Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Best One-Scene Performances Of All Time

When critics and film fans talk about the greatest movie performances, they tend to remember actors who've played major roles, leading men and ladies like Amy Adams in Arrival or Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. They often forget about actors who only show up for a few minutes but completely steal the spotlight with their one and only scene. And honestly, these little micro-performances might be even harder than showing up for a whole entire movie. These stars only have a couple of seconds to create a fully-rounded character, only a few moments to make a lasting impression on audiences and deliver just a few lines for us to remember them by. But when a truly talented actor gets a teeny-tiny part, they can turn a brief appearance into truly memorable role. From sci-fi antiheroes to super creepy cameos, these are the best one-scene performances of all time.

Dave Bautista was vulnerable and violent in Blade Runner 2049

Dave Bautista shocked audiences with his acting chops in Guardians of the Galaxy, and the wrestler-turned-thespian stunned us all again with Blade Runner 2049. A sequel to the Ridley Scott classic, 2049 is set in a dystopian world where cops called blade runners kill runaway robots known as replicants. And our man Bautista is one of those rogue androids, a "skinjob" named Sapper Morton who's hiding away as a protein farmer. Unfortunately, his worm-raising days come to a bloody end when a blade runner (Ryan Gosling) shows up to give Morton an early retirement.

As Gosling's cop interrogates Morton, the big and burly replicant seems like the weariest guy in the world. He's a melancholy man, with bulging muscles, tiny glasses, and a whispery voice. Morton is exhausted of constantly looking over his shoulder to see if death is coming up behind him. But there's also an edge to his voice, a mixture of fear and anger. And eventually, Morton just erupts. Bautista uses all his wrestling skills to beat Ryan Gosling into oblivion, but eventually, the blade runner gets the upper hand. But before he dies, there's almost sympathy in Morton's voice — sympathy for the man about to gun him down because he's "never seen a miracle." It's a performance that's both tender and explosive, and as director Denis Villeneuve put it, "The vulnerability that Dave brought to the character was essential for the movie to be a success."

Barry Shabaka Henley was a real cool cat in Collateral

Barry Shabaka Henley is one of those actors who shows up in everything, from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to A Star Is Born. He's also teamed up several times with director Michael Mann, working on films like Ali and Miami Vice. But the best Henley-Mann collaboration has got to be Collateral, in which the actor plays a jazz musician by the name of Daniel, a man doomed to lose a fateful game of trivia.

When Daniel first shows up, he's the king of a jazz club, showing off on stage and then holding court with two customers, regaling them with the story of the time he met Miles Davis. Honestly, we could listen to Daniel talk all night long. The man knows how to hold an audience. Unfortunately, one of his patrons (a silver-haired Tom Cruise) is a hitman for a Mexican cartel, and the moment Daniel realizes this guy isn't interested in swapping stories, his smile disappears and his eyes go wide. The good times are over.

There are all sorts of emotions rushing through Daniel — anger, fear, betrayal. But he gets a chance at life when Cruise's suave assassin agrees to spare musician if he can answer any question about the Prince of Darkness. When Daniel gives his answer, he's so supremely confident, so sure he's got it right, that it's an absolute gut punch when Cruise ventilates his head seconds later. He was only on for a handful of minutes, but Barry Shabaka Henley helped make Collateral a real cool movie.

Steve Park made us all cringe in Fargo

Fargo is filled with oddballs, misfits, and weirdos, but the biggest loser of the bunch has got to be Mike Yanagita, the most pathetic stalker in Minnesota. Played by Steve Park — an actor who's starred in classics like Do the Right Thing, Snowpiercer, and A Serious Man — Mike shows up about halfway through the film, hoping to wine and dine an old classmate. However, the woman in question is the happily married, incredibly pregnant Chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), and she gets a bit uneasy when Mike starts making moves.

Mike is never truly menacing, but he's uber-creepy because everything he does is just a little too much. For example, when Marge joins Mike at a restaurant, he hugs her way too tight and for way too long, and suddenly, we're all starting to cringe. As they reminisce about their lives and catch up on old news, Mike is a little too eager, laughs a little too loud, and barks embarrassing compliments at full volume. With that giant smile plastered to his face, he's Minnesota Way-Too-Nice. Things get even worse when he breaks down crying at the table, bemoaning how lonely he is. It's an incredibly uncomfortable performance from Steve Park, and we mean that in the best way possible. He's got this Michael Scott ability of making us all feel super awkward... including poor Marge.

Alec Baldwin taught us the ABC's in Glengarry Glen Ross

Released in 1992, Glengarry Glen Ross features one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled. We've got Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Jonathan Pryce (yeah, Kevin Spacey is here too). That's a whole lot of talent and testosterone for one film, but while we want to give props to all these guys, it's Alec Baldwin who's got our attention now.

Baldwin plays an alpha-male super-salesman by the name of Blake. The dude makes mad stacks selling real estate, and he's been asked by his bosses to motivate some of his less-than-successful colleagues. But instead of going the inspirational route, Blake decides to scare these salesmen straight. He belittles their manhood, threatens their livelihood, and rips them apart with his poison tongue and brass balls.

During his profanity-laced rant, Blake lets us know that coffee is for closers and teaches us about the alphabet. And when his poor victims try to speak up, Blake rubs his Rolex in their faces and reminds them who's driving the Hyundai and who's driving the BMW. In other words, he absolutely massacres them with his monologue. But it isn't just the salesmen who are shaken. Baldwin's speech leave us all riveted and rattled because this guy is so scary... and honestly, kind of hilarious. Really, the best way we can describe Baldwin here is aggressive, badass, and combative. You know, ABC.

Taika Waititi preaches about salvation and snack food in Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi is the Orson Welles of New Zealand comedy. Not only does he write his own scripts and direct his own films, but he often shows up in front of the camera. And every time he does, this clever Kiwi always cracks us up. He's a lovable vampire in What We Do in the Shadows and a goofy rock monster in Thor: Ragnarok, but perhaps his funniest performance comes in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, where he plays New Zealand's quirkiest preacher.

Presiding over a somber funeral, this bearded pastor delivers a nonsensical sermon about doors, Coke Zero, and a tricky Jesus (but not vegetables). He's a crusty and grumpy preacher who's probbly spent too much time living in the bush, and Waititi's line delivery is bizarre and hilarious, perfect for the completely ridiculous speech he's giving. And as his congregation struggles to understand what the heck he's talking about, the pastor gets more and more frustrated with his flock, who can't seem to grasp his message about Fanta and Doritos.

What's really crazy is that Waititi is impersonating a preacher he once heard in real life. Speaking with Cinemablend, Waititi explained, the sermon was "actually based on one from a real funeral that I'd been to... and so I really wanted to make sure that like it was how it was in my head, particularly that speech and that character." Waititi's impression is comedy gold, and his absurd sermon leaves us rolling in the aisles.

Richard Sammel should've won a medal for Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds is full of astonishing one-scene performances, like Denis Ménochet as a frightened farmer and August Diehl as an observant Nazi. But perhaps the most, uh, impactful performance comes from Richard Sammel. This German actor plays Sgt. Werner Racthman, a Nazi soldier who comes face-to-face with a baseball bat. In just seven minutes, Sammel makes us feel all sorts of emotions about this ill-fated fascist, from disgust to sympathy.

Captured by the Basterds — a group of Jewish American soldiers with a fondness for close haircuts — Rachtman refuses to divulge any info about German troops. On top of that, he's a little smug and disdainful towards his Jewish captors, and when he drops an anti-Semitic slur, we wouldn't mind watching Eli Roth hit a homerun with his head. But at the same time, the man is absolutely terrified. There's genuine fear in his eyes, but Racthman doesn't want to betray his emotions. Instead of shivering or shaking, he keeps his spine straight and his upper lip stiff. He's going to go out like a soldier and die with honor.

But the most important part of Sammel's performance comes when the "Bear Jew" (Roth) shows up and points to Racthman's Iron Cross. "Did you get that for killing Jews?" he asks. And then the Nazi replies, his voice soft but sure, "Bravery." It's a powerful, complex moment, and a testament to Sammel's acting abilities.

Gloria Foster is prophetic and perfect in The Matrix

Every character from The Matrix is memorable, even the ones who aren't Trinity and Agent Smith. There's Switch and Spoon Boy and Neo's obnoxious boss, but when it comes to making the most with just a handful of minutes, Gloria Foster steals the entire show as the Oracle. She's a chain-smoking prophet who splits her time between baking cookies and auditioning people to see who's the savior of humanity. And when the reluctant Neo (Keanu Reeves) steps into her kitchen to get his fortune told, he's absolutely mesmerized by the Oracle's kind yet creepy charisma.

The Oracle has the down-home charm of a sweet grandmother, but there's also something a little unsettling about this old woman. Maybe it's the fact that she can see right through you and that she's an all-knowing being who likes to get you guessing about fate and free will. And Foster has a whole lot of fun walking that line between being folksy and freaky. Her character is a woman (well, technically, a computer program) who clearly sees Neo's potential, but she also takes him to task for his arrogance and ignorance. She does not suffer fools and has no problems delivering some tough love. With her teasing voice and unnerving grin, Foster really bakes our noodle with her tricky questions and fantastic performance.

Patrick Fischler frightened us to death in Mulholland Drive

Patrick Fischler has played in pretty much every movie and TV show ever made, from Lost and Mad Men to Speed and Idiocracy. But without a doubt, his most memorable performance comes in Mulholland Drive, playing a man named Dan who's having breakfast at the diner from hell.

From the moment Dan comes on, he's giving off this nervous energy. He's sitting at the table, his eggs and bacon untouched, as he tells his friend about a recurring nightmare. Sure, he's trying to play it cool and act like he's embarrassed, but as he describes the monster he dreamed hiding behind the diner, we realize this guy is just consumed with dread.

There's his awkward smile, his uncomfortable laugh, his uneven voice. And when his dream starts becoming reality, his eyes go wide with alarm. Things get worse when he decides to see if there's really a bogeyman hiding behind the restaurant. As he steps outside, the dread builds and builds, and his hesitant walk and agonized face tell us that Dan is terrified of what he might find.

When the monster finally appears, Fischler freaks out and collapses to the ground in a horrified heap. The actor credits director David Lynch for helping him with the performance, telling The AV Club that he was originally going to play Dan as much more panicked, until Lynch suggested that he just "be simple." It was a great piece of advice, and Fischler played it to perfection, scaring us away from ever eating at a diner again.

Gene Jones in No Country for Old Men

Javier Bardem won an Oscar for his chilling performance as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, and he got that little gold statue largely thanks to the iconic gas station scene. With his bowl cut and Grim Reaper grimace, Bardem is chilling as the psychopathic hitman. But hey, it takes two to tango, and that scene wouldn't be nearly as memorable without Gene Jones standing on the other side of the counter.

When Chigurh comes in, the friendly store owner tries to strike up some casual conversation, but chatting with a serial killer is never a good idea. Things take a menacing turn when Chigurh starts peppering the old man with a series of intimidating questions — "What business is it of yours where I'm from?" "What time do you go to bed?" "What's the most ever you've ever lost on a coin toss?"

As the creepy questions keep coming, the old man gets more and more confused. He can tell there's something wrong here, that this Chigurh guy isn't right, but he's not sure what to do. His eyes go wide with shock once Chigurh gets aggressive. There's desperation in his voice when he tries to usher Chigurh out the door. And once the coin comes out, the old man realizes there's a lot on the line here, and that's when the fear truly sets in. In less than five minutes, Gene Jones has us hoping and praying he'll make it out alive, and honestly, somebody should've given this guy an Oscar.

Donnie Wahlberg scared us all senseless in The Sixth Sense

Who's the most important character in The Sixth Sense? Is it Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), the kid who can see dead people? Is it Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), the psychologist on a mission to save a frightened kid? Well, the correct answer is Vincent Gray, a tormented guy with murder on his mind. Played by Donnie Wahlberg, Vincent is only on screen for about three minutes, but he's far more disturbing than any spirit that shows up, thanks to Wahlberg's heartbreaking and horrific performance.

The actor lost 43 pounds for the role, and as a result, he looks like an emaciated POW, wrecked by years of physical and psychological trauma. His eyes are wide with terror, his lips are flecked with spit, and his quivering voice is filled with anger. Like some sort of meth addict, he's constantly rubbing and pulling at his skin, and when he's not crying, he's screaming at the top of his lungs and pounding on the wall. He feels absolutely betrayed by Dr. Crowe, and now he's here for revenge. Wahlberg does a phenomenal job as a man who's spent his life running from ghosts, and his devastating performance haunts the entire film.

Veronica Ngo brought hope and humanity to Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Spanning over 40 years, the Star Wars franchise is a sweeping space opera of good versus evil, where the forces of light battle the forces of darkness. And in this epic tale, the little guy often gets lost in the cracks. The Star Wars saga largely focuses on the major players in this galactic war — Rey, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Kylo Ren — but one particular moment in The Last Jedi reminds us there are a whole bunch of bit players in this massive drama, walk-on heroes who give up their lives for the cause.

In the film's opening moments, we're introduced to Resistance pilot Paige Tico. Played by Veronica Ngo, Paige is in the film for about three minutes, and she only says one word during the entire time she's on screen. But when her bomber flies over a First Order dreadnought, we watch as Paige sacrifices herself to take out the massive ship. Ngo gives this character guts and grit, and in just a few seconds, we're totally invested in Paige, hoping she'll complete her mission and escape the battle alive. Unfortunately, Paige's ship is blown to smithereens, and as she sadly and solemnly accepts her death, we can tell by her face that she's dying for something she truly believes in.

No, Veronica Ngo didn't make us cry uncontrollably. That's just some Jakku sand we've got in our eyes.

Charles Fleischer was creepier than any killer in Zodiac

We've got to give Ione Skye some major praise for her one-scene role in Zodiac, playing a terrified mom who comes face-to-face with a demented killer. But if we're handing out awards for one-scene performances in David Fincher's crime thriller, then we're picking Charles Fleischer as Bob Vaughn, an organist who just might be a murderer. When obsessed cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) shows up at his home, Bob seems friendly enough — soft-spoken, helpful, and eager to talk about old-timey movies. But once Graysmith brings up the Zodiac, Bob morphs from amiable to ominous.

Things get especially eerie when Bob takes Graysmith down into the basement. Surrounded by shadows, Bob glides through the cellar like Nosferatu, morphing into a ghoul who seems to enjoy making Graysmith uncomfortable. The way he holds his hands, the way he smiles, the way he draws out his sentences, it's all so spooky. Any moment, he might reveal himself to be the Zodiac, and Graysmith can't wait to get out of that basement... and the same is true for everyone watching. When the freaked-out cartoonist finally makes a run for it, Bob gives a sinister little grin that sends chills up our spine. He never makes a threat, and he never pulls a weapon, but Charles Fleischer might be the scariest character in a movie filled with creepy characters. All the more impressive considering the role he's most famous for: Roger Rabbit.