The other day, I caught up with the classic 1989 comedy Major League. When it was over, I headed to the movie’s Wikipedia page to see if there was any interesting trivia about the movie, maybe some fun tidbit about on-set hijinks between Charlie Sheen and Wesley Snipes. What caught my eye instead was the plot summary, which kept going, and going, and going … for 1,197 words. That’s a lot of detail for a movie that is basically The Producers on a baseball diamond.
I decided to do a little research to see if Major League’s Wikipedia summary is especially long. It is. Many films with greater complexity and longer run times have significantly lower word counts. Saving Private Ryan, The Godfather, and Titanic all have plot summaries under 750 words; the Schindler’s List summary dispatches with the 197-minute film’s plot in 703 words. The summary of Major League (107 minutes), meanwhile, lavishes attention on manager Lou Brown’s offseason job (tire salesman) and the mix of pitches Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn throws in his relief appearances. The summary of Major League II is even more digressive, weighing in at 1,569 words. It made me wonder: What movie has the longest Wikipedia plot summary of all?
Obviously, a longer run time doesn’t necessarily mean that a movie has a more complicated plot—Nutty Professor II: The Klumps is longer than Casablanca. But on average, I’d expected that the longer the movie, the longer the plot summary. Looking at the word count of Wikipedia plot summaries compared to a movie’s run time (also supplied by Wikipedia), there did turn out to be a relationship between plot summary length and run time:
The chart above was made by analyzing 13,560 Wikipedia entries in the encyclopedia’s alphabetical listing of all movies (which includes made-for-TV movies). Not every film ever made has a Wikipedia page, and the alphabetical listing may not even include every movie in Wikipedia, but the sample offers a huge cross-section of films. As you can see, the average length of the plot summary increases as the run time increases. But it’s worth stressing that this is the average plot summary length. There is great variance in the plot summary length among films of the same run time. Though Last Tango in Paris and Jurassic Park: The Lost World are both 129 minutes long, the former’s plot summary—231 words—is one-fourth the length of the latter’s—1,116 words.
Judging by this sample, Major League is in the top 3 percent of longest film summaries. The median in the sample had a length of 503 words, and the average plot summary for a comedy released in 1989 (when looking only at films in this separate Wikipedia listing) was 561 words. This places Major League’s summary at twice the length you might expect, though behind fellow 1989 comedies K-9 and Look Who’s Talking.
So what’s the longest plot summary on Wikipedia? I thought the honor would surely go to an epic like Ben-Hur, which has a run time of nearly four hours. Or a film like Inception, whose complex plot would invite competing fan theories. But no. In fact, the honor goes to the immortal 2000 Disney Channel original movie Alley Cats Strike.
For those of you unfamiliar with this made-for-TV title, Alley Cats Strike is about a group of high schoolers engaged in a bowling rivalry; Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco stars. That’s my 21-word summary. The Wikipedia article goes on for a stunning 4,266 words. It describes in intricate detail the climax of the bowling drama (“Finally, the ball hits the 7 pin, which spins into the 10 pin and knocks it over. This gives West Appleton a spare, the win, and the Mighty Apple!”) and generally provides an exhaustive level of exposition (“In the meantime, Principal Morris has booked some radio time with Sweet Lou … ”).
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