Regardless of what movies or stars you are rooting for at the Oscars, one thing is for certain: the annual telecast is almost always good for a milestone moment, a stirring speech, or a memorable mishap.
A Hollywood institution since 1929, the Academy Awards were first broadcast by radio the year after, and then made the move to TV in 1953. Almost from the start, the ceremony had its memorable moments, such as in 1934 when presenter Will Rogers inadvertently led Lady for a Day‘s Frank Capra to think had been named Best Director and even head toward the stage, when in fact the winner was Cavalcade‘s Frank Lloyd. (Moral of the story: last names matter!)
Oh and get this, in 1959 the awards ceremony actually ended ahead of time, leaving host Jerry Lewis with 20 minutes of dead air to fill, with vamping and what not.
In addition to those mentioned above, TVLine is revisiting more than two dozen of the show’s most memorable moments, speeches and slip-ups, from Gone With the Wind‘s Hattie McDaniel making history to the Slap heard ’round the world — with a shimmying Snow White, a deeply steamy “Shallow” duet and one mortifying #EnvelopeGate in between.
Revisit out curated list of memorable moments and then tell us which of them you vividly remember as if it was yesterday, or chime in with other “Only at the Oscars!” incidents that resonate for you.
1940: Hattie McDaniel's Historic Win
One of Gone With the Wind‘s then-record setting 13 nominees that year, McDaniel was named the Best Actress in a Supporting Role, for her portrayal of Mammy — and thus became the first Black entertainer to grab gold at the Academy Awards. (She is seen here with the category’s previous winner, Fay Bainter.)
1972: Charlie Chaplin Comes Home For Oscar
Ending a 20-year exile in Europe (which started when he was labeled a Communist by Senator Joseph McCarthy), the 82-year-old silent film vet was permitted to return to the United States to accept an honorary Oscar, for his “incalculable effect in making motion pictures the art form of the century.” What followed was arguably the longest standing ovation — 12 minutes long — in the history of the telecast.
1973: Sacheen Littlefeather Declines Award for Brando
Sacheen Littlefeather aka Marie Louise Cruz, an Apache actress and activist for Native American rights, was asked by Marlon Brando — the favorite to win Best Actor, for The Godfather — to represent him on stage by declining the award. Littlefeather deviated from Brando’s prepared four-page speech and instead said he was a no-show due to “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry, and on television in movie re-runs, and also [because of the standoff] at Wounded Knee.”
More than 48 years later, in June 2022, the Academy offered Littlefeather its “deepest apologies” for the “unwarranted and unjustified” abuse she endured because of her statement, as well as its “sincere admiration” for the courage she showed. Littlefeather accepted the apology.
1974: Tatum O'Neal's Historic Win
At age 10, the Paper Moon co-star became the youngest competitive winner in Oscar history when she was named Best Supporting Actress. (A six-year-old Shirley Temple had previously been given an honorary “juvenile” Oscar.)
The youngest male actor to win an Oscar is Timothy Hutton, who at age 20 was named Best Supporting Actor for Ordinary People.
1974: Oh Yes, They Call Him The Streak
When streaker, conceptual artist and gay rights activist Robert Opel bounded on-stage in the altogether just ahead of the Best Picture category, it fell on Oscars co-host David Niven to move the show past the revealing romp, eventually quipping, “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”
1985: Sally Field Loves That You Like Her
Accepting the award for Lead Actress (for her role in Places in the Heart), the film vet launched into a speech that has, Telephone Game-like, been a bit misquoted over the years. “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect,” she said to the audience of peers. “The first time [I won, in 1980 for Norma Rae], 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 Goes Sheer
On the occasion of winning Best Actress for her role in Moonstruck — and two years after donning a midriff-exposing two-piece, accessorized with a feathered mohawk headdress — Cher turned heads again in this sheer and sequined Bob Mackie gown. It would be some 13 years before any comparable red carpet statements were made, by Bjork in her infamous “swan” dress.
1989: This Ain't No Fairytale
Rob Lowe playing Prince Charming to actress Eileen Bowman’s Snow White — performing a duet of a painfully extended, rewritten version of “Proud Mary” — was such a low note in Oscars history, the 12-minute bit effectively resulted in the producer of that year’s telecast, Allan Carr, being shunned into seclusion. We dare you to press play above and endure it again.
1991: Jack Palance Does Push-Ups
In the course of an anecdote about how Hollywood perceives aging actors (…or something), Palance — the Supporting Actor winner, for the comedy City Slickers — illustrated a point he was making by suddenly dropping to the floor and banging out a couple of one-armed push-ups, followed by some regular ones.
1994: Tom Hanks 'Outs' High School Teacher
In a speech that was uniquely suited to his win for playing an AIDS-stricken lawyer in Philadelphia, Hanks singled out his high school drama teacher, Rawley Farnsworth, and classmate John Gilkerson — “two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men, that I had the good fortune to be associated with.” Farnsworth, then 69, had not yet come out publicly, but he had given Hanks permission to share his truth on the telecast in front of millions.
1994: Anna Paquin Is Nearly Speechless
In beating out fellow Supporting Actress nominees Rosie Perez (Fearless), Winona Ryder (The Age of Innocence), Emma Thompson (In the Name of the Father) and her movie mom Holly Hunter (nominated in this category for The Firm, and later winning Best Actress for The Piano) — the 11-year-old Paquin became the second youngest person to take home an Oscar. The ingenue adorably stood at the podium speechless for a full 20 seconds, before rattling off, like a pro, a succinct list of thank-yous.
1997: Robin Williams Gets Corn-y
The funny man and Best Supporting Actor winner delivered a charming and endearing speech, peppahed with just the right amount of Good Will Hunting-style folksiness. “I want to thank the cast and crew, especially the people of South Boston 00 you’re a can of corn,” he said, puzzling many who are unfamiliar with the term. In closing, Williams gave kudos to his father, “the man who when I said I wanted to be an actor, said, ‘Wonderful, just have a back-up profession, like welding.'”
1999: Roberto Benigni Celebrates Life
Life was beautiful… and ebullient… and impetuous for Roberto Benigni, when the actor-director’s Life is Beautiful — a Holocaust drama — was announced as the winner for Best Foreign Language Film. Benigni stood atop and then walked across seat backs there in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, waving his arms and pumping his fists before landing on stage to declare, “This is a moment of joy.” (In case you could not tell.)
2000: Angelina Jolie's Brotherly Love
That year’s Best Supporting Actress winner (and back then, quite an enigma to us all), Girl, Interrupted scene stealer Jolie raised eyebrows juuuuust a bit by saying she was “so in love” with her brother, James Haven, during her acceptance speech. (Jolie then raised eyebrows a lot, at that night’s Vanity Fair party, by giving her sib a big ol’ kiss on the lips. We lived in an easily titillated world back then.)
2002: Halle Berry's Historic Win
“This moment is so much bigger than me,” Berry said of being the first Black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress (for her role in Monster’s Ball) — nearly four decades after Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field) became the first Black man to claim Best Actor. “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.”
2003: Adrien Brody Plants One on Halley Berry
After being presented with the Academy Award for Best Actor, The Pianist‘s Adrien Brody presented presenter Halle Berry with a most unplanned kiss. (As Berry years later shared, her reaction in the moment was, “What the f–k is happening?,” after which, “I just f–king went with it.” Apparently!)
2008: Heath Ledger's Posthumous Win
A little over a year after Ledger died from an overdose at age 28, he was named Best Supporting Actor for his iconic turn as Joker in The Dark Knight. The posthumous prize was accepted by Ledger’s parents and his sister Kim, “on behalf of your beautiful [daughter] Matilda.”
2010: Kathryn Bigelow's Historic Win
At the 82nd holding of the Academy Awards, Bigelow became the first woman to be named Best Director, for her masterful helming of The Hurt Locker. “There’s no other way to describe it, it’s the moment of a lifetime,” she opened her speech, before acknowledging her esteemed fellow nominees: James Cameron (Avatar), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), Lee Daniels (Precious) and Jason Reitman (Up in the Air).
2013: Affleck Says His Marriage Requires 'Work'
Accepting the Best Picture prize for Argo, Affleck was suspected of oversharing when he said, “I want to thank my wife [Jennifer Garner] for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases…. It is work, but it’s the best kind of work and there’s no one I’d rather work with.”
Garner would later say she took Affleck’s words “as the hugest, warmest compliment in the world” a la “Look, what we have is really real and… I’m in it with you and I know you are in it with me.”
Nonetheless, citing the larger public scrutiny of their union, the actors separated in 2015 and divorced in 2018.
2013: J-Law's Pratfall
After hugging Silver Linings Playbook costar Bradley Cooper in the aisle, Jennifer Lawrence headed to the stage to accept her first Academy Award, for Best Actress. But she made an unexpected pit stop along the way, when she tripped on her gown. Arriving at the mic, she said to the crowd, “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell, and that’s really embarrassing — but thank you.”
2014: Ellen's Superstar Selfie
What was originally conceived as just a selfie of that year’s host with icon Meryl Streep blossomed into something much bigger when Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Jared Leto, Lupita Nyong’o and others joined the huddle, with Bradley Cooper taking over as photog. The jam-packed selfie was retweeted 750,000 times over the next 45 minutes — much to sponsor Samsung’s delight — but has since, sadly, pressured subsequent hosts to attempt similar “Stars are just like us!” stunts.
2014: 'Please Welcome Adele Dazeem'
John Travolta’s tongue (or brain?) apparently was semi-Frozen when he went to tee up the performance of Original Song nominee “Let It Go,” by saying, “Please welcome the wickedly talented… Adele Dazeem.” (Idina Menzel had her revenge at the following year’s Oscars, by introducing Travolta as “my very dear friend, Glom Gazingo.”)
2016: Chris Rock's #OscarsSoWhite
In the second straight year that all 20 acting nominations went to white actors, #OscarsSoWhite blew up as a movement, giving host Chris Rock fertile monologue fodder. “I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards,” he said before steering into a more serious lane, suggesting that during countless other years with no nominees of color, “We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won Best Cinematographer…. When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about Best Documentary Foreign Short.” Rock capped his incisive riff by celebrating the telecast’s opening blast of “diversity,” saying: “Please welcome Emily Blunt and somebody whiter, Charlize Theron.”
2017: The Best Picture Boo-Boo
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced La La Land as the Best Picture winner… only to have to very sheepishly and very famously backtrack — and after La La Land producers had already delivered acceptance speeches! — when it was revealed that envelopes had been mixed up. Moonlight was in fact the year’s big winner.
2019: 'Shallow' Duet Suggests Deep Feelings
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s duet of Best Original Song contender “Shallow” was so warm, and so intimate, it made people wonder if real-life romance had blossomed between the A Star Is Born costars. But as Gaga explained days later, “When you’re singing love songs, that’s what you want people to feel. I’m an artist, I guess we did a good job, and, fooled ya!”
2021: Glenn Close Shows Off 'Da Butt'
Seeing Glenn Close do “Da Butt” is not something we knew we needed to see. But now that we have, the song will never be the same. Was this whole moment scripted? Probably. But that doesn’t take away from this being one of the best and funniest moments in Oscars history. Eight Oscar losses for Close? Pish posh. Do “Da Butt.”
2022: Will Smith Smacks Chris Rock
When presenter Chris Rock made a crack about Jada Pinkett Smith, bald from alopecia, filming “G.I. Jane 2,” her husband Will Smith walked up on stage and took a swing at Rock. “Wow, Will Smith just smacked the s–t out of me,” Rock said. Smith, who had returned to his seat, yelled from the audience “Keep my wife’s name out your f–king mouth,” and repeated it after Rock protested that the dig had just been a joke. (READ MORE)
2023: Michelle Yeoh's Historic Win
The Everything Everywhere All at Once star was the first performer of Asian descent to even be nominated for Best Actress, and then she went on to grab gold at the 95th Academy Awards. “For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities,” Yeoh said in her acceptance speech. “This is proof that… dreams do come true.
“And ladies,” the 60-year-old actress continued, “don’t let anybody ever tell you that you’re past your prime.” (Watch Yeoh’s full speech above.)