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The Most Important Movie Characters With Barely Any Screen Time

You've probably heard the show business saying about smaller roles for performers — "there are no small parts, only small actors" — and as it happens, a handful of some of Hollywood's very best stars have proven this saying is true time and time again. When you think of your favorite movies, you might remember a few characters or performances that really stood out, but in the case of these incredible characters, they barely had any time onscreen. However, they still left a huge impact behind in each of their films.

Whether the actor behind the smaller character jump-started their career, provided one of the film's most memorable scenes, or even nabbed an Oscar for their tiny turn, there's no doubt that a phenomenal performance or unforgettable character can make or break a movie, even if they only appear for a short period of time. From beloved space epics like Star Wars to classic romantic comedies and elaborate period pieces, here are the most important movie characters with the smallest amount of screen time. (Warning — there are some spoilers below.)

Judi Dench won an Oscar for less than ten minutes of screen time

Playing any real royal figure is a pretty huge undertaking, but there definitely aren't many actors who could make an enormous impression as a historic queen in under ten minutes of screen time. However, Dame Judi Dench managed to pull off this feat with her performance in 1998's Shakespeare in Love, which stars Joseph Fiennes as the famed playwright in the midst of a passionate love affair with the high-born Lady Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow).

As Queen Elizabeth I, the imposing and powerful female monarch of Tudor-era England (and one of Shakespeare's key benefactors), Dench appears on the silver screen for around eight minutes, but still, her magnificent performance is one of the highlights of the film. Clearly, the Academy agreed. Alongside the film's Best Picture victory and Paltrow's win for Best Leading Actress, Dench won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for a performance that lasted less than ten minutes.

Draco Malfoy cast a spell on audiences in Harry Potter

The eight-part Harry Potter film franchise features plenty of villains, from the cruel Dursley family to Ralph Fiennes' Dark Lord Voldemort to Imelda Staunton's simpering yet vicious Dolores Umbridge. However, if you look beyond those bad guys, you still have one vindictive, bullying character to deal with — Draco Malfoy, played in the movies by young British actor Tom Felton.

Draco begins Hogwarts at the same time as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends, but as Harry's rival who was sorted into the evil Slytherin house, the two constantly butt heads throughout their time at school. Draco is definitely one of the series' most unforgettable characters, but you may not have noticed that he actually barely appears in the films. Although the movies' runtime adds up to about 20 hours, Draco only appears in about 30 minutes, proving that a villain can prove invaluable no matter how long they're actually up on the screen.

In Les Miserables, Fantine broke our hearts with barely any screen time

Anne Hathaway has been in plenty of memorable projects over the years, from beloved teen fare like The Princess Diaries to superhero flicks like Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. However, one of her most unforgettable and lauded turns is also one of her smallest roles. In 2012, director Tom Hooper — fresh off of the awards-season success of The King's Speech – adapted the legendary Broadway musical Les Miserables for the big screen, bringing the expansive and epic musical about the June 1832 Rebellion to life on film. And as part of his all-star cast, the director hired Hathaway for one of the film's most memorable parts.

As Fantine, Hathaway paints the picture of an impoverished and struggling single mother who, after losing her job as a factory worker because she had a child out of wedlock, turns to sex work — and even sells her teeth and hair — to try and provide for her daughter, Cosette (played by Amanda Seyfried later in the film). Ultimately, Fantine dies a tragic and young death, leaving her daughter alone in the world. Astonishingly, Hathaway manages to pull off this entire performance, including Fantine's harrowing death scene where she performs the showstopper "I Dreamed a Dream," in under 15 minutes. Hathaway won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress the following year, and after that tour de force performance, nobody could argue with her victory.

As Mrs. Miller, Viola Davis didn't leave any doubt about her acting talent

Adapted from John Patrick Shanley's play of the same name — with the playwright behind the scenes as a writer and director — the 2008 film Doubt tells the difficult story of a disturbing scandal in a Catholic elementary school and what may or may not have happened. Meryl Streep leads the film as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the school's principal who becomes suspicious when she sees that the school's priest, Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), has been paying a lot of special attention to the sole Black student. Anxious for young Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), Sister Aloysius and her young acolyte, Sister James (Amy Adams), try to uncover the truth about the relationship between Donald and Father Flynn.

Doubt has an incredibly small core cast, but if you've seen the film, you definitely remember the powerhouse performance by supporting player Viola Davis, who delivers a searing and impassioned monologue as Donald's frightened and upset mother, Mrs. Miller. In just eight minutes, Davis earned her first Academy Award nomination and became one of Hollywood's most celebrated actresses, managing to stand out from such a talented cast in under ten minutes.

Estelle Reiner cracked us all up in When Harry Met Sally

When Harry Met Sally, the beloved romantic comedy penned by Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner, has plenty of iconic performances, from Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan's leading roles to incredible supporting turns from actors like Carrie Fisher and Bruce Kirby. However, in a film with seemingly endless quotable lines and unforgettable moments, the movie's most famous moment belongs to the performer with the least amount of screen time by far.

In the movie's ultra-famous diner scene, Meg Ryan's Sally loudly fakes an intense moment of female pleasure, forcing the entire room to pay attention. As a response, an older woman at a nearby table tells the server, "I'll have what she's having," a line which ultimately became one of the movie's most popular jokes. The actress, Estelle Reiner, is actually director Rob Reiner's mother in a small cameo, and she's onscreen for about 30 seconds. But without this scene, When Harry Met Sally — and its pop culture footprint — just wouldn't be the same.

The Wicked Witch of the West terrified Dorothy for just 12 minutes

The Wicked Witch of the West is one of the best villains in cinematic history, but you might not realize just how little time this character actually appears onscreen. In the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, innocent Dorothy (Judy Garland) finds herself transported to the magical land of Oz during a tornado, accidentally killing the Wicked Witch's beloved sister, the Wicked Witch of the East. Pursued by the remaining witch, Dorothy must find the mythical wizard and evade her enemy. 

Despite the fact that the Wicked Witch of the West has some of the movie's most iconic lines — including, "I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!" — and is the movie's main antagonist, she's barely onscreen for 12 minutes when all is said and done. For a character so popular that a Broadway musical, Wicked, was later crafted around her, 12 minutes of screen time is pretty astonishing when you consider the Wicked Witch of the West's long-lasting cultural impact.

Matthew McConaughey's Mark Hanna stole the spotlight in The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street – the 2013 ode to excess and corruption crafted by Martin Scorsese — contains plenty of over-the-top and hilariously committed performances. That includes turns from Jonah Hill, a spectacular debut from Margot Robbie, and Leonardo DiCaprio's explosive central role. However, one of the movie's most unforgettable scenes belongs to Matthew McConaughey, who then disappears for the rest of the movie.

As aspiring stockbroker Jordan Belfort, DiCaprio begins the movie largely uncorrupted ... that is, until he meets McConaughey's Mark Hanna. When Jordan gets his first job under Hanna at L.F. Rothschild, he ends up seduced by his boss' heavy-drinking and party-focused lifestyle, becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol thanks to Mark's advice and influence. The scene that begins Jordan's downfall, where he lunches with Mark over vodka martinis, ends up being one of the movie's most memorable sequences thanks to McConaughey's improvised chant and his weirdly specific instructions for how Jordan should lead his life. 

With that said, McConaughey barely spends ten minutes in this three-hour film, proving that an actor at the top of his game can deliver an unforgettable performance in just a few minutes.

Casey Becker made Scream a truly scary movie

A great opening sequence can catapult a film to greatness, and there aren't many opening sequences as legendary as the 12-minute intro to Wes Craven's 1996 horror classic Scream. As teenager Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) prepares to spend a quiet evening at home watching movies, she gets a series of mysterious phone calls from a menacing stranger, who moves from creepy to threatening pretty quickly.

As Casey, Barrymore ratchets the tension throughout the scene beautifully, playing off of nothing more than a voice on the phone. But as it turns out, Barrymore was originally approached to play a totally different part in the movie. When Scream began to take shape, producers wanted Barrymore, a huge star, to play the lead role of Sidney Prescott, which ultimately went to Party of Five actress Neve Campbell. In the years since, Barrymore has revealed that she requested to play Casey to throw the audience off, since Casey dies before the film's narrative even really begins. Ultimately, it's lucky for audiences that Barrymore made this choice because in just 12 minutes, Barrymore helped craft one of the best opening sequences in recent memory.

Gwyneth Paltrow's character in Contagion left a sickening impact with barely any screen time

Steven Soderbergh's 2011 film Contagion features a sprawling cast filled with famous faces, including Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, and Bryan Cranston. But one of its most famous stars is actually barely in the movie. 

As the film opens, Gwyneth Paltrow's Beth Emhoff comes home from a business trip to Hong Kong — and a clandestine meeting with a lover — but her husband, Mitch (Damon), ends up rushing her to the hospital after she becomes very ill very quickly. As the situation escalates and Beth gets sicker, doctors are baffled by her condition, and she dies, presenting a frightening harbinger of things to come as the onscreen pandemic spreads.

Despite the fact that Paltrow's death scene is one of the most recognizable images from the entire movie, the Academy Award-winning actress is barely on screen for three minutes during the movie's opening. Paltrow has played plenty of roles, but few were this memorable ... or brief. 

Alec Baldwin got our attention as Blake

Adapted from David Mamet's stage play by the writer himself, the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross serves as a much more profane and obscene version of stories like Death of a Salesman, showing the desperate and maniacal lengths a group of real estate developers will go to in order to remain relevant and employed. When the four salesmen realize that all of their jobs are on the line, they turn to bribery, robbery, and even violence to keep their careers and incomes.

However, there's one character who's barely in the film, yet he leaves the biggest impact on the plot. Yeah, we're talking about Blake, the "fixer" played by Alec Baldwin, who's also one of the biggest stars in the film. When the macho motivational speaker shows up, he tells all of the salesman that they'll lose their jobs if they don't improve their numbers. And shockingly, Blake appears in the movie for about eight minutes. Despite this, his "Always Be Closing" scene is probably the most famous sequence in the entire film, and it's certainly one of the most memorable monologues in all of cinema, despite Baldwin's brief turn in the overall movie.

Allison Janney forgot she played Ms. Perky in 10 Things I Hate About You, but we sure didn't

A modern take on William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, the 1999 romantic teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You featured a ton of up-and-coming young stars, including Julia Stiles, Gabrielle Union, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Krumholtz, and even future Academy Award winner Heath Ledger. Meanwhile, its adult cast boasted legendary names like Larry Miller and Allison Janney, the latter of whom was already starring on The West Wing. And though Janney's performance proved extraordinarily popular, she only appears in a few minutes of the movie when all is said and done.

As Ms. Perky, Padua High School's guidance counselor with a penchant for writing fairly dirty fiction while at work, Janney gives a performance that's as blunt and no-nonsense as it is hilarious, and it clearly made an impact, though not on Janney herself. Despite the love for Ms. Perky throughout the years, Janney has said she "forgot" that she was in the movie at all, which makes sense, considering she only appeared for about eight minutes.

Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow terrified Batman fans in just a few minutes

Typically, the villain in a superhero film looms pretty large, but in the case of one of Batman Begins' main antagonists, he barely appears onscreen at all. Much of the movie is taken up by Liam Neeson's villain, Ra's al Ghul, who presents himself as Bruce Wayne's (Christian Bale) mentor before the hero discovers that the two men are actually nemeses. However, there's a second villain lurking in Batman Begins who receives way less screen time than Ra's al Ghul. 

Though Cillian Murphy's Dr. Jonathan Crane ends up becoming the evil Scarecrow and even works with Neeson's character, he only appears in the movie for about eight minutes, with the majority of the conflict happening between Ra's al Ghul and Bruce when push comes to shove. However, Scarecrow's freaky mask and horrific fear toxin left a terrifying impression on Dark Knight fans. Murphy would continue working with director Christopher Nolan in other projects like 2010's Inception, and luckily, he got much more screen time as he continued working with the British auteur.

Believe it or not, Darth Vader has barely any screen time in the original Star Wars trilogy

You might be surprised to learn that one of cinema's most famous villains doesn't actually spend a whole lot of time onscreen. Introduced in the original Star Wars trilogy, Darth Vader (voided by James Earl Jones) appears right at the beginning of the first film — subtitled A New Hope — and serves as the trilogy's main antagonist throughout all three films, leading the evil Empire and sowing destruction throughout the galaxy. As even casual Star Wars viewers know, there's a twist to Darth Vader, who eventually reveals that he's actually Luke Skywalker's (Mark Hamill) long-lost father and was once a Jedi named Anakin Skywalker who turned to the Dark Side.

Darth Vader isn't just one of the most famous characters in Star Wars but in cinematic history, which makes his timestamp throughout the original series all the more shocking. In A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi, Vader only appears for about 34 minutes, while the three films have a total run time of over 385 minutes. Vader is still in plenty of scenes, but he definitely appears in less of the original Star Wars trilogy than you probably thought.