Who says our nation doesn’t have an attention span? Advance online ticket sales for Marvel’s three-hour, two-minute “Avengers: Endgame,” the longest comic-book movie in history, sent servers crashing and inspired eBay sales for a pair of opening night tickets at $5,000 (No takers as of this writing, though.)
Superheroes have long dominated the box office, but few dared run over 150 minutes. Among Marvel movies, there’s only “Avengers: Infinity” at 2:40; D.C. has four with the two “Dark Knight” titles, “Superman Returns,” and “Batman V. Superman.”
So does the length pose a problem? Nope. If anything, it’s a positive. Here’s why.
In Marvel We Trust
If Marvel Studios knows anything, it’s the audience. Thanks to both creative instinct and pre-release testing, it has a strong track record of anticipating issues and honing films to satisfy the public. It can create a uniformity that reduces their perceived artistic merit, but Marvel counterbalances by hiring a slew of more indie-world directors and expanding to non-traditional lead characters.
Long means special
With “Endgame,” the title offers a valid reason for its length. It is the conclusion of a subset of “Avengers” films within the Marvel universe. Similar to how “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” was the final film in the trilogy (and ran 3:21), it’s the completion of an epic tale. Getting people into theaters is an increasing challenge, but the surest bets remain the top releases from proven franchises. To the extent length conveys special event, the three hours time here adds to a sense of it qualifies as something apart from the pack.
Courtesy Everett Collection
It’s not really three hours
Credit lengths have become a major factor in movie length. Both “Black Panther” and “Ultron”had more than 11 minutes of end credits. (“Gone With the Wind,” which holds the record of the most tickets sold for a domestic release, was extraordinary in 1939 with its just over three minutes at its start.) Sometimes they include gimmicks and add-ons that make the extra time watching worthwhile. But for most people, “Endgame” will be closer to a 2: 50 experience.
Just spell the title right
Word about the length dropped shortly before pre-sales, resulting in a flurry of news stories about the film. Well played, Marvel publicists.
Would-be negatives about a film can often work in its favor. Last weekend, Pure Flix’s right-wing abortion film “Unplanned” did better than expected. Some were surprised by the success; given its R rating, there was a presumed negative impact on its ability to buy primetime TV and cable ads. Instead, the rating generated its , own publicity.
Limited impact on showtimes
When a film is long, the presumption is that means fewer showtimes and lower box office. There’s a kernel of truth: With ads, trailers, and other pre-show elements, along with the time to empty and fill a theater, a 3:02 movie will need a 3:45 slot.
But in the real world, that won’t apply. “Endgame” will play at least three screens per theater, often more, which means for weeks it will show at least once an hour in prime periods. If sell-outs do occur, that will spur a scarcity mindset and customers will buy early. In turn, that leads theaters to add more screens and times. Lter weeks might see some effect when the film plays on only one screen, but by then most of the take is in.
Longer can be better
Three hours-plus movies have been among the biggest grossing films. Of the eight films with the highest ticket sales, five have been over the three-hour mark. That includes “Titanic,” the most successful release in the last 35 years (it was 3:14).
The benefit isn’t universal. A long Paul Thomas Anderson film is far more likely to face a more restricted schedule. Some of the best-known classic titles — from the infamous “The Birth of a Nation” more than a century ago, “Gone With the Wind,” “The Ten Commandments,” “Ben-Hur,” “Lawrence of Arabia” — have length as part of their appeal.
The public has never rejected a top film because of length, nor is there much evidence that an appropriately positioned release has suffered much impediment. Expect the same here.