The Truth Behind The Longest Films In History

What's the longest movie most of us have ever seen? Maybe four hours, tops, if we're watching The Return of the King: Extended Edition? But there are some films out there so long, they make Return of the King feel like a Pixar short. These are amazing films by cutting-edge artists, with some long, weird stories to tell.

Napoleon (1927)

We don't see a lot of modern Napoleon-themed movies, but back in the day, they were all the rage. Out of all the Napoleon movies, none achieved the grandeur of Abel Gance's 1927 film, Napoleon. With a run time of five-and-a-half hours, the movie was truly epic, and not just for its length.

Projecting Napoleon was a feat, more like a theatrical performance than a standard movie. Official screenings of the film had a live orchestra for music, multiple projectionists, and long intermissions, making the entire screening eight hours long. Gance wanted the tell the story right, so he invented special effects and film techniques that totally revolutionized cinema. When we see movies with hand-held camera shots, fast-paced editing, or multiple camera angles, they are using techniques he pioneered for Napoleon.

The weirdest aspect of the film came in the ending. The ending battle was so big, it got projected onto three screens, each one with a filter over them to make them red, white and blue: the colors of the French flag. It was the silent film version of IMAX, basically.

Although the movie was a massive success, the print of it was lost, which is odd, because it had to be huge. For sixty years, Napoleon was impossible to watch, until Kevin Brownlow, after decades of sifting through old film, was finally was able to restore it. Nowadays, Napoleon is on DVD, and sometimes screened with a full orchestra. At this point, the only thing missing from it is bringing Napoleon back from the dead.


Peter Watkin's Resan is the longest "traditional" film in history, clocking in at an absurdly long 14 hours. Resan is half documentary/half narrative, blurring the lines between the two genres. And the subject of more than a half-day's-worth of material? Nuclear destruction.

If that doesn't seem like an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday, don't worry. It's pretty hard to get a hold of the 1987 mega-movie, so don't expect to be forced to watch it. From what people who claim to have watched it have said, Resan is profound. All throughout, Watkins explores the effect of nuclear weaponry, contrasting idyllic nature shots with scenes of weapons and protests. According to film critics, Watkins's film breaks down the barriers between countries, showing the USSR and the United States, for example, as two sides of the same coin. Instead of viewing the countries of the world as separate, Resan claims that they are part of a gigantic overarching "nuclear regime" hellbent on destroying the globe. Spooky.

Why that takes 14 hours to describe is beyond us, but hey, it's an achievement. One of Watkin's intentions with Resan is to help the world not forget the dangers of nuclear weapons. Since Resan itself is largely forgotten, we have to say that he failed. Maybe a CliffsNotes version of the film would be more popular?

Hitler: A Film From Germany

Making a film about Hitler is really hard. There is just so much to say about the dictator. Any attempt to capture his life on film will ultimately miss something. That did not deter Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, a German avant-garde filmmaker. Syberberg wanted to make the perfect Hitler film. A revelation struck him. If Hitler's life is too complex for a standard feature film, why not just make the movie impossibly long? What could go wrong?

Syberberg's 1977 epic is almost seven-and-a-half hours long. It's less a story, and more of a philosophical analysis. Most of the film is just really, really, really long speeches about Hitler. They are interesting, and really thought-provoking, but can get tedious. Convinced that the viewer needed some stimulation during the philosophical discussion, Syberberg switched up the narrative elements constantly. Sometimes the movie is just long monologues, other times there are theater performances, vaudeville shows and even a part with puppets! Yes, it's true. Hitler has a Nazi-themed puppet show.

Most people aren't down to ruminate about the Nazis for seven hours, especially when that means sitting through a puppet show and a Hitler-themed vaudeville act, so the movie isn't super popular. The whole movie is online, ready to legally download. But be warned: we weren't kidding about those really long speeches. That is most of the movie.

The Photo-Drama of Creation

Movies opened up new possibilities for spreading information. Religious leaders quickly realized that they could get their messages out way faster through movies. One of the first religious movies, and the most spectacular, came from the Jehovah's Witnesses, who thought people wanted to watch 8 hour-long films.

Created by Charles T. Russell in 1914, The Photo-Drama Of Creation was a pseudo-documentary designed to fight atheism, unbelief, and "evil science." It was actually a series of 96 lectures, shown back-to-back. They followed the Jehovah Witnesses' view on history, starting with Earth's creation, and ending with the 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ. The film itself was two miles long, projected next to a slide show of 500 slides, meaning some poor sap had to sit through the 8 hour affair, switching out all those slides.

Maybe the idea itself was kooky, but The Photo-Drama Of Creation was an important step in the history of film, being the first major motion picture to use speech synchronized to film. Pretty much all of our modern movies can trace their roots back to this oddball. And guess what? It has been uploaded to YouTube. All 96 parts.

Battle of Moscow

When it came to propaganda, the Soviet Union went hard. In 1985, the Soviets were losing control of their country, and tried to make a huge propaganda push to celebrate the 40th year anniversary of the end of World War II. This had to be an epic celebration. In true '80s fashion, they decided to make it special with a kick-ass action movie.

Battle of Moscow was a huge affair, bringing in actors and crew from all over the Soviet sphere of influence, and showing the Soviet forces defending Moscow against advancing Nazi troops. Of course, being a propaganda film, it showed the Soviets as epic heroes, dedicated to defending their homeland from the universally evil Nazi invaders.

But the funny thing is, Battle of Moscow is actually really good. At five and a half hours long, it's a time commitment, so we suggest watching it in two sittings. But it does an excellent job showing the Soviet troops in battle, and is notable for it's wide array of period weaponry. All sorts of historical guns are on display. T-34 and Panzer tanks clash in epic tank battles. The special effects give the movie an epic scale, comparable to Western movies of the era. It's basically the Soviet version of Saving Private Ryan. Be careful when checking it out: its sheer badassery could turn you into a Communist.


Pop artist Andy Warhol is well-known for his Campbell Soup can paintings and his four-colored portrait prints that every basic white girl copied for profile pictures in the mid-2000s. His films, however, including an adaptation of the novel A Clockwork Orange, a surrealistic Batman movie, and the incredibly long Empire, are far less popular.

Looking to blur the lines between film and still frame photography, Warhol made Empire over the course of one day in 1964. All he did was stick a camera on top of a skyscraper and pointed it at the Empire State Building, filming the building for six hours. Then, because that wasn't long enough, he slowed down the frame-rate to add an extra two hours to the film. And that's the movie. It literally just shows the Empire State Building as the day turns into night.

We love Warhol, sure, but Empire is more interesting as a thought experiment than a movie. It sits in a weird middle ground between a still picture and a movie, challenging us to think about what defines a film. But that doesn't mean you should ever watch it. Lots of modern art critics rave about how empowering it is. We think they are full of it. Still, Empire is an interesting piece of '60s art. The National Film Registry even inducted it for preservation, which is probably a good idea for when an apocalypse comes, and we forget what the Empire State Building looked like. Or sunsets, for that matter.

The Clock (2010)

Most of the time, avant-garde art films are a drag to watch. The Clock is different. It's a rare art film that is actually as interesting to watch as the concept behind it. But it's also incredibly long. Pop a ton of popcorn, because watching The Clock requires a full 24 hours.

Created by Christian Marclay, The Clock is the longest supercut in history. Over the course of 24 hours, The Clock shows a series of movie clips that correspond to the time outside. For example, at 10:04, The Clock shows a scene featuring the broken clock tower from Back to the Future, which is stuck forever at that time. For every minute of the 24 hour-long movie, Barclay found a scene where the time was either shown or mentioned, meaning it's as much a functioning clock, as a film.

At first, The Clock seems like a dumb gimmick, but it's surprisingly enthralling. The Museum of Modern Art in New York reports that people usually only plan on watching for an hour, but get sucked in, staying for hours on end. We definitely understand that, having watched hours of YouTube supercuts. Only, we never got to claim that as participating in modern art.

The Cure For Insomnia

Mad poet L.D. Groban came up with a ton of "interesting" art projects in his life, but the biggest was his epic 5,000 page long poem "The Cure For Insomnia." This insanely long poem does exactly what it sounds like it would do: put even the most stubborn insomniac to sleep.

In 1987, when normal filmmakers were adapting books like Empire of the Sun, avant-garde director John Henry Timmis IV made the inexplicable decision to adapt this poem into a movie. And it wasn't some sort of artsy representation of the poem: Timmis literally just had Groban reading his poem — which was "only" 4,080 pages long at the time — into the camera. The whole thing. When Groban finally finished reading, the movie ran 87 hours long — that's more than three and a half days.

Now, even Timmis thought that this was a little boring, so he decided to spice it up by randomly inserting porn clips and heavy metal rock music into the movie. We guess that is one way to spice up a movie, but is a little mean to put in a movie meant for people trying to fall asleep. It takes a very special type of person to fall asleep to porn tapes. Maybe Timmis was trying to tell us something about himself.

Modern Times Forever

Modern Times Forever is a fascinating movie that blends reality with film. In fact, we would probably refer to it as an exercise in augmented reality. The movie is the brainchild of an art group called Superflex, who displayed it in front of the Stora Enso building in Helsinki for ten days in 2011.

So what was it showing for all ten days? How the world would eventually crumble and fall apart, essentially. Over the course of the movie, viewers watched the Stora Enso slowly decay. Each day of the movie showed a several-hundred-year-period, eventually ending in what the building would look like in thousands of years, when the modern world will have ended, humanity having moved on, and our buildings long since ruins of the past. Modern Times Forever is basically an art-house apocalypse movie.

Everybody wonders what the world will look like in the future, and watching a building slowly crumble over the course of ten days is a really interesting concept. Imagine walking by the building every day and watching it decay, like a time traveler. Honestly, that sounds like a much cooler augmented reality than Pokémon Go.


Ever wonder how all of our fancy electronics and products get to us? Two Swedish artists were really fascinated by that question, so they made a 37 day movie in 2012 showing how our products ultimately get to us, and it's the longest film ever made.

Logistics follows a shipment of products as they travel from a factory, onto a freighter, and then across the ocean. Instead of making the movie in a normal documentary style, the directors decided that they needed to make the audience really feel the passage of time. So it's completely shot and shown in real-time for the whole 37 day journey. Which means that for most of the movie, the camera just overlooks the bow of a freighter as it travels the ocean.

Clips of the movie are available online, and we have to admit, it is stunningly beautiful, like a really good screensaver. Most of the movie is just shots of the sea, but it is actually kind of interesting to watch the freighter in a port, especially at night. And the sunsets are amazing. Somehow, they capture the grandeur of the ocean much more than a shorter film would. Our advice: go watch clips of it — because it's probably easier, and faster, to sail on a real freighter than it is to watch all of Logistics.