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The Most Memorable Moments in Oscars History

As the 91st Academy Awards approaches, it’s only natural to look back on the best Oscars moments in the awards show’s history. There’s, of course, the snafu with Moonlight and La La Land that happened in 2017. But what are the other memorable moments in Oscar history? The Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, have been happening for more than 90 years, so it’s safe to assume that there have been viral, can’t-look-away moments in the past century.

So, as we wait in anticipation for Lady Gaga to win her first Academy Award (we’re putting it out into the universe—let’s make it happen), we’ve decided to look back on why the Oscars are the most-watched Hollywood awards show by far. From the red-carpet wardrobe malfunctions to the unscripted on-stage accidents that happen on live TV, there’s a reason why hundreds of thousands of people across the world tune into the Oscars.

Look, we love movies as much as the next person, but when it comes to the Oscars, let’s be real: we’re not tuning in for the speeches from cinematographers and sound editors. What we’re really here for are the celebrity water-cooler moments that we’ll be talking about for decades to come. Check out the best moments in Oscars history ahead.

Hattie McDaniel Becomes the First Black Oscar Winner (1940)

McDaniel made history in 1940 when she became the first Black actor to win an Oscar. McDaniel won the award for her role as Mammy, a slave on a Georgia plantation in Gone with the Wind. Because of segregation, she was forced to sit in the back of the venue. “I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry,” McDaniel said while accepting her award for Best Supporting Actress, a category that wouldn’t be won by another Black actor until 51 years later.

Hattie McDaniel Oscars | STYLECASTER


Greer Garson’s Five-Minute Speech (1943)

Nowadays, there’s a 45-second time limit on Oscars speeches, and viewers have Greer Garson to thank. When Garson won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1943 for her role in Mrs. Miniver, she gave a record five-minute-long speech. Given that the award was the last category of the night and that it was presented at one in the morning, the crowd was understandably irked at Garson’s rambling. “Thank you,” Garson began her speech.. “That is really all there is to say; but, as this is after all the opportunity of a lifetime, I hope you won’t mind if I try to expand that word just, just a little.”

A spokesperson for The Academy later told Harper’s Bazaar, “This was a time when winners often gave no speech at all, or very short remarks. It was also the last award of the night and past midnight, so it gained an immediate reputation which lives on today.”

Barbra Streisand and Katherine Hepburn’s Best Actress Tie (1969)

Though there had been three ties at the Oscars before, Streisand (Funny Girl) and Hepburn’s (The Lion in the Winter) tie for Best Actress in 1969 marked the first exact split in Oscars history, with 3030 votes a piece. Given that Hepburn didn’t attend that year’s ceremony, Streisand stole the show with her speech, which began with this iconic line to her Oscar: “Hello, gorgeous!”

Barbra Streisand Oscars | STYLECASTER

George Birch/AP/REX/Shutterstock.

Charlie Chaplin Gets a 12-Minute Standing Ovation (1972)

When Chaplin was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1972 for his work in the silent film era, he was welcomed by a 12-minute standing ovation from the audience, most of which wasn’t captured on camera. The award also marked Chaplin’s return to the United States after he was exiled for 20 years on the belief that he was sympathetic to communist beliefs. “Words seem so futile—so feeble,” Chaplin said. “I can only say thank you for the honor of inviting me here.” After his speech, Chaplin received a second standing ovation as he put on his trademark bowler hat and cane.

Marlo Brando Refuses His Oscar (1973)

When Brando won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in The Godfather in 1973, he used the opportunity to highlight the treatment of Native Americans in the United States. Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather, wearing a traditional Apache dress, took to the stage on Brando’s behalf. “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.” The speech was met with both boos and applause.

In a later interview on The Dick Cavett Show, Brando talked about the moment. “I felt that it was a marvelous opportunity for an Indian to be able to voice his opinion to 85 million people,” he said.

Marlo Brando Oscars | STYLECASTER


A Naked Man Streaks Across the Stage (1974)

Just as David Niven was about to introduce Elizabeth Taylor, who would announce the winner for Best Picture at the 1974 Oscars, a streaker ran across the stage. The streaker was activist and artist Robert Opel, who could be seen running naked behind Niven wearing only a mustache. “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?” Niven said, when he realized what happened.

After the ceremony, Opel wasn’t arrested or escorted out of the venue. Instead, he was offered a press conference, like any other celebrity, to talk about his stunt. “You know, people shouldn’t be ashamed of being nude in public,” he told reporters. “Besides, it is a hell of a way to launch a career.”

Sally Field’s “You Like Me” Quote (1985)

Field’s quote, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me,” has been used in pretty much every Oscars promo since the 1985 Oscars where Fields first uttered the line when she won the award for Best Actress for her role in Places in the Heart. The line—which is often misquoted as “You like me, you really like me!”—was a spur-of-the-moment thing.

“I just said to myself, ‘I’m gonna feel it’ … They had a huge, red, glaring light that started flashing in your face … so I panicked … and I remembered the part of me that said, ‘You didn’t say anything that mattered, you didn’t say anything genuine,’ [the first time] and I, without knowing it, said what I said … It just came out,” Field told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015.

Sally Field | Oscars


Cher’s Naked Mohawk Look (1986)

Cher’s naked mohawk look at the 1986 Oscars will go down as one of the most iconic looks in red carpet history. Cher, who won the award for Best Actress for her role in Moonstruck that night, wore a feathered headdress, along with a midriff-baring, spider-web-like dress and a long black shawl to the awards show. (The shawl was so long that Cher tripped on her way to the stage, with only one earring in tact.)

“Bob and I thought about [this dress] for a while. It went through so many changes. People were so weirded out about this dress, but I think it’s quite appropriate for the evening,” Cher told reporters after her win.


Elisa Leonelli/REX/Shutterstock.

Adrien Brody Kisses Halle Berry (2003)

Brody was so excited to win Best Actor for his role in The Pianist at the 2003 Oscars that he planted a kiss on presenter Halle Berry. “I bet they didn’t tell you that was in the gift bag,” Brody said after the kiss. Berry, who was seen wiping the lower half of her face after Brody’s kiss, was later asked by Access Hollywood is Brody was a good kisser. “Since we didn’t really kiss, I can’t tell you how good he was, but I can tell you this. He was wet,” she said.

The moment has since been criticized for its nonconsensual act. “The most disheartening part of these images is that the women remain composed and gracious, keeping the focus on their respective events, even as their bodily autonomy is invaded,” Slate writer Christina Cauterucci wrote in 2016, criticizing those who glorified Brody’s behavior.

Adrien Brody and Halle Berry Oscars | STYLECASTER

Kevork Djansezian/AP/REX/Shutterstock.

Crash‘s Upset Over Brokeback Mountain (2006)

Critic favorite Brokeback Mountain was a lock to win Best Picture at the 2006 Oscars, so when Crash was announced as the winner, there was understandable shock at the show. Crash, which received criticism for its portrayal of race relations, was even a surprise to the film’s director, who did not see it as a Best Picture contender—let alone, a winner. “We were a little tiny movie so, yes we were stunned. We thought we might be in contention for [best] screenplay, but for Best Picture? I was flabbergasted,” director Paul Haggis told Harper’s Bazaar in 2017.

Heath Ledger Wins a Posthumous Oscar (2009)

After Ledger died of a drug overdose in 2008, the actor was awarded a posthumous Oscar for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight. Ledger’s family accepted the Best Supporting Actor award on behalf of him and his daughter, Matilda, whose mother is Michelle Williams. “Heath, we both knew what you had created in the Joker was extraordinarily special and had even talked about being here on this very day,” Ledger’s sister, Kate, said. “We really wish you were, but we proudly accept this award on behalf of your beautiful Matilda.”

Roger Ross Williams Gets Kanye-ed (2010)

Director Williams experienced his own Kanye moment at the 2010 Oscars when he won for Best Short Documentary for his movie, Music By Prudence. He became the first Black director to win an Oscar, but his celebration was short-lived when the film’s estranged producer, Elinor Burkett, ambushed the stage and overshadowed the moment. “The man never lets the woman talk,” Burkett said. “Isn’t that just the classic thing?”

“I had a meeting and the hotel’s concierge told me I couldn’t go outside because there was so much paparazzi waiting for me,” Williams, who has not spoken to Burkett since, told Harper’s Bazaar in 2017.

Jennifer Lawrence Falls Down (2013)

In a true Jennifer Lawrence moment, the actress tripped as she made her way to the stage in 2013 to accept the award for Best Actress for her role in Silver Linings Playbook. Fortunately, two of Lawrence’s former co-stars, Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper, who were sitting the front row, rushed to help her up.

Jennifer Lawrence Oscars | STYLECASTER

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock.

Ellen DeGeneres’s Oscars Selfie (2014)

Host DeGeneres broke the record for the most Twitter retweets in 2014 after she posted this selfie Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper and more celebrities. The photo, which was liked and retweeted so many times that it caused Twitter to crash, was taken during the show and was part of a sponsorship with Samsung, who paid $20 million to place their product at the awards show, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Moonlight and La La Land Best Picture Mistake (2017)

Everyone remembers the Best Picture slip-up at the 2017 Oscars, when presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were handed the wrong envelope and announced the winner as La La Land instead of Moonlight. Dunaway and Beatty were handed an extra card for Best Actress, which listed Emma Stone’s performance in La La Land as the winner—thus, why Dunaway announced the winner of Best Picture as La La Land. The directors of La La Land were midway through their speech when produce Jordan Horowitz revealed that their had been a mistake and that Moonlight was the true winner, which caused chaos in the auditorium.

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