The Academy Awards loves its long movies. Of the 95 winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture, 11 have runtimes over three hours, and 29 exceed two and a half hours. If you find yourself wanting to experience every single winner of the Best Picture Oscar throughout the award show’s history, you’re going to need plenty of snacks and/or caffeinated beverages on hand.
That being said, many of these long winners of the Best Picture are of a very high quality, and will reward patient viewers. Of all the winners, the 10 movies listed below are the longest, and are ranked from “shortest” to longest. For anyone who wants to brush up on Oscar history and has an entire evening (or afternoon) to spare, few other Oscar winners will provide as much bang for your buck.
‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ (1956) – 182 minutes
While there were shorter films that won the Best Picture Oscar in the 1950s (after all, the shortest of all time was 1955’s Marty, at just 90 minutes), epic movies dominated the box office, and often the Oscars, too. Television was rising in popularity throughout the 1950s, and if the movie industry was going to compete with the small screen, it needed to go bigger and longer (TV sets are the reason widescreen was introduced, too).
Enter Around the World in Eighty Days, which is one of the biggest, longest, and most extravagant winners of the Best Picture Oscar. It’s an adaptation of the Jules Verne novel of the same name, following a man who, back in the 1870s, wagers he can complete a trip around the entire globe in just 80 days. It doesn’t really need three hours to get the story across, but the spectacle was clearly appealing and novel to viewers (and Academy voters) back in 1956.
‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978) – 183 minutes
The Deer Hunter was among the first widely released American films to criticize America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Distinctly divided into three parts, the first hour shows a group of friends shortly before they’re shipped off to fight in Vietnam, much of the second hour shows their nightmarish time spent fighting, and the third hour shows them attempting to return to civilian life, highlighting the way combat has drastically affected them.
It’s a devastating and downbeat film, but absolutely worth watching, largely thanks to featuring career-best performances from Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken. It undoubtedly earns its long runtime, and is a film that’s hard to shake, influencing many anti-war films that came in its wake.
‘Gandhi’ (1982) – 191 minutes
A solid but sometimes dry biopic, Gandhi depicts the life of Mahatma Gandhi, following him for over 50 years. At the same time, the film sheds light on the history of India from the end of the 19th century to just after the Second World War, and also focuses on Gandhi’s role in the resistance against the British Empire’s rule in India.
It’s a movie that benefits greatly from its central performance, as Ben Kingsley disappears into the title role, and earned a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar for his acting. Gandhi may lack a sense of forward momentum at times, and you do feel its length, but the acting and many of its technical qualities make it a fairly good watch.
‘Titanic’ (1997) – 194 minutes
If people hadn’t noticed with The Abyss, then Titanic was the film that well and truly revealed the fact that James Cameron loves water. This epic romance/disaster movie follows two young people from different backgrounds who fall in love on the Titanic, only to find themselves fighting for their lives when the ship strikes an iceberg on one fateful night in April 1912.
It’s a movie that mostly feels like it earns its huge 194-minute runtime. It’s a big movie with special effects that were phenomenal for their time – and still hold up today – and the big runtime is needed to capture all the big emotions it conveys on screen. Maybe some will find parts cheesy, but as far as epics from the last few decades go, it’s one of the best.
‘Schindler’s List’ (1993) – 195 minutes
A visually spectacular, emotionally powerful, and exceptionally well-acted epic, Schindler’s List earns its place among the greatest World War Two films of all time. It’s based on the life of Oskar Schindler, an industrialist who used one of his factories (and personal wealth) to save over 1000 Jewish prisoners who otherwise would have been sent to one of the Nazi Party’s death camps.
It can be a horrifying, hard-to-watch movie, but it depicts horrible things that genuinely happened during the Second World War, so to downplay such events would be dishonest. It balances displaying such horrors with offering some optimism, owing to what Schindler did – a tiny beacon of hope in a terrible situation, much like the solitary girl in a red coat amidst a sea of bleak, gray visuals.
‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ (2003) – 201 minutes
Breaking ground for being the first fantasy movie to win Best Picture, The Return of the King was the third part of the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s arguably the most spectacular of the three parts, featuring the culmination of Frodo’s journey to destroy the One Ring, and also featuring some of the series’ biggest battle scenes.
It’s also the biggest of the trilogy when it comes to its runtime, as the other two Lord of the Rings movies come in at just under three hours each. The Return of the King has a lot to wrap up, but does so successfully, becoming one of the best (and longest) Best Picture winners of all time in the process.
‘The Godfather: Part II’ (1974) – 202 minutes
Many sequels to successful classics don’t quite measure up, but The Godfather: Part II is not most sequels. The first Godfather movie won Best Picture for 1972, and then just two years later, its longer (and darker) sequel managed to win the top award at the Oscars, too.
The extra length in Part II largely comes from the fact it also functions as a prequel, spending a decent amount of time on flashbacks to Vito Corleone’s early life, as well as spending time on Michael Corleone as the family’s new boss. It’s a huge, ambitious movie, but a successful one, and stands as one of the best movie sequels of all time.
‘Ben-Hur’ (1959) – 222 minutes
Few Best Picture winners are bigger or longer than Ben-Hur. This epic biblical tale of revenge sees the title character and his family forced into slavery, with a chance for freedom being a large-scale chariot race, which the film builds to expertly (and is unsurprisingly the best part of the film).
As for the non-chariot-racing scenes? They’re still quite good, and as far as old-school Hollywood epics go, Ben-Hur certainly holds up better than most. Three hours and 42 minutes is a long time to spend with a single movie, but with a cast of thousands, gigantic sets, and memorable action, there’s always something on-screen to hold your attention.
‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962) – 228 minutes
Few epics are as well-made or beautiful-looking as Lawrence of Arabia. The runtime passes by pretty quickly, thanks to how visually dazzling it is, and also because of its engaging story, which focuses on archeologist and army officer T. E. Lawrence’s involvement in the First World War.
The pacing may feel different to more modern blockbusters, but by and large, this is large-scale entertainment that still holds up extremely well. If you only ever watch one Best Picture winner that exceeds 3.5 hours, Lawrence of Arabia should be it.
‘Gone with the Wind’ (1939) – 238 minutes
At four hours long, with plenty of things that haven’t aged well, and an ending you probably already know, the idea of watching Gone with the Wind in the 2020s is a daunting and intimidating one. It’s the sort of movie that was groundbreaking and influential, but even if you can overlook things as being “of their time” in other old movies, Gone with the Wind has certain aspects and themes that make it a tougher pill to swallow.
There’s a big disclaimer on watching the film, as a result, but at the end of the day, it’s still a Best Picture winner, and nothing can take away the massive box office revenue it earned. Time marches on, with a Best Picture winner like Gone with the Wind showing how much the film landscape (and society as a whole) has changed.