20 Actors Who Won Best Supporting Actor For Brief, But Memorable Performances

Ashley Hunte
A movie clip board in front of two people along a white background.
Unsplash | Avel Chuklanov

A movie can have it all: a great story, great music, a stellar cast. But sometimes, it's the minor characters that don't appear on screen for long that make them memorable.

Time and time again, actors get nominated and win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, despite the fact that their time on screen was pretty short. It just goes to show you that there really are no small parts.

Here are just some actors who won big while playing it small.

Alan Arkin - Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Alan Arkin and Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine.
Other | Fox Searchlight Pictures via IMDb

Alan Arkin may have only appeared in fewer than 15 minutes worth of scenes in Little Miss Sunshine, but the Academy agreed that the time he did spend on screen was well worth it.

Anthony Hopkins - The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Anthony Hopkins exposing his teeth.

Okay, so technically Hopkins won for Best Actor and not Best Supporting Actor, but the fact remains that he was only actually in about 17 minutes of The Silence of the Lambs. And he made every second count.

Beatrice Straight - Network (1976)

Beatrice Straight in the movie Network (1976)
Giphy | TIFF

Beatrice Straight actually still holds the record for the Best Supporting Actress winner with the shortest screen time, clocking in at 5 minutes and 2 seconds. And to be honest, that's seriously impressive.

Penélope Cruz -Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Scarlett Johansson in Vicky Cristina Barcelona
IMDb | Vicky Cristina Barcelona via IMDb

Cruz is another actor who only appeared for fewer than 15 minutes, but did a good enough job with her limited screen time to cinch the Supporting Actress award that year.

Yuh-Jung Youn - Minari (2020)

Yuh-Jung Youn splashing water at a boy in the movie Minari
Giphy | Madman Films

Youn may have only appeared in a few scenes throughout the 2020 film, but they were strong enough to get her the Oscar. She's only the second Asian actress to win an acting Academy Award since 1958.

Mahershala Ali - Moonlight (2016)

Mahershala Ali and Alex R. Hibbert sitting at a diner table in Moonlight.
IMDb | A24 via IMDb

Ali's time on screen wasn't very long, but his impact was so great, it landed him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year. A true testament to how great he is at his job.

Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Jared Leto in a wig cap, saying "Bless your little heart," in a scene of Dallas Buyers Club

Though the decision to cast Leto to play a transgender woman in the film was controversial, the Academy liked his performance, however brief, and decided to award him with the Oscar.

Nicole Kidman - The Hours (2002)

Nicole Kidman in The Hours, holding a lit cigarette.
IMDb | The Hours via IMDb

Nicole Kidman (yes, that Nicole Kidman) played Virginia Woolf (yes, that Virginia Woolf) in the 2002 film. And while her screen time wasn't long, her performance was one for the ages.

Celeste Holm - Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

Celeste Holm in Gentleman's Agreement, sitting on a couch with a teacup.
imdb | Twentieth Century Fox via IMDb

Holm's performance only spanned around 15 minutes, which is less than 13% of the entire film's runtime. But like the others in this list, she knew how to make great use of that limited time, that's for sure.

Hugh Griffith - Ben-Hur (1959)

Hugh Griffith and Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur
IMDb | MGM via IMDb

Ben-Hur had a huge impact when it first released in 1959. And while elements of the film... definitely didn't age well, Griffith's 16 minute and 51 second performance will still go down in history as one of the greats. At least in terms of the Oscars.

Ben Johnson - The Last Picture Show (1971)

Ben Johnson in The Last Picture Show
Other | Columbia Pictures via IMDb

At 9 minutes and 54 seconds, Johnson holds the record for Best Supporting Actor winner with the shortest screen time. Though, there are some actresses who have that time beat.

Laura Dern - Marriage Story (2019)

Laura Dern in Marriage Story

Appearing for only around 18 minutes, Dern's time on screen was pretty brief. But it was still enough to show off her skills, and get her the award in the end.

James Coburn - Affliction (1997)

James Colburn in the film Affliction
IMDb | Affliction via IMDb

Colburn was already 70 when he won his first—and only—Best Supporting Actor award. Like the others in this list, he really knew how to make use of his limited screen time.

Jo Van Fleet - East of Eden (1955)

Jo Van Fleet and James Dean in East of Eden
IMDb | Warner Bros. via IMDb

Jo Van Fleet's first movie role was definitely one to remember, even if she was only in East of Eden for around 15 minutes.

Martin Balsam - A Thousand Clowns (1965)

Martin Basalm in a Thousand Clowns
Other | A Thousand Clowns via IMDb

Another very short, yet memorable, performance. Funny how so many of these short performances happened before 1980.

Jack Palance - City Slickers (1991)

Jack Palance in City Slickers
IMDb | MGM via IMDb

Palance had some pretty stiff competition the year he won for this performance—with the other nominees all having screen times of fewer than 20 minutes. Wild.

Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables (2012)

An Hathaway in Les Mis, singing "I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living!"

There's a lot to remember about the 2021 adaptation of Les Miserables, but probably the thing that stood out the most was Hathaway's performance. Sure, she only showed up for around 15 minutes of the movie, but like, she was that good.

Maureen Stapleton - Reds (1981)

Maureen Stapleton in Reds
IMDb | Reds via IMDb

This role, in which she was only on screen for fewer than 10 minutes, cinched Stapleton her first win among four Best Supporting Actress nominations. Funny enough, her other nominations were for roles that didn't get a lot of screen time, either.

Judi Dench - Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love
Giphy | IFC FIlms

Dench's very short time as Queen Elizabeth I was probably one of the most memorable things of the movie. It's so hard to believe she won Best Supporting Actress despite only appearing for under 6 minutes.

Heath Ledger - Batman: The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger as the Joker.

There have been many Joker interpretations over the years, and some have been amazing (while others were not so great). But Heath Ledger's take on the Batman villain is still talked about, well over a decade later.

Even though he was only in the film for around a half hour, everyone agreed that he deserved that Best Supporting Actor Oscar, which was awarded to him posthumously in 2009.