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Building a Better Movie Marathon

Building a Better Movie Marathon

With “Fast & Furious 6” zooming at him like a bat and/or muscle car out of hell, critic Ian Buckwalter prepared for the film the only way he knew how: by marathoning all six films in the franchise in a single day. He wrote about the experience for The Atlantic:

“Seeing these six films in what was essentially a single sitting (I did need to leave the house, much to my couch’s relief, to see the most recent installment) left me feeling like I’d spent half a day inhaling exhaust fumes. But I’m not going to blame the ‘Fast/Furious’ series for that. It’s entirely possible that my inability to focus on something so simple as a game of Words With Friends afterwards could have happened after any six movies watched end to end. I shouldn’t have been surprised that I passed out on the couch immediately after returning from the screening of ‘Fast & Furious 6’ and didn’t wake until dawn, bleary-eyed and head spinning.”

In spite of its wearying qualities — which he concedes could have been the result of watching any six movies in a row — Buckwalter did enjoy a lot of the franchise, and noted how quickly (and, I assume, angrily) the 12 hours passed as he walked through the valley of the shadow of Diesel. In a single day he went from “Fast & Furious” neophyte to acolyte. 

Such is the power of a great movie marathon.

Last year right around this time, I had what I would describe as a near-religious experience — or, at the very least, a cultish experience — at a marathon of all six Phase One Marvel movies; the two “Iron Man”s (to date), “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor,” “Captain America” and finally, at midnight on Friday, the premiere of “The Avengers.” It was a great day. Even though I’d seen five of the six movies before, even though one of the five was “Iron Man 2,” I had an incredible time immersing myself in a 12 hour day of cinema. I walked out of the theater on an absolute high after “The Avengers.” When I got home at around three in the morning, I was so juiced on pure film geek essence that I couldn’t sleep. I stayed up for two hours writing about the experience.

Buckwalter’s write-up of his “Fast & Furious” marathon brought me back to how I felt after that Marvel marathon (which was, simply, “MORE PLEASE”). But since then, I haven’t gotten anywhere close to watching six movies in one sitting, and though AMC Theatres has held a few other pre-premiere marathons like that Marvel one (including one for “A Good Day to Die Hard”), I haven’t attended any of them. Part of that is simply logistical: it is very hard to clear enough of my schedule to make it happen (“Hey honey, can you watch the dog, do the dishes and the laundry, and also write all my blog posts today? No, I’m feeling okay, I just want to go see “Live Free or Die Hard” for the ninth time, and also watch four other “Die Hard” movies. What? Uh, yeah, joking… I was just joking…”)

But a much bigger part are the movies themselves. As Buckwalter says, sitting through any six movies can be exhausting even if all six of those movies are “Citizen Kane”-caliber masterpieces. To not just endure but actually enjoy that much cinema at once requires a very rare breed of franchise. 

The Marvel marathon, deliberately or not, may actually be the most ideal — because the six movies are connected but distinct. As much as I enjoy the “Fast & Furious” series (at least numbers five, one, six, and the Han scenes in three), and as much as I’d be curious to see them all in a single, butt-annihilating sitting, I can imagine the experience is as debilitating as it is entertaining, because the movies, at least until “Fast Five,” are basically the same formula repeated over and over with different characters (and then again with the first characters). It’s almost like seeing the same movie six times, instead of six movies once. Likewise, there are few greater screen pleasures than William Powell and Myrna Loy’s boozy banter as Nick and Nora Charles in “The Thin Man.” But watching all six “Thin Man” titles and all that drunken discourse at once sounds like a recipe for a nasty movie hangover. 

The Marvel movies, on the other hand, star different characters in different situations and practically different genres (“Incredible Hulk” is a monster movie; “Thor” is fantasy adventure; “Captain America” is period war action). They vary up the formula enough to keep you awake and entertained. And then you get to “The Avengers,” which sends you off on the ultimate high note.

Which is another problem with trying to find marathons that are worth the time investment: most of them follow the law of diminishing returns. There aren’t too many franchises, like Marvel or even “Fast & Furious,” that peak around movie five or six. Most start strong and peter out — the “Die Hard” franchise marathon was probably a transcendent experience for the first few hours, but can you imagine capping off a ten hour party with “A Good Day to Die Hard?” Similarly, you could marathon all the “National Lampoon’s Vacation” movies, but by the time you got to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure” you’d probably think that was also a good day to die — hard, easy, or any other way possible.

After considering all of these factors and weighing the options for a while, I targeted a few franchises I think would make superior movie marathons. For that true marathon experience, they had to include at least five films. Here’s a few of the best options:

Planet of the Apes
The Law of Diminishing Franchise Returns holds less sway over the “Apes” series than almost any other long-running Hollywood series (at least until you hit 2001’s Tim Burton remake). So you pretend that movie never happened, blast through the five original films — “Planet of the Apes,” followed by “Beneath,” “Escape,” “Conquest,” and “Battle” — and use 2011’s thoroughly entertaining prequel “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” as your ace in the hole finale.

Philip Marlowe
Not a strict franchise, but you could make a really solid, really interesting marathon out of different directors and actors’ interpretations of Raymond Chandler’s classic private eye. Start with “Murder, My Sweet” by Edward Dmytryk with Dick Powell, follow with “The Big Sleep,” by Howard Hawks with Humphrey Bogart, then the POV curio “Lady in the Lake” by Robert Montgomery, jump ahead to “The Long Goodbye” from Robert Altman and Elliott Gould, and wind down with Robert Mitchum’s two ’70s Marlowes, “Farewell My Lovely” and “The Big Sleep.” If that’s not enough hardboiled fun for you, you could even squeeze in James Garner in “Marlowe” or a couple episodes of the British TV series “Philip Marlowe, Private Eye” with Powers Boothe. (A similar approach to a curated Hannibal Lecter marathon, with “Manhunter,” “Silence of the Lambs,” “Red Dragon,” and maybe even some episodes of “Hannibal,” could also work.)

Death Wish
Yes, diminishing returns. Yes, highly repetitive films. But watching the relatively serious “Death Wish” metamorphose into the absolutely cartoonish “Death Wish III” “IV” and “V” sounds like a fascinating meditation on the nature of sequels. You could also toss out the last couple “Wish”es and fill their slots with the sorta-related “Death Sentence” by James Wan (based on the sequel to the original “Death Wish” novel) or a modern riff on the vigilante movie like Neil Jordan’s “The Brave One” with Jodie Foster.

The looser you get with franchises, the more fun you could have — how about a Batman marathon that starts with the ’66 Adam West movie and ends with “Batman & Robin,” creating a sort of cycle of Bat-zaniness? Or a Universal monster series that follows “Frankenstein” through “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” and “Abbott and Costello?” The secret, I think, is to find a subject that goes by fast in a way that keeps you from getting furious.

Ever done a serious movie marathon? Which ones worked and which ones didn’t? Tell us in the comments section below.

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