What is the least amount of screen time, relative to the total running length, that the single highest-billed actor (or actress) has ever had in a feature-length, non-experimental film? (For the purposes of this question, "screen time" includes time spent doing voice-overs.)

  • 2
    Top-billed where, though? Promotional art varies from country to country (like in this travesty), and is also sometimes changed after a then-obscure actor in a bit part becomes successful.
    – Walt
    Feb 15, 2016 at 13:21
  • 3
    Not actually top-billed but John Wayne played a Roman centurion in "The Greatest Story Ever Told" when he was one of the biggest actors in the world; the full version of the film lasts 260 minutes and he was on-screen for a few seconds, delivering precisely one line. As this poster shows, he was given quite a bit of billing for just one line.
    – Spratty
    Feb 15, 2016 at 15:32
  • 4
    Andy Serkis does voice acting, which my question defines as screen time. If you don't count voice acting (and motion capture, I suppose) as screen time, then every animated film ever made would have to be listed here!
    – Psychonaut
    Feb 15, 2016 at 16:24
  • 5
    Is Mark Hamill in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a possible answer to this question? He only got maybe a minute on-screen, but I think Harrison Ford billed higher. Feb 15, 2016 at 19:02
  • 2
    He got second billing in my market. I doubt there was any release where he was billed first.
    – Psychonaut
    Feb 15, 2016 at 19:12

6 Answers 6


EDIT: We might have a new record. In the US historical epic One Night with the King from 2006, Peter O'Toole briefly appears in the prologue as the Prophet Samuel for "barely 30 seconds", according to Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide. (I timed it myself and it's about 25 seconds). Despite this, he's top-billed as the film's star:

enter image description here

Another notable example would be Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space from 1959. It's a B-movie, but by all means not experimental or avant-garde. It was famously filmed after Bela Lugosi's death and more or less based around some brief, silent footage of him which Wood shot before he died. Wood originally promoted it as "Bela Lugosi's last movie", and to make Bela's role more prominent, Wood then hired his wife's chiropractor as a stand in. So, although Lugosi's actual screen time is under 3 minutes (I counted it myself), he's still top-billed in the original promotional art:

enter image description here

[However, there is also the dubious practice of retroactively displaying a famous actor prominently in the promotional art of their older, more obscure films in which they only briefly appeared. TVTropes calls this Billing Displacement and features a few trillion examples, so you might find some more fitting titles there too.]

  • I think your final disclaimer is important. I considered added Lugosi, but rejected him because he didn't initially have the top billing. As you say, he got it afterwards. Still, he probably is the closest to what the OP wants. Feb 15, 2016 at 15:18
  • @AndrewMartin When was he not top billed, though? I thought this whole movie was originally promoted\created as 'Bela's last film'.
    – Walt
    Feb 15, 2016 at 15:20
  • @Walt: Sorry, I'll rephrase that. He died during it, then it was decided to make him one of the top bills. That wasn't the original plan. Whether that makes a difference or not, I don't know :) Feb 15, 2016 at 15:27
  • 4
    @AndrewMartin No, AFAIK that's a common misconception. He died before filming and Wood used this old footage of him he had lying around (for some other project) to basically create a film around.
    – Walt
    Feb 15, 2016 at 15:28
  • 1
    @AndrewMartin You can also just watch Burton's Ed Wood, which I think recreates this pretty faithfully. Plus, it's fun :)
    – Walt
    Feb 15, 2016 at 15:31

There are a lot of films with actors/actresses who dominate the film, but actually have very little screen time. For example, Orson Welles in The Third Man had ~10 minutes of screen time. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight had just under 20 minutes. Judi Dench won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love for less than 8 minutes acting time. Similarly, Beatrice Straight won an Oscar for Network, based on ~10 minutes acting time. Anne Hathaway also won an Oscar for Les Miserables, based on ~15 minutes screen time.

Of course, the problem with all of these is that they don't fit the scope of your question - in that the actors involved, whilst highly billed, were not the highest billed.

Given this, the best answer I can think of is The Silence of the Lambs, starring, as the joint top-billed actor, Anthony Hopkins. He had less than 16 minutes of screen time, which is more than the others above, but at least shared the top billing.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to verify anything lower than this. There are plenty of people who have had high billing despite having a mere cameo, but I'm not aware of anyone actually leading the credit listings with a lower time than this (although I'll happily amend my answer if I find anyone).


Marlon Brando in Superman received joint top billing with Gene Hackman (who played Lex Luthor). Christopher Reeve, who played Superman, was billed much lower as he was relatively unknown at the time. Brando has ~8 minutes of screen time, which is much less than Anthony Hopkins.

Edit 2:

If joint top billing is to be allowed, as many have commented Mark Hamill, who shared top-billing with a host of other people, had a mere minute or two of on-screen presence in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.

Edit 3:

Neither of us have confirmed this, but @Thunderforge has suggested Tobin Bell in Saw 3D, who was given solo top billing and apparently only had two minutes of screen play.

  • Keep in mind that my question is about the proportion of screen time, not the absolute number of minutes. That said, of your two examples, Brando still wins (8 of 143 minutes = 6%, compared to Hopkins's 15 / 118 = 13%).
    – Psychonaut
    Feb 15, 2016 at 14:20
  • You beat me to it. Had to be Marlon Brando, I'm surprised that it was even 8 minutes... could have guessed it was about 4.
    – John O
    Feb 15, 2016 at 15:31
  • 7
    Does joint billed count? The question says "single highest-billed". Is Mark Hammill joint top billed in The Force Awakens?
    – Fruitbat
    Feb 15, 2016 at 16:05
  • @Fruitbat: I think it should count, but OP indicated elsewhere it shouldn't. Feb 15, 2016 at 16:05
  • 3
    TV Tropes Billing Displacement page says that Tobin Bell had top billing in Saw 3D, but only 2 minutes of screen time. I can confirm from the poster I found that he did get top billing, but I've never seen the movie, so I can't confirm that he has 2 minutes. It also mentions Mel Brooks getting top billing in Space Balls despite cameo rolls, but I don't know how much screen time that is. Feb 16, 2016 at 5:49

Steve McQueen was the top billed actor of The Great Escape.

enter image description here

He has very few lines, and spends almost all his screen time throwing a baseball off a wall into his glove. Supposedly he was slated to have even less (and was nearly thrown out of the movie entirely), but insisted on being given something "heroic" to do.

Part of the problem, it seemed, was McQueen’s determination that his character remain cool and inscrutable. 'We finally figured out,’ Garner said, '“Steve, you want to be the hero, but you don’t want to do anything heroic.”’

So a scene was added near the end of him failing to escape on a motorcycle. But even that scene was done by a stunt-double, not McQueen himself.

I can't find a definitive number for McQueen's screen time online, nor a stream of the movie. However, youtube has a series of 11 clips. Adding up his screen time from all of them, it appears that he had at least 10 minutes of screen time in the movie, which works out to a bit less than 6%. But that's a lower bound, not upper.

  • I added this as an answer because I had always heard of this as the prototypical example of the "star" having nearly no screen time. However, I couldn't find anywhere that listed his actual screen time in this (nearly 3 hour) movie. Still, I think he should get extra credit for doing and saying nearly nothing in the screen time he does have.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 16, 2016 at 14:50
  • For what proportion of the film is he actually on screen? Unless you provide numbers, it's impossible to tell whether this answer is better than the others already posted.
    – Psychonaut
    Feb 16, 2016 at 19:05
  • @Psychonaut - Exact numbers are what I have been having trouble finding. I was hoping someone else could find them and post them in a comment. It has to be out there somewhere. I do know the movie itself is 2 hours and 52 minutes (172 minutes). But I think even without numbers it should be given some consideration simply because the "star" wasn't doing or saying much of anything when he was on screen.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 16, 2016 at 20:07
  • Well, its not currently on any streaming service I have access to. But I did find the complete cycle chase scene. It clocks in at about 6.5 minutes, for a rocking 3.7% of the movie alone. During that entire sequence his only line is to mumble "Switzerland".
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 17, 2016 at 3:33

There are a lot of good answers, but there is one movie that is notorious for having the top-billed actor have very little screen time.

The movie Game Of Death (1978) stars Bruce Lee, well kind of. All you history buffs know where I am going with this. Bruce Lee was already long dead before this movie was released. There was tons of archive footage that wasn't being used, so the film makers decided to make an entire movie using these clips. Unfortunately, they did not have enough footage, so they had to insert cardboard cutouts of Lee (I kid you not) as a stand in.

Here is a clip showing just how egregious some of these scenes are.

Cardboard Cutout Bruce

Bruce Lee is the top-billed actor in this film, yet he did not actually act in this movie. The acting for this film that he did was technically 0 minutes.

  • 2
    He still has screen time, though. Otherwise you can put Trail of the Pink Panther in here as well.
    – Walt
    Feb 17, 2016 at 0:36

Alec Baldwin, Blake, 7:23 of 100:00 (7.3%), Glengarry Glen Ross, billing (third or shared first, I don't find querier has resolved in other comments):

enter image description here


George Clooney, The Thin Red Line (1998)

Albeit having a huge ensemble cast, in this 2-hour 50-minute feature he has less than maybe 2 minutes of screen time.


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