How Long Does a Movie Have to Get Good?

Time is the most precious resource of all. It is, after all, the one thing you can never get back. Waste your audiences time and you’ll have insulted them more than you could ever hope to.

My sincerest apologies.

Lots of media tend to have slow starts. Movies especially. Not everything can immediately hook you in immediately. Sometimes, a movie needs to take some time to set the stage. Is it a problem? yes. But not one that can’t be conquered. So long as the wait is worthwhile, then it isn’t unforgivable.

But when the payoff never comes? When a movie never hits its stride? That’s when you’ve got a big problem.

But that begs the question: what’s the grace period? How long does a movie have to finish its setup? At what point should you abandon ship and quit wasting your time?

Personally, I use a three-strike system. Measuring each strike in time, I toss the movie the ball that is my time. If it can’t hit even once, that’s a strike out and I’m done. Kick that loser off the plate and find the next one.

The first strike is the ten-minute mark. If you waste those, then you’re in trouble. If you’re movie needs exposition, it cannot, under any circumstances, go beyond that mark. The moment it does, it takes its first steps towards strike two.

A great example of this is the film version of Fellowship of the Ring. Let’s face the facts: a huge exposition dump is not the most interesting way to start your fantasy story. Especially not when said exposition would be repeated in a much briefer form later in the film. Sure, it’s visually striking! But it isn’t exactly interesting to listen to Galadriel explain shit at you.

Thankfully, it gets good real quick after that. So it manages to avoid strike two: the twenty minute mark.

A painful twenty minutes can feel more like an hour. Those ten minutes on their own are already full of suffering. Doubling that is basically looking at your torturer and saying “Hey, you only did one hand. Why not go all the way while you were at it, rip the nails off the other fingers?”

2001: A Space Odyssey is a great example of this. It has a strong opening scene, but then it slows down a ton for the next while. Thankfully, you have the promising hook to keep you going. Without that, the opening twenty minutes of this movie wouldn’t be nearly as bearable.

Then there’s strike three: the thirty minute mark. One-third or fourth of the runtime. By now, you should know that the movie isn’t going to change or suddenly get better. When a movie reaches this point, it is saying “This is what I am. Either deal with it or get out.” If you aren’t interested by then, then you’d better get out now before you waste anymore time.

Transcendence is the example that comes to mind here for me. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a boring sci-fi movie starring Johnny Depp as a dead scientist turned AI. I don’t know how you make that boring, but they did. Mainly because the actual AI thing doesn’t happen until after that third strike. How do they spend all the time before that? Boring exposition and terrible dialogue!

I’ve never been much a fan of the idea of abandoning movies partway through. But as I grew older and I had less and less free time, I realized that I couldn’t sit through every single movie I watched. If it was too boring, too painful, the only thing to do was abandon ship and start again. Three strikes, it was out.

Then I started blogging and that option was taken away from me.


2 responses to “How Long Does a Movie Have to Get Good?”

  1. Kinda like my rules for dropping an anime…

    1st ep – Gotta leave me with *something* that (on the balance) leaves a positive impression. I don’t care what the something is… Intriguing characters? Interesting world? Bouncing cleavage? “OMG I just have to see what happens next!”. *Something*.

    3rd ep – the (now) traditional inflection point, all the cards are on the table, or the Big Twist has hit, or at least it’s still holding at least some of my attention. If I’m bored or pissed at this point, long odds it’s not going to get better.

    Mid-season: I have a bad habit of convincing myself that things aren’t as bad as they seems… So I take a hard and as dispassionate look as I can manage. Only so many hours in the day and it makes no sense to watch something I’m not getting sufficient return on for my investment of time.

    Liked by 1 person

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