Reviving Movie Intermissions: Prioritizing Health and Wellness

“Barbenheimer”: The Unforgiving Challenge of Watching Two Back-to-Back Films

In the summer of 2023, moviegoers were introduced to a peculiar challenge called “Barbenheimer,” which combined the films Barbie and Oppenheimer into a marathon-like viewing experience. Little did they know, this ambitious feat would prove to be physically and mentally grueling. Oppenheimer, with its three-hour runtime, was already testing the limits of patience. When combined with Barbie’s runtime, the double feature stretched for a staggering five hours. Critics and fans alike criticized Oppenheimer for its excessive length, highlighting the difficulties of sitting still for hours on end and trying to absorb complex dialogue.

The resurgence of extra-long films is not a new phenomenon. According to Chartr, a data hub for business, tech, and entertainment, movies have been gradually increasing in length for years. The 10 highest-grossing films in 2022 had an average runtime of 136 minutes, compared to the average of 117 minutes in the late 1990s. It seems that audiences have come to expect more action and content from their films, with additional minutes becoming the norm.

While the reasons behind this trend remain unclear, some speculate that directors are fueled by a mix of hubris and a desire to increase their chances of winning awards. Chad Pierce, chief film projectionist and theater floor manager at The Texas Theatre, notes that the boundaries of time limits in epics have been continuously pushed. However, he also highlights that the length of films has always fluctuated throughout the history of cinema, with older films often incorporating intermissions.

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This raises the question of whether it’s time to bring back movie intermissions as a means of addressing the health issues associated with prolonged sitting. Research suggests that sitting for extended periods of time can have detrimental effects on our physical well-being. Dr. Christi Pramudji, a board-certified urogynecologist and pelvic floor specialist, points out the risks of holding in pee for too long, which can lead to urinary tract infections and voiding dysfunction. Furthermore, sitting for hours without moving can impede blood flow and cause digital eye strain.

Aside from the physiological implications, excessively long films can also be mentally exhausting for viewers. Pierce argues that prolonged exposure to a narrative without breaks can overwhelm the audience, making it easy to lose track of the plot. Intermissions, on the other hand, provide an opportunity to process information and engage in discussions. They offer a moment to breathe and digest the cinematic experience.

Although some directors, like Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, have incorporated intermissions into special projects, the practice has become increasingly rare. The transition to digital projections has made intermissions redundant, as theaters prioritize maximizing revenue by fitting in more screenings. However, with mounting evidence of the negative effects of prolonged sitting, the case for reintroducing movie intermissions is gaining traction.

Until filmmakers and theaters recognize the importance of breaks in long films, moviegoers will continue to face the challenge of enduring marathon-like viewing experiences like “Barbenheimer.” As audiences demand more content and filmmakers strive to push the boundaries, the debate over the necessity of movie intermissions is likely to continue. Perhaps it’s time for the film industry to revisit this once-common practice and prioritize the health and well-being of its viewers.

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