Pandemic Watch: Great, Super Long Movies You Finally Have the Time to Watch

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Pandemic Watch: Great, Super Long Movies You Finally Have the Time to Watch

One of the advantages of Covid-19 social distancing for a film nerd like me is to finally have the time to watch some of film history’s longest masterpieces. I’m not talking about old school Hollywood epics like Ben-Hur, or art house darlings like Jeanne Dielman, with their paltry three hours, 20 minute runtimes. I’m referring to butt-numbing cinematic feasts that clock in at around six, eight, and sometimes well over 10 hours. But that silver lining isn’t just for the self-proclaimed film connoiseur—for anyone who enjoys movies, now if a good time to stretch those viewing muscles you might have given a workout with The Irishman.

This list is for anyone tired of binge-watching all the Netflix true crime documentary series. (Or, as month three of quarantine gets underway, for those who may well have watch them all by now.) Let’s plow some time as only us mortals can—through hours and hours of distraction.

Before we do, a few notes! Even though many of these are technically miniseries, they were conceived and produced as feature films. In fact, some of their directors go so far as telling you that their works are meant to be consumed as mega-long movies, as evidenced by the pre-credits texts in Das Boot and Berlin Alexanderplatz. I’m omitting some obvious and mainstream choices—like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, 11 hours and 20 minutes in its extended form—since this list, we hope, brings to the fore some options our readers haven’t thought of.

Here are 15 super-long movies you should binge watch during the pandemic, listed in order of length. (You also might notice The Criterion Channel is the place to view many of these—so if you’ve been weighing whether of not to get a subscription, let this list sway you.)

Lagaan (2001) (3 hours, 45 minutes)


Plenty of examples from Bollywood could have made this list, since they average at two-and-a-half hours. Lagaan is a perfect entry point for westerners to dip their toes into Bollywood. It takes the quintessentially American sub-genre of the inspirational underdog sports drama and generously lathers it with the boisterous, colorful and exuberant soul of Indian populist entertainment. In this case, the underdog team is a group of farmers, led by Bollywood superstar and ’50s matinee idol throwback Aamir Khan’s Bhuvan, who challenges his Victorian-era British colonizers to a cricket match. This is a sport that none of the farmers have heard of, and they have very little time to master it. If they win, they won’t have to pay lagaan, a punishingly high tax that barely leaves the farmers with anything of their own. If the British win, the farmers will have to pay three times the amount, which means that they will literally starve. By raising the stakes to an actual life-or-death situation, director Ashutosh Gowariker turns the big game—which takes up a 90-minute chunk of the runtime, since a cricket match is played over three days—into a rollercoaster of operatic emotion that culminates with a rip-roaring climax.

Available on: Netflix

Hamlet (1996) (4 hours, 2 minutes)


Fans of Shakespeare’s tragedy have a ton of options when it comes to film adaptations. Laurence Olivier’s stark and minimalist 1948 Best Picture Oscar winner is a fine choice, so is Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 take featuring a “before-we-knew-how-problematical-he-was” Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, Ian Holm and Helena Bonham Carter. But if you need the bigger, longer and uncut experience injected straight into your Bard-groupie veins, then grab screenwriter/director/star Kenneth Branagh’s lush and sparkling 70mm epic that retains the entire text, right down to every sneeze and fart in the stage direction. As a performer, Branagh infuses his Hamlet with quiet fury, and is supported heavily by gripping performances from Julie Christie as Gertrude, and Kate Winslet as Ophelia.

Available on: Streaming rental or purchase on iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, etc.

Once Upon a Time in America: Extended Director’s Cut (1984) (4 hours, 11 minutes)


Once Upon a Time in America is Sergio Leone’s final masterpiece, a sprawling opus that covers the life of Noodles (who else but Robert DeNiro to headline your long-ass mobster movie?), a Jewish NYC gangster who wreaks havoc during the first half of the 20th century at the cost of his soul. The film is split into three non-linear sections, Noodles’ childhood (easily the best part), the height of his criminal enterprise as an adult, and his melancholic return to his neighborhood as a broken old man. For decades, the closest we got to Leone’s intended two-part, six-hour version was the three-hour-and-50-minute “director’s cut.” (Let’s not even talk about the butchered two-hour U.S. theatrical cut, which was put together by the editor of Police Academy 2.) This extended edition, released in 2014, is essential in especially fleshing out the sequences with Noodles as an old man, since they felt rushed even in the director’s cut. The added scenes are sourced from a faded workprint, which makes them look as if they were shot using a Snapchat underwater filter, but their inclusion gets us even closer to Leone’s original vision.

Available on: Blu-ray

Che (2008) (4 hours, 28 minutes)


Director Steven Soderberg’s biopic about the bearded dude on your woke college roommate’s favorite shirt is masterfully split into two visually and tonally distinct parts. Yet only when consumed as a whole do we experience the profound rise-and-fall arc of Ernesto Che Guevara (Benicio Del Toro, in a career-best performance). Part One focuses on Che’s successful underdog regime change in Cuba. It’s shot in the wide aspect ratio and uses a blue palette, emphasizing freedom and inspiration. The second part is a grim retelling of Che’s failed guerilla war in Bolivia. It uses the tighter 1:78:1 aspect ratio and a drab and desaturated color scheme in order to effectively communicate the fallacy of using the same guerilla tactics for a different culture and setting. In doing so, Soderbergh avoids having his film come across as either fawning love letter or indictment of Che’s ideology and life.

Available on: The Criterion Channel

Scenes from a Marriage: The TV Cut (1974) (4 hours, 42 minutes)


If you’re looking for the main inspiration to Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, look no further than writer/director Ingmar Bergman’s detailed chronicling of an intellectual middle-class Swedish couple (Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson) going through a divorce while still grappling with their attraction to one another. Forget the two-hour-50-minute theatrical version and dive right into the much more robust and satisfying TV cut. The title actually turns out to be surprisingly literal, as Bergman provides almost hour-long scenes per episode, each exploring a snippet in the couple’s relationship at various points in their lives. By focusing on smaller moments instead of the big picture, Bergman deftly explores how the steady culmination of passive-aggressive comments, hurtful innuendo and a clear lack of direct communication can snowball into the mutual destruction of a relationship, even one that was originally built over a solid foundation.

Available on: The Criterion Channel

Until the End of the World: Director’s Cut (1991) (4 hours, 47 minutes)


I can’t think of a more soothing piece of confrontation therapy to get us through this period than writer-director Wim Wenders’ soulful and cerebral globetrotting drama about the cosmic meaning of memories and dreams at the edge of apocalypse. We’re in the far-away year of 1999; a malfunctioning Indian satellite is about to hit Earth and possibly destroy all modern civilization. A free spirit named Claire (Solveig Dommartin), who’s using the crisis as an excuse to rediscover herself via a worldwide road trip, bumps into a mysterious man (William Hurt) who’s on the run from shady figures who’ll do anything to get their hands on a machine that records dreams for blind people. As Claire takes it upon herself to help the man on his mission to get the device to the lab of his estranged father (Max Von Sydow) in the Australian outback, a magnetic romance develops between the two. Wenders creates a unique near future that’s one part neo-noir cyberpunk and one part surprisingly prophetic speculative fiction. A 90-minute finale that’s a treatise on the communal value of the human experience follows this unique world building. No not rent or buy the 158-minute theatrical cut, which is basically a cliff’s notes of Wenders’ expansive vision, and only go for the full director’s cut that was recently released by Criterion.

Available on: The Criterion Channel

Das Boot: The Miniseries (1985) (4 hours, 53 minutes)


Writer/director Wolfgang Petersen’s teeth-grindingly intense adaptation of Lothar G. Buchheim’s novel about the crew aboard a World War II-era German u-boat desperately fighting not only the enemy but also boredom and claustrophobia offers a variety of cuts to choose from. The 150-minute theatrical release streamlines the action to offer an intense yet rather superficial thriller. The 210-minute director’s cut adds a bit more character development. But in order to experience what truly makes Das Boot stand out amongst other wartime submarine nail-biters, namely an intimate exploration of the individual mindset that fears and resents fighting a war for a cause one might not fully believe in, the extra effort and cash that will go into securing a copy of the miniseries is more than worth it.

Available on: DVD

Fanny and Alexander: TV Cut (1982) (5 hours, 12 minutes)


Ingmar Bergman’s last theatrical feature may be his best, a tender and somewhat autobiographical historical drama dripping with nostalgia for Sweden’s festive and refreshingly simple past. It outlines the trials and tribulations of a bourgeois family from the perspective of two children, the titular naïve siblings played with surprising maturity by Pernilla Allwin and Bertil Guve. When the children’s actor father (Allan Edwall) suddenly dies during a performance, their grief-stricken mother (Eva Froling) finds solace in the draconian arms of a priest (Jan Malmsjo) who uses god as an excuse to enact his sadism. When the mother’s family gets wind of the children’s misery, they fight the priest by any means necessary in order to gain custody of the children. The three-hour theatrical cut of this luscious cinematic feast, featuring legendary cinematographer Sven Nykvist’s most colorful and vibrant work, is satisfying on its own. But the ultimate experience, full of mournful, funny and surreal moments that add so much to the characters and story, can only be found in Bergman’s five-hour cut, which was originally split into a miniseries for Swedish television.

Available on: The Criterion Channel

1900 (1976) (5 hours, 20 minutes)


Political ideologies, no matter how much they might clash on the surface, end up in the same pool of toxic mutual self-destruction and misery when pulled to extreme ends. It’s no wonder that co-writer/director Bernardo Bertolucci bookends his massive drama about the political turmoil in Italy during the first half on the 20th century by showing his two protagonists and best friends, the rich land owner and fascist enabler Alfredo (Robert DeNiro) and communist farmer Olmo (Gerard Depardieu), engaging in petty dick measuring contests. At the beginning, they are children. At the end, they are old men. Sandwiched between these scenes is Bertolucci’s five-hour deconstruction of Italy’s self-destruction through ego, greed and rampant dehumanization between landowners and the working class. Underneath Bertolucci’s scorn lies a genuine yearning for a society that could have fully appreciated his country’s inherent beauty. Even though Bertolucci is clearly more supportive of the communists’ cause, he eventually settles on an egalitarian and borderline satirical “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” dynamic.

Available on: Streaming rental or purchase on iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, etc.

Carlos (2010) (5 hours, 34 minutes)


Co-writer and director Olivier Assayas’ wild and indulgent biopic matches the self-confidence and coolheaded exuberance of its subject matter—the mythical revolutionary and/or terrorist Carlos the Jackal (a hypnotically charismatic Edgar Ramirez). Assayas uses the long runtime to his advantage as he fully chronicles Carlos’ insanely expansive and complicated life as a psychotic James Bond placeholder who jumps from one country to another, bagging babes before blowing up civilians. Yet he never falters from Carlos’ clear arc from doe-eyed revolutionary to ruthless pragmatist. The docudrama aesthetic and the intense attention to detail instill the project with extra credibility and personal touch.

Available on: The Criterion Channel

War and Peace (1966) (7 hours, 11 minutes)


(Read with a cartoonish Russian accent.) “The paltry $300 million budgets of your 21st century American blockbusters pale in comparison to mighty Russia’s glorious Technicolor adaptation of Tolstoy’s masterpiece, with a budget of over $700 million” (adjusted for inflation of course, but let’s not get stuck on details). War and Peace was meant to serve as a Cold War-era attempt by Russia to flex yet another “anything you can do, I can do better” power move against the United States. This time, the goal was to prove to the western world that Russian cinema could outdo grand Hollywood historical epics that were popular during the late ’50s and early ’60s. Yet director Sergey Bondarchuk’s film is a bit of an odd duck, which works really well for those looking for a singular experience in their expensive historical dramas. On one hand, the grand scope, full of extensive pre-CGI battle sequences with thousands of soldiers and explosions within the same frame, mimics and sometimes overpowers the populist entertainment value of its Hollywood counterparts. On the other hand, Bondarchuk never shies away from Tolstoy’s anger and disdain against human nature that needlessly sacrifices so much of its own in the name of blind patriotism and broken ideologies. This inherent tonal contradiction leads to an overall experience that visually dazzles, while thematically simmering in that significantly Russian brand of existential ennui.

Available on: The Criterion Channel

O.J.: Made in America (2016) (7 hours, 47 minutes)


This Best Documentary Feature Oscar winner uses the sensationalist veneer of the O.J. Simpson murder trial in order to rip into the heart of contemporary race relations. Director Ezra Edelman builds an immaculately researched and compiled procedural that centers on every detail of the story, from O.J.’s exemplary American-Dream rise to stardom, to his eventual shunning as a social pariah. It works as a sort of cinematic Trojan horse, drawing the audience in with an entertaining and impeccably paced true crime documentary, only to gradually uncover a comprehensive and brutally honest portrait of race in America. It doesn’t take sides or offer any easy answers, but it also doesn’t shy away from pointing out the long road ahead to reconciliation and closure.

Available on: Streaming rental or purchase on iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, etc.

The Human Condition (1959-1961) (9 hours, 39 minutes)


Director Masaki Kobayashi is an underrated figure in Japanese cinema. His name is rarely mentioned amongst masters like Kurosawa and Ozu. Like Kurosawa, his work emphasizes the value of the individual over the collective ideology of a society. Yet while Kurosawa was subtler with his finger wagging against a totalitarian mindset, Kobayashi was downright angry at its destructive nature, as evidenced in his anti-Samurai establishment masterpiece, Harakiri. His almost 10-hour adaptation of Jumpei Komikawa’s six-part World War II-era novel grieves the folly of empathy, egalitarianism, and humanism against greed, corruption, and sadism that’s gleefully perpetrated under the shield of patriotism and authority. The legendary Tatsuya Nakadai is viscerally heartbreaking as a pacifist whose soul and resolve are eventually corrupted by a ruthless war machine that demands thoughtless fealty, while rewarding state-sanctioned cruelty.

Available on: The Criterion Channel

Shoah (1985) (10 hours, 13minutes)


I realize that it’s a bit much to recommend a dry, matter-of-fact, emotionally distant 10-hour documentary about the unvarnished brutality and horror of the Holocaust. But this is one of those rare “eat your cinematic vegetables” situations that’s essential for everyone to watch at least once in their lives. Director Claude Lanzmann patiently builds a historical documentation of the Holocaust through in-depth and sometimes profoundly disturbing interviews with the survivors, as well as the perpetrators. The justifications the guards give for their actions showcase a horrifyingly sobering realization that every human being is capable of engaging in atrocities with the slightest push in the wrong direction.

Available on: YouTube and Blu-ray

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) (15 hours, 31 minutes)


Reiner Werner Fassbender, the prolific enfant terrible of the New German Wave, opens his humongous adaptation of Alfred Doblin’s novel, widely considered to be the greatest literary work from the Weimar period, by informing us that it’s meant to be a film in 13 parts and an epilogue. As episodic and fractured as his character study about the consistent failure of a hotheaded criminal named Franz (Gunter Lamprecht) going straight after getting out of prison in 1920s Berlin, Fassbender ties his protagonist to the breakdown of a system that chews up the common man and spits him out. The specter of Nazi Germany is always on the horizon, growing more ominous as Franz struggles to find his place in a culture that’s increasingly leaving him behind. He’s certainly not a saint, especially if we consider why he was sent to prison in the first place, but Fassbender also scorns a country that offers no paths to redemption. While the 13 episodes follow a fairly linear narrative, the gloriously batshit crazy epilogue dives headfirst into the kind of unvarnished fever nightmare surrealism that would make David Lynch drool.

Available on: The Criterion Channel

Oktay Ege Kozak is a screenwriter, script coach and film critic. He lives near Portland, Ore., with his wife, daughter, and two King Charles Spaniels.

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