Have we finally reached peak blockbuster running time? In the last year alone, the space has been flooded with kidney-testing lengths — “Killers of the Flower Moon” (206 minutes and no intermissions allowed!), “Avatar: The Way of Water” (192 minutes), “Oppenheimer” (180 minutes), “John Wick: Chapter 4” and “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” (both 169 minutes), and “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part 1” (163 minutes) — but there are some signs that this particular worm has turned.

The most significant example is this week’s release of “The Marvels” (Disney), which is the shortest film in MCU history at “only” 105 minutes. “Avengers: Endgame,” MCU’s biggest hit, clocked in at 181 minutes. The four most recent MCU franchise entries were 126 minutes or fewer, with “Thor: Love and Thunder” under two hours. In all, eight MCU films were less than two hours, which makes the difference a matter of degree.

“The Marvels” director Nia DaCosta, whose two previous features were “Little Woods” (105 minutes) and the “Candyman” reboot (91 minutes), recently told Digital Spy that her MCU brevity was intentional. “I really wanted it to be under two hours,” she said. “I just feel like there’s no need to have it long if you don’t need to, because one hour 45 minutes is pretty average for a movie.”

Directors for Marvel films are hired hands brought in to finalize the brand’s larger design, which is often plotted out years before. But with a reported $220 million budget, the shorter running time places “The Marvels” among the most expensive-per-minute film releases in history — and for films under two hours, the reigning champion.

As with many records, this one comes with asterisks: Its closest competition are animated titles “Tangled” and “The Lion King.” (“Thor: Love and Thunder” at $250 million comes close with a 119-minute running time, but that doesn’t include another six minutes of end-credit scenes.) And if you allow for inflation adjustment, it’s beaten by the 2007 “Evan Almighty”… and if you look at revisionist history, the 2011 “Thor” (114 minutes) had a reported budget at $170 million, but according to a report by film industry researchers Stephen Follows, Disney’s spend was more like $237 million.

"Venom: Let There Be Carnage"
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage”Sony

Even 105 minutes isn’t a record among broader Marvel character films. The 97-minute “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (Sony) was the third highest-grossing film release in 2021.

But here is the biggest sign of a breakthrough for shorter titles: “Barbie” (Warner Bros.) is 114 minutes, while “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (Universal) is a slim 92. As a comedy and an animated feature, they represent genres more likely to be shorter — but still, it’s a standout achievement.

The last time that the year’s two biggest domestic hits were under two hours was 1987 with “Three Men and a Baby” and “Fatal Attraction.” Since then, the top 25 highest grossing films (adjusted to current ticket prices) includes only one non-animated film under two hours. (The winner: “Home Alone.”)

The average length of this year’s 10 biggest releases is 139 minutes; last year, it was 136 minutes. Pre-COVID 2019, it was 131. Clearly, length hasn’t found discernible audience resistance.

Still, length seems to be a contributing factor to a film becoming an “event.” It appeared to elevate “Oppenheimer” (along with, of course, Christopher Nolan), but even word that “John Wick Chapter 4” came in just under three hours seemed to set it apart from just another sequel. Still, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” at 109 minutes clearly achieved event status with no one feeling cheated by its relative brevity.

Anything that persuades audiences that more isn’t necessarily better would be a nice development. Maybe even marvelous.

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