Why movies went from 15 minutes to 2 hours

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Published on 19 Nov 2019, 13:00
Movies used to be really short. How did it change?
Almanac Hollywouldn't is our miniseries on big changes to movies that came from outside Hollywood. Watch all of the episodes right here on YouTube.
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Why are movies about two hours long? In this episode of Vox Almanac, Vox’s Phil Edwards researches the history of movies — and discovers the Italian silent film classic that changed movies forever.

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In the 1900s, movies were typically around 15 minutes long — that was the length of one reel (depending on playback speed and a few other variables). But in 1913, that changed significantly thanks to the blockbuster “Quo Vadis” — a two-hour epic that wasn’t just long, but had blockbuster ambitions.

Quo Vadis involved huge stunts, thousands of extras, and real Roman locations, taking movies to a scale little before seen. When it premiered, instead of playing as one of many short films in nickelodeons, it debuted in big concert halls and other prestigious venues. That led to a record box office and an industry-changing trend that started with director DW Griffith and spread elsewhere.

If you want to read more, I relied on the following books:
A History of Narrative Film by David A. Cook
wwnorton.com/books/A-History-of-Narrativ...
This book provides a good overview of film history.

Film Before Griffith by John Fell
books.google.com/books/about/Film_Before...
This book chronicles all the films that influenced movies before DW Griffith came on the stage.

The Silent Cinema by Liam O’Leary
books.google.com/books/about/The_silent_...
Another good overview to look at the international silent film scene.

The Griffith Project
amazon.com/Griffith-Project-12-Essays-D-...
Many silent films are lost, so anthologies like these, which describe each film and include data on length, are useful.


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