How Long Is the Oscars Awards Show?

The excessive length of the Oscars seems to be a rite of passage in the film industry, only because it’s been done this way for decades. You could almost say the Oscar telecast has a ritualistic structure about it where the ceremony has to go through the traditional motions to fulfill being at least 3 1/2 to 4 hours long.

Complaints about length have gone on for years with little avail on doing anything to solve it. Now, for this year, the producers are working harder to shave off some of the running time without a host. Unfortunately, the producers found themselves in hot water trying to cut out specific categories rather than eliminating what’s really unnecessary.

When did the Oscars first start inflating their run time?

In the first 23 years of the Academy Awards, it was broadcast on radio and not always carried in its entirety. Also, did you know the first Oscar ceremony in 1929 lasted only 15 minutes?

There’s a lot to learn there, even if the categories were considerably fewer in the beginning.

Running times for the show did run long during the later radio era, despite usually being cut off to avoid canceling a following program. Not until the Oscars were 20 years into their TV telecasts did the show start to balloon out of control.

The show was under two hours until the early 1970s

Maybe the excess of the 1970s was one reason for the show going on too long. Whatever case you want to argue, the show was fairly strict in keeping to two hours on TV from 1953 up to 1974.

By the latter year, it crept up to three hours. Ironically, the same year the show went to three hours was the year The Godfather Part II won Best Picture. Latter film ran just about as long (or longer) than the ceremony, which must have been the butt of inside jokes.

Oscar length kept going higher and higher each ensuing year. Going without a host in 1989 ultimately made no difference.

The 2002 show was the longest in history

It just became a tradition by the 1980s to make the Oscars like a cinematic Super Bowl. This meant going through the process of having song & dance numbers, extra time for award speeches, dozens of film clips/tributes, plus allowing time for honorary Oscars.

Most people can probably remember when the show hit four hours and 23 minutes in 2002 during a time when Whoopi Goldberg hosted. Most people on social media still mention how excessive this was, even though they note it received 42 million viewers. They also argue length really has nothing to do with why ratings have dipped in recent years.

If so, then what can the Oscar telecast really do to raise viewing numbers?

Bringing back those 40 million viewers

Oscar statue watches over the 91st Oscars Nominees Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton hotel on February 4, 2019 in Beverly Hills. | ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

You can make a strong argument the internet is one reason behind the lower viewer totals in recent years. A lot of people still watch, but it’s now in the 30 million bracket rather than 40. Last year, it dipped to a decade low of 26.5 million viewers.

Producers of the show made a huge mistake this year cutting out televised Oscar categories for editing and cinematography (as just two) to supposedly eliminate excess length. Industry insiders complained, and it made this year’s Oscar producer Donna Gigliotti reiterate the show won’t cut back on award speeches.

We hope so, because that’s ultimately what the show is about. Regardless, don’t be surprised if we see the Oscars exclusively through a streaming service in another decade since online is where people turn to learn about the winners.

In the meantime, we wouldn’t mind seeing a repeat of what happened at the 1959 Oscars. During this telecast, the show ran under, forcing host Jerry Lewis to invite hundreds of the era’s iconic stars on stage to kill time by dancing.