Are movies really getting longer? Were films in the 1980s really shorter? We test the data...

Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon
Has Killers of the Flower Moon got you wondering whether movies are getting longer? (Image credit: Courtesy of Apple TV Plus)

Are movies really getting longer? 

These days, it feels like there's always an extra-long cinematic epic on the horizon. Films like Cleopatra, Ben-Hur, Gone With The Wind, and Lawrence of Arabia have been around for decades, but it certainly feels like more new movies than ever are clocking in well beyond the two-hour mark.

The latest film to make headlines about its runtime is Martin Scorcese's Killers of the Flower Moon, a Western crime drama exploring a series of murders in the Osage Nation after oil was discovered on their land... and it clocks in at an impressive 206 minutes, or just under three and a half hours long. 

Scorsese has defended the movie's runtime passionately, and we'd like to make it clear we aren't debating whether longer movies are a good thing or not here. If the story is worth getting invested in and the pacing's just right, it's easy to lose yourself in a big movie.

To try and get an idea of whether movies really are getting longer or not, we looked at the top 10 movies from the US Box Office in 2021, 2011, 2001, 1991, and 1981 (as they are listed on We then compared the average runtimes from these five decades to see if we could spot a trend. And in our latest update, we've added in the top 10 from 2022 to see whether those releases affected our findings.

Going by this particular dataset, it certainly looks like we're spending more time than we used to in the movie theater. The average runtime of the top ten movies from 2021 (131 minutes) was nine minutes longer than that of the 2011 top performers (122 minutes), and that trend only got more pronounced the further back we looked.

Throwing 2022 into the mix makes this trend even easier to spot. 2022's average runtime was 141 minutes, making it 10 minutes longer than the average from 2021 (131 minutes). And when you look further back, the trend looks more pronounced (aside from 2011).

For a more detailed breakdown of the runtimes and the lists of the top 10 releases from each of the years we looked at, read on.

Are movies really getting longer? Our data 

2022 — average 141 minutes

Sam Worthington in Avatar: The Way of Water

Avatar: The Way of Water was 2022's longest flick. (Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

It's perhaps no surprise that the average run time for 2022 is so high. This year saw the release of both The Batman and the long-awaited sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, the latter of which easily clocks in as the longest movie in our sample. Plus, there was only one film in the top-ten on the shorter end in the form of Minions 2.

Note: we included the run time for the extended cut of Spider-Man: No Way Home since the "More Fun Stuff" version of the movie hit theaters this year, which will also have an impact on the runtime average.

2022's top ten movies at the US Box Office, and their runtimes:

  1. Top Gun: Maverick: 131 minutes
  2. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: 141 minutes
  3. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: 126 minutes
  4. Avatar: The Way of Water: 192 minutes
  5. Jurassic World: Dominion: 147 minutes
  6. Minions: The Rise of Gru: 98 minutes
  7. The Batman: 176 minutes
  8. Thor: Love and Thunder: 118 minutes
  9. Spider-Man: No Way Home: 161 minutes
  10. Sonic the Hedgehog 2: 122 minutes

2021 — average 131 minutes

Daniel Craig in No Time to Die.

No Time To Die was 2021's longest top-performing movie. (Image credit: MGM)

At 131 minutes, 2021's average runtime is easily the longest. Only A Quiet Place 2 and Venom: Let There Be Carnage came in around the 90-minute mark. 

Meanwhile, the majority of the year's top ten movies ran well beyond the two-hour mark, and the longest (No Time To Die) clocked in at 163 minutes.

2021's top-ten movies at the US Box Office, and their runtimes:

  1. Spider-Man: No Way Home: 148 minutes
  2. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: 132 minutes
  3. Venom: Let There Be Carnage: 97 minutes
  4. Black Widow: 134 minutes
  5. F9: The Fast Saga: 143 minutes
  6. Eternals: 156 minutes
  7. No Time To Die: 163 minutes
  8. A Quiet Place II: 97 minutes
  9. Ghostbusters: Afterlife: 124 minutes
  10. Free Guy: 115 minutes

2011 — average 122 minutes

Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) from 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon'

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

The average runtime amongst the top ten movies in 2011 was 122 minutes. Looking at the group, there wasn't a single movie in the top ten that ran for less than 90 minutes, and half of them ran for over two hours.

The longest film of the group was the third Transformers movie, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which ran for 154 minutes.

2011's top ten movies at the US Box Office, and their runtimes:

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: 130 minutes
  2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon: 154 minutes
  3. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part I: 117 minutes
  4. The Hangover Part II: 102 minutes
  5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: 137 minutes
  6. Fast Five: 130 minutes
  7. Cars 2: 106 minutes
  8. Thor: 115 minutes
  9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes: 105 minutes
  10. Captain America: The First Avenger: 124 minutes

2001 — average 126 minutes

Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale in Pearl Harbor.

Michael Bay's war drama 'Pearl Harbor' was just beats out 'The Fellowship of the Ring' as the longest film in the top ten in 2001. (Image credit: Buena Vista/Walt Disney Studios)

2001 is an interesting year in our sample because it's the only year out of the original five we looked at that bucks the trend. Here, the average movie runtime of the top box-office success stories clocked in at 126 minutes, 4 minutes longer than the average in 2011.

This particular year is notable for the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (152 mins) and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (178 mins), two massive films that will have affected the average runtime. And they weren't even the longest movie in the table, either. That honor belongs to Michael Bay's war drama Pearl Harbor, which ran for a little over three hours. 

2001's top ten movies at the US Box Office, and their runtimes:

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: 152 minutes
  2. Shrek: 90 minutes
  3. Monsters, Inc.: 92 minutes
  4. Rush Hour 2: 90 minutes
  5. The Mummy Returns: 130 minutes
  6. Pearl Harbor: 183 minutes
  7. Jurassic Park III: 92 minutes
  8. Planet of the Apes: 119 minutes
  9. Hannibal: 131 minutes
  10. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: 178 minutes

1991 - average 117 minutes

Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves.

'Dances With Wolves' was Kevin Costner's directorial debut and it's easily the longest film in the top ten in 1991. (Image credit: Orion Pictures/MGM)

Kevin Costner clearly loved a long movie! Even though the theatrical cut of Dances With Wolves premiered in 1990, it was still among the top ten movies of 1991. The nearest rival to Costner's epic war drama was Kevin Reynolds' Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (which also starred Costner as Robin of Loxley). 

However, this group also contains some of the shortest movies in our entire sample size, so it's understandable why the average runtime for 1991's top ten was only 117 minutes.

1991's top ten movies at the US Box Office, and their run times:

  1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day: 137 minutes
  2. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: 143 minutes
  3. Home Alone: 103 minutes
  4. The Silence of the Lambs: 118 minutes
  5. City Slickers: 113 minutes
  6. Dances With Wolves: 181 minutes
  7. Sleeping With The Enemy: 99 minutes
  8. The Addams Family: 99 minutes
  9. The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear: 85 minutes
  10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze: 88 minutes

1981 — average 110 minutes

King Arthur (Nigel Terry) and Queen Guenevere Cherie Lunghi in 'Excalibur'.

Nigel Terry and Cherie Lunghi in John Boorman's 'Excalibur', the longest movie in 1981's top-ten. (Image credit: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Although the average runtime for 1981's top-ten movies clocks in at just 110 minutes, the split is more even than some of the other years on this list. 

The longest film, Excalibur, clocks in at 140 minutes, but most of the films on this list fall between the 90-min to the 2-hour mark; even the second-longest (and top-grossing) movie of the year, Superman II, just crept over the 120-minute mark.

1981's top ten movies at the US Box Office, and their run times:

  1. Superman II: 127 minutes
  2. Stripes: 106 minutes
  3. The Cannonball Run: 95 minutes
  4. For Your Eyes Only: 127 minutes
  5. The Four Seasons: 107 minutes
  6. Excalibur: 140 minutes
  7. History of the World, Part I: 92 minutes
  8. Bustin' Loose: 94 minutes
  9. The Great Muppet Caper: 107 minutes
  10. Endless Love: 116 minutes