What do we mean when we discuss an actor's "screen time" in a film? The length of time where his face is on screen, or the cumulative length of all his scenes, whether or not the camera is on him? No matter – short is short, and this list celebrates the characters who, despite our aggrandizing memories, had shockingly brief screen time in the films we know them from. This list is dude-heavy, owing to decades of Hollywood focus on male characters, so I also want to acknowledge the Oscar-winning, if less iconic, flybys of Judi Dench (8 minutes in Shakespeare in Love), Anne Hathaway (15 minutes in Les Misérables), and Beatrice Straight (less than 6 minutes in Network).
- THE BRIDE, Bride of Frankenstein (1935). This may be the earliest example of a heavily-hyped character who hardly shows up. This enormously fun sequel to Frankenstein made Elsa Lanchester's shock-haired Bride a Halloween costume for the ages. Yet even though the entire freaking movie's named after her, she only pops up for four minutes at the end. Lanchester arguably gets more screen time – and certainly more dialogue – as Mary Shelley in the film's prologue.
- HARRY LIME, The Third Man (1949). Amongst casual film buffs, Orson Welles is mainly remembered as the director/star of Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, and The Third Man. Except he didn't direct The Third Man – that honor belongs to Carol Reed – and he didn't star in it, either. Welles's Harry Lime may dominate the proceedings, but he's actually in the film for a mere 10 minutes. Poor Joseph Cotten, frequently overlooked as the film's actual leading man.
- PINHEAD, Hellraiser (1987). I finally saw Hellraiser for the first time the other night; it does not age well. Clive Barker's direction is inept, and the film is more campy than scary. But the makeup and gore effects are impressive, and you can't deny the impact of those creepy, S&M-influenced Cenobites, led by Doug Bradley's Pinhead. Yet Pinhead, et al, are in this 93-minute film for less than 10 minutes.
- JASON VOORHEES, Friday the 13th (1980). Another misremembered horror detail – as spelled out in Scream – is that Jason is the antagonist in the first installment of the Friday the 13th franchise. Spoiler alert: the killer is his mother. Jason only shows up fleetingly in a flashback and a hallucination. He doesn't even acquire his famous hockey mask until Friday the 13th Part III; in Friday the 13th Part II, he wears a pillowcase over his head.
- THE JOKER, Suicide Squad (2016). It's one of the great showbiz bait-and-switches of recent years: Jared Leto's tattooed, blinged-out Joker sparked months of conversation before the release of Suicide Squad, and was a central part of the film's marketing, yet was only in the final film for seven and a half minutes! I still don't know what the filmmakers were thinking, to have the actual Joker in their movie and then shunt him off to the side.
- BOBA FETT, The Empire Strikes Back (1980). This galactic bounty hunter was the most-hyped character of my childhood. As a lover of Star Wars action figures, I was so excited to get my free Boba Fett by sending in four Kenner proof of purchase seals, well before The Empire Strikes Back came out. I'm sure I wasn't the only fan surprised by how little screen time Boba was given in the film: 5 minutes. Surely he'd have a bigger role in Return of the Jedi? Nope: there he's got less than 3 minutes of screen time, swallowed by a Sarlacc in Act 1.
- JACK WILSON, Shane (1953). A young but already reptilian Jack Palance had made a name for himself as baddies in Panic in the Streets and Sudden Fear (a very enjoyable Joan Crawford noir) when he was cast in this classic Western. He scored a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his villainous role, which took up a scant eight minutes.
- THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST, The Wizard of Oz (1939). What a world! Here I must cite possible discrepancies in my listed screen times: I couldn't bear the tedium of watching all these films and logging the times myself, so I am pulling these figures from various reputable-ish websites, many of which disagree. Ergo, Margaret Hamilton's cackling hag is in The Wizard of Oz for either 9 minutes or 12 minutes. Regardless, it's skimpy.
- HANNIBAL LECTER, The Silence of the Lambs (1991). This is the example that everyone cites: Anthony Hopkins won a Best Actor – rather than Best Supporting Actor – Oscar for appearing as Hannibal the Cannibal for all of 16 minutes.