Last year, the academy chose to award one of the lengthiest performances ever recognized in their 93-year history by bestowing the Best Actor trophy upon Joaquin Phoenix for his work in “Joker.” With over 103 minutes of screen time that amounted to more than 85% of the film, he instantly earned spots on the category’s top five lists by both metrics. He was also the eighth leading man in a row to triumph for appearing on screen for over 77 minutes.
In recent years, Oscar voters have proven their preference for longer lead roles time and time again. This year, however, the tide seems to have shifted, and there is no chance of Phoenix being forced to relinquish his top five placements. The actors branch has nominated a group with the lowest screen time average since 2012, when Jean Dujardin prevailed for his 58 minutes and 15 seconds of work in “The Artist.”
The 2021 Best Actor nominees have an average screen time of one hour, eight minutes, and 28 seconds, or 60.47% of their respective films. In terms of actual time, nearly 60% of past lineups outpacing them. Their percentage average ranks within the top 41%. The last 10 winners of this award have had an average screen time of one hour, 24 minutes, and 52 seconds (or 66.45%).
Leading the Best Actor pack this year is Riz Ahmed, who has one hour, 34 minutes, and 22 seconds of screen time in “Sound of Metal,” which amounts to 78.14% of the film. His is one of the 10 longest performances to compete for the award in the last 10 years, and would be one of the 14 longest to win. Only five lead actors with higher screen time percentages have brought home the gold, including Phoenix.
Not far behind Ahmed is Gary Oldman, who appears in one hour, 30 minutes, and nine seconds (or 67.94%) of “Mank.” This is the 25th time that at least two actors with over 90 minutes of screen time have competed against each other in this category and the seventh time in nine years. The first case occurred in 1957, when Kirk Douglas (“Lust for Life”) faced off against Rock Hudson (“Giant”). There have only ever been eight such instances in the Best Actress category.
In the middle of this year’s group is Anthony Hopkins, whose role in “The Father” amounts to one hour, five minutes, and 14 seconds, or 67.29% of the film. In terms of percentage, this is the longest of Hopkins’s six Oscar-nominated performances. It is three times longer than the one he gave in “The Silence of the Lambs,” which brought him a Best Actor trophy in 1992. His performance as Dr. Hannibal Lecter is the second shortest to ever win the award and the shortest by percentage.
Next is Steven Yeun, who appears in 48 minutes and 28 seconds (or 42.07%) of “Minari.” By percentage, his is the shortest performance in the group and one of the five shortest recognized here in the last 10 years. Hugh Jackman holds that decade record for appearing in 36.95% of “Les Misérables” (2013). The last lead actor to prevail with a smaller percentage than Youn was Forest Whitaker, whose performance in “The Last King of Scotland” (2007) takes up 34.63% of the film.
The lead male nominee with the least actual screen time this year is Chadwick Boseman, whose 44-minute and seven-second performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” earned him a posthumous bid. The role amounts to 46.89% of the film’s running time. This marks the 17th time that multiple lead actors with less than 50 minutes of screen time have faced each other and the first instance since 2004, when Sean Penn (“Mystic River”) defeated Johnny Depp (“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”). That was also the last time before now that two lead actors made it to the same lineup for appearing in less than 50% of their films.
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