What proportion of a film should I watch before giving up on it?
May 17, 2014 11:42 PM   Subscribe

I read a lot of books and watch a lot of films. With books, I give them a chapter to draw me in, and if it's not happening, I move on to the next one. But what's a good rule of thumb for films?

I enjoy watching films, but I don't know much about film-making. Is there some consensus among film-makers, critics or theorists about the maximum proportion of a film's length by which it ought to have gotten its hooks into the audience?

Alternatively, does anyone have a good rule of thumb for making this call?
posted by paleyellowwithorange to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If the film seems amateurish to begin with, as in a lack of basic film-making craft whether in terms of production values or plot/directing, then a few minutes should clue you in.

If it's adequately made but appears to be formulaic/trope-laden or boring then I'd give it the first act and a bit of the second before deciding to call it quits.

Note: does not apply to typical Bollywood or arthouse movies.
posted by Gyan at 11:54 PM on May 17, 2014

Best answer: The first 10 pages of a script are a good indication if a writer is any good. As 1 page is approximately 1 minute of screen time, 10 minutes is a reasonable start. If you can spare another 7 minutes, by 17 minutes or so, the story should have got going. So if by 20 minutes, you're looking at your watch, it probably isn't a film for you.

But if you enjoy it, you should keep watching. Your enjoyment means something about the film has worked, even if other aspects of the film fail. Some films work for us even with major flaws, and that's a fascinating part of film.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 12:25 AM on May 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

The thing with a film is that even if it's bad, it's still over in about an hour or two. So even if you stay for the whole thing, there's not much time lost compared to a novel where you can lose several hours reading through it. That said, I'd say that if a film just isn't catching your interest after the first 10-15 minutes or so, it's fine to give up on it and ask for a refund.
posted by Aleyn at 12:27 AM on May 18, 2014

You might go with the RottenTomatoes rating. If it's below 60%, I usually don't watch it. If it's above 80%, I'll give it at least 30 minutes to draw me in.
posted by cheesecake at 12:48 AM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, "film-makers, critics or theorists" watch movies as fans just like anyone else.

Speaking for myself, I get a bad vibe off a lot of movies in the first five minutes. When the tone indicates that the people involved haven't taken the task of telling a story seriously, as is so often the case these days, I turn it off and feel no remorse.

If it's a writer or director whose other work I like, I give it more of a chance even if it seems unbearably awful, which is why I've seen like 80% of THE LIFE AQUATIC.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:53 AM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

We use the 15 minute rule here.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:57 AM on May 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

My rule for books is 100 minus my age (31) so I read 69 pages before giving up. I got this from Nancy Pearl, a librarian and the author of Book Lust.

For movies I try to push through at least half of the first act. On average movies are about 128 minutes long, so I try to get through about 22 minutes or so.
posted by sockermom at 3:00 AM on May 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sockermom, I have a new rule to live by on books! Brilliant, and plays well with the philosophy I belatedly took up around age 35 - "I'm $age and I don't have to take this anymore ."

About 20 minutes is my rule for movies, too. I don't know why I started noticing that timeframe, but I got to noticing it on movies I liked - by 20 minutes a decent movie has generally established the main characters and given you enough info to know if you'll like it. It's actually amazing how far a movie often gets in 20 minutes, but when you think about it, that's the actual running length of a typical American "30 minute" show. I also look at it this way - if a filmmaker isn't competent or to your taste enough to give you a sense of wanting more in that time, you're not going to lose much by quitting.

I also look at it this way - nowadays it's almost always possible to come back to it later. I've been known to read or watch something and not be much in the mood, so I say 'eh' and hang it up. Then I realize something about it got under my skin... Well, just put it back in the queue...
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:00 AM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Generally a lot of films use a standard screenplay structure where the inciting incident takes place around 15-18 minutes into the film. This is probably your first chance to really be able to size up the film and where it's going to go. Then at about 30, we get our first plot point and transition into Act 2. If you're not enjoying a film once it's past Act 1, the set-up, then you probably won't enjoy where it's heading after that. However there have been many times where I've been pleasantly surprised by sticking with a film I wasn't enjoying. Unlike literature, watching films is a mostly passive act so it's easier to watch a bad movie all the way to the end.

But I think drjimmy11, has it right too. You can usually tell a stinker within five minutes.
posted by cazoo at 7:34 AM on May 18, 2014

We also obey the 15 Minute Rule. If I don't care by then I'm not gonna.
posted by billiebee at 10:02 AM on May 18, 2014

Film critic Mike D'Angelo (The Dissolve, the A.V. Club, formerly Time Out New York) has long had a "two reel" rule for films by unestablished filmmakers -- if it doesn't grab him by two reels in, he's out of there. With the death of film projection, "two reels" has been translated to "35-40 minutes." I've found that this works well, myself, though I use it far less frequently.
posted by eugenen at 10:13 AM on May 18, 2014

I used to force myself to commit to a whole movie; if I was going to start it, I would finish it, dammit.
A few really shit movies, and the ease of watching on Netflix, have cured me of that habit. Now, I give a movie ten minutes, or twenty minutes, and if nothing intrigues me in the first twenty minutes, I gauge my mood, or I look to see how much time is left. If, twenty minutes into a hundred-minute movie, nothing's working for me, I quit.
I've taught myself to enjoy slow movies that reward patience, though, so now I'm more likely to get bored watching something like "Men In Black II" or "GI Joe" than "Valhalla Rising" or "The Painted Veil".
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:02 AM on May 19, 2014

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