The Academy Awards aren’t just a celebration of film and filmmakers. They’re also a chance to make pop culture history — both good and bad. Look at how we’re (unfortunately) still talking about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars.
Slap aside, the Oscars have provided us with unforgettable moments for decades now, like significant wins, important speeches, and some truly ridiculous memes. Here, in chronological order, are 10 of the most memorable Oscars moments… including some we’d rather forget.
Here are the 2023 Oscar nominations
Hattie McDaniel’s historic win
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In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first Black person to win an Academy Award, receiving an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. McDaniel accepted her award in a segregated hotel, saying, “I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope that I shall always be a credit to my race and the motion picture industry.” It would be over 20 years before Sidney Poitier became the first Black man to win an Oscar, and even today, the Academy often fails to recognize Black filmmakers and especially Black women — a problem throughout the awards circuit. — Belen Edwards, Entertainment Reporter
Sacheen Littlefeather rejects Marlon Brando’s Oscar on his behalf
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When Marlon Brando won the Oscar for Best Actor at the 45th Academy Awards for his performance in The Godfather, he did not take the stage. Instead, actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather spoke on his behalf, informing the Academy that Brando would not accept his award due to Hollywood’s mistreatment and depictions of Native Americans. Littlefeather endured harassment during and after her speech. The Academy apologized for her mistreatment in 2022, months before her death. After her death, Native American writer Jacqueline Keeler used family records and White Mountain Apache records to dispute Littlefeather’s claims of Native American heritage, raising wider questions about Indigenous identity. — B.E.
Cher’s revenge dress
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Fashion has always been an integral part of the Oscars (Björk’s swan dress, anyone?), and in 1986, Cher used her awards ceremony look to stick it to the Academy. After being snubbed for her performance in Mask, Cher showed up to the 58th Academy Awards in a stunning showgirl-inspired look by Bob Mackie, complete with a massive feather headpiece that is just perfectly over-the-top.
In a video for Vogue, Cher broke down the look, saying, “I had the idea mostly because the Academy didn’t really like me. They hated the way I dressed, and I had young boyfriends so they thought I wasn’t serious. So I came out and said, ‘As you can see, I got my handbook on how to dress like a serious actress.'” She would take home the Best Actress award for Moonstruck two years later. — B.E.
Jack Palance accepts an Oscar… with one-armed push-ups
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Oscars acceptance speeches tend to be places where winners give heartfelt thank yous or champion particular causes. But if you’re actor Jack Palance, they’re also a place to show off your physical prowess.
After winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in City Slickers, Palance — who was 73 at the time — did a series of one-armed push-ups during a speech that also featured comments on aging in Hollywood. Unexpected and absolutely hilarious, this is a feat that has yet to be replicated — although if any of this year’s winners would like to try, I would be thrilled. — B.E.
Ellen DeGeneres’s record-breaking selfie
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In 2014, it genuinely broke the internet. All these hotshot celebrities posing for a cheesy photo just like regular ol’ plebs. Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres gathered the stars sitting near the front of the stage for a selfie: Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong’o, Bradley Cooper, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie, and Brad Pitt, Jared Leto, and Kevin Spacey. “If only Bradley’s arm was longer. Best photo ever.” DeGeneres captioned the photo on Twitter.
The tweet dethroned Barack Obama’s ‘Four More Years’ tweet as the most retweeted tweet of all time, to be later overthrown by Carter Wilkerson’s tweet demanding free Wendy’s nuggs. There were parodies with Grumpy Cat, The Simpsons, YouTube art, and Lego. The moment was also major product placement for Samsung — the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 sitting right in the middle of all these celebs.
Almost 10 years later, things have happened. The guy smiling in the middle, Kevin Spacey, has been charged with multiple sexual assault offences. Leto has allegations of sexual misconduct against him, and Pitt was accused of abuse by Jolie in 2022. DeGeneres herself faced toxic workplace allegations in 2020. The picture would later tell a thousand words, but in 2014, it was just a fun moment, right? Right? — Shannon Connellan, UK Editor
John Travolta calls Idina Menzel “Adele Dazeem”
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You may know Idina Menzel as Rachel Berry’s mom, or Elsa from Frozen, or even Elphaba from Wicked, but to many (and especially to John Travolta) she’s Adele Dazeem. At the 86th Academy Awards, Travolta hilariously mispronounced Menzel’s name, by welcoming her to the stage as “the wickedly talented, the one and only, Adele Dazeem.” Every ounce of that single sentence screams comedic perfection, from its praiseful beginning to its blowing landing, where everyone simultaneously tilted their heads in utter confusion. How could Travolta butcher Menzel’s name to that pedigree? Who is Adele Dazeem? Should this be Menzel’s new stage name? Travolta’s mistake holds a place in the meme hall of legends and is definitely one of the funnier moments the Oscars blessed us with. — Yasmeen Hamadeh, Entertainment Intern
Moonlight and La La Land win the award for most awkward Oscar moment ever
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Who can forget the La La Land and Moonlight mixup? While presenting the award for Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards, presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were seemingly given the wrong card and mistakenly announced that La La Land had won, despite Moonlight being the actual winner. In what was probably the longest seven minutes of Oscars history, La La Land‘s team were interrupted mid-speech, organizers flocked to the stage, several “This is not a joke”s were thrown, and finally the Moonlight team got to accept their award.
Everything about the mixup belonged in a renaissance painting. From Ryan Gosling trying his best not to laugh to the collective gasp from the audience to the pure, jaw-dropping shock on everyone’s faces — no one could script this Oscars moment. It’s forever part of the Academy’s history, but Moonlight deserved so much more. — Y.H.
Parasite‘s big night
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Parasite‘s domination at the 92nd Academy Awards was nothing short of historic, as it became the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture and also took home awards for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. These well-deserved victories gave us some truly amazing moments courtesy of director Bong Joon-ho, who made his two Oscar statues kiss, joyfully declared he would drink all night, and most importantly, reminded audiences to watch more non-English films. “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles,” Bong said, “you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” — B.E.
The Chadwick Boseman and Anthony Hopkins debacle
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When the 93rd Academy Awards moved Best Actor to the final award of the night — an honor always held by Best Picture — everyone believed this was a gesture to honor the late Chadwick Boseman. His performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom had cleaned up all throughout awards season, making him a clear frontrunner. However, in a major upset, Anthony Hopkins took home the award for his work in The Father. With Hopkins absent from the ceremony, the shifting of the award made for an awkward finish to the night — and made Boseman’s loss sting even more. — B.E.
The “cheer-worthy” moments that got no cheers
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To appeal to a broader audience, the 2022 Oscars introduced the Oscars Fan Favorite and Oscars Cheer Moment awards, which were voted on through social media. The Fan Favorite award went to Army of the Dead, while the Cheer Moment went to Zack Snyder’s Justice League for the moment when “the Flash enter the Speed Force.” You know, that turning point in cinema. The Oscars audience may have been dead quiet during these misfires, but at least we got some good memes. — B.E.