, and its padded length detracts from its power as a cinematic experience.)

Does This Conversation Even Matter For Streaming Movies?

However, as I joked at the start I do wonder if this is an argument that has already passed or is at least nearing its cultural expiration date? Only a handful of people genuinely have to worry about movie theater bathroom breaks with The Irishman. Netflix wants to run the movie in theaters for a couple of awards-qualifying, profile-raising weeks before dropping it on streaming for everyone around the world to enjoy. The big theater chains – AMC, Regal, Cinemark – which are responsible for over 80% of all movie screens in North America said no f’n way; the indies were cool with it. Ergo, only a minuscule slice of Irishman’s eventual audience will ever see it in a theater.

So, if people streaming at home balk at The Irishman’s 210-minute length, they can easily pause the movie for any necessary bathroom break or – and the following would be considered sacrilege in prior eras and probably still seems that way to purists – they can just watch the thing in multiple sittings.

That likely runs completely counter to how Scorsese intended audiences to consume his sprawling epic about the man who brought down Jimmy Hoffa, but it’s a possibility you open yourself up to when you free the audiences from the need to see something in a theater. When you have them as a captive audience in a theater, you can at least somewhat control the variables. Outside of that, however, people are going to watch however they feel like watching.

This transition hasn’t always been to the filmmaker’s liking.

Directors still rage against people who dare to watch movies on their phones. Cinematographers despair over all of their hard work being upended by TV’s doing something called “motion smoothing”? In fact, there will soon be special TVs with a “filmmaking mode” endorsed by the likes of Christopher Nolan, Ryan Coogler, Riah Johnson, and, yes, Scorsese.

How To Define “Movie”

Yet, as the middle falls out of the film industry and the mass migration of directors over to TV continues ever unabated people like Spielberg and incoming Academy president David Rubin are openly wondering how we even define what qualifies as a movie anymore. If the mode of distribution is no longer the ultimate arbiter of film vs. TV, then how do we argue with David Lynch when he repeatedly argues that Twin Peaks: The Return was an 18-hour movie and not a TV show?

As Vox’s Emily VanDerWerff argued at the time, “The fights over Twin Peaks are, ultimately, all in good fun, but they point to the very real fact that we’re rapidly heading toward an age when ironclad distinctions will start to become helpful suggestions and then will disappear altogether.”

Heck, today it’s pretty much a marketing cliche for any director to describe their multi-episode streaming series as a “insert number-hour movie.”

Forget TV. Forget Movie. Just Call it “Streaming.”

Nicolas Winding Refn recently attempted to blow up any distinctions between film and TV and simply think of his 10-episode, 13-hour-long Amazon program Way Too Old to Die Young as “streaming.” He condensed two of the episodes into a 138-minute film which played at Cannes. Then he sent critics the fourth and fifth episodes of the show without telling them those weren’t actually the first two episodes of the series. “It’s how my kids watch entertainment,” Refn told IndieWire about his rationale. “They’ll find something and they’ll drop in. If it interests them, they’ll stay. Plus it was a great way just to get into the heart of the show. I’m an entertainer, at the end of the day — I’m here to give you a spectacle.”

The gambit didn’t work. Reviewers were flummoxed. Amazon offered next to no promotion. Now, most people don’t even know Too Old to Die Young – a show with recognizable name talents like Miles Teller and John Hawkes – even exists.

If It’s Good Enough for Tarantino…

Almost equally as unnoticed this year was Tarantino’s surprise recut of The Hateful Eight for Netflix. Originally released in 2015 as a butt-numbing, three-hour movie about bad people doing bad things in a small, snow-blocked cabin, Tarantino opted to add in new footage and slightly re-work what was already there to convert Hateful into a four-episode series. To many reviewers, this was always Hateful’s more natural format, especially the way Tarantino structured the film into chapters, each with their own cliffhanger.

When you look on Netflix, however, this version of Hateful is classified as a TV series, simply called Hateful Eight: Extended Cut. If you’d rather see the original version, it’s also on there, as a movie. Are the two really that different, though? In the former, Tarantino has picked where you can stop watching if you should choose to consume it in chunks; in the latter, you can do that yourself if you’d like. It’s not hard. The chapter breaks are all signaled by title cards and represent new twists in the story.

Scorsese Just Wants to Make an Oscar Movie

Unlike Winding Refn’s radical approach or Tarantino’s openness to serialized experimentation, Martin Scorsese is nowhere near as “let’s blow it all up” with The Irishman. This is a capital “O,” capital “M” Oscar Movie. It is Ted Sarandos’ latest best chance at adding a Best Picture Oscar to his awards statue. (Though should Irishman fizzle with critics, the streamer might have an even better candidate this year with Noah Baumbach’s rave-reviewed Marriage Story.)

However, in delivering a movie in The Irishman which is longer than either season of Fleabag and will mostly be seen on Netflix isn’t Scorsese inviting audiences to treat it like the latest streaming show they can indulge at their leisure?

To the purist, that is sacrilege. To the cynic, it’s what you get for losing all discipline and self-indulgently delivering a long-ass movie. And maybe to someone in-between, there is an understandable pragmatism to breaking up the viewing experience. After all, back in the day movie theaters had intermission breaks. However, the rhythm and energy of a movie still fundamentally differs from that of a streaming show which means we can’t consume one exactly like we do the other. Binging a show is not the same as watching movie.

However, there is perhaps a bigger challenge facing The Irishman. Should people feel compelled to hit pause and resolve to maybe, though not definitely come back to finish it a day later, will that mean they were too busy to devote 210 minutes to the movie or were they just too bored to bother finishing the whole thing?

What’s your take on The Irishman or the ongoing movie vs. TV vs. streaming debate? Be honest, how often do you watch movies in multiple sittings either due to time or preference or otherwise? Are you surprised I went all this time talking about long movies and bathroom breaks and never mentioned The Return of the King? Well, I just did. So, there’s that.


  1. It’s too long. I found avatar too long. I remember watching casino in the cinema and the time flew but that is cinema
    Can possibly do that length at cinema but not at home. Too many distractions. Just make it a mini series.

    1. I think the Casino example is instructive because it illustrates what we’ll put up with in a theater versus what we’ll put up with in our own home theater. There’s something special about being held captive in the gaze of a master filmmaker as well as something uniquely frustrating about beholding a self-indulgent filmmaker who clearly didn’t have enough people telling him/her no. But that’s movies. When we’re talking about the home viewing experience, we have so, so many different distractions. The filmmakers have to take that into consideration, and in Scorsese’s defense part of his deal with Netflix was that they would try their hardest to get his movie into theaters before streaming. They tried, but they wouldn’t budge on their Roma model nor would AMC, Regal and the rest. Now we have a movie reportedly longer than some 6-episode TV shows and it feels totally weird.

    1. This is a creeping Scorsese problem, you’re right. Silence is 2h41m, Wolf of Wall Street is 3hrs, and now The Irishman is 3hr30m. Maybe this is just what happens when the safeguards are taken away and no one is left to tell a legend like him he needs to cut more scenes. Or maybe he’s just going through a Gangs of New York/Aviatar phase again where he wants to make some epics, run time be damned. Tarantino seems a bit stuck in that same kind of phase himself, but at least he experimented with Hateful Eight to see if it could work as a mini-series.

  2. I don’t think that you can compare streaming and cinema. It makes a difference if I watch something at home, where I can move around however I want and stop what is on at will, or if I am pretty much trapped in a seat.

    Thus said, I don’t think that there is any rule for how long a movie should be. For example, I watched Coco yesterday, and I felt that the first half of the movie was dragging the story out too much. I guess partly because I knew where it was going, it was so obvious. around 20 minutes less would have been great for that one.

  3. You know I’m going to go immediately find Refn’s movie so I can see what you’re talking about. I like him and I’m sorry I missed it!

    I’ve never had a problem with bathroom breaks in the theater. I just go before the movie, and have sat through plenty of three hour movies without a problem. (Can’t say the same for the rest of my family, I’m afraid.)

    I like the idea of streaming cinematic movies on Netflix and whatnot. Sometimes it’s the only way I’d have gotten to see them, since I usually curate what I’m going to spend money on in a theater, and a three hour Scorcese film ain’t it, no matter how much I love him. I actually liked Silence, but then, I streamed it on Hulu.

    1. I think I spoke more in generalities in the piece and didn’t totally share my own experience with long movies and bathroom breaks, but if I had it would be a lot like yours. I’m a film nerd. I almost never go into any movie not knowing how long it is going to be, and I plan accordingly. As a rule, I almost never drink too much before or during a movie because I don’t want to put myself into a position of needing to run out later and missing important parts. I am pretty much the only person in my family who takes this approach, though. Everyone else just goes about biz as usual and if they have to get up and leave during a movie, so be it. I

      t’s also totally different when you have little kids with you. I can plan all I want for myself, but if I have my niece with me she’s either barely going to make it through the whole movie without needing to pee or she’ll have to go halfway through. I just expect it and don’t get mad at her.

  4. I find easier to binge-watch a ten 30-45 minute episodes than to watch a 5-hour film at home. One reason I could think of is the plotting. Serialized storytelling gives you something digestible in small doses, whereas a movie may not give you a significant chunk of the story within a certain 30 minute span. A series also tends to climax in every episode or have a cliffhanger that you tend to get to the next just to know what will happen. Even more stand-alone-ish series use this tactic to have you waiting for the next episode.

    But then, watching in cinema is different than streaming/watching at home. I have watched a 9 hour and 11 hour films in theatre, but I would have a hard time finishing a 3 hour movie at home.

    And I think more than holding one’s bladder, when it comes to long movies, holding one’s interest/attention is the bigger question.

      1. Haven’t seen that one. The last long movie I watched at home is Blade Runner 2049. There were a few boring parts. But I remember being bored with most of the original Blade Runner, which is a lot shorter. I guess, that at least says something.

      2. True story: I first watched Blade Runner two years ago, with Julianne showing it to me on a Saturday and then me showing it to my sci-fi-loving stepfather the next day. Both times I was the only one who stayed awake through the whole movie. As a result, I always think of it as the movie that’ll put you to sleep if you’re not in the right mood for it, and it’s not even 2 hours long (theatrical version runs 117 minutes). So, you don’t have to run near the 3-hour mark to put some people to sleep.

      3. Not really a fan of Blade Runner. I like 2049 more. I probably agree with what Kael wrote about it. Or as another critic put it, it’s just great production design (not great movie) and Rutger Hauer (RIP) maybe chewing up everything else including Harrison Ford. 😁

      4. Deer Hunter’s wedding scene is legendary. It’s the best cinematic approximation of that feeling of being at a wedding/dance with just never seems to end. A very accurate observation on their part, I’d say, but also a damn challenge to get through. At least at an actual wedding the doldrums might be broken up by you eating, dancing, or watching relatives make asses of themselves. With Deer Hunter, you just have to sit there and take it in and hope for the scene to eventually end.

    1. The bladder thing I focused on because it is what I hear referenced the most by people who object to anything over 2 hours long. It’s a big enough concern that, as I pointed out, there is an entire app devoted to helping plan pee breaks. However, our attention span and what the internet/smart phones have done us is just as big of an impediment, you’re right. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I still like going to movies because I’m forced to surrender to the experience. At home, I’m always far more tempted to try and multitask or respond like a Pavlovian dog to every little noise my phone makes.

  5. I learned to ration my drinking as I go into a movie. I get a large frozen coke or something and just sip it a little at a time because I’m usually totally absorbed in the screen and don’t want to leave (it helps that I try and go for the more cerebral fodder, too, and don’t want to miss anything).

    Though I did notice that I’d went to the bathroom several times during “I am Legend.” Maybe it was that I was bored with some of the movie, or just an awkward date that I didn’t wanna be around too often. Hmm… guess that tells me something there.

    1. I rarely even do all of that. In most cases, I simply don’t drink anything at all, though that’s as much because of frugality ($7 for a drink!) than it is bladder control. Now, if I’m seeing a movie a second time – like, I saw it already and have now brought a friend/family member to it – I might get a drink or excuse myself to the bathroom. There’s less guilt, less “i’m missing out” in that situation. Otherwise, I almost never leave the theater until the movie is over, even if I’m bored or hate the movie. As a kid, I did once basically hide in the bathroom for like 5 minutes because Jurassic Park had just killed Newman and I was terrified. I literally told myself “it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie,” having no idea I was using the same marketing phrase from Last House on the Left. Those stories, though, are quite rare for me.

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