Movie Reviews

10 Shortest Oscar-Winning Performances Of All Time, Ranked By Length

Summary

  • Academy Award-winning performances aren’t determined by length, as proven by various performances by actors such as Jared Leto, Anne Hathaway, and Alan Arkin.
  • Beatrice Straight won an Academy Award for her five-minute screen time and currently holds the title for the shortest Oscar-winning performance.
  • Despite the controversy surrounding the Best Picture win for Shakespeare in Love, the film is remembered for earning Judi Dench an Academy Award for her role as Queen Elizabeth I.



The length of one’s performance in a film does not indicate whether it’s worthy of winning an Academy Award and a few notable performances prove this. For movies to be nominated at the Oscars, certain criteria must be met, but the amount of time an actor appears on-screen is not part of the requirements. Throughout the years, actors like Anne Hathaway and Mahershala Ali have shown that quality truly matters more than quantity, having won awards for their limited but moving roles in films.

Currently, the title for the shortest Oscar-winning performance is held by Beatrice Straight for her part in Network, where she plays a character that isn’t greatly involved in the film’s overall plot. However, other actors follow closely behind her five-minute screen time, some playing similarly trivial characters and others portraying key parts in a short amount of time. What’s easy to say about each short performance is that the actors captivate audiences, and most importantly Academy voters, with their commanding acting skills and on-screen presence.


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10 Nicole Kidman (The Hours)

23 Minutes, 30 Seconds

Nicole Kidman holds a cigarette in The Hours.

Regarded as one of Nicole Kidman’s best movies, The Hours transformed the actress into the lauded writer, Virginia Woolf. The Hours has a non-linear structure that follows women of different decades — portrayed by Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep — affected by the words of Woolf’s novel, Mrs Dalloway. The Hours conveys a striking portrayal of each woman’s struggle with the help of the cast’s performances.


Since The Hours shifts between timelines to follow each woman, Kidman only has around 23 minutes of screen time. Still, her performance brilliantly captures the famed writer’s inner battle between her creative work and depression. Kidman’s character is at the helm of the connectivity in the film and grounding it the way she does, it’s no wonder she was given the Academy Award for Best Actress.

9 Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

21 Minutes, 28 Seconds

Jared Leto looking serious in Dallas Buyers Club.


Starring Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club tells the true story of Ron Woodroof and the titular organization that provided AIDS patients with proper medicine. Ron is played by McConaughey and, before a life-changing AIDS diagnosis, he has harsh views toward the LGBTQ+ community. However, upon meeting Leto’s Rayon, a transgender woman who is diagnosed with AIDS, Ron’s perspective slowly changes as the film continues and the characters’ bond strengthens. Yet, alongside one of McConaughey’s best performances, Leto greatly holds his own in the supporting role.

Leto is fully committed to the role, living as the character during the filming process, resulting in a believable on-screen transformation. Additionally, Leto also embodies the heart and vulnerability of Rayon with his limited screen time of 21 minutes. Both McConaughey and Leto won Academy Awards for their respective parts.

8 Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

20 Minutes, 36 Seconds

Mahershala Ali holding Alex Hibbert in water a still from Moonlight.


Directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight is a captivating story that follows the life of its main character, Chiron. Moonlight is broken down into three stages of Chiron’s life, with Mahershala Ali’s character only appearing in the film’s first act. Ali’s character, Juan, is a powerful player in Chiron’s story. Juan acts as a father figure, teaching Chiron valuable life lessons and protecting him from the teasing of others.

However, Juan’s occupation as a drug dealer complicates his relationship with Chiron as he’s the one who supplies drugs to Chiron’s mother, feeding into the troubled home life he wants to remove the young boy from. Ali isn’t in the film for long — clocking in approximately 20 minutes on screen —but he delivers an equally subtle and weighty emotional performance. As Juan reveals to Chiron his connection to his mother, the remorse he feels is visible in Ali’s facial expressions. The role of Juan earned Ali an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.


7 Anthony Hopkins (The Silence Of The Lambs)

16 Minutes

Hannibal wearing a muzzle in The Silence of the Lambs

Throughout his career, Anthony Hopkins has starred in a variety of films, but one of his most well-known, and the one that earned him his first Academy Award, is The Silence of the Lambs. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is the film’s protagonist who is on the hunt for a serial killer and reaches out to another serial killer for advice on her search. Although Foster gives a strong performance, it is Hopkins who often commands the screen as the imprisoned killer.

With just about 16 minutes worth of screen time, Hopkins has become an iconic horror figure as Hannibal Lecter. Hopkins’ performance as the character is chilling and, at times, oddly charismatic in his relationship with Clarice. Through memorable quotes and haunting stares into the camera, Hopkins has one of the better portrayals of Hannibal Lecter.


6 David Niven (Separate Tables)

15 Minutes, 38 Seconds

Major Pollock looks grim in Separate Tables

Known best for his roles in The Pink Panther and the spy parody film, Casino Royale, David Niven won his only Academy Award for his leading role in Separate Tables. Based on the play by Terence Rattigan, Separate Tables is a fascinating look at the troubled lives of guests at a hotel in Bournemouth. In Separate Tables, Niven plays Major Pollock and acts beside an ensemble cast made up of actors such as Deborah Kerr, Burt Lancaster, and Rita Hayworth.


Though the personal scandal Pollock tries to keep hidden from others is at the forefront of the film — and is a part of Separate Tables that doesn’t age the best with modern viewing — Niven isn’t in the film for long. Niven appears for 15 minutes, but the short amount of time sees the actor in a new space, taking on a role that differs in characterization from his prominent roles before Separate Tables.

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5 Allison Janney (I, Tonya)

15 Minutes, 37 Seconds

Allison Janney in I Tonya


Margot Robbie stars as the titular figure skater in I, Tonya, a black comedy sports film about the famous attack of the skater’s competitor, Nancy Kerrigan. The film utilizes mockumentary styling where the actors break the fourth wall as their characters, providing an ample amount of humor. The controlled laughs in I, Tonya are balanced with a set of tough characters that highlight the tragic elements of the film’s real-life events.

One of the memorable characters is Tonya’s mother, LaVona, who is abusive and blunt in the way she speaks about her daughter. As LaVona, Allison Janney won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. I, Tonya is undoubtedly Robbie’s film, but it’s near impossible to be unimpressed by Janney. Janney is only in the film for a little over 15 minutes and, despite the character’s unlikeable traits, she steals the show.

4 Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)

15 Minutes

Anne Hathaway as Fantine Wearing a Blue Hood in Les Miserables


In a near-three-hour runtime of Les Misérables, Anne Hathaway appears for only 15 minutes. Les Misérables is based on the stage musical and novel of the same name and Hathaway plays Fantine, a mother who gives up everything to support her daughter. In preparation, Hathaway cut her hair to play Fantine, a decision that was emotionally distressing, both on and off-screen. However, beyond her physical transformation for the part, Hathaway gave an intense emotional performance — one that would secure her an award for Best Supporting Actress.

Fantine’s life on screen starts bright, but quickly turns sorrowful and Hathaway swiftly moves through this change. In addition to the skillful breakdown of her character, Hathaway also has an unforgettable musical performance of ‘I Dreamed a Dream.’ The performance establishes Hathaway’s musical skills as she sings through tears and the occasional hyperventilating sob.


3 Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)

14 Minutes

Edwin talks to his granddaughter in Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine follows a dysfunctional family on a road trip to take the youngest child to compete in a beauty pageant. The 2006 film features an ensemble cast with actors like Steve Carell and Toni Collette, but the actor who best exemplifies the combination of heart and humor in the film is Alan Arkin. Winning the award for Best Supporting Actor, Arkin is wonderful as the grandpa of the family, Edwin.


Edwin’s vulgar tendencies are part of the film’s humor and Arkin gets the opportunity to further his comedic chops. However, the biggest takeaway from Edwin’s character is his relationship with his granddaughter, Olive (Abigail Breslin). The two share a sweet moment together as Edwin encourages the young girl to never back down from her dreams. Certain events in the film mean Arkin is only on-screen for 14 minutes, but the impact of his actions lasts beyond his limited appearance.

2 Judi Dench (Shakespeare In Love)

8 Minutes

Judi Dench sitting on her throne as the queen in Shakespeare In Love

One of the best films about Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare in Love features a performance by Judi Dench as the queen, appearing in the film for only eight minutes. Shakespeare in Love took home Best Picture at the 71st Academy Awards and is a controversial Oscar win, but the film is also notable for giving Dench her first and only Academy Award. Despite her minimal screen time, Dench won the award for Best Supporting Actress.


Following a love story involving the titular playwright, Shakespeare in Love isn’t too concerned with historical accuracy and Dench’s performance proves part of this. As her character, Dench amps up the comedic personality of the queen with her blunt commentary and facial expressions. Dench’s role is small, but powerful, as the queen determines the fate and success of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

1 Beatrice Straight (Network)

5 Minutes, 40 Seconds

Beatrice Straight as Louise Schumacher having an intense moment with her husband Max Schumacher (William Holden) in Network

Though Beatrice Straight is only in Sidney Lumet’s Network for a little over five minutes, it was enough to earn the actress an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Network follows Howard Beale (Peter Finch), a news anchor who gets exploited for his tendency to rage on air. Within the plot of the film, Straight’s character, Louise, does little to move the story forward.


Louise is the wife of the news division president Max Schumacher (William Holden) and her biggest scene is when she discovers her husband is having an affair and plans to leave her. Louise reacts with an emotional outburst, not one that results in destruction and shouting, but one that sees the distraught wife frustrated at her husband’s actions and lack of respect. Straight’s performance is a welcomed break from the rest of Network‘s satirical commentary on the media’s influence, and it’s likely why she holds the record for the shortest Oscar-winning performance.

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