Where to stream the best really long films

Streaming tips for people with time on their hands.

25 March 2020

By Sam Wigley

The Irishman (2019)

Just as Hilary Mantel’s new 900-page doorstopper The Mirror and the Light arrives at a good time for bookworms stuck indoors and desperate for means of escapism, self-marooned cinephiles may decide that now’s the time to get around to that much acclaimed but really long film they’ve been putting off for ages.

Lists of greatest films ever, from the canonical Sight & Sound countdown to the Letterboxd 250, are often stacked with plus-sized masterpieces, those multi-houred creations that we put off till that day when we finally have the time. Streaming makes such conquests so much easier though, when we can pause, binge and slice and dice as easily as with a favourite series.

Here’s what’s out there for movie marathoners.

Netflix

Where better to kick off than with the film that recently (re)started the debate about just how long a film should conceivably be. Among the things most noted about Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (2019) was its 209-minute running time, which prompted some to suggest how it could be carved up and watched as a miniseries. Scorsese insisted no, his elegiac gangland epic was better experienced at one gallop. But as a film seen primarily on Netflix there’s little doubt how the majority of viewers have managed it: stopped and chopped whenever hunger, sleep or a toilet trip interfered. Starring Robert De Niro as the truck driver who becomes a mafia kingpin’s right-hand man, it’s Marty’s longest fiction to date. If you haven’t found the time yet, that’s 3 ½ hours of lockdown sorted.

Lagaan (2001)

The Irishman isn’t the longest film on Netflix though. That honour surely belongs to Lagaan (2001), the plucky tale of over-taxed Indian villagers taking on British officers in an epic bout of cricket during the Raj era. The most expensive Indian film in history at the time of its making, this Oscar-nominated Bollywood giant weighs in at 223 minutes. Its director, Ashutosh Gowariker, has as much of a taste for big canvases as Scorsese. Feel the width of his later films Swades (2004), Jodhaa Akbar (2008) and What’s Your Raashee? (2009) – all also on Netflix and comfortably over 3 hours each.

The platform’s other English-language leviathan, the third The Lord of the Rings movie (2003), comes in at 200 minutes. Taken together, a return trip to Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth trilogy would make quite the lockdown wallow.

Amazon Prime

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

A Robert De Niro crime saga also sits head of the table among the endurance testers on Amazon Prime. Sergio Leone’s Once upon a Time in America (1984) exists in versions of various lengths, but is available to stream in its 229-minute theatrical cut. A change of subject for the director who’d defined the spaghetti western, it’s the tale of 2 Jewish friends – De Niro and James Woods – who rise to prominence in the New York underworld. As with The Irishman, the telling traverses several decades of the 20th century, with Leone leaning into a similarly melancholic sense of the toll violence takes on a man’s soul. Dare we say it, the 2 films would make a perfect double bill.

Sholay (1975)

Speaking of spaghetti westerns, this might be the time to try a curry western. Prime has you covered with the most famous of them all: 1975’s Sholay. Voted the greatest Indian film ever made in a 2002 BFI poll, Ramesh Sippy’s classic is steeped in Leone style and iconography, while borrowing its basic plot from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954). Typical of the mixes of genre in the Bollywood masala movie, however, its 195 minutes fit in plenty of comic interludes and very un-Leone song-and-dance numbers. The plot begins as a village policeman recruits 2 local thieves to help capture a dacoit (bandit) who is extorting the local villages.

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)

Although it doesn’t quite breach 3 hours, it’s worth mentioning that Prime also has Anthony Mann’s star-studded The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), one of the last entries, but also one of the best, in Hollywood’s mid-century trend for Ancient World epics. Vast scale and sets such as these would become too expensive a gamble as tastes changed and 60s audiences wanted more swing, so Mann’s film comes down to us steeped in end-of-the-epoch grandeur.

BFI Player

The Irishman might have found Scorsese pushing his own boundaries in terms of fictional filmmaking, but he’s regularly nudged the 4-hour mark in his documentary work. Subscribers to BFI Player can watch both of his long-form cinephile docs: that is, 1995’s A Personal Journey through American Movies and 1999’s My Voyage to Italy – his intimate celebrations of American and Italian film history respectively. These are the kinds of documentaries that you come away from with long lists of viewing recommendations, with Marty’s passion and enthusiasm for the glories of the Hollywood studio system or the vital immediacy of Italian neorealism proving completely infectious. Here is a form of home-schooling we can all get excited about.

A Personal Journey through American Cinema (1995)

In the realm of documentary, however, even these Scorsese joints are dwarfed by the monument that is Shoah (1985). Claude Lanzmann’s 9-hour testimony to the horrors of the Holocaust is there on BFI Player alongside his more recent, supplementary film Shoah: Four Sisters (2018). Considered among the greatest of all documentaries, it remains essential, if harrowing, viewing.

Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974)

On a far lighter note, the platform also offers 3 films that wield their unwieldy lengths in the service of breakneck creativity. Each exudes a joy in the wayward possibilities of storytelling. Jacques Rivette’s David Lynch-inspiring Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974) is a quicksilver fantasy in which 2 Parisians suck magic sweets that transport them into a Henry James-style domestic drama. Peter Greenaway’s 195-minute debut feature, The Falls (1980), is a post-apocalyptic mockumentary about the 92 survivors of a mysterious ‘Violent Unknown Event’. And Sion Sono’s cult Japanese phenomenon Love Exposure (2008) is a 4-hour, see-it-to-believe-it work of inspired insanity in which an upskirt pornographer falls for a violent man-hater from a religious cult. It’s a demented, unforgettable experience.

Love Exposure (2008)

Some of that same juju – albeit of a much older vintage – is also up on the screen in Abel Gance’s world-beating silent epic Napoléon (1927), which tells the story of the French general’s rise to military might across 5 ½ hours. Fired up with the storytelling potential of his chosen medium, Gance incorporates a head-spinning selection of visual tricks and camera techniques, leading to a triple-screen climax that’ll have you up from your seat.

Napoleon (1927)

Elsewhere

Nothing on Mubi’s current menu breaches 3 hours, though they do have a number of the infamously long films by Filipino director Lav Diaz on their Amazon channel, including his 10-hour Evolution of a Filipino Family (2004). If you’ve been able to get a Kanopy account through your local library, meanwhile, you can dive into the complete (and usually lengthy) works of American documentarian Fred Wiseman, including such titans as Belfast, Maine (1999), At Berkeley (2013) and, most soberingly, his 6-hour documentary Near Death (1989), set in a Boston intensive care unit.

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