When you see a movie trailer, poster, or advertisement, the movie’s “runtime” is often listed. So, you would think it would be quite easy to figure out exactly how long the movie is.
However, by the time you factor in the showtime on your ticket, the length of previews, and the length of closing credits, it can become confusing trying to figure out when your movie actually ends. (And to further complicate the matter, run-times are listed as “137 minutes” rather than “2 hours, 17 minutes”).
Oftentimes, this isn’t a big issue – whenever the movie ends, maybe you are just going straight home. But I have had many issues trying to coordinate the logistics of a movie ticket along with dinner reservations, sporting events, and even the closing time of my local ice cream parlor. After all, there is nothing better than enjoying a great film and getting ice cream following the movie.
By now, you may be thinking – just give me the answer to my question. Do movie runtimes include previews or not? And do runtimes include ending credits?
The quick answer is that movie runtimes include the ending credits but do not include the opening previews. So, if your movie has a 120 minute runtime, this means that it will last almost exactly 120 minutes (rounded to the nearest minute) from the first frame of the film company’s logo through the last frame of the ending credits.
For hardcore film loyalists and fans of the “stinger” (the post-credits scene that some movies like to include), this means you will spend 120 minutes watching the movie and credits, in addition to however long the opening trailers lasted.
For anybody that walks out as soon as the credits begin to roll, you can subtract ~5 to 10 minutes from the runtime to figure out the amount of time you will be watching the “actual movie.” In the above example, your 120 minute movie would only have about 115 minutes of cinema that you would watch, since the final ~5 minutes are ending credits.
Disclosures and disclaimers will follow – and we should warn you that there is a lot of variability in the length of trailers and the length of ending credits.
So if you want to be sure that you will be out of the movie theater in time for an opening kickoff or first pitch, keep reading!
How to Figure
As mentioned above, a movie’s advertised runtime includes the total time of the movie, from the first frame to the final frame. And as we have mentioned, the “final” frame is the last frame at the end of the credits. However, previews (“trailers”) are not included in this runtime.
So, the formula for figuring when your movie will end looks like this:
- Take your movie’s start time, add ~20 minutes for previews, and then add the full run-time of the film
We will provide an example:
Say your movie starts at 9:00 pm. After 20 minutes of previews, your movie will start around 9:20. If the movie has a 120 minute runtime (2 hours exactly), it will play from 9:20 (the opening frame) until 11:20 (the final frame of the ending credits).
In this example, your movie gets done at 11:20. If you want to “sneak out” as soon as the credits begin rolling, this will save your 5-10 minutes. In this example, your movie is done between 11:10 and 11:15.
Note that there are two variables that dictate what time your movie ends (other than the movie’s runtime).
First, our above example assumes that a movie theater will show 20 minutes of previews.
Second, our above example estimates 5 to 10 minutes of ending credits.
Below, we will discuss these topics in more detail.
Different Theaters – Different Policies for Previews?
To figure out what time your movie starts, you take the time on your ticket and then add the length of previews/trailers. Sounds easy enough, right? Not exactly.
Here is the problem – the length of previews that play before a movie varies between theaters, even movie theaters of the same company.
AMC theaters states that there is “approximately 20 minutes of preshow material.” But even from one AMC theater to another, you may find either 12 minutes or 22 minutes of previews, or anywhere in between. And during peak movie season, when there are blockbusters coming to the theater soon, some theaters extend the duration of the previews even more.
So, there is no way to know exactly what time your movie actually starts. The only exception is that if you have a movie theater that you frequent, you will be able to figure out your particular theater’s routine. Better yet, you could ask a few employees that are involved with operating the theater (in other words, don’t ask the teenager that is serving popcorn a technical question about theater operation).
What about Ending Credits?
Our examples above have used an estimate of 5-10 minus for ending credits. But again, there is a tremendous amount of variation here.
Some movies that have simple production and small casts have short ending credits, often 5 minutes or less. For example, the average “chick flick” (romantic comedy) has a small cast and simple cinematography.
This means that there aren’t many actors to list on the credits, which saves some time. But more importantly, there aren’t hundreds of stunt doubles, computer graphics creators, sound mixers, etc. And usually the names that slow down the credits the most are the off-screen roles (sound, video, and graphics), rather than the actors.
Other movies that have very elaborate stunts, graphics, and sound editing will have lengthy ending credits. Action movies, superhero movies, and films that rely heavily on CGI tend to have ending credits that are more than 10 minutes. They have lots of actors, lots of graphics editors/creators, lots of sound mixers, lots of stunt doubles, and hundreds of off-screen roles that are necessary to create a modern-day blockbuster.
There are also examples of short films (less than 90 minutes runtime) which have used the credits as a way to “pad” their runtime. For example, if you make a movie that is only 80 minutes long, you can add 20 minutes of credits so that the film will be advertised as 100 minutes in total runtime. When people are paying $15+ for a premium ticket, 100 minutes of runtime sounds a lot better than just 80, even if the last 20 minutes is just fluff!
A final famous example is the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings films, which have credits of more than 20 minutes and even include a list of members of the fan club.
A movie’s “runtime” actually includes the length of the film plus the length of the ending credits. However, this runtime doesn’t include opening previews.
If your ticket says a movie starts at 7:00, you should be there by 7:10 at the latest. Although many theaters play 20+ minutes of previews, some show only 10-12 minutes. Arriving within 10 minutes of the published showtime should ensure that you won’t miss any of the action.
And for anyone rushing to get out of the theater, remember that the last 5-10 minutes of a movie’s runtime are just the closing credits. So if you make note of when the film starts its opening frame, remember that the advertised runtime of the film actually overstates the film’s length. So if the first frame of a 120 minute movie plays at 7:20, the movie itself will actually end before 9:20, since the last few minutes will be the credits.