The unmitigated joy of watching movies at 7x speed

Sonnie Bailey

28 April 2020

I’m not gonna lie: in some respects, I’m a strange cat. Not everyone feels the need to brainstorm conversational ideas before stepping into a social situation, for instance.

But that’s cool. I’m all for embracing what you like, and not yukking others’ yums, when it comes to money or anything else. So take the following recommendation with a grain of salt. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. If it does, it might change. your. life.

Try watching movies at 7x speed.

You heard that right. In the past day or so, I’ve watched Fight Club, Gone Girl, and Children of Men at 7x speed.

I’ve recently watched various other movies: Terminator: Salvation, Joker, Ready or Not, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (totally underrated), and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (which isn’t well-known, popular, or very well-reviewed, but gives me the feels).

At 7x, you can watch a “2-hour” movie in less than 20 minutes.

If you can’t watch a movie at 7x, don’t beat yourself up. Just watch at whatever speed you can. I’ve graduated from 5x to 7x. I’m also not dogmatic on the actual speed: depending on the pace of the movie, I might watch faster or slower.

Of course, there are things you miss

Once I get above 2.5x to 3x, audio goes out the window.

A friend explained to me: “the way I see movies is they were made with pace, silence, pauses etc in mind when editing directing the movie. So speeding up a movie loses all of this! It feels a bit like getting drive-through from a fine dining restaurant and scoffing your food ya know?”

I agree with all of this. And I find that comedies, which are even more reliant on pacing and timing, suffer more from being watched quickly. (Although Step Brothers and Anchorman are funny however you watch them.)

But you could argue that’s true with any medium. Most authors are painstaking when it comes to what they write, but we all read differently: some people skim and others devour. The majority of people I know who listen to a lot of podcasts listen at faster than 1x, and use options within their podcast apps to trim silence and boost volume. Music is recorded at a specific pace, but I sometimes like hearing music at different tempos.

I understand the desire to see a product as it was made. But I also think it’s fine to consume content in any way that suits you. Maybe I’d get more out of watching a movie at normal speed. But like all things, it’s a trade-off: If I can get 70% of the value of watching a movie in 20% of the time, then that’s a trade-off I’m happy with most of the time.

If I want to scoff food at a fine dining restaurant, then I will scoff food at a fine dining restaurant!!

Oh, and you miss the social aspect of enjoying a movie with someone else. I sometimes trick my wife into watching movies at 1.2 speed (Gravity), but that’s as far as I can go. So watching movies at 7x is a solitary experience.

Weirdly, you gain something as well

I’ve never watched a movie on mute before. I understand that you can get a different appreciation for a movie when you remove dialogue and the soundtrack. It means your bandwidth is freed up to focus on interactions between characters and what is happening in the background.

I get a similar sense when watching a movie quickly, with or without audio.

When I watch something quickly, I find it easier to get a sense of how the plot fits together. It’s easier to make a connection between something at the end of Act 1 with something that happens in Act 3 if only 10 minutes has elapsed rather than 70 minutes.

Thematically, movies often make more sense when you compress everything.

If it’s a movie that I’ve watched many times before, I get just as much joy from watching it again quickly as I do from watching it slowly. And let’s face it: when you’re busy, two hours is a big time commitment. It’s better to watch Children of Men in 20 minutes than not watch it at all. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s a great, great, great movie. An all-timer.)


Much is said about the idea of “flow”, popularised by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. I love that feeling – of being lost in whatever you’re doing.

(As an aside: I think that it is why parenting is hard for so many people. If there’s an activity that’s not conducive to flow, at least most of the time, it’s spending time with young children. For all its other rewards, it’s the fracturing of attention that I find difficult about parenting.)

If you’re watching a movie at 7x speed, you have to focus. You can’t pay attention to anything else. If you can do it, it’s guaranteed flow.

Cool cool cool. So how do I do it?

As far as I’m aware, you can’t do this on your smart TV using built-in apps like Netflix, Disney+, Lightbox, or Plex. You have to watch (or cast from) a computer.

The two main ways I do this are:

  • Most of the time I want to watch things quickly, I am watching in a web browser. I’ve installed an extension in Chrome (and Firefox) called “Video Speed Controller”. Once installed, when any video is playing in your browser (whether in Youtube, Netflix, or almost anywhere), a little box appears in the top left corner. You can manually adjust the speed of the video there. Or you can use the “s” and “d” keys to increase or reduce playback. Each time you press the relevant button, speed increases or decreases in 0.1 iterations.
  • If I’m watching a video that is on my hard drive or home server (eg a movie I’ve purchased and downloaded), I will watch it using VLC media player. With VLC, I can adjust the speed of the video by pushing the keyboard button “[” (slower) or “]” (faster). Each time I push one of these keys, the video reduces or increases in speed by 0.1.

VLC and Video Speed Controller are clever because they adjust audio so you don’t get the chipmunks effect when you increase speed.

If you liked this approach to consuming content…

I’m working on an update of my 2015 article about how I consume media (which is out of date in a lot of respects, although much of the philosophy stands).

And if you want to read something that is similarly left-field, check out this Reddit thread which explains how to watch TV shows by applying the 80/20 Pareto principle:

1- Watch First episode, for intro to characters, situation, etc.

2- Rank the shows episodes on IMDB (use advanced search if need), and find the score equivalent to roughly 20% of the show’s best episodes. For West Wing for instance, 8.8.

3- Watch the show chronologically, but ONLY watch episodes at the cut-off or above. If really enjoying it, lower by 0.1 the cut off.

4- Watch Finale no matter what, to get completion (curse you [How I Met Your Mother]!)

5- For shows with a two parter episode where one is highly ranked, watch both parts even if one part is lower rated, just for context’s sake.

I haven’t tried this, but it tickles my fancy.

It might be your cup of tea, but we all have our kinks – and that’s one of the things that makes life interesting!

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