With a screen time total of 18 minutes and 36 seconds, Laura Dern’s 2020 Best Supporting Actress-winning performance in “Marriage Story” was noted for its brevity. However, it ranks as the 24th shortest to ever win in the Oscar category, proving the academy’s particular and everlasting fondness for smaller supporting female roles. Here is a look at the 10 winners with the least amount of screen time. (And here’s the equivalent list for Best Supporting Actor.)
10. Jo Van Fleet (“East of Eden”)
15 minutes, 4 seconds (12.82% of the film)
After a decade of stage acting, Tony winner Jo Van Fleet earned an Oscar for her film debut as child abandoner and brothel operator Kate Ames. Many of the votes she received were likely in honor of her body of work in 1955, since she also had roles in two other Oscar-nominated films that year (“I’ll Cry Tomorrow” and “The Rose Tattoo”). Her few scenes in “East of Eden,” almost exclusively shared with Best Actor nominee James Dean, clearly impressed voters a great deal.
9. Celeste Holm (“Gentleman’s Agreement“)
15 minutes, 0 seconds (12.69% of the film)
At the time of her win, Holm’s performance as fashion editor Anne Dettrey was the second shortest to win a supporting Oscar. She and the rest of 1948’s Best Supporting Actress nominees set a record for lowest screen time average in any category (11 minutes, 16 seconds) which still stands today. Holm went on to receive two more Best Supporting Actress nominations for much longer performances: “Come to the Stable” (55 minutes, 29 seconds) and “All About Eve” (41 minutes, 41 seconds).
8. Penélope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona“)
14 minutes, 29 seconds (15.01% of the film)
The 2009 Best Supporting Actress roster is known for including two nominees who made unusually late entrances in their films. One of them was Viola Davis, recognized for her 10-minute, 23-second role in “Doubt” that is mostly confined to one memorable scene in the final third of the film. The other is Cruz, who won the award for her portrayal of a destructive ex-wife who is absent from the entire first half of her film. In addition to that distinction, Cruz is also the only actress since the beginning of the 21st century to win an Oscar with less than 15 minutes of screen time.
7. Shirley Jones (“Elmer Gantry“)
14 minutes, 9 seconds (9.65% of the film)
Like Penélope Cruz, Jones does not make her first appearance until after the halfway point. Voters did not seem to mind in this case either, and Jones’s performance as vengeful prostitute Lulu Bains became the third shortest to win in any category at the time. Jones had a strong challenged with Janet Leigh’s iconic performance in “Psycho.” Leigh’s screen time more than doubles that of Jones, and she is conversely well-known for exiting her film before the second half begins.
6. Gale Sondergaard (“Anthony Adverse“)
13 minutes, 34 seconds (9.66% of the film)
Sondergaard was the recipient of the very first Best Supporting Actress award in 1937. Her brief portrayal of villainous Faith Paleologus would hold the record for shortest winning performance in either supporting category for 16 years. At the time, the Academy demonstrated variety in their first supporting female picks, with Sondergaard falling in the middle of a lineup that included Maria Ouspenskaya’s one-scene performance in “Dodsworth” and Alice Brady’s nearly half-hour-long performance in “My Man Godfrey.”
5. Margaret Rutherford (“The V.I.P.s“)
13 minutes, 6 seconds (11.03% of the film)
In the later part of her career, and at the same time as her popular run as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Margaret Rutherford won an Oscar for her small role as the dotty Duchess of Brighton. The group of actresses she competed against in 1964 were notable in that they were all primarily older and all on their first acting nominations. Three of them (Diane Cilento, Edith Evans, and Joyce Redman) were nominated for their performances in Best Picture winner “Tom Jones” and all had less than ten minutes of screen time, while “Lilies of the Field” nominee Lilia Skala towered over them all with 46 minutes and 55 seconds.
4. Gloria Grahame (“The Bad and the Beautiful“)
9 minutes, 32 seconds (8.10% of the film)
In 1953, Grahame became the second holder of the record for shortest Best Supporting Actress-winning performance, and would retain it for 24 years. Grahame had previously been nominated in the category for her even smaller role in 1947’s “Crossfire” (9 minutes, 10 seconds). She continues to hold the record for latest on-screen entrance among all acting winners. Her character, Rosemary Bartlow, only plays a role in the segment narrated by her husband, which comes last in the flashback order and leaves her absent from the first 70% of the film.
3. Maureen Stapleton (“Reds“)
9 minutes, 15 seconds (4.74% of the film)
After four Best Supporting Actress nominations over the course of 23 years, Stapleton finally won in 1982 for her brief but memorable performance as radical activist Emma Goldman. Stapleton only appears sporadically throughout Reds’ 195-minute running time, but voters clearly appreciated her work. Indeed, her previous three nominations (for “Lonelyhearts,” “Airport,” and “Interiors”) all came from roles that fall below 13 minutes of screen time.
2. Judi Dench (“Shakespeare in Love“)
5 minutes, 52 seconds (4.75% of the film)
The renowned English actress became an Oscar darling in her early 60s, and her first supporting nomination in 1999 led to a win. The unusual brevity of her performance as Queen Elizabeth I was widely discussed at the time, with Dench even acknowledging it in her acceptance speech. Coincidentally, Cate Blanchett was nominated in the same year’s Best Actress category for her 56-minute, 41-second performance as a younger version of the queen in “Elizabeth.”
1. Beatrice Straight (“Network“)
5 minutes, 2 seconds (4.15% of the film)
Over four decades ago, the Tony-winning character actress set a new record for shortest performance to ever win an acting Oscar, which she still holds. While her role as dejected wife Louise Schumacher seems remarkably small, the self-proclaimed dark horse candidate was part of a group of nominees whose performances all totalled less than 19 minutes each. Indeed, all four acting categories at the 1977 Oscars featured generally short performances, with the 20 nominees having an average screen time of just 37 minutes and 26 seconds.
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