Almost better than the Oscars themselves are what happens on the red carpet and behind the scenes.
The Academy Awards, in its 92nd year running, has seen its fair share of buzzworthy moments, from Celine Dion‘s tear-jerking performance of My Heart Will Go On in 1998 to Sacha Baron Cohen pouring ashes all over host Ryan Seacrest.
Some of the evenings made history, like when Hattie McDaniel became the first Black person to bring home an Oscar in 1940, or when Marlon Brando refused his Oscar in 1973 to make a statement about the treatment of Indigenous people on film.
Whether the moments ignited laughter, tears or inspiration, these 23 are just a selection of the most talked-about moments in Academy Awards history.
The first Black person to win an Oscar
In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first Black person to take home an Oscar for her role as “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. At the time, the hotel the awards night was being held at didn’t allow people of colour, but made an exception for McDaniel.
The first Black man to win an Oscar
Sidney Poitier, now 92, became the first Black man to win an Oscar for his role in Lillies of the Field in 1964.
The first tied win in Oscars history
Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn tied for Best Actress in 1969 — Streisand for her role in Funny Girl and for Hepburn in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.
Marlon Brando’s Oscar refusal
Brando won an Academy Award in 1973 for his film The Godfather but valiantly rejected it to make a statement about the horrible treatment of Indigenous people in the industry. Instead of being there himself, he sent Apache Native American Sacheen Littlefeather in his place, who said: “He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award, and the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.”
The youngest Oscar winner ever
Tatum O’Neal became the youngest actor to ever win an Academy Award at age 10 in 1974. She won Best Supporting Actress for her role in Paper Moon.
Louise Fletcher signs part of her acceptance speech
When Fletcher hit the stage in 1976 to pick up her Oscar for Best Actress in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, she did part of her speech in sign language for her deaf parents.
Cher trips in Bob Mackie while accepting her award
Known for wearing some of the most talked-about outfits in the industry, Cher donned a Bob Mackie creation for the 1988 awards show. While heading up to the stage to accept her award for her role in Moonstruck, she suffered a small trip and lost one of her earrings. Luckily, she was reunited with the gem later backstage.
Jack Palance does one-armed push-ups onstage
Palance, at the age of 73, showed off his strength while accepting the Oscar for City Slickers in 1992.
Celine Dion performs My Heart Will Go On
In honour of Titanic‘s record-breaking 11 Oscar wins, the Canadian chanteuse performed a tear-jerking rendition of her famous song, My Heart Will Go On. It won an Oscar that year for Best Original Song.
Roberto Benigni’s enthusiastic acceptance
Instead of walking through the aisle like most Academy Award winners, Benigni decided to approach the stage by walking on the tops of chairs to accept his award for Life Is Beautiful in 1999.
The first Black woman to win Best Actress
Halle Berry tearfully became the first Black woman to ever win in the Best Actress category for her role in Monster’s Ball in 2002. She happened to also be wearing one of the most talked-about dresses that year.
Heath Ledger’s posthumous win
The world was rocked when news of Ledger’s death broke in 2008. Out of respect for his incredible work as Joker in The Dark Knight, his family was presented a posthumous Academy Award.
The first woman to win Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to take home an award for Best Director in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.
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An on-air “F-bomb”
When Melissa Leo won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in The Fighter in 2010, she accidentally dropped the F-word in her acceptance speech, much to the delight of the audience.
Meryl Streep wins her 3rd Oscar
Even Streep wasn’t impressed with her third Oscar! The Hollywood veteran took home yet another Academy Award for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
When things got a little messy…
Sacha Baron Cohen dropped a jar of “Kim Jong-Un’s” ashes on host Ryan Seacrest in 2012. Chaos and a clearly shell-shocked Seacrest ensued.
Falling for the Academy
When Jennifer Lawrence picked up her Oscar for her role in Silver Linings Playbook, she suffered a little stumble up the stairs.
A record-breaking selfie
When Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Oscars in 2014, she took it upon herself to make history by snapping a selfie with a handful of Hollywood superstars like Bradley Cooper, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep. The post garnered the most retweets of all time, holding that spot for three years.
An unfortunate mispronunciation
The moment John Travolta was presenting an award at the 2014 show went viral when he badly mispronounced winner Idina Menzel’s name as “Adele Dazeem.”
Patricia Arquette’s speech on wage equality
Arquette took home an Oscar for the film Boyhood in 2015, using the opportunity to shed light on the issue of pay inequality. “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” Arquette said. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
A Hollywood veteran finally gets his Oscar
After more than three decades in the business, Leonardo DiCaprio finally got to take home an Academy Award statue in 2016 for his role in The Revenant. He took advantage of the spotlight to advocate on behalf of the environment, saying: “Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It’s the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.”
La La Land “moonlights” as Moonlight after botched Best Picture announcement
Easily one of the most notoriously awkward moments in Oscars history was when La La Land was announced as Best Picture, when it was really Moonlight that won.