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It was a surprisingly common cry when Oppenheimer opened: three hours is too long to sit in a cinema.

For everyone who was gripped by one of the year’s best movies, the epic length was well and truly justified. But others will have decided to wait until Christopher Nolan’s hit movie lands on a streaming service so they can pause it for a break.

The head of Palace Cinemas, Benjamin Zeccola, likes the idea of bringing back intermissions for three-hour movies like the coming Killers of the Flower Moon.Credit: Jason South

The same issue will surely come up when Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon opens in October. It sounds like a compelling story: a true crime drama about the systematic murder of Native Americans to steal their resources in the 1920s – a top cast headed by Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. But it’s almost three-and-a-half hours long, which will test twitchier viewers even more than Avatar: The Way of Water (three hours, 12 minutes) last Christmas.

There is a solution that could attract more viewers to cinemas, however: bring back the intermission.

Every movie over three hours – and there are a lot of them, given leading directors have the backing of streaming services that don’t care if they run long – should have a break, so patrons can stretch, visit the loo, or get some refreshments from the candy bar.

There have always been sweeping Hollywood epics that have needed an intermission in cinemas. Gone With The Wind was three hours 58 minutes, Laurence of Arabia three hours 38 minutes and Ben-Hur three hours 32 minutes.

Now, we are used to taking a break. We can add our own intermission when we binge-watch at home.

Sporting events and plays give you time halfway through to catch your breath. Indian movies are already screened with intermissions in Australian cinemas.

And while cinemas running five or six sessions a day have no time for a mid-movie break, Quentin Tarantino still programmed one into the so-called roadshow version of The Hateful Eight, which was just over three hours long.

The next epic-length movie: Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon.Credit: Apple

The chief executive of Palace Cinemas, Benjamin Zeccola, likes the idea of an intermission for Killers of the Flower Moon so much that he has approached distributor Paramount to allow it for the Australian release. He thinks it should be optional for all epic-length movies.

“Ideally, a break would be programmed into the [digital file] for an appropriate moment designed to have the least impact on the momentum of the film and story,” he says. “The break should be accompanied by appropriate lights and curtain cues to meet safety and professional projection standards.”

But the sticking point in the past has been that filmmakers don’t make their movies to screen in two parts. They want them to be shown straight through, rather than having a cliffhanger or a poignant moment just over halfway that sets up the rest of the movie.

Adding an intermission – and Zeccola has considered manually pausing the projector – would breach the contract to show the movie.

The general manager of Sydney’s Cremorne Orpheum, Alex Temesvari, says an intermission is still built into the digital versions of such classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Lawrence of Arabia, but he would like to see it for all long movies.

An engrossing three hours: Florence Pugh and Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer.Credit: AP

“While I don’t see studios agreeing to intermissions coming back, we certainly wouldn’t be against it for longer films like Oppenheimer, Killers of the Flower Moon and Napoleon,” he says. “It would definitely generate more candy bar sales.”

Napoleon, which has Joaquin Phoenix as the French emperor, is out in November at two hours 38 minutes, though director Ridley Scott has teased that there’s a “fantastic” version that runs almost four-and-a-half hours.

The chief executive of Hoyts Cinemas, Damian Keogh, agrees three hours can be a long time in a movie.

“The good thing is that at most of our Hoyts cinemas, we have recliner seats, so it’s a comfortable three hours,” he says. “But a lot of people go to the bathroom in a movie that’s three hours long, so they miss a little bit.”

While Keogh thinks Oppenheimer is gripping, he admits that other movies can drag if they are longer than two hours 40 minutes.

“A lot of these directors – Chris Nolan, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese – you’re talking about the top of the pecking order in Hollywood,” he says. “The studios aren’t going to tell them to edit 20 minutes out of their movie.”

Email Garry Maddox at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @gmaddox.

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