Modern American blockbusters may feel longer and longer each year, but they’ve got nothing on the 11 longest most meaningless movies in the world. When a major movie is bad or just boring, it feels like it lasts forever, but these movies almost really do last forever, topping out at 10 or more hours. Compared with these films, the longest Hollywood films ever made are trifling. And unlike significant films like the masterful Holocaust documentary Shoah, these experimental films try to make an obtuse statement about, well, we’re not sure. But it takes a very long time. This list gets its title from The Longest Most Meaningless Movie in the World, a project made in England in the 1960s with the goal to become the longest film ever made. It dethroned Andy Warhol’s similarly pointless experimental film Four Stars by running nearly twice its length.
Artists who make the kinds of experimental films that are on this list could have lofty ambitions besides to just use up all the leftover film in the university’s filmmaking club. (But if your budget is about to run out and you’ll “use it or lose it,” there could be worse ways.) Humans have always liked to make art that tries to be controversial, and time periods with a lot of very realistic, coherent art are often followed by a backlash of difficult, provocative art. Think Pablo Picasso’s Guernica compared with his own prosaic early works. In the same year as The Longest Most Meaningless Movie in the World, the Beatles released their long experimental track “Revolution 9,” eight minutes of repetitive layered noises. But The Longest Most Meaningless Movie in the World is about 24 times longer than the average movie. If the average Beatles track is three minutes long, Revolution 9 would need to be 72 minutes long — nine times longer than it already is! — to be as proportionally long as the film.
No offense to Beatles fans who don’t believe Revolution 9 is meaningless. But what does that term imply, about a song or film or any other meaningless thing? It’s a slippery slope to say any work of art is meaningless, but some works are so hard to understand or draw conclusions about that they aren’t worth the viewer’s time. Certainly a movie lasting 48 hours isn’t meant to be watched in the way we watch the usual narrative film, meaning a story told in a clear way with a structure we recognize and relate to. Most of the 11 longest most meaningless movies in the world don’t have plots, characters, or stories in the traditional sense. They lack elements like the 16 most hated characters and villains in movies ever. It’s hard to find the rhyme or reason in these experimental films. They exist to be thought about as works of art, not watched in a theater.
The very earliest films were short. Film was very expensive and the technology was so new that there was a business war over which way people would even want to watch movies at all. Thomas Edison made his own best guess that people would want to watch movies by bending over to look into a one-person private theater. Even in Edison’s time, the turn of the 20th century, film was experimental in the most literal way because filmmakers weren’t sure what people would end up wanting to watch or pay for. Manufacturers made film better and cheaper and easier to produce, and eventually, everybody settled on the film reels we still use. Today, filmmakers use digital storage and recording video costs almost nothing besides time and labor. These tedious experimental films aren’t among the 16 most profitable movies based on return on investment, but they aren’t white elephants either.
Edison’s short films were fed in one continuous loop around a bunch of pulleys inside his individual viewers, and that was for films that topped out at a minute or two. Imagine if a 48-hour film had to be fed in one piece around thousands of pulleys. A 35-millimeter film reel is about 11 minutes of the final movie, so 48 hours is about 262 reels of 1,000 feet each. That’s nearly 50 miles of film! The whole list of 11 longest most meaningless movies in the world could circle the Earth — not really, but you could make it from Chicago to Los Angeles, Berlin to Cairo, Tokyo to Hong Kong, or Lisbon to Warsaw.