Even though the Best Actress Oscar has been given out since the first Academy Awards ceremony, there is no clear way of determining whether shorter or longer performances are more likely to win. An even mix of both have prevailed over the past 92 years, performances that have won Best Actress hold more overall lead acting records than those that have won Best Actor. Here is a look at the 10 shortest winners in the category. (And here is the equivalent list for Best Actor.)
10. Katharine Hepburn (“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”)
43 minutes, 26 seconds (40.20% of the film)
Over three decades after her first nomination resulted in a win, Hepburn finally won a second Best Actress Oscar for her role as Christina Drayton, a mother whose liberal views are challenged when her daughter announces her intention to marry a Black man. She would go on to finish her career with four wins in the category from 12 Best Actress nominations, with this ranking behind her 37-minute, 44-second turn in “Suddenly, Last Summer” as the second shortest of them all.
9. Faye Dunaway (“Network”)
42 minutes, 2 seconds (34.64% of the film)
As ambitious programming head Diana Christensen, Dunaway won her first and only Best Actress Oscar from her third nomination in the category. “Network” became the second of only two films after “A Streetcar Named Desire” to win three acting Oscars when Peter Finch and Beatrice Straight claimed the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress trophies in 1977. All three performances have the distinction of placing among their categories’ nine shortest winners, with Straight holding the record.
8. Kate Winslet (“The Reader”)
41 minutes, 55 seconds (33.85% of the film)
After being nominated six times in 13 years, Winslet was finally rewarded with an Oscar in 2009 for portraying secretive tram conductor Hanna Schmitz. Winslet’s lead nomination came as a surprise. The performance had already won her a Critics’ Choice Award and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, and she went on to win in the same category at the SAG Awards just days after the announcement of the Oscar nominations. Her supporting placement seemed definite as she also had a lead role in “Revolutionary Road,” but Oscar voters were in clear defiance of that campaign, making this the shortest of Winslet’s four Best Actress-nominated roles.
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7. Janet Gaynor (“Sunrise”)
41 minutes, 5 seconds (43.56% of the film)
At the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, Gaynor won the inaugural Best Actress prize for her roles in three films: “7th Heaven,” “Street Angel,” and “Sunrise.” All three performances fall under one hour of screen time, but “Sunrise” features the shortest by nearly 12 minutes. Gaynor held the record for overall shortest Oscar-winning performance until the introduction of the supporting categories in 1937.
6. Simone Signoret (“Room at the Top”)
38 minutes, 7 seconds (32.55% of the film)
The French actres charmed Oscar voters in 1960 and won the Best Actress award for her performance as adulteress Alice Aisgill. Her screen time is much lower than that of her Best Actor-nominated co-star, Laurence Harvey, which is a common occurrence among pairs of opposite-gender nominees. She would go on to be nominated in the same category for her even shorter performance in “Ship of Fools,” giving her a combined screen time of one hour, five minutes, and 11 seconds – the lowest for anyone with two lead acting nominations.
5. Luise Rainer (“The Great Ziegfeld”)
35 minutes, 43 seconds (19.27% of the film)
In 1938, the German-born Rainer made history as the first performer to win consecutive acting Oscars. Her first was in 1937 for her role as singer Anna Held, who was Florenz Ziegfeld’s longtime lover. The performance set a new record for shortest to win in the category, made all the more interesting by the fact that the supporting categories had been introduced the same year. Indeed, with his Best Supporting Actor-winning performance in “Come and Get It,” Walter Brennan surpassed Rainer’s screen time by three minutes and 44 seconds.
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4. Frances McDormand (“Fargo”)
26 minutes, 29 seconds (27.01% of the film)
In 1997, McDormand won her first of two Best Actress Oscars for playing Minnesota police chief Marge Gunderson. Her screen time total, combined with Best Actor winner Geoffrey Rush’s from “Shine,” is the lowest ever for a pair of lead winners from the same year at 57 minutes and 56 seconds. In terms of percentage, McDormand also holds the record for latest entrance for an Oscar-winning character in either lead category, since Gunderson does not make her first on-screen appearance until one third of the film’s 98-minute runtime has passed.
3. Nicole Kidman (“The Hours”)
23 minutes, 30 seconds (20.49% of the film)
One year after receiving her first Oscar nomination, Kidman won on her second outing in 2003 for her portrayal of depressed writer Virginia Woolf. Kidman’s performance stood out as much shorter than those she competed against, with all but Renée Zellweger’s turn in “Chicago” surpassing 75 minutes. It is also notable for being four minutes and 11 seconds shorter than Julianne Moore’s Best Supporting Actress-nominated performance in the same film, but Moore’s category placement was planned as part of a successful campaign for her to receive two acting nominations that year, the other being for “Far From Heaven.”
2. Louise Fletcher (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”)
22 minutes, 37 seconds (16.96% of the film)
Besides the Best Actress lineups at the first and sixth Oscars ceremonies, the screen time average of the group nominated in 1976 is the lowest in the category’s history, at 47 minutes and 25 seconds. All five performances fall under 79 minutes, with Louise Fletcher’s portrayal of nefarious Nurse Mildred Ratched standing out as the shortest by far. Voters went for it, however, and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” became the second of only three films to win in all five major Oscar categories. Although Fletcher’s performance is not the one with the least screen time to win in the Best Actress category, it does hold the record in terms of percentage.
1. Patricia Neal (“Hud”)
21 minutes, 51 seconds (19.58% of the film)
In 1964, Neal broke Rainer’s 26-year record for shortest Best Actress-winning performance and has held it ever since. As weary housekeeper Alma Brown, she faced competitors with an average screen time of 63 minutes, and her Best Actor-nominated co-star, Paul Newman, outpaced her by a margin of 50 minutes. With less than 22 minutes of screen time, Neal also holds the record for shortest performance to win an Oscar in either lead category. Since none shorter have been nominated since 1979, it is a record she will likely never relinquish.
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