Feature Films – Average Length & Tragedy Share

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Average length of feature films (movies) shown in U.S. and Canadian movie theaters from 1980 to about 2009. Revenue by genre, with estimate of revenue share of movies emotionally similar to fifth-century Athenian tragedies.

Horror movies are the closest modern social equivalent to fifth-century Athenian tragedies, but horror movies differ from those tragedies in important social-emotional dimensions. Horror movies of various sorts amount to about 5% of movie box-office revenues. The fifth-century Athenian City Dionysia, in contrast, featured 9 tragedies, 3 satyr plays, and 5 comedies. Tragedy thus amounted to a much larger share of dramatic presentations at the City Dionysia than horror movies do of movies shown in modern movie theatres.

In addition, modern movie theatres average only about 5% of the size of the fifth-century Athenian Theatre of Dionysos. Modern spectacles such as football, basketball, and baseball games attract much larger crowds than do movie theatres. But even for such sporting events, the size of the crowd relative to the size of the surrounding metropolis is considerable smaller than the corresponding statistic for the Theatre of Dionysos.

The box-office-revenue-weighted average length of feature films in the U.S. and Canada from 1985 to 2005 was 113 minutes. Total daily performance time for tragedies presented at the City Dionysia was probably about four hours.^ Hence the length of modern movies is about half the total playing time of a day of tragedies in fifth-century Athens.

Dataset sheets:

  • length summary: median and average length of feature films in theaters from 1980 to 2009
  • comparative size: comparative size of movie theaters and the fifth-century Athenian Theatre of Dionysos
  • tragedy share: yearly share of movie box-office revenue from genres roughly analogous to ancient Greek tragedy, 1980 to 2008
  • length dataset: feature film title, length, and box-office revenue for each U.S. and Canadian feature film shown from 1980 to 2009
  • all genres: total revenue by genre for feature films shown 1980-2009
  • tragedy: individual feature films included in the category tragedy, with attributes genre, title, studio, lifetime revenue, theaters in which shown, opening revenue, opening theaters, and opening date.
  • horror-comedy: individual feature films included in the category horror-comedy, with attributes genre, title, studio, lifetime revenue, theaters in which shown, opening revenue, opening theaters, and opening date.

Related datasets:

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