Better Get the Jumbo Popcorn: 10 Longest Hollywood Movies

By: Talon Homer  | 
Cleopatra (played by Elizabeth Taylor) arrives in Rome amid a cast of thousands in the 1963 movie "Cleopatra." Archive Photos/Getty Images

It's not just your imagination: Movies have been getting longer. The average runtime for theatrical movies in North America is now around 131 minutes, 11 minutes above two hours. That's about 15 minutes longer than the average movie time in 2000 and 20 minutes longer than in 1990. Nevertheless, Hollywood still features a wide spread of run times, usually between 90 and 150 minutes.

A few mainstream releases have even crossed four hours. The majority of these have been based on real people or periods in human history. Take a look at our list of the longest film releases in Hollywood history, along with what makes them so epic. As the countdown rolls on, the movies get longer. Running times exclude intermission time, which was often part of movies made before the 1970s.


10. "The Irishman" (2019) – 3 hours, 29 Minutes

Robert De Niro (R) and Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Robert De Niro (R) and Joe Pesci share a moment in the 2019 Netflix film "The Irishman." Netflix

This film, based on the lives of real-life criminal figures Jimmy Hoffa and Frank Sheeran, was a return to form for director Martin Scorsese and actors Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. However, "The Irishman" was Scorsese's first feature to go direct to streaming (debuting on Netflix), and his longest-ever film, running 209 minutes.

Since the film spans several decades of history, it allowed Scorsese to experiment with digital de-aging cinematography. De Niro and Pacino start the film as young men, and gradually age into their present-day bodies.


9. "The Ten Commandments" (1956) – 3 Hours, 30 Minutes

Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston, the Ten Commandments
Yul Brynner (L) as Pharoah and Charlton Heston (R) as Moses are shown in this lobby card from the 1956 movie "The Ten Commandments." LMPC via Getty Images

"The Ten Commandments" is a biblical epic, starring Charlton Heston in a straightforward take on the Exodus story. Heston plays Moses, who leads the Israelites out of subjugation in Egypt, parts the Red Sea and wanders the desert with his people for about 40 years before finally entering the Promised Land. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, the film was shot in VistaVision (a widescreen motion-picture format) and is full of spectacle and special effects. "The Ten Commandments" is still very popular and has aired on broadcast TV every Passover/Easter season since 1973.


8. "Ben-Hur" (1959) – 3 hours, 32 Minutes

Charlton Heston In Ben-Hur
Charlton Heston stars as galley slave Judah Ben-Hur in the film "Ben-Hur." Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Based on an 1880 novel, 1959's "Ben-Hur" was not the book's first nor last film adaptation, but it's widely regarded as the best, most complete version. Charlton Heston (who apparently liked long films) stars as the title character, a fictional Jewish nobleman who is enslaved and made to fight in ancient Roman gladiatorial matches. The film is famous for a 40-minute chariot race between Ben-Hur and a Roman commander.

At the time, "Ben-Hur" was one of the longest and most expensive productions ever conceived, but the effort paid off when the movie became a massive commercial success and swept the 1960 Oscars. It was nominated for 12 awards and won an unprecedented 11.


7. "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) – 3 Hours, 36 Minutes

Peter O'Toole stars as Lawrence of Arabia
Peter O'Toole stars as Lawrence of Arabia in the film of the same name. Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

This sweeping war film is based on the autobiographical work "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" by Thomas Edward Lawrence. Actor Peter O'Toole portrays the author and title character who joins the British military in the 1910s and leads campaigns against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. During this time, he travels through much of Syria and establishes diplomatic relations with local Arab tribes. The film was a box office smash and is still well-regarded for its beautiful cinematography and direction and the bravura performances from O'Toole, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif and the rest of the cast.


6. "Gods and Generals" (2003) – 3 Hours, 39 Minutes

Stephen Lang (R) and Al Roker, Gods and Generals
Actor Stephen Lang (R) and TV host Al Roker (L) attend the "Gods and Generals" Civil War re-enactment in Central Park, New York City, Feb. 19, 2003.  Mark Mainz/Getty Images

This historical epic recounts the early days of the America Civil War. It follows Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and Generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, played by Jeff Daniels, Stephen Lang and Robert Duvall, respectively. "Gods and Generals" captures the full-scale chaos of Civil War battles and earns that epic title. However, some critics felt that the film was far too sympathetic to its Confederate figures. Apparently, moviegoers agreed, as it was a box-office failure.


5. "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984) – 3 Hours, 39 Minutes

James Wood, Robert De Nico, Joe Pesci, Once Upon a Time in America
James Woods (L), Robert De Niro (C) and Joe Pesci (R) play gangsters in "Once Upon a Time in America," directed by Sergio Leone. Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Famous for his spaghetti western films like "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," Italian director Sergio Leone took a late-career turn when he helmed "Once Upon a Time in America." Instead of the Old West, this film focuses on mobsters in New York over five decades in the 20th century. The full-length version (starring Robert De Niro and James Woods) debuted at Cannes, but the studio got scared of the long runtime and cut it down to a more typical 139-minute length for theaters, rearranging the content in chronological order. It wasn't until the DVD release in 2003 that Americans saw the full version. In 2014, an "extended director's cut" running 251 minutes (over four hours) was released.


4. "Gone with the Wind" (1939) – 3 Hours, 41 Minutes

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind
Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh (as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara) pair up to dance in a famous scene from "Gone with the Wind." Metro-Goldwin-Mayer Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

For a long time, "Gone with the Wind" was considered the quintessential Hollywood drama. It stars Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, the vain daughter of a wealthy Georgia plantation owner who'll do almost anything to survive after losing her riches during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Over the course of the film, Scarlett has several romances, most notably with Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable. Shot in Technicolor at a time when most movies were in black and white, the epic drama has thrilled audiences for decades. It won eight Academy Awards and is still the highest-grossing box office movie, when adjusted for inflation.

But in recent years, critics have begun to question the movie's classic status, particularly its romanticized depictions of slavery and the Old South. If audiences were originally shocked by Rhett telling Scarlett, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn," today they're shocked by Scarlett slapping enslaved woman Prissy (played by Butterfly McQueen) across her face.


3. "Zack Snyder's Justice League" (2021) – 4 Hours, 2 Minutes

Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, Ray Fisher and Henry Cavill
L-R: Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, Ray Fisher and Henry Cavill pose at a photo call for the film "Justice League" in central London, Nov. 4, 2017. TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

The only franchise film on our list, the superhero epic "Justice League" is technically a re-cut of the 2017 theatrical release, which director Zack Snyder stepped away from, replaced by Joss Whedon. However, Snyder brought back several actors like Ben Affleck ("Batman") and Ray Fisher ("Cyborg") to film several new scenes for his complete version. The result was an almost entirely separate movie that stretched just past the four-hour mark, making it the longest Hollywood film of the 21st century so far. Critics widely agreed that the extended version (which aired on HBO Max) was much better than the original release, which underperformed at the box office.


2. "Hamlet" (1996) – 4 Hours, 2 Minutes

Kenneth Branagh
Actor/director Kenneth Branagh recites the famous “To be or not to be” speech while on set. "Hamlet" was the first film shot in 70 mm since 1992's "Far and Away" and the last until 2011. Rolf Konow/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Kenneth Branagh's version marked the first time this Shakespeare play had been filmed in its entirety, all four hours of it. Branagh did double duty, directing and starring as Hamlet, the Danish prince who returns home after his father dies to find his mother is marrying her husband's brother. Should he kill his uncle Claudius whom he thinks may have murdered his father? "What must Hamlet do? He desires the death of Claudius but lacks the impulse to act out. He despises himself for his passivity ... At the end of this 'Hamlet,' I felt at last as if I was getting a handle on the play (I never expect to fully understand it)," wrote Roger Ebert. Despite its critical acclaim, it was not a box office success. Perhaps the length had something to do with it.


1. "Cleopatra" (1963) – 4 Hours, 4 Minutes

Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's offscreen romance helped spur interest in the 1963 epic "Cleopatra," considered the longest Hollywood movie of all time. Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

"Cleopatra," with Elizabeth Taylor in the title role, has laid claim to the title of the longest Hollywood film release for about 60 years now. It was also the most expensive and elaborate film production of its time, almost sending studio 20th Century Fox into bankruptcy. The historic epic chronicles the life of the Egyptian queen as she has flings with Julius Caesar, declares war on the Parthian Empire and dies in dramatic fashion. "Cleopatra" was also famous for the tempestuous love affair Taylor carried on with co-star Richard Burton at a time when both were married to other people.

Acting on complaints from critics that the original film was just too long, Fox cut it from four hours, four minutes to just three hours, four minutes for general release. (A restored four-hour, eight-minute version was released in 2013.) Despite often being portrayed as a box-office failure, the movie was in fact the biggest box-office success of the year, making $57.8 million domestically on a $44 million budget or, if adjusted to 2019 dollars, $480 million on a budget of $365 million.