Top List Thursday – Oscar winners with the shortest screen time

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I was going to start this off with a confession about my laziness, but while you say “lazy” I say “efficient”. It’s not that I want to do nothing, but rather that I prefer to do the least amount of work with the most reward. And never has that work ethic been more applicable than with today’s list of actors and actresses who somehow managed to turn “blink and you miss them” roles into Oscar gold. I guess you could say that the Academy was indeed all about the quality instead of the quantity in these cases.

  • Anthony Hopkins – Silence of the Lambs (Best Leading Actor – 1991 – 16 minutes of screen time)

AnthonyHopkins_SilenceOfTheLambs

Think of the brilliant five-time Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs, and you immediately think of Anthony Hopkins’ legendary turn as manipulative serial killer cannibal and fava beans enthusiast Hannibal Lecter. His performance is so intense, so encompassing that he dwarfs everything\everybody else on the screen, as he chews as much scenery as he does faces. And yet he’s only on-screen for 16 minutes and 10 seconds. Yes, somebody went and counted. Now that’s acting!

  • David Niven – Separate Tables (Best Leading Actor – 1958 – 15 minutes of screen time)

DavidNiven_SeparateTables

David Niven is most fondly remembered as gentleman thief “The Phantom” in the Pink Panther movies – the original Peter Sellers films, not the horrid Steve Martin remakes that I refuse to acknowledge even exist – but his name is not on this list for his ability to outsmart a bumbling French police inspector, but rather due to his incredibly brief turn as an army major – and fabulous moustache cultivator – staying at a hotel who gets accused of sexual harassment. The role would be the only Oscar nomination in Niven’s storied career, but it would be enough to cement his place in history as he turned just short of 16 minutes of screen time into a 100% successful Oscar win percentage.

  • Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables (Best Supporting Actress – 2012 – 15 minutes of screen time)

AnneHathaway_LesMiserables

The most recent winner on here is also the most successful, as Anne Hathaway proved that playing a downtrodden French peasant who had “dreamed a dream” for just a quarter of an hour was an awards magnet. Not only was her emotional 15-minute showing enough for the Academy, but the now grown up Princess Diaries star turned into a walking Trivial Pursuit answer when she became only the 11th actress to win all of the Big Five of movie awards: Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTA’s, Screen Actors Guild Awards and Critics’ Choice Awards.

  • Gloria Grahame – The Bad and the Beautiful (Best Supporting Actress – 1952 – 9 minutes of screen time)

GloriaGrahame_TheBadAndTheBeautiful

The original “barely in the movie but got a gold statue for it” star, Gloria Grahame’s 9-minute long Oscar-winning turn as the Southern Belle wife of a Hollywood screenwriter whose death is caused by a scheming Kirk Douglas in Tinsel Town drama The Bad and the Beautiful seemed to live up to the title of her most famous movie: “It’s a wonderful life”. Indeed. Grahame would hold the record for the shortest awards winning performance by an actress for nearly a quarter of a century before it was beat in 1976 by… well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

  • Judi Dench – Shakespeare In Love (Best Supporting Actress – 1998 – 8 minutes of screen time)

JudiDench_ShakespeareInLove

 

In case you haven’t heard, Dame Judi Dench has a tattoo of Harvey Weinstein’s name on her butt. This little awesome factoid came about due to the producer being responsible for turning Dench – who had been primarily a stage actress – into a film star when he cast her as Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown. The role netted her an Oscar nomination even though she would lose out in the end – to the surprise of many – to Helen Hunt for As Good As It Gets. Well, she sure showed that Hunt the next year when was nominated for and won an Oscar for playing another monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, in Shakespeare In Love. And she did it with just over 8 minutes worth of work. Oh and a hell of a lot of make-up and embroidery.

The film has not held up well in the eyes of several critics over the years, with many since decrying the film as nothing more than a flashy rom-com and turning up their noses at its 7 Oscar wins, with some even arguing that Dench only got the Oscar as a sort of restitution for the previous year’s faux pas. Irrespective of the Academy’s motivations or what you think of the movie, the fact remains that Dench’s name is now in the history books.

  • Beatrice Straight – Network (Best Supporting Actress – 1976 – 5 minutes of screen time)

BeatriceStraight_Network

Usually when an actor/actress appears in a movie for little more than a single scene that just lasts five minutes and two seconds, it’s called a cameo. In 1976 though, it was called a Best Supporting Actress award. In essence, Beatrice Straight’s singular contribution to Sidney Lumet’s acclaimed satirical film Network is an explosive monologue as her character loses her cool at her husband after he confesses his infidelity. The emotionally charged performance may not have been the most memorable scene of Network, but it was enough for the Academy, which I have a feeling may have led to some of Straight’s Oscar rivals that year quoting a line from what was is Network‘s most famous saying, declaring that “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”.

Last Updated: January 29, 2015

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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