Academy Awards: The Most Unforgettable Moments In Oscars History
Do you remember when the wrong best picture winner was announced?
Throughout the years, the Oscars have provided some of the most unforgettable moments in entertainment. The ceremony’s nearly century-long history has been filled with everything from big wins to major upsets to shocking on-stage flubs.
In honor of the upcoming 91st Academy Awards (on Feb. 24 — mark your calendars!), here’s a look back at the most talked-about events from Hollywood’s biggest awards night.
1940: Hattie McDaniel Is The First African-American Oscar Winner
Hattie McDaniel made history after taking home the prize for best-supporting actress for her role as a house servant on the Tara plantation in “Gone With the Wind.” She was the first African-American actor to win — as well as the first to be nominated — for an Academy Award. According to The Hollywood Reporter, a special call had to be made to allow McDaniel on the premises of the segregated hotel to accept the award.
McDaniel appeared visibly moved during her speech, stating, “I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry.”
1943: Greer Garson Gives Longest Oscar Speech
We may have Greer Garson to thank for the 45-second time limit imposed on winners’ speeches. After winning best actress for “Mrs. Miniver” (in the last award of the night), Garson spoke for more than five minutes, breaking the record for the longest victory speech in Oscar history.
Still, Garson (below, left) insisted that the press inflated the lore surrounding her speech. “Reports on the length of my speech that night seem to be like that one report of Mark Twain’s death: slightly exaggerated,” she said, per Newsday.
1964: Sidney Poitier Becomes First African-American Man To Win Best Actor
Sidney Poitier collected the best actor Oscar for his performance in “Lillies of the Field.” The win was not without its controversy. When presenting him with the history-making award, Ann Bancroft gave him a peck on the cheek. At a time when interracial relationships were outlawed, the gesture drew outrage from racial conservatives.
Poitier later said of the award, “It represented progress. It meant the embracing of a kind of democracy that had been very long in maturing.”
1969: Barbra Streisand And Katharine Hepburn Tie For Best Actress
Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn both earned 3,030 votes for their performances, in “Funny Girl” and “The Lion in Winter,” respectively. Hepburn wasn’t there to accept the award, and in her absence, Streisand stole the show with her speech. She greeted her trophy with her character’s famous line, “Hello, gorgeous!”
1972: Charlie Chaplin Gets a 12-Minute Standing Ovation
Charlie Chaplin returned to the U.S. to accept a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1972, after 20 years in exile for alleged Communist sympathies. The icon garnered the longest standing ovation in the awards’ history, with the audience applauding him for more than 10 minutes.
1973: Marlon Brando Refuses To Accept His Award
The actor won best actor for his role in “The Godfather,” but he rejected the prize. Instead of accepting the award or even attending the ceremony, Marlon Brando sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to speak on his behalf.
Littlefeather cited “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry” as the reason for Brando’s refusal of the award. The moment not only went down in Oscars history, but made Brando one of the first to use his victory at the prestigious event as a platform for political views.
1974: A Streaker Upstages Elizabeth Taylor On Stage
Right before Elizabeth Taylor was set to announce the best picture winner, gay rights activist Robert Opel interrupted the moment by running across the stage naked. Taylor made it to the mic shortly after, but she couldn’t stifle her laughter at what had just occurred. Meanwhile, security surprisingly chose not to arrest Opel or even kick him out of the event. In fact, he gave a post-telecast press conference.
“People shouldn’t be ashamed of being nude in public,” he told reporters at the time.
1974: Tatum O’Neal Becomes The Youngest Oscar Winner Ever
Tatum O’Neal was only 10 years when she won the best supporting actress prize for her performance in “Paper Moon.” Donning a tuxedo, O’Neal took to the stage to thank director Peter Bogdanovich and her father, Ryan O’Neal, with whom she co-starred in the film.
1976: Louise Fletcher Uses Sign Language In Speech
Louise Fletcher took home the award for best actress for her role in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” As she took to the stage and gave her thanks, she signed part of her speech for the benefit of her deaf parents.
1985: Sally Field Gives An Oft-Misquoted Speech
Sally Field’s giddy declaration “You like me! You really like me!” has been parodied and repeated by many over the years. But the lines are actually widely misquoted.
While accepting her second best-actress prize for “Places in the Heart,” Field’s actual words were, “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it — and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.”
1988: Cher Shocks Many With Her Revealing Outfit
There have been plenty of bold fashion moments at the red carpet throughout the years, but Cher’s black, skin-baring dress by Bob Mackie really turned heads. Even after she won the best actress award for her role in “Moonstruck,” the attention remained on her dress. She later told reporters of the outfit, “People were so weirded out about this dress, but I think it’s quite appropriate for the evening.”
1989: Rob Lowe Performs Awkward Duet With Snow White
The actor was lambasted and endlessly mocked for this bizarre opening number, in which he performed a duet of “Proud Mary” with Eileen Bowman dressed as Snow White. Several stars called the performance an embarrassment, and Disney was also less than pleased. The company ended up filing a lawsuit against the Academy for using its character without permission.
1991: Jack Palance Celebrates With Push-Ups On Stage
At the age of 73, Jack Palance took home the best supporting actor Oscar for his performance in “City Slickers.” So naturally, he celebrated the occasion by performing one-arm push-ups on the stage during his acceptance speech.
1993: Tim Robbins And Susan Sarandon’s Political Presentation Gets Them Banned
Before presenting the award for best editing at the 1993 ceremony, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins took a minute to show support for people living with HIV. Speaking of the hundreds of Haitians who were held in Guantanamo Bay and barred from entering the U.S. because of their HIV status, Sarandon said, “We would like to ask our governing officials in Washington to admit that HIV is not a crime, and to admit these people into the United States.”
Oscar telecast producer Gil Cates was not pleased and later banned Robbins, Sarandon and Richard Gere (who also dared to get political during his speech) from the ceremony, although they’ve since been back.
1993: Marisa Tomei’s Win Causes Controversy
When Marisa Tomei beat out veterans Vanessa Redgrave and Joan Plowright for her role in “My Cousin Vinny,” conspiracy theories immediately began to circulate. Some speculated that presenter Jack Palance couldn’t read the winner’s card and simply called the last name on the teleprompter. Though the Academy has since debunked the rumor, it remains one of the most memorable Oscar myths.
1994: Anna Paquin Is Rendered Speechless
Not many people win an Oscar for their first-ever role, let alone before they’ve even hit adolescence. So it’s no surprise that 11-year-old Anna Paquin looked genuinely stunned when she won the best supporting actress award for her first onscreen role in “The Piano.” The actress adorably stammered out a few words before heading back to her seat with the Oscar in hand.
1997: Cuba Gooding Jr. Shouts His Speech
When Cuba Gooding Jr. won the best supporting actor award in “Jerry Maguire,” his acceptance speech went fairly smoothly — until the orchestra started playing. Instead of taking the cue to wrap up, the actor started yelling over the music. “Everybody who’s involved with this! I love you! I love you!” he shouted, also naming Tom Cruise and his other co-stars.
1999: Roberto Benigni Literally Jumps For Joy
When Sophia Loren revealed “Life Is Beautiful” as the winner of the best foreign language film in 1999, Italian director Roberto Benigni couldn’t contain his excitement. In response, he stood on top of his chair and waved his hands in the air before eventually hopping up and down all the way to the stage. “This is the moment of joy, and I want to kiss everybody,” he said during his speech before Loren eventually led him off stage.
2000: Angelina Jolie And Her Brother Make Everybody Uncomfortable
Angelina Jolie and older brother James Haven raised eyebrows with their cringeworthy closeness at the 2000 Oscars. Upon winning best supporting actress for “Girl, Interrupted,” Jolie said, “I’m in shock, and I’m so in love with my brother right now.” Photographers later captured them briefly locking lips at the event. Awkward.
2001: Bjork’s Swan Gown Baffles Everybody
The swan-shaped monstrosity that Bjork wore in 2001 remains perhaps the most talked-about gown in Oscar history (and not in a good way). The dress, designed by Macedonian designer Marjan Pejoski, drew widespread derision from audiences, reporters and fashion critics alike. The singer’s bizarre behavior during the ceremony didn’t help matters — she mimicked laying an egg on the red carpet.
2002: Halle Berry Makes Oscar History
The actress became the first and (so far) only black woman to win best actress in 2002 for her role in “Monster’s Ball.” She delivered a moving speech, dedicating the award to “every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
2003: Adrien Brody Plants A Kiss On Halle Berry
A year after her big win, Halle Berry made headlines at the Oscars again — although this time, it was for a much stranger reason. After coming onstage to accept the best actor award for “The Pianist,” Brody grabbed Berry and pulled her in for a kiss. Berry discussed the awkward moment in 2017, saying she “knew nothing about it” beforehand.
Though some called out Brody’s problematic behavior at the time, the nonconsensual kiss has only become more cringe-worthy in light of the recent sexual harassment allegations that have swept through Hollywood.
2003: Michael Moore Bashes The President
Brody and Berry’s lip-lock wasn’t the only infamous moment of the 2003 Oscars ceremony. That same year, Michael Moore picked up his first-ever Academy Award, for directing the documentary “Bowling for Columbine.” But things got a little hairy when he used his speech to talk not about the film, but to protest the Iraq war and then-president George W. Bush. “We are against this war, Mr. Bush! Shame on you!” he stated as audiences booed him off the stage.
In 2018, Moore resurrected the speech at the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards gala, saying, “I never got to finish [it].”
2006: “Crash” Gets A Shocking Win
The victory of Paul Haggis’ drama “Crash” over Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed front-runner “Brokeback Mountain” remains one of the biggest upsets in Oscars history. Making the win even more unexpected? “Crash” took home the top prize even after failing to earn a best picture nomination at the Golden Globes.
2009: Heath Ledger Wins A Posthumous Oscar
Heath Ledger died in January 2008 from an accidental overdose at the age of 28. Following his tragic death, the Academy posthumously awarded Ledger with the best supporting actor prize for his unforgettable performances as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” His family, including sister Kate Ledger (below, middle) and parents Kim and Sally Ledger, accepted the award on his behalf. Ledger was only the second person to win a posthumous Academy Award for acting and the first actor to win for his work in a comic book movie.
2010: Kathryn Bigelow Becomes The First Woman To Win Best Director
In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow took home the best director award for helming 2009’s critically acclaimed war thriller, “The Hurt Locker.” The win solidified her place in Oscars history, making her the first woman to win the best director statuette at the Academy Awards. The movie also became the first best picture winner directed by a woman.
2011: James Franco And Anne Hathaway Bomb As Hosts
Though James Franco and Anne Hathaway initially seemed like a promising duo to MC the Oscars, their co-hosting stint at the 2011 ceremony can only be described as disastrous. While Hathaway earnestly gave it her all, Franco seemed completely checked out and barely aware of his surroundings the entire time. Needless to say, the critics and audience’s reviews of their attempt were far from complimentary.
2011: Melissa Leo Drops The F-Word
When Melissa Leo took home the best supporting actress award in 2011, she had difficulty articulating her emotions — so much so that she accidentally ended up dropping the F-bomb on stage. “OK, yeah. I am kind of speechless … Golly sakes, there’s people up there too,” she said on stage, looking up to the rafters. “When I watched Kate two years ago, it looked so [expletive] easy. Oops!”
She later said of the moment, “It’s part of my vernacular, part of my upbringing. I do respect that there are people who do not appreciate it.”
2013: Jennifer Lawrence Falls On Her Way To The Stage
While on her way to accept the best actress award for her work in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Jennifer Lawrence famously tripped over her long gown midway up the stairs.
After getting her footing back, she arrived at the podium to huge applause, to which she replied at the podium, “You guys are only standing up because I fell and you feel bad.” The moment solidified her as one of Hollywood’s most relatable stars — and no, it wasn’t her only fall at the Oscars.
2014: Ellen DeGeneres Takes The Selfie Seen ‘Round The World
During her 2014 Oscar hosting gig, Ellen DeGeneres sent out the most retweeted tweet of the year featuring her A-list group shot with a slew of stars, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Lupita Nyong’o. “If only Bradley’s arm was longer,” she captioned the snap. “Best photo ever. #oscars.”
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) March 3, 2014
2014: John Travolta Flubs Idina Menzel’s Name
When introducing Idina Menzel’s performance of “Let It Go,” John Travolta butchered the pronunciation of her name — and people wouldn’t let him live it down. The actor’s flub launched a thousand “Adele Dazeem” memes. But Menzel got back at him the following year when she jokingly introduced him as “Glom Gazingo.”
2015: Patricia Arquette Rallies For Pay Equality
After winning best supporting actress for her role in “Boyhood,” Patricia Arquette used her acceptance speech to call out the wage gap between men and women. The actress called for gender parity, saying, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” Her statements earned rousing cheers and applause from the likes of Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez.
2016: Chris Rock Tackles #OscarsSoWhite
As the Academy faced another year of outrage from audiences and critics about the lack of diversity among acting nominees, host Chris Rock addressed the #OscarsSoWhite controversy head-on.
“I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards,” he said in a sharp and brutally honest opening monologue. “You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. Y’all would be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.”
Rock also went on to lambast the ceremony’s 88-year history of overlooking actors of color.
2016: Leonardo DiCaprio Finally Wins An Oscar
After more than two decades in Hollywood and six nominations, Leonardo DiCaprio finally got his big win. The actor earned a best actor statuette for his performance in “The Revenant.” After so many years of almost-wins, the victory itself was memorable enough. But DiCaprio made the moment even more unforgettable by bringing attention to climate change during his speech.
“Climate change is real, it is happening right now,” he said. “It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating… Let us not take this planet for granted.”
2017: The Wrong Best Winner Is Announced
Who could forget this doozy of a night? In 2017, best picture presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced the wrong winner after being handed the incorrect envelope by a Pricewaterhouse Coopers accountant. In perhaps the biggest flub to ever take place on the Oscars stage, “La La Land” was mistakenly announced as the winner. Producers even started their acceptance speech — until it was revealed that “Moonlight” had actually won.
The surreal moment left everybody — from the stars in the audience to those watching at home — absolutely stunned. And “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins was perhaps the most shocked of all.
“Very clearly, even in my dreams, this could not be true,” he said. “But to hell with dreams, I’m done with it because this is true.”