Tentpoles’ running times on the long side

New 'Pirates' clocks in at 168 minutes

Budgets aren’t the only thing expanding on summer tentpoles. Running times are, too.

This summer’s lengthiest tentpole — so far — runs 11 minutes longer than last summer’s champ, “Superman Returns,” replacing it as the second longest summer popcorn movie ever.

At 168 minutes, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” is almost a half-hour longer than “Spider-Man 3,” but still 15 minutes shorter than the all-time marathon sitdown that was “Pearl Harbor.” That 2001 summer epic, also produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, clocked in at a whopping 3 hours and three minutes.

Yet, for all the hand-wringing about the length of movies like “Zodiac” and “Grindhouse” earlier this year, there’s surprisingly little grumbling about the growing girth of tentpoles like “Pirates of the Caribbean.” While some critics and auds have lamented the butt-numbing pic lengths, boffo box office returns have a way of easing all pain for Hollywood.

The second “Pirates of the Caribbean,” after all, earned more than a billion dollars at the B.O. worldwide. Heading into the weekend, the third “Spidey” was poised to become the most successful installment of the webslinger’s adventures yet, despite being the longest. Critics harped on its “indulgent length” — 18 minutes longer than the 2001 original and 11 minutes longer than the 2004 installment — but the length had little impact on the B.O.

Critics duly noted the girth of the third “Pirates.” The L.A. Times reviewer exasperatedly complained, “We don’t have all day,” while Variety dubbed it slightly more coherent than the bloated second “Pirates,” “if no less numbing during the protracted finale.”

And this was after a large chunk of the pic’s beginning was cut during the final dash to completion.

“These guys are spending all their money on special effects and they’re not putting it onto the editing floor,” sighs one longtime exhib exec, who attributes the growing bloat to “Titanic’s” boffo success, which turned old rules about keeping tentpole running times lean on their head.

Nowadays, exhibs make up for long running times with multiple prints, but some wonder how much more coin studios could take in if they slimmed their hefty tentpoles down to two hours or less.

“Shrek the Third” is expected to benefit from its relatively pithy 93- minute run time.

But even at today’s hefty lengths, some diehard fans don’t seem to mind an endurance test.

Costumed swashbucklers lined up outside the El Capitan theater on May 24 for four hours to see a marathon screening of all three “Pirates” installments — even though they had assigned seats. And the truly devoted bought tickets to a midnight screening so they could watch the third installment again.

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