The Best Long Films to Watch on the Shortest Day of the Year


It’s December 21st, the Winter Solstice, and for everybody in the Northern Hemisphere, that means the sun will be setting pretty much the second it comes up in the morning.

So, in those seemingly endless hours of darkness, what is there to do to pass the time? Well, there are few things better than sitting down to watch a big, epic movie classic to while the evening away.

If that’s what you’re looking for, here are some of the best long movies to enjoy on the shortest day of the year.

War And Peace (1966)

Runtime: 6 hours 43 minutes

We’ll start off with a challenge. You might have been brave enough to tackle the Leo Tolstoy’s legendary thick novel, but have you ever been tempted by the near-7 hour epic War And Peace?

As daunting as that runtime may sound, don’t let it put you off, because if there were ever a film that uses time to its full potential, it’s War And Peace. An enormous epic on a scale never again seen on the big screen, director Sergei Bondarchuk’s adaptation of the classic novel is massive in every sense of the word.

Not only a moving and endlessly enthralling story of love, loyalty and war, but also an action-packed, fast-paced and exciting watch, every minute of War And Peace’s 6 hours and 43 minutes are used to the full, and as long as it may seem at times, you’ll be amazed at just how fast and entertaining a film it proves to be.

It may sound like hard work to get through, but trust me, those 7 hours are time well spent, watching one of cinema’s biggest and most memorable epics of all time.

Read a full review here.

Gone With The Wind (1939)

Runtime: 3 hours 58 mins

Often described as one of the defining works of cinema, Victor Fleming’s Gone With The Wind is an epic of legendary proportions.

A piece of history in itself, Gone With The Wind broke all barriers and records on release way back in 1939, with its epic tale of love and determination following the steely Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) through years of struggle in the Civil War era, and her rollercoaster relationship with the dashing Rhett Butler (Clark Gable).

It’s powerful and poetic storytelling on a scale that few films can even hope to achieve, winding gloriously through its pitch-perfect 4 hour runtime as it takes you on the journey of a lifetime.

Complete with stunning colour visuals, enormous, spectacular effects and a legendary score, Gone With The Wind is the very definition of what makes a classic long movie, and one that would make a thoroughly memorable evening out of any cold winter day.

Read a full review here.

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)

Runtime: 3 hours 36 mins

The undisputed king of the movie epic, David Lean’s sprawling historical drama is about as spectacular as cinema can be.

The story of T.E. Lawrence and his role in uniting the Arabs in a revolt against the Turks during the First World War, the film is a deeply fascinating watch the whole way through, combining riveting political and emotional drama with spellbinding adventure on an immense scale.

Lawrence Of Arabia is an all-time classic, famous not just for its story, but the legendary lead performance from Peter O’Toole, the majestic musical score, Anne Coates’ pitch-perfect editing, and the breathtaking visuals. It may be a long watch, but there are few films quite as captivating and arresting as Lawrence Of Arabia.

Read a full review here.

The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)

Runtime: 2 hours 41 minutes

While coming in at a measly two and three-quarter hours, there’s no getting away from the sheer majesty of one of history’s greatest war films, The Bridge On The River Kwai.

From director David Lean once again, the film tells the story of a troop of British POWs in an Imperial Japanese camp in Burma, tasked with the arduous job of building a bridge to connect the infamous Burma Railway, a key supply chain in the Japanese war machine.

While it admittedly isn’t the most historically accurate film, it’s war cinema at its greatest, with character-driven story development that sees tension and conflict not just between good and bad, but on all sides.

Couple that with a breathless and action-packed finale, and you have an entirely unforgettable cinematic experience, and one with such pace and spectacle that those 2 hours and 41 minutes will disappear in a flash.

Read a full review here.

The Irishman (2019)

Runtime: 3 hours 29 mins

The Golden Age of Hollywood is littered with classic long movies, but the medium has been a little more scarce in recent years.

However, The Irishman, the magnum opus from legendary director Martin Scorsese, just this year proved that the cinematic epic is far from dead.

A magnificent account of a lifetime, the film follows the story of a man as he rises through the ranks of the mob, and plays a part in the untimely fate of politician Jimmy Hoffa. It’s a classic Scorsese mob tale, but with a difference, as it sees the director take a much more reflective look at his own cinematic archetype, and the story of a legendary lifetime.

Coupled with mature and experienced performances from Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, groundbreaking de-aging technology, and incredible pacing and editing that makes those three and a half hours seem like mere minutes, The Irishman is an all-time classic, and undeniably one of the greatest epics you’ll ever see.

Read a full review here.

The Sound Of Music (1965)

Runtime: 2 hours 54 mins

Perhaps the most effortlessly lovable film in history, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t like The Sound Of Music.

Complete with an all-time classic lead performance from Julie Andrews, legendary, catchy songs, an epic wartime setting, and a moving, captivating story, it’s the perfect film to gather everyone together on a cold, dark evening.

One of the most festive non-Christmas movies out there, it’s a joyous watch from start to finish, and while it certainly lags at points during its near-3 hour runtime, its relentless optimism and endlessly wonderful music is more than enough to make it an utter delight all the way through.

Read a full review here.

King Kong (2005)

Runtime: 3 hours 7 minutes

Big Hollywood blockbusters don’t often make it past the three hour mark, but one of the few exceptions to the industry rule is Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson’s remake of the classic King Kong.

A truly spectacular adaptation that combines striking modern special effects with a commitment to retaining the majesty and elegance of the original story, King Kong seems to break every rule in the remake handbook, not only improving on the fantastic 1933 original, but at times redefining the classic story.

It may not be the fastest-paced blockbuster, and we don’t see Kong himself appear on screen until well over an hour in. That said, while not all of its 3 hours is used to perfection, that monster runtime really works to deepen the spectacle of the story, building up to that unforgettable finale atop the Empire State – the icing on the cake for what is one of the 21st Century’s most moving blockbusters.

Read a full review here.

Farewell My Concubine (1993)

Runtime: 2 hours 51 mins

From legendary director Chen Kaige comes the definitive big-screen adaptation of the classic story: Farewell My Concubine.

The story of a friendship through the decades, the film follows two actors in the Peking Opera as they encounter strife in the form of world war and new governments, as well as the increasing tension between them as they grow in reputation.

It’s a fascinating film that details the modern history of China in riveting detail, and by combining with a moving and intimate personal story, Farewell My Concubine proves gripping and at times heartbreaking viewing the whole way through its near-3 hour duration.

Bolstered by fantastic performances across the board (particularly from Gong Li), gorgeous visuals and a striking musical score, Farewell My Concubine is the moving tale of a lifetime that will engross anybody for the entirety of its runtime.

Read a full review here.

And Many More…

Great movie epics are far from limited to the eight listed above, and range from stunning historical dramas to action-packed blockbusters, and everything in between.

So, here’s an additional list of even more of the best long movies to watch on a cold, wintry evening:

Ben-Hur (1959) – 3hrs 32mins
Cleopatra (1963) – 4hrs 6mins
Schindler’s List (1993) – 3hrs 15mins
Once Upon A Time In America (1984) – 3hrs 49mins
Silence (2016) – 2hrs 41mins
Ran (1985) – 2hrs 44mins
Avengers: Endgame (2019) – 3hrs 1min
The Best Of Youth (2003) – 6hrs 6mins
Boyhood (2014) – 2hrs 46mins
The Great Escape (1963) – 2hrs 45mins
The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013) – 2hrs 59mins
The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946) – 2hrs 52mins


About Author

The Mad Movie Man, AKA Anthony Cullen, writes articles and reviews about movies and the world of cinema. Since January 1st, 2013, he has watched and reviewed a movie every day. This is the blog dedicated to the project: