Should movie intermissions make a comeback?

Intermission card
Photo by Mike Licht (Flickr / CC BY)

Opening this weekend is what’s likely this year’s highest-grossing film, “Avengers: Endgame.” One of the things discussed among the film’s hype is that its running time is clocking in at a whopping three hours. And that’s not counting pre-film trailers and ads making that an even longer stretch.

Of course, like most modern films, there’s no intermission in “Endgame,” prompting a ton of “when’s the best time to go to the bathroom?” articles. Less discussed is something that might be more helpful: should the intermission make a comeback? I’d argue “yes.”

History of intermissions

Intermissions (or “intervals” in British English) were once more common in longer American films. Among famous films that featured intermissions include: 1959’s “Ben-Hur” (running at 3 hours, 32 minutes); 1982’s “Gandhi” (running at 3 hours, 11 minutes); and 1962’s “Lawrence of Arabia” (running at 3 hours, 36 minutes).

In the pre-digital days, intermissions served a purpose of allowing projectionists time to change reels; with the switch to digital, this is moot, of course. However, I suspect a bigger reason for their disappearance is the modern nature of movies. Between increasingly gigantic studios, their profit expectations, and the existence of multiplexes, the goal seems to be to shove in as many showings of a film per screen as possible. Thus, an intermission during a film as long as “Avengers: Endgame” would mean either one less showing of a film per screen (and thus slightly less profit) or adjusting showtimes.

There’s also those who suggest just going to the restroom before an also enjoy a lengthy film starts, plus other tactics on the viewers’ parts to deal with longer films (avoiding beverages, etc.). That said, there’s various arguments in favor of intermissions:

Reasons in favor of intermissions

Boosting concession sales

Popcorn at the movies
Photo by Dan (Flickr / CC BY)

Theaters make a lot of their money off of concessions, thus one reason popcorn is $6 a box. An intermission would give audiences time to buy more snacks. While Disney and Warner Bros. don’t care (they really want that extra showtime for a film that’ll earn a billion anyway), theater owners might feel differently. It beats audiences avoiding buying any beverages period.

Restroom breaks or stretching one’s legs

An obvious argument, but giving the audience time to go to the restroom would make for a much more pleasant movie-going experience. Also, movie-goers are human beings, not robots. We shouldn’t have to avoid drinking beverages beforehand (as if we were heading into a medical exam or surgery) just to enjoy a piece of entertainment. It’s also nice to be able to get up and stretch one’s legs during a particularly lengthy film.

It certainly beats bookmarking articles about the best time to take restroom breaks during blockbuster movies. Ditto downloading apps such as “RunPee” that inform about such.

Conceding longer films are, well, long

Business Insider writes that the average length of films over the decades has varied; however, movies meant to be “epics” or Oscar contenders tend to be longer.

Still, if directors insist on making lengthy films without cutting anything, yet expect audiences to sit through their epics, making the experience (of viewers sitting in a multiplex for hours) a bit more comfortable would be nice.

Intermissions still exist elsewhere

Blackhawks vs Blue Jackets
By Leech44 [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Intermissions exist in many other forms of entertainment; to wit:

  • Sports. Football and basketball games both offer halftime (at, well, the halfway point of the game) for the players to rest. The Super Bowl even makes the halftime show an event unto itself. Hockey literally calls their similar breaks “intermissions,” which come between hockey’s three periods (or twice per regulation-length game).
  • Music. Live concerts might offer such for musicians to take a needed break.
  • Theater. Long theatrical performances usually include an intermission. This gives: the stage crew time to change up sets; time for the audience to stretch their legs (and depending on venue, buy something in the lobby); and time for the actors to take a break/prepare for the next act(s).
  • Non-North American movie theaters. Intermissions are still common in India, where even American films will have such added. They’re also still found in some other countries’ cinemas.
  • Television. Of course, while TV offers commercial breaks, they’re still breaks in the programming. Lengthier programming on PBS will often include some sort of break (these days, usually a short pledge plea).
  • Home video. Ironically, the same movies that Hollywood expects viewers to sit through for hours without a break at a theater might be more enjoyable when seen at home. Home video, of course, allows one to create one’s own “intermission” via the pause button.

Conclusion

I’m not the only one who feels this way about intermissions. Lifehacker and Slate, among others, seem to agree that they’d be useful for longer films.

I’m sure lengthy films such as “Endgame” are entertaining. However, enjoying a movie shouldn’t be such a slog in terms of comfort. I can enjoy intermissions and similar breaks through various other forms of entertainment. What’s so special about movies and movie theaters (especially multiplexes) that they should be an exception?