When the supporting acting Oscar categories were introduced in 1937, two films (“Dodsworth” and “Romeo and Juliet”) each received one lead and one supporting nomination. A third, “My Man Godfrey,” immediately made Oscar history by scoring a nomination in each of the four categories. In all three cases, the supporting nominees had less screen time than the corresponding leads, as was and continues to be expected.
The opposite did not occur until 1950, when John Ireland was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for a longer performance in “All the King’s Men” than the one given by his co-star, Best Actor-winner Broderick Crawford. Since then, 10 more supporting male nominees have boasted higher screen time totals than their lead-nominated co-stars. Here is a look at each instance, in order from lowest screen time difference to highest.
1997: William H. Macy (“Fargo”) – 27 minutes, 7 seconds
0 minutes, 38 seconds over Frances McDormand (26 minutes, 29 seconds)
“Fargo” begins as a story about financially troubled Jerry Lundegaard (Macy), and the entire film remains centered on his narrative, even when police chief Marge Gunderson (McDormand) is introduced after the first third and begins to pull focus. Despite their nearly equal screen times, Macy was relegated to the Best Supporting Actor category, while McDormand ended up winning the Best Actress award. He lost to Cuba Gooding, Jr. (“Jerry Maguire” – 27:12).
2002: Ethan Hawke (“Training Day”) – 1 hour, 14 minutes, 27 seconds
1 minute, 11 seconds over Denzel Washington (1 hour, 13 minutes, 16 seconds)
Unlike the pair of nominees from “Fargo,” Hawke and Washington spend nearly all of their scenes together, and their screen times fall between 60 and 62% of the film. Even so, they were not afforded the honor of competing against each other in the Best Actor category. Although the plot is based on a day in Hawke’s character’s life, he received supporting placement. He lost to Jim Broadbent (“Iris” – 38:38).
1976: Brad Dourif (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) – 24 minutes, 8 seconds
1 minute, 31 seconds over Louise Fletcher (22 minutes, 37 seconds)
Fletcher was honored with a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Nurse Mildred Ratched, who has since come to be revered as one of the most memorable movie villains. However, the character appears in less than 17% of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and many of her patients, including Billy Bibbit (Dourif) have screen time totals that match or pass hers. Dourif lost to George Burns (“The Sunshine Boys” – 43:21).
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1969: Jack Albertson (“The Subject Was Roses”) – 1 hour, 3 minutes, 20 seconds
3 minutes, 44 seconds over Patricia Neal (59 minutes, 36 seconds)
At the time of his win in 1969, Albertson broke the record for longest Best Supporting Actor-winning performance, and still holds it in terms of percentage. Considering the screen times of his co-stars, though, the records lose their meaning. There are only three principal actors in “The Subject Was Roses,” all of whom clock in between 59 and 67 minutes (or 55-62% of the film). Albertson falls almost exactly in the middle, while Best Actress nominee Neal has the lowest amount.
1985: Haing S. Ngor (“The Killing Fields”) – 1 hour, 3 minutes, 28 seconds
6 minutes, 5 seconds over Sam Waterston (57 minutes, 23 seconds)
As with “The Subject Was Roses,” the supporting nominee from “The Killing Fields” ended up winning, while the lead nominee did not. Large portions of the film are devoted to Dith Pran (Ngor) and his survival of the Cambodian genocide, but he was classified as a supporting character in the story under narrator Sydney Schanberg (Waterston).
1950: John Ireland (“All the King’s Men”) – 1 hour, 13 minutes, 18 seconds
10 minutes, 57 seconds over Broderick Crawford (1 hour, 2 minutes, 21 seconds)
In 1950, Ireland’s performance as journalist Jack Burden became the first to place on this list, and was the longest ever nominated in the supporting male category at the time. Indeed, up to that point, less than 25% of the over 200 performances nominated in both lead categories had passed his screen time of over 73 minutes. He lost to Dean Jagger (“Twelve O’Clock High” – 38:10).
1954: Robert Strauss (“Stalag 17”) – 56 minutes, 40 seconds
19 minutes, 2 seconds over William Holden (37 minutes, 38 seconds)
This serves as a perfect example of why screen time does not automatically determine category placement. Strauss is in nearly 16% more of “Stalag 17” than Best Actor-winner Holden, but his Sgt. “Animal” Kuzawa is a comic relief character whose screen time largely consists of group shots and background appearances. The overall narrative impact of the two roles is what mattered in this case. Strauss lost to Frank Sinatra (“From Here to Eternity” – 20:11).
1964: Melvyn Douglas (“Hud”) – 41 minutes, 21 seconds
19 minutes, 30 seconds over Patricia Neal (21 minutes, 51 seconds)
Before “The Subject Was Roses,” Neal’s first Best Actress-nominated performance also came up short, making her the first of four actors to be involved in this type of situation more than once. She and Douglas are the only pair on this list to both win Oscars for their performances, with her being promoted to lead status despite appearing in less than 20% of “Hud.” In spite of his lead over Neal, Douglas’s screen time still falls 30 minutes and 31 seconds below that of Best Actor nominee Paul Newman.
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1971: Gene Hackman (“I Never Sang for My Father”) – 1 hour, 8 minutes, 9 seconds
24 minutes, 0 seconds over Melvyn Douglas (44 minutes, 9 seconds)
Seven years after Douglas significantly topped Patricia Neal’s screen time in “Hud” as a supporting actor, he was involved in a reverse situation when he received his only Best Actor nomination for a performance less than three minutes longer. Gene Hackman was placed in the supporting category for his role as Douglas’s son, despite appearing in over 74% of the film. With a current total of five acting nominations, this remains Hackman’s longest Oscar-nominated performance by over 14 minutes. He lost to John Mills (“Ryan’s Daughter” – 26:07).
1973: Al Pacino (“The Godfather”) – 1 hour, 6 minutes, 22 seconds
26 minutes, 12 seconds over Marlon Brando (40 minutes, 10 seconds)
Pacino’s first of nine Oscar nominations came for playing Michael Corleone, a role that he went on to reprise in two sequels. With the first film being focused on Michael’s reluctant rise to power in his mafia family, Pacino has by far the most screen time among the cast, but Brando was recognized as the sole lead. The egregiousness of the supporting placement was so noticeable that Pacino chose to protest the 1973 Oscars ceremony by not attending. He lost to Joel Grey (“Cabaret” – 19:38).
1981: Timothy Hutton (“Ordinary People”) – 1 hour, 5 minutes, 4 seconds
32 minutes, 18 seconds over Mary Tyler Moore (32 minutes, 46 seconds)
Hutton not only bested Jack Albertson’s record for longest Best Supporting Actor-winning performance by less than two minutes, but the screen time difference in this case compared to “The Subject Was Roses” is over eight times greater. Though he was 19 at the time of filming his debut, Hutton was treated as a child actor by Oscar voters. While the actors who played his parents (Moore and Donald Sutherland) were campaigned as leads, he was erroneously pushed into the supporting category, revealing biases based on age and industry status that persist decades later.
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