The IMDb Top 250 is a great starting point for checking out some of the best and most popular movies of all time. It’s by no means perfect, but there are a lot of great movies within it, even if an individual’s personal top 250 is never going to be exactly the same as a list like this, which takes all the votes of IMDb’s millions of users into account.
With 250 movies on the list, watching everything there is going to take some time, and that’s before considering how long some of these movies are. It becomes clear that quite a few of the most popular movies of all time are epics, and the following films demonstrate that they are exactly that: being the longest films currently found in the IMDb Top 250.
‘The Green Mile’ (1999) — 189 minutes
The Green Mile is an engrossing prison movie about a group of death row inmates and the guards who look over them. It’s more than just a prison movie, though, as the story has a supernatural element, with one particular prisoner who has a gift of being able to heal people.
It’s an ambitious movie with lots of ideas and lots of big emotions that it tries to elicit from the audience, putting its over three-hour runtime to good use. While The Green Mile might not be quite as much of a classic as director Frank Darabont‘s previous prison film, The Shawshank Redemption, it’s still very good, and should move even the most hardened and emotionally resilient of viewers.
‘Gandhi’ (1982) — 191 minutes
Gandhi is a fairly straightforward biopic that follows some key years in the life of Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian lawyer who focused much of his life on practicing non-violent resistance against British colonialism, being a key figure in India becoming independent of British rule.
With its steady pacing in recounting Gandhi’s life, Gandhi does feel its gargantuan length at points, with it not always being the most entertaining movie over three hours. That being said, Ben Kingsley‘s performance in the lead role is excellent, and the film does have an impressive sense of scale, meaning it’s an ultimately good – if not quite amazing – movie.
‘Schindler’s List’ (1993) — 195 minutes
Schindler’s List uses some striking black and white photography to tell the story of Oskar Schindler, a once selfish businessman who took it upon himself to save as many Jewish workers as he could during the Holocaust, with the total number being over 1000 by World War Two’s end.
It’s one of Steven Spielberg’s most acclaimed films, as well as one of his longest, and is notable for winning seven Academy Awards. It’s a long and emotionally exhausting watch, but it is undoubtedly a masterpiece, due to how viscerally it captures the horrors of the Holocaust and how moving of a film it ends up being.
‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ (2003) — 201 minutes
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is comprised of three very long movies, but the third and final part — The Return of the King — is the longest, at three hours and 21 minutes. It needs all the time it can get, though, as a saga as huge as The Lord of the Rings needs a suitably epic conclusion.
Not only was The Return of the King the longest of all The Lord of the Rings movies, but it also won the most Academy Awards (11!) and features the highest bodycount of all the films in the trilogy. It goes to show that maybe sometimes, bigger really is better…
‘The Godfather: Part II’ (1974) — 202 minutes
There are no short films in The Godfather trilogy, as while the original and the third part might be under three hours each, neither misses the cut-off by much. The second film in the trilogy is easily the longest, though, clocking in at close to three and a half hours.
It makes sense, once you realize how much is being done within the one movie. It’s almost two films in one, with the continuation of the main storyline focusing on Al Pacino‘s Michael struggling with being the family’s new boss, and a series of flashbacks showing Marlon Brando‘s Vito — now played by Robert De Niro — establishing himself in his early years. It’s like a sequel and prequel edited into one, meaning the huge runtime for The Godfather Part II is more than justified.
‘Seven Samurai’ (1954) — 207 minutes
Seven Samurai is an epic film with a deceptively simple plot, but it’s what it does with that story (and just how perfectly it executes it) that makes the film a classic. There’s a town being terrorized by bandits. Some farmers there have had enough. They hire seven wandering samurai to defend their town. A big climactic battle ensues.
Words really can’t do it justice, because it is that simple. But it’s the memorable characters, the mix of humor and tragedy, the perfect pacing, exciting action, and flawless direction by master director Akira Kurosawa that make Seven Samurai so great, with all 207 minutes of its runtime flying by while watching.
‘Ben-Hur’ (1959) — 222 minutes
Ben-Hur is one of the biggest and most popular epics of all time, so its inclusion in the Top 250 on IMDb isn’t too surprising. It’s a larger-than-life biblical epic about a man trying to free himself and his family from slavery, with it all culminating in an iconic chariot race scene.
Ben-Hur, perhaps more than any other old-fashioned Hollywood epic, is dead set on being as big as it possibly can be. Beyond the mammoth runtime, it has gigantic sets, huge numbers of extras and costumes, and large-scale action sequences. It might all be a bit much for some viewers, but it’s hard not to be awed by some of its hugest scenes.
‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962) — 228 minutes
If Ben-Hur was the biggest of the old Hollywood historical epics, then Lawrence of Arabia might have been one of the best (and one of the last before they fell out of popularity). It functions as a great World War One movie and a character study of T.E. Lawrence, even delving into the man’s psychology and internal demons that help bring about his downfall.
Lawrence of Arabia has striking beauty on top of its scale, making for an overwhelming and powerful viewing experience. It’s a lot to take in, but at least the film does give you close to four hours to absorb it all, because from the performances, to the music, to the colors, to the set pieces, there’s so much to soak in.
‘Once Upon a Time in America’ (1984) — 229 minutes
At just 11 minutes shy of four hours, Sergio Leone’s final (and arguably best) film, Once Upon a Time in America, tells a decades-spanning story about a group of young boys who grow into ruthless prohibition-era criminals in their adulthood, before becoming regretful old men during their twilight years.
It feels like absorbing the entirety of an epic novel in just under four hours, and features some of the best visual storytelling and music ever put to film. Add in the great performances from a perfect cast and a haunting, powerfully memorable ending, and Once Upon a Time in America easily emerges as one of the greatest crime epics in cinema history.
‘Gone With the Wind’ (1939) — 233 minutes
Gone With the Wind simultaneously stands as a defining film in cinema history and an often uncomfortable film with hard-to-overlook themes and values that stand out as problematic far beyond most movies of a similar age.
These things can’t be ignored, but for viewers who want to appreciate the craft of the film while acknowledging its shortcomings, Gone With the Wind may have things to offer for modern viewers, as it is still rated high enough to be within the IMDb Top 250; the longest movie in there, at that. That might be long enough for some to come to terms with what the film does well, and what it certainly doesn’t.
KEEP READING: Great Movies That Are Longer Than Three Hours