The Academy Awards are cinema’s most prestigious prize. Winning an Oscar can change the trajectory of someone's life and career.
As for the ceremony itself? Well, given that it's an award show with an intrinsically rigid structure, it can be a little predictable - the presenter's introduction, the list of nominees, the big announcement, the applause, and finally a speech with a laundry list of prepared shout-outs. But that very predictability is what makes the most memorable Oscar moments stand out so much, whether it's a uniquely idiosyncratic acceptance speech, an embarrassing error, a moment of improvised perfection, or a joke that lands in just the right spot.
From Sally Field to Adele Dazeem, from the legendary Duke to the infamous swan, here are some of the most memorable moments from the long history of the Oscar telecast. Make your voice heard and vote up the moments you'll never forget.
The 12th Academy Awards in 1940 proved to be a groundbreaking night. Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy in Gone with the Wind, became the first African American to win an Oscar.
McDaniel described the moment in her best supporting actress acceptance speech as one of the happiest of her life.
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A Streaker Interrupts The 1974 Ceremony
Robert Opel, a conceptual artist, attained instant notoriety at the 46th Academy Awards in 1974. Co-host David Niven was getting ready to introduce presenter Elizabeth Taylor, who was set to announce the evening's top prize, best picture.
Out of nowhere, Opel ran onto the stage, totally nude, and flashed a peace sign. The quick-thinking Niven wryly commented, "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?"
In the early 1970s, Charlie Chaplin had already been a living legend for decades - but he hadn't gotten his official Oscar moment. In fact, he hadn't had anything to do with Hollywood at all in two decades, having left the US in the early '50s, the fallout of accusations of Communist ties.
But in 1972, the Academy finally did its part in making amends, bestowing Chaplin with an honorary Oscar for his contributions to the medium. He returned to American soil for the first time in two decades to accept the statuette, and was greeted with an emotional 12-minute standing ovation.
Heath Ledger's father, mother, and sister accepted the late Australian actor's posthumous best supporting actor Oscar for his iconic performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight in 2009. The moment was obviously a bittersweet recognition for an incredible talent that passed way too young.
The actor's father, Kim Ledger, stated in the acceptance speech, "This award tonight would have humbly validated Heath's quiet determination to be truly accepted by you all here - his peers - within an industry he so loved. Thank you."
Marlon Brando is often cited as one of the best actors of all time. However, awards do not mean the same thing to everyone. When Brando won his second Oscar in 1973 (best actor for his performance as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather), he sent Sacheen Littlefeather up to the podium to decline the award for him, making a statement about Hollywood's unfair treatment of Native Americans. Her appearance was met with boos and loud heckles from the crowd. Nearly 50 years later, in 2022, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued her a formal apology.
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Martin Scorsese perhaps should have won the best director Oscar for Raging Bull, Goodfellas, or even The Aviator? Instead, the auteur finally won the coveted award in 2007 for The Departed - his sixth nomination.
Sweetening the moment even more, the award's presenters were Scorsese's old pals George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola. When Scorsese finally had the award in hand, he jokingly asked, "Could you double check the envelope?"