Comparing the total running time, the longest in Hollywood movies struggle to hold the torch of international epics. The longest motion pictures ever released hit the 24-hour mark. But a surprising number of American movies have been released with runtimes long enough to make audiences think twice before buying a ticket.
Yes, there have been plenty of movies that have given audiences pause over the years – you know, the kind of movies that make you hesitate before taking that tall drink in the lobby.
Nor are they all historical or biblical epics. Genres range from crime dramas and comedies to war movies and comic book-based films.
A recent movie that misses this list at just under three and a half hours is Netflix’s The Irishman. Although it received a limited theatrical release, it showed the role the streaming revolution could play in changing the way movies are funded, distributed, and cut.
Could streaming content spark a trend towards longer films, merging miniseries and long-form narratives, and reaching back to the era of classic Hollywood epics? Unsurprisingly, the vast productions of Tinsel Town’s Golden Age are present and correct in this list, but future lists may see them fight for their place as modern streaming movies make their presence known. The most recent film on the list is a supercharged streaming exclusive.
Here are the 12 longest films ever produced by Hollywood.
Titanic (1997) ⏤ 3h 30m
One of the most famous feature films of all time, Titanic was known for its protracted and difficult production. After its release, it was equally famous for its gigantic box office numbers. This was thanks to its renowned re-watchability. Many moviegoers have returned to the movies repeatedly for the unlikely but fascinating romance between Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. These repeat visits were surprising, given that his runtime exceeded three hours.
It’s a crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy world (1963) — 3h 30m
Comedy and epic don’t often go together when it comes to movies. Stanley Kramer’s hugs led to a massive cast of comedians in a mad attempt to track down $350,000 in stolen cash. Despite commercial and critical success, distributor United Artists drastically reduced its runtime for general release, against the director’s wishes. A full restoration was not available until 2014.
The Gate of Paradise (1980) — 3h 39m
Making longer films involves significant risks. Production costs are likely to be higher and cinemas are limited in the number of screenings they can offer. The Gate of Paradise was one of the most famous flops in Hollywood history and caused lasting reputational damage. Despite previous triumphs, including The deer hunterDirector Michael Cimino’s stock never recovered from the reception of this epic western.
gods and generals (2003) — 3h 39m
A decade later Gettysburg (see below), Ronald F. Maxwell adapted Jeffrey Shaara’s novel, gods and generals, like an epic prequel. It lost an hour for its theatrical release, while the 2011 director’s cut restored Maxwell’s original planned runtime and vision. Even at a shorter runtime, it performed poorly, ruling out a third collaboration between filmmaker and author.
The ten Commandments (1956) — 3h 40m
Ben Hur may have missed this list, but Charlton Heston has made more than one film with a biblical approach to length. This epic story of Moses is one of Epic Golden Age Hollywood’s most famous films. It was producer, director and narrator Cecil B. DeMille’s last film, but also his greatest success. Adjusting its gross for inflation, it remains the eighth-highest-grossing film of all time.
carried away by the wind (1939) — 3h 41m
Chances are, when you think of epic Hollywood movies, this historical Reconstruction-era romance is at the top of the list. It’s a heavily referenced and parodied film, but unlike other classics, carried away by the wind has not aged well. It has drawn particular controversy for its use of racial stereotypes and outdated views on relationships.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) — 3h 42m
Probably David Lean’s greatest film, Lawrence of Arabia won seven Oscars and remains highly influential. The original version was approximately 222 minutes long (including the overture and intermission), but the later re-release is credited as final at 20 minutes shorter. It remains the longest film to win the Best Picture Oscar, beating carried away by the wind by a full minute.
Once upon a time in America (1984) — 3h 39m
Sergio Leone made a name for himself with spaghetti westerns, but his longest film was this crime drama set on the streets of New York. Leone returned to directing for the first time in 13 years to close his Once upon a time trilogy.
Leone’s original 4 hour and 29 minute cut was shortened to 3 hours and 49 minutes before a chronological version was assembled without Leone’s involvement. It proved to be a box office disaster, while the director’s original remains one of the most beloved gangster films ever made.
Hamlet (1996) — 4h 2m
Kenneth Branagh was determined to capture Shakespeare’s play on film in its entirety, and the result was stunning. The original folio texts, which exist in various forms, are often cut for stage productions, not to mention film adaptations. Branagh’s vibrant direction and Victorian staging ensure that the four-hour, two-minute runtime flies by quickly.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) — 4h 2m
The Justice League may not have reached their final showdown with Darkseid, but they beat Hamlet to a draw. Zack Snyder’s director’s cut was a surprise announcement commissioned by HBO Max. The epic result fixed Joss Whedon’s version that was underwhelming in 2017, gave the DC Extended Universe a chance to take a break, and set the bar for comic book adaptations.
Cleopatra (1963) — 4h 8m
Epic in scale, the legendaryly difficult production of Cleopatra included several reshoots of 1,500 extras. Elizabeth Taylor’s record 65 costume changes helped make it the most expensive film ever made upon release. He may have nearly coached a studio, but he’s now considered one of the greats.
Gettysburg (1993) — 4h 8m
Legendary producer and media pioneer Ted Turner planned to adapt Michael Shaara The Killer Angels like a TV miniseries until he saw the first footage and was convinced he should play in theaters.
Gettysburg focuses on the title’s three-day Civil War battle, following characters on both sides. He is more appreciated for his battle scenes than for his dialogues, but Gettysburg consistently received favorable reviews from critics and moviegoers. A later home press release added an additional 30 minutes.