Have you ever gone to the theater and just been so encapsulated with what you're watching that you forget about runtime? You know in the back of your head it's taking longer than usual for the story to feel like it's beginning, but you also like just hanging out in this world. 

We call this kind of storytelling a "slow burn." And much like the Kacey Musgraves song, it's quite enjoyable. 

Today I want to go over the definition, meaning, and look at some examples of this kind of screenwriting across film and television. 

Let's dive in. 

What Is the Meaning of a Slow-Burn Movie or TV show?

There are several different definitions, and we'll get into them below. The point of all this is that slow burn is more of a feeling than anything. You know it when you sense it.

So if you have better ways to define it, throw them in the comments! 

The Slow-Burn Movie Meaning 

Traditionally, a slow burn is a story that moves at its own pace, usually not very fast, and with characters, obstacles, and plotlines that can take a bit to develop. 

Slow-Burn Filmmaking

According to Premium Beat, "a 'slow burn' is a filmmaking style, usually in narrative productions, wherein plot, action, and scenes develop slowly, methodically toward a (usually) explosive boiling point."

While this is a general way to talk about it, we've found that this actually changes over genres. So let's dig deeper on that. 

Slow Burn in Comedy

For comedy stories in film and TV, a slow-burn joke is one that may take a few beats to get going. Like when Lucille Ball is eating chocolates on the conveyor belt. The slow burn of it is that things keep coming, and it takes a few beats before it gets too hectic. 

Or what about a Three Stooges routine, where things go from normal to chaos as the situation ramps up. 

Another one would be in Meet the Parents, where Greg goes on the roof to smoke and things keep getting worse and worse as the cat gets out, he drops a cigarette, there's a fire, and he blows up the backyard and chuppa. That's a slow-burn joke. 

Meet_the_parents_2000_hero-1920x1080'Meet the Parents'Credit: Amblin

Slow Burn in Character Relationships 

Sometimes, people refer to a character relationship that's a slow burn. That's when two characters meet, and while they don't share overt chemistry right away, you get the sense there could be romantic entanglements in the future. It might take a while to get there, but over time it's clear there are feelings there. 

This is way more popular on television. Think Ross and Rachel, Jim and Pam, and Sam and Diane. 

It happens in movies too, like the most famous slow-burn romance... When Harry Met Sally

When_harry_met_sally_0'When Harry Met Sally'Credit: Columbia Pictures

Slow-Burn Movie Examples 

Now that you know some of the subcategories, let's look into some more traditional movies that fit the bill. Remember, we want movies that take their time ramping up to a thunderous payoff at the end. 

These films tend to be more artistic than the standard Hollywood blockbuster, but they have a lot to say. 

One of my all-time favorites is Donnie Darko. This time-travel tale about a kid adjusting to his nightmares really takes its time setting up Donnie, his school, and the way the world around him works. The surprise ending pays off every single thing we have learned from the beginning through the finale. 

Another one you probably know is Rosemary's Baby. This movie is over two hours long, and features the slow descent into madness of a pregnant woman worried she's carrying the spawn of Satan. There are lots of clues, characters, and backstory to be uncovered along the way. 

Finally, have you heard of Wait Until Dark? This amazing thriller starring Audrey Hepburn is about a blind woman who is traumatized when burglars enter her apartment. The movie takes its time building up what the burglars want, and develops Hepburn's character and relationships gradually. It slowly pays off who she is and what her skills are that will allow her to deal with these men. 

It's one of the best climaxes I have ever seen. 

Did I miss any? 

Let me know in the comments.

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