19 Memorable Oscar Moments That Are Hard To Forget
It’s award season and that means the Oscars is fast approaching. The most prestigious award night in the movie industry gathers all the stars for one spectacular night to celebrate the best movies of the previous year. And it’s not just the actors and directors who get the spotlight, with everyone from stylists and special effects gurus to costume designers and sound producers getting their moment to shine. As it is such a large event attracting all the top talent, the night often throws up a little drama, resulting in some of the most memorable Oscar moments.
These moments range from inspiring; Halle Berry became the first black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress, to joyful; Cuba Gooding Jr.’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor, to downright shocking; Will Smith slapping the shit out of Chris Rock. You really never know what is going to happen, and as it is shown live across the world, there are no second takes.
In preparation for this year’s ceremony, we have curated a list of the most memorable Oscar moments that includes poignant speeches, interesting attire, and winner announcement mixups. Enjoy.
1. Will Smith Slaps Chris Rock (2022)
The slap that was heard around the world. Will Smith lost all self-control after Chris Rock made a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, being bald. While most people would grin and bear it, Smith chose violence, walking on stage and slapping Rock. “Keep my wife’s name out your fucking mouth!” Smith yelled as he returned to his seat.
The audience was stunned, as was Rock, who quickly regained his composure, telling Smith, “Wow, dude, it was a G.I. Jane joke.” Social media was quickly buzzing with news about the slap, and it didn’t take long for the incident to go viral and become a meme, with plenty of jokes following.
For his part, Smith apologized during his acceptance speech for Best Actor for his role in King Richard, but the incident overshadowed what should have been a glorious night for him. He has since been banned from the Oscars for ten years.
2. Hattie McDaniel Is the First Black Person to be Awarded an Oscar (1940)
The Academy had been handing out little gold statues for 11 years before actress Hattie McDaniel became the first black person to win one of the awards. She won Best Supporting Actress for Gone With the Wind, where she played the character Mammy.
Although an incredible achievement, McDaniel’s win came at a time when segregation was still rife, and she was forced to sit at the back of the theatre and not with the rest of the cast. It took 51 years before another black woman, Whoopi Goldberg, would win an Oscar.
3. Kathryn Bigelow Wins Best Director (2010)
For the first time in Oscars history, a woman was awarded Best Director. Kathryn Bigelow, at that stage best known for the horror Near Dark and action flick Point Break, became the talk of the town when she won for The Hurt Locker. “This really is, um, there’s no other way to describe it,” she said in her speech. “It’s the moment of a lifetime.”
4. Marlon Brando Sends Sacheen Littlefeather To the Oscars (1973)
Nominated for Best Actor for his role as Don Vito Corleone in the mafia epic The Godfather, Marlon Brando was a shoo-in for the win. But Brando refused to attend the ceremony, instead sending Sacheen Littlefeather in his place. When Brando’s name was announced, the Apache and Yaqui activist took to the stage, and on behalf of Brando, refused to accept the award.
“He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” Littlefeather said. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.”
Littlefeather got a mixed reception, with some booing and others cheering, but there is no doubt the moment lives on in Oscars infamy.
5. The Streaker (1974)
Usually seen at sports games, the 1974 Academy Awards were interrupted by a streaker. As host David Niven was in the middle of proceedings, Robert Opel, a photographer and gallery owner, ran across the stage in the nude.
It had the crowd in stitches, although Niven wasn’t fazed, quipping, “The only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings”. Well played.
6. Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Acceptance Speech (1997)
One of the more feel-good moments of the Oscars was when Cuba Gooding Jr. won Best Supporting Actor at the 69th Academy Awards. Like many winners, he got emotional and as his speech started to drag, the band began to play him off.
But that didn’t stop Gooding Jr., as he continued to thank everyone he could think of, from Tom Cruise to Regina King, eventually ending his speech by telling everyone that he loved them.
7. Heath Ledger Honored With Posthumous Oscar (2009)
Heath Ledger’s life was cut short at the age of 27 not long after he finished up on The Dark Knight. In the movie, Ledger played the Joker, creating one of the most memorable comic book-turned-movie villains of all time.
His performance was so dynamic he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, which he duly won. His family claimed the award for him and dedicated it to his daughter Matilda. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
8. Leonardo DiCaprio Gets His Flowers (2016)
After missing out on Best Actor for The Aviator, Blood Diamond, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Best Supporting Actor for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, most people wondered if Leonardo DiCaprio was destined to end his career Oscar-less. That all changed in 2016 when old mate Leo finally got his flowers for his role in The Revenant.
Thanking those involved in the project and his family and friends, environmentalist DiCaprio also managed to remind everyone about our responsibility to save the planet. What a guy.
9. “I Do All My Own Stunts” (2006)
In what could have been a terribly embarrassing moment, Jennifer Garner showed why she is loved by everyone when she almost face-planted it at the 2006 awards.
Taking to the stage to present the award for Best Sound Editing, Garner had a near fall on her way to the microphone. Not deterred, she gave a laugh and told the audience “I do all my own stunts.”
10. Moonlight Wins Best Picture (2017)
You had one job, Warren Beatty. At the 2017 Academy Awards, Beatty and Faye Dunaway were presenting the award for Best Picture. Somehow there was a mix-up with the envelopes and Beatty ended up announcing La La Land as the winner.
The cast and crew joyfully took to the stage to celebrate and make their speeches when looks of surprise and confusion came over them. La La Land’s producer, Jordan Horowitz, grabbed the microphone and announced “This is not a joke; Moonlight won Best Picture.”
Turns out Beatty had read from the Best Actress envelope, and after a few minutes of awkward exchanges between the La La Land crew and the Moonlight team, the award was given to the right people and everything settled.
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11. Emma Stone Calls Out Gender Inequality (2018)
The Oscars has a history of ignoring women when it comes to the Best Director category. Only seven female directors have ever been nominated and just two have won, the most recent being Chloe Zhao for Nomadland. This is something Emma Stone was acutely aware of when she took the stage to present the award for Best Director at the 2018 ceremony.
Talking about what a director does, she introduced the nominees by saying, “These four men and Greta Gerwig created their own masterpieces this year.” It caused a slight stir, with some audible gasps along with a few cheers, and got the conversation going about inequality in the movie business. Guillermo Del Toro ended up taking out the Oscar that year for The Shape of Water.
12. Ellen DeGeneres Selfie (2014)
— Ellen DeGeneres (@EllenDeGeneres) March 3, 2014
Before all the scandals and workplace bullying issues, Ellen DeGeneres was much loved by the entertainment industry. So much so that she landed the hosting role for the 86th Academy Awards. This was her second time hosting and she did a commendable job. While nothing out of the ordinary happened, DeGeneres did manage to go viral with her star-studded selfie.
Before the Academy Awards for Technical Achievement montage, DeGeneres whipped out her phone and took a photo with a bunch of A-listers, including Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jared Leto, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Channing Tatum, Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey, and Lupita Nyong’o.
The selfie broke the internet, or at least Twitter, with the site going down for a short period of time after the photo went live. It has been retweeted 2.8 million times and is the fifth most retweeted tweet in history.
13. Jennifer Lawrence Takes a Tumble (2013)
Jennifer Garner wasn’t the only person to trip at the Oscars. While heading to the stage to collect her Academy Award for Best Actress for the movie Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence has some trouble getting up the stairs and tripped over her dress.
As is her way, Lawrence didn’t let the incident spoil the moment, although she did tell the audience, “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell. That’s really embarrassing.” Never change Jennifer.
14. Halle Berry Becomes the First Black Woman to Win Best Actress (2002)
It’s insane to think it took until the 74th Academy Awards for a black woman to win Best Actress. Over the years there have been many incredible performances, but it was Halle Berry’s turn as Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball that got the win. Her speech was an emotional outpouring as she tried to hold back the tears and speak about how “This moment is so much bigger than me.”
“This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
While we are yet to have another black woman win in the Best Actress category since Berry, there have been several high-profile wins in the Best Supporting Actress category, with the likes of Regina King, Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong’o, Octavia Spencer, and Jennifer Hudson all claiming the award.
15. Eminem Performs Live (2020)
For some reason the Academy got Eminem to perform his Oscar-winning song “Lose Yourself” at the 2020 ceremony at Dolby Theatre. Em’s appearance came 18 years after he missed the 2013 ceremony and the song went on to win Best Original Song.
The crowd really enjoyed his rendition of the song, with many of the celebrities in attendance bobbing their heads and rapping along. He even got a standing ovation.
16. Billy Does Hannibal (1992)
One of the best Oscar hosts of all time, Billy Crystal dazzled audiences and had them shrieking with laughter during the 1992 ceremony. It’s one of the few Academy Award shows where almost all the jokes hit, with Crystal arriving on stage dressed like Hannibal Lecter, setting the scene for a prop-filled comedic show that was an enjoyable watch.
17. “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”
Three 6 Mafia winning Best Original Song for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” shocked everyone, including the group themselves. This Oscar moment had the crowd of A-listers looking around in disbelief as Three 6 Mafia took to the stage.
Looking totally out of place, most of the talking was left to DJ Paul, who thanked all the right people before shouting out George Clooney, saying, “George Clooney my favorite, he showed me love when I first met him.”
18. Jack Palance Does Press Ups
Veteran actor Jack Palance surprised everybody when he won Best Supporting Actor at the 1992 Oscars. He won for the comedy City Slickers, and while he was great in the movie, he managed to beat Tommy Lee Jones (JFK), Harvey Keitel (Bugsy), Ben Kingsley (Bugsy), and Michael Lerner (Barton Fink), who were all more favored to win than Palance.
What makes his win that much more unique was Palance’s speech, with the then 73-year-old hardman taking the piss out of host and City Slickers co-star Billy Crystal before dropping to the floor and doing a series of one-handed push-ups, proving you’re never too old to be in the movie business.
19. Roberto Benigni Gets Excited (1999)
While everyone loved Roberto Benigini’s celebrations at the time he won Best Actor for his role in Life is Beautiful, looking back it’s a little over the top. The Italian couldn’t believe his luck when his name was announced, making his way to the stage by climbing over the seats of those in the audience. A truly unique celebration that will either make you cry with joy or cringe with embarrassment.
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