Are Movies Getting Longer?

Few weeks ago I’ve been watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It is a nice movie, but also painfully long - almost 3 hours. It got me thinking - are movies getting longer & longer? I could have sworn that I have remembered them to be shorter, usually around 1.5h, now it feels like it’s closer to 2h. Obviously, this was only my impression, I had no hard data to back it up. This weekend I decided to play with Ruby a little bit and it gave me a chance to verify my theory.

I know I could find detailed info about most popular movies at The Internet Movie Database (you can browse it by year, here’s example for year 1923). I reckoned I could parse all the entries and calculate average movie duration for each year. I found Nokogiri - an HTML, XML, SAX reader/parser for Ruby, it seemed like a perfect tool for the job (to be honest, it was the only one I knew, so I’d have chosen it anyway). IMDB shows movies in batches of 20 per page, so typical URL looks like:{year}&start=#{start} (start = 1, 21, 41, etc). In order to analyze all the movies from given year, I parse those pages until it gives me no valid results. I discarded short filmes, documentaries, TV shows etc and all movies with ‘weird’ durations (shorter than 70 minutes, longer than 4 hours).

I used SVG::Graph library to present the results (average movie duration + average movie rating). Finally, I ran my script for movies starting in 1970 (I decided I didn’t really watch too many movies done before 1970, so they couldn’t influence my impression). Surpisingly, it turned out that while average movie from 2007 or 2008 is longer than one from 1970, the difference is not very significant (98 versus 94 minutes). I don’t think it’s possible to notice 4 minutes difference in running time, so it probably was only my impression (to make sure I’d have to choose movies that I actually watched). Side effect of my experiment is info about average movie rating. It turns out that movies are actually getting better recently, two best years were 2008 & 2009 (6.72 & 6.95 rating), with 2010 at 7.32, but it’ll probably go down. 1999 was a grim year for cinematography with average rating of 6.24. If I’m very bored I may extend the script to check if it was caused by lots of crappy movies or rather by lack of the good ones. Click for SVG graphs for movie duration & movie ratings.

The longest movie from 1970-2010 period is Jeo-nyeok-eui gae-im (it obviously wasn’t considered when calculating averages), but that’s only due to bug in IMDB (it’s 6240 minutes, but only 102 in South Korea and that’s correct duration, I assume).

OK, so my tiny experiment failed to scientifically prove my feeling, however it gave me a chance to play with Ruby a little bit. It is a really nice language, but to be honest I don’t think I’ll be using it much. It’s still easier for me to hack helper scripts in Python and when one doesn’t use the language it gets forgotten pretty quick. I coded in Tcl at some point, but today all I remember is that it had lots of ‘$’. I have to re-learn portions of Python every time I write bigger script (= every 4-5 months or so), same with Lua, adding Ruby to the mix could only cause a headache. Still, it’s almost frightening how much programming has changed. Today, it’s possible for someone who doesn’t know the language, doesn’t know the libraries to write stuff like that in a single afternoon (and most of it was spent waiting for results). It’s more about choosing right tools rather than writing the code itself. My whole script is around 100 lines and could easily be made much shorter (my Ruby knowledge blows + I have some movie category filters that are probably not needed anymore, as I specify title_type in the query now). In case anyone’s interested - script can be found here.

Old comments

ed 2010-01-31 20:45:17

That sounds like a multi-milion dollar project :) You may try and write some paper about correlation between movies length and let’s say global warming ;)
About changes in programming, I believe that it has more to do with your general superior programming skills not with evolution in programming itself ;) Once you gain more experience in a programming you are able to use new tools with ease.
I had similar experience lately. Few months ago I had my first contact with programming on PS3 and it took me only 3 weeks to take a code of the AAA game for X360, write a wrapper aroung XDK and run the game (pass the menu, up to walking around on the first level).

admin 2010-01-31 21:08:27

Sure, knowing other languages/libraries helps, but I still think that in certain areas programming got much more accessible nowadays.
Pretty impressive, that X360->PS3 port, BTW.

jacek 2010-01-31 21:10:30

Interesting. I had also the same feeling.

Riddlemaster 2010-01-31 21:31:22

Maybe movies are simply becoming boring?
Ruby is a really nice tool, I’ve been using it for 2yrs, and it really makes development of certain things easier and faster.

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