Recently, short Best Actor-nominated performances have been scarce at the Oscars. The average screen time of the past decade’s nominees is over 80 minutes, and only a handful of them have not reached one hour. Still, performances that fall under 60 minutes make up nearly one third of the category’s nominees, with plenty boasting much less time. Here is a look at the 10 shortest of all (and here are the 10 shortest winners):
10. Humphrey Bogart (“The Caine Mutiny”)
28 minutes, 22 seconds (22.79% of the film)
Bogart’s third and final Best Actor nomination came in 1955 for his portrayal of tyrannical Naval commander Philip Queeg. Though he is absent from the first quarter of the film and appears on screen for less than 30 minutes, he was classified as a lead. In the decades since, several actors have also been placed in the lead category for relatively short villainous roles, including Michael Douglas (“Wall Street”) and Daniel Day-Lewis (“Gangs of New York”). Bogart ended up losing to Marlon Brando, whose screen time in “On the Waterfront” totals one hour, five minutes, and 58 seconds.
9. Paul Muni (“The Valiant”)
28 minutes, 7 seconds (46.49% of the film)
Muni first competed for this award at the second Oscars ceremony in 1930 and would go on to do so five more times. On his first outing, he was up for his film debut as a man who tries to shield his family from the knowledge that he committed murder. Voters ultimately chose to award Warner Baxter’s more heroic, 47-minute and 38-second performance in “In Old Arizona.” Muni’s other nominated performances, including his winning one in “The Story of Louis Pasteur,” all fall between 48 and 62 minutes of screen time.
8. Clifton Webb (“Sitting Pretty”)
27 minutes, 26 seconds (32.63% of the film)
In 1949, Webb earned his only Best Actor nomination for playing fastidious babysitter Lynn Belvedere. He had previously been nominated twice in the supporting category, both times for performances longer than this one. Despite his limited screen time here, he made a clear impression and went on to reprise the role of Mr. Belvedere in two sequels. He lost the Oscar to Laurence Olivier, who directed his own one-hour, 27-minute, and 56-second performance in the year’s Best Picture winner, “Hamlet.”
7. Marlon Brando (“Julius Caesar”)
26 minutes, 10 seconds (21.60% of the film)
One year before winning for “On the Waterfront,” Brando was nominated for portraying impassioned Roman general Mark Antony in this Shakespeare adaptation. He finished his career with seven nominations in the lead category, and this performance ranks as the shortest of them all by 14 minutes. Though he went on to win twice, he lost this time to William Holden for his 37 minutes and 38 seconds of screen time in “Stalag 17.”
6. Anthony Hopkins (“The Silence of the Lambs”)
24 minutes, 52 seconds (21.00% of the film)
Since 1992, Hopkins has held the record for lowest screen time percentage among Best Actor winners. The year marked one of six times that two competitors in the category each had over 100 minutes of screen time (Nick Nolte, “The Prince of Tides” and Warren Beatty, “Bugsy”). Hopkins managed to triumph over them both with a performance less than a quarter of the size. It remains the shortest for which he has ever been nominated, including his two supporting bids for “Amistad” in 1998 and “The Two Popes” in 2020.
5. David Niven (“Separate Tables”)
23 minutes, 39 seconds (23.67% of the film)
Niven won his only Oscar in 1959 and has held the record for shortest Best Actor-winning performance ever since. His portrayal of the dapper but disgraced Major Pollock was short yet memorable, and he prevailed over challengers whose screen times range from 56 to 73 minutes. The year marked the second of only four times that the Best Supporting Actor winner had more screen time than the Best Actor winner, with Burl Ives clocking in at 27 minutes and 44 seconds in “The Big Country.”
4. Fredric March (“The Royal Family of Broadway”)
21 minutes, 45 seconds (28.20% of the film)
March’s first of five chances at an Oscar win came in 1931 for his role as wildly eccentric stage actor Tony Cavendish, and his nomination was the only one the film received. The character was heavily based on John Barrymore, and March ultimately lost the award to his older brother, Lionel Barrymore, whose screen time in “A Free Soul” totals 43 minutes and 20 seconds. March went on to win Best Actor for “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” the next year, and for “The Best Years of Our Lives” 14 years later.
3. Walter Huston (“The Devil and Daniel Webster”)
20 minutes, 41 seconds (19.50% of the film)
1942 marked the second time that Huston and Gary Cooper competed for the same Oscar, and Cooper won out this time with one hour, 30 minutes, and 55 seconds of screen time in “Sergeant York.” Huston earned his spot in the lineup for his small role as the titular devil, who appears sporadically throughout the film to tantalize and corrupt a desperately poor farmer. The next year, he was nominated in the supporting category for his nearly four-minute-longer performance in “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” He then won the Best Supporting Actor award in 1949 for his 55-minute and three-second performance in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” which was the longest to win in the category at the time and currently ranks 10th.
2. Trevor Howard (“Sons and Lovers”)
20 minutes, 14 seconds (19.71% of the film)
In 1961, Howard received his sole Oscar nomination for playing Walter Morel, an uncivilized coal miner and emotionally distant husband and father. His screen time is the lowest in his lineup by over 44 minutes, which stands as the highest such difference in the category’s history. He lost to Burt Lancaster, whose one-hour, 29-minute, and 26-second performance in “Elmer Gantry” was the third longest to win in the category at the time and currently ranks as the 18th longest.
1. Spencer Tracy (“San Francisco”)
14 minutes, 58 seconds (12.99% of the film)
Paul Muni won the Best Actor award on his fourth try for his 50 minutes and 33 seconds of screen time in 1936’s “The Story of Louis Pasteur.” He defeated three first-time nominees, including Tracy, whose performance as Father Tim Mullin remains the shortest ever nominated in either lead category. The supporting categories were introduced that same year, and seven of those 10 inaugural nominees outpaced Tracy’s remarkably low screen time total, as have over 80% of all supporting nominees.
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