Standing ovations at Cannes have become a festival tradition that both delights and infuriates cinephiles around the world. How can an audience really clap for more than 10 minutes? Does the continuous applause even mean a film is great? Are people really breaking out their stopwatches inside the theater to time the ovations?
Let’s get this out of the way now: Festival standing ovations can be somewhat genuine but also entirely manufactured. At Cannes, a camera crew records the cast and crew in attendance at each world premiere after the screening ends and their faces get projected onto the enormous Palais screen in real-time. The longer this camera feed lasts, the more an ovation can continue. If talent tears up or waves to the crowd on the screen, cheers often soar. A bigger cast usually creates a longer ovation as the camera pans to each person.
With that said, a film doesn’t break the 10-minute ovation mark without genuine appreciation. Throughout Cannes history, movies directed by Guillermo del Toro, Michael Moore, Nicolas Winding Refn, Quentin Tarantino and more have all brought Cannes audiences to their feet for the length of a short film.
Variety looks back at the some of the longest Cannes standing ovations in history below.
Pan’s Labyrinth (22 Minutes)
At 22 minutes, Guillermo del Toro clocked perhaps the longest standing ovation in Cannes history with “Pan’s Labyrinth.” The fantasy-horror classic went on to win three Oscars. From Variety’s review: “It’s a richly imagined and exquisitely violent fantasy from writer-director del Toro. A fairy tale not even remotely intended for children, this entrancing magical-realist drama concocts a sinister spin on ‘Alice in Wonderland’ against the war-torn backdrop of 1940s Spain.”
Fahrenheit 9/11 (20 Minutes)
After picking up a 13-minute ovation in 2002 for “Bowling for Columbine,” Michael Moore returned to Cannes in 2004 with even greater success thanks to “Fahrenheit 9/11.” The documentary won the Palme d’Or, becoming only the second non-fiction feature to win Cannes’ top prize, and earned a 20-minute standing ovation after its premiere. From Variety’s review: “Designed as an indictment of the Bush administration’s domestic and international policies since the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., the effective documentary trades far more in emotional appeals than in systematically building an evidence-filled case against the president and his circle.”
Mud (18 Minutes)
Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” didn’t win any prizes at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, but it did earn a massive 18-minute standing ovation. Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland play two Arkansas teenagers who discover a fugitive (Matthew McConaughey) living on an island along the Mississippi River. From Variety’s review: “Confidently expanding his inquiry into the essence of American masculinity, Nichols’ latest pressure-cooker pastoral conjures a wily figure of endangered Southern chivalry whose name is … you guessed it. Sheridan makes an especially strong impression, possessing not only the intensity to propel the story through its 130-minute running time but also a sensitivity that reads as un-jaded by the world around him.”
The Neon Demon (17 Minutes)
It may have earned boos, but Nicolas Winding Refn’s fashion world-horror movie “The Neon Demon” also scored a humungous 17-minute standing ovation at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Elle Fanning plays an aspiring model in Los Angeles whose youthful beauty is corrupted when she falls down the industry’s dark rabbit hole. From Variety’s review: “‘The Neon Demon’ is a tease. It starts off as a relatively scannable, user-friendly thriller, but it turns out to be a movie made by a macabre surrealist gross-out prankster.”
The Paperboy (15 Minutes)
Perhaps the most divisive movie at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival was Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy,” which earned raves, pans, boos and a huge 15-minute standing ovation. The film’s star-studded cast, including Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman, surely drove up the ovation time. From Variety’s review: “Racial prejudice, journalistic ethics and a half-naked Zac Efron are among the pressing matters on the mind of ‘The Paperboy.’ A very special delivery indeed, director Lee Daniels’ follow-up to ‘Precious’ is a risibly overheated, not unenjoyable slab of late-’60s Southern pulp trash, marked by a sticky, sweaty atmosphere of delirium and sexual frustration that only partly excuses the woozy ineptitude of the filmmaking.”
Capernaum (15 Minutes)
Nadine Labaki won the Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival with “Capernaum,” which tells the story of an imprisoned 12 year old from Beirut who sues his parents for neglect. From Variety’s review: “Tackling its issues with heart and intelligence, Labaki’s child-endangerment tale is a splendid addition to the ranks of great guttersnipe dramas… Proving herself an astonishingly accomplished director of non-professional performers as well as a measured storyteller, Labaki draws attention to the plight of children in Beirut’s slums and the Kafka-esque bind of people without ID cards.”
Belle (14 Minutes)
Japanese director Mamoru Hosoda surprised the Cannes Film Festival in 2021 when his “Beauty and the Beast”-inspired “Belle” earned a rapturous 14-minute standing ovation. It was by far the longest ovation of the 2021 festival. From Variety’s review: “With ‘Belle,’ anime master Mamoru Hosoda has reimagined ‘Beauty and the Beast” for the metaverse set — that young generation of social media users who switch identities comfortably between the physical world and a more inviting online one… Hosoda packs an Imax-worthy level of detail into his depiction of a vast parallel world/playground, which looks like a cross between a noir-and-neon ‘Matrix’-like megacity and a dust mote’s view of a PC motherboard, where chips loom like skyscrapers in the background.”
Bowling for Columbine (13 Minutes)
Michael Moore’s Columbine school shooting documentary earned a lengthy 13-minute standing ovation at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and was awarded a special 55th Anniversary Prize by that year’s jury. The film went on to win the Academy Award for documentary feature and the César Award for foreign film. From Variety’s review: “The film is a rollicking, incendiary documentary that looks down the barrel of Americans’ love affair with firearms. Is Moore objective? Absolutely not. But he has pertinent axes to grind and the sparks fly thanks to Moore’s patented blend of curveball research, expedient juxtaposition, genuine satire and bottomless chutzpah.”
The Artist (12 Minutes)
Michel Hazanavicius’ dominated the 2011 Cannes Film Festival with a 12-minute standing ovation for his silent film love letter “The Artist,” kicking off an awards run that culminated in five Academy Award nominations and wins for best picture and best actor for Jean Dujardin. The performer was also awarded the best actor prize at Cannes. From Variety’s review: “Projected in black-and-white in the classic 4:3 aspect ratio, this crowd-pleasing comedy tips its top hat to those late-’20s Hollywood conventions rendered obsolete by the rise of the talkie as a pompous star fails to adapt to the new era.”
Elvis (12 Minutes)
The audience at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival was trembling for Austin Butler as the King in Baz Luhrmann’s kaleidoscopic biopic “Elvis,” which received an uproarious 12-minute standing ovation after its world premiere that clocked in as the longest of that year’s festival. As the cheers went on and on, a teary-eyed Butler hugged an equally emotional Priscilla Presley, who flew to the South of France to give her blessing for the movie about her late husband. The Warner Bros. musical drama had Cannes spontaneously erupting into applause as Butler recreated some of Presley’s greatest hits including “Jailhouse Rock,” “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Suspicious Minds.” Butler went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for best actor.
Inglourious Basterds (11 Minutes)
Quentin Tarantino’s raucous and revisionist World War II epic “Inglourious Basterds” blew the roof off the 2009 Cannes Film Festival with an 11-minute standing ovation and a best actor win for Christoph Waltz. He went on to win the Academy Award for best supporting actor thanks to his performance as the villainous Nazi officer Hans Landa. From Variety’s review: “‘Inglourious Basterds’ is a violent fairy tale, an increasingly entertaining fantasia in which the history of World War II is wildly reimagined so that the cinema can play the decisive role in destroying the Third Reich.”
Carol (10 Minutes)
Todd Haynes is back in Cannes competition this year with his Natalie Portman-Julianne Moore starrer “May December.” Can it eclipse the overwhelming response Cannes gave the director’s 2015 drama “Carol”? The Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara-led period drama premiered to a rapturous 10-minute standing ovation and went on to win Mara the Cannes prize for best actress. From Variety’s review: “Even high expectations don’t quite prepare you for the startling impact of ‘Carol,’ an exquisitely drawn, deeply felt love story that teases out every shadow and nuance of its characters’ inner lives with supreme intelligence, breathtaking poise and filmmaking craft of the most sophisticated yet accessible order.”
BlacKkKlansman (10 Minutes)
Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” earned a massive 10-minute standing ovation at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and went on to win the Grand Prix, the second-most prestigious award at the festival following the Palme d’Or. Lee would later win the Oscar for adapted screenplay among six total Academy Award nominations, including best picture and best director. From Variety’s review: “A major comeback for Spike Lee, this incredible true story gives the outspoken director a ripe opportunity to focus his frustration in a constructive way…Lee’s latest is as much a compelling black empowerment story as it is an electrifying commentary on the problems of African-American representation across more than a century of cinema.”
Captain Fantastic (10 Minutes)
Viggo Mortensen eventually earned an Academy Award nomination for best actor thanks to his role in Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic,” which premiered to a 10-minute standing ovation at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. The drama originally debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The “Lord of the Rings” actor plays a father forced to confront his family’s future after being forced to move them from isolation in the woods into society. From Variety’s review: “Mortensen gets the role he may well have been born to play, not as a superhero, but as a super-dad determined to raise his kids on his own terms.”
Killers of the Flower Moon (9 Minutes)
Martin Scorsese made his long-awaited return to Cannes this year with “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and he did not disappoint. The film earned a deafening 9-minute standing ovation as the Cannes championed Scorsese and his cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Lily Gladstone. The latter was overcome with emotion and broke out in tears during the reception.
“Thank you to the Osages,” Scorsese said mid-ovation. “Everyone connected with the picture. My old pals Bob and Leo, and Jesse and Lily. We shot this a couple of years ago in Oklahoma. It’s taken it’s time to come around but Apple did so great by us. There was lots of grass. I’m a New Yorker. I was very surprised. This was an amazing experience. We lived in that world.”
Triangle of Sadness (8 Minutes)
Ruben Östlund’s “Triangle of Sadness” won the Palme d’Or at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival (marking the director’s second Cannes victory along with “The Square”), which spawned both walkouts and an eight-minute standing ovation. From Variety’s review: “Östlund’s wickedly funny English-language debut creates deeply uncomfortable situations for people more than comfortable with their privilege. It’s a Buñuelian strategy, of which Östlund has become art cinema’s foremost practitioner.”