The 20 Most Shocking Oscar Moments of All Time
From surprising wins to awkward flubs, these are the Academy Awards moments we can't forget.
One of the greatest things about the Academy Awards is the element of surprise. It's why we throw parties and run betting pools and debate the results for weeks on end. Sure, so many of the winners feel like a foregone conclusion before the ceremony has even begun, but there are always shocking Oscar moments to keep us on our toes: unexpected wins, provocative speeches, and cringe-inducing flubs that leave the country's collective jaw on the floor.
To that end, we've rounded up all of the most shocking, astonishing, totally out-of-left-field Oscar moments in history. Take a look—and maybe get a little more excited about this year's show, which airs Feb. 9. After all, you never know what could happen.
When Marisa Tomei won Best Supporting Actress (1993)
Sometimes Oscar results are so unexpected that viewers refuse to believe them. That was the case in 1993, when Marisa Tomei won Best Supporting Actress for her role in My Cousin Vinny. Some people felt both the film and Tomei's performance were forgettable, and rumors sparked that her name had been read by mistake. This conspiracy has been debunked, but the internet refuses to let it go to this day.
When La La Land "won" (2017)
It's perhaps the greatest blunder in Oscar history. (Indeed, the only similar event dates all the way back to 1933, when Frank Capra erroneously walked up to the podium to accept an award that was meant for Frank Lloyd.) But the final category of the 89th Academy Awards sent the entire night into a tailspin. Here's what happened.
Both La La Land and Moonlight—two commercially successful critical darlings—were nominated for Best Picture. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were presenting the award for the category. But before they went on stage, Beatty was handed the wrong envelope and was noticeably confused when he pulled out a card that read "Emma Stone, La La Land." In retrospect, it was clearly meant for the Best Actress category—which Emma Stone had indeed won—but in a moment of confusion, Dunaway declared La La Land the winner.
As it turned out, La La Land didn't actually win Best Picture. In the middle of accepting the award, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz told the audience, "There's been a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture," and held up the correct card as proof. "This is not a joke." It sure wasn't.
When Marlon Brando refused to accept his Oscar (1973)
When a nominee wins their respective category, they are usually ushered up to the stage for their speech. However, when Marlon Brando was announced as the Best Actor winner in 1973 for his role in The Godfather, he sent Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to refuse the award. Protesting against Hollywood's portrayal of Native Americans, this was one of the first acts of a celebrity making a political statement during a televised awards ceremony.
When Crash beat Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture (2006)
In 2005, Brokeback Mountain did more than make audience members sob in a dark theater full of other heartbroken strangers—it was also one of the first critically acclaimed box-office hits to explicitly depict a romantic relationship between two men. Every actor in the film gave the performance of their career (at the time), and it seemed fair to assume it would easily walk home with the Oscar for Best Picture.
So, when Crash—an underwhelming film that tried to address racism but lacked nuance and insight—took home the award, people were… confused. Even the director of the film, Paul Haggis, didn't quite understand how he had earned Hollywood's most prestigious accolade. During an interview with HitFix in 2015, Haggis commented on the surprise win, saying, "Was it the best film of the year? I don't think so." We applaud his honesty.
When Three 6 Mafia beat Dolly Parton (2006)
It was completely unexpected for Three 6 Mafia to win an Oscar for their Hustle & Flow theme "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." It was also totally refreshing and exciting. The Academy Awards have taken some heat for being overly white-centric, so giving the Oscar to group of black rappers over a white country singer (Dolly Parton was nominated for her song "Travelin' Thru" from Transamerica) was a big moment. Parton, despite being expected to win, took the loss in stride, and congratulated Three 6 Mafia in a public letter. Sometimes, surprises are sweet.
When an 11-year-old won Best Supporting Actress (1994)
Most 11-year-olds aren't able to stay up late enough to watch the Oscars, let alone make history at the event. But that's exactly what Anna Paquin did when she became the second youngest person ever to win after she was awarded Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Piano. That feat alone is impressive, but what made it even more so was the fact that she was up against some seriously stiff competition: Rosie Perez, Winona Ryder, Emma Thompson, and Holly Hunter.
When Charlie Chaplin received the longest standing ovation in Oscar history (1972)
As an icon and pioneer in the world of silent comedy, it's no surprise that Charlie Chaplin would receive a standing ovation from a Hollywood crowd. However, Chaplin had been exiled from the United States throughout the '50s and '60s after being labeled a communist, and was finally permitted to return in 1972 to receive an honorary Oscar. It was there that the comedy legend reportedly received a 12-minute standing ovation from the crowd as he accepted the award.
When a streaker took the stage (1974)
While co-host David Niven was introducing Elizabeth Taylor as the presenter for the Best Picture award in 1974, no one was expecting a naked man to run across the screen, flashing a peace sign (and more). But that's exactly what happened. A moment no one could forget, the incident briefly turned the streaker, artist and gay rights activist Robert Opel, into an overnight celebrity.
When Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn tied for Best Actress (1969)
More often than not, there's only one winner for each category at the Academy Awards. So it was pretty shocking when presenter Ingrid Bergman read out loud that both two-time winner Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter) and newcomer Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl) had won for Best Actress with a total of 3,030 votes each. There have only been five other ties in Oscars' history (and only two had occurred before Streisand and Hepburn's tie).
When Citizen Kane didn't win Best Picture (1942)
Citizen Kane is regarded by many film historians as the best film of all time. However, back in 1942, the Academy apparently did not agree. Orson Welles' masterpiece was nominated for Best Picture, but ultimately lost to John Ford's How Green Was My Valley.
The film wasn't entirely snubbed, though: Citizen Kane did win Best Original Screenplay that year, and it lives on as the greatest film in history in the hearts of many movie lovers.
When Jennifer Lawrence fell on her way to accept her award (2013)
It was not very shocking that Jennifer Lawrence was awarded Best Actress in 2013 for her work in the critically-acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook. Her acceptance, on the other hand, has become one of the most talked about moments in Oscar history after she fell up the stairs on her way to accept the award. She even had Hugh Jackman running up to help her, which we're honestly a little jealous about!
When Bob Fosse won Best Director for Cabaret (1973)
Bob Fosse's astonishing Oscar win may not be so astonishing to fans of his directorial effort, Cabaret. But his competition was formidable: Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather, a film of epic proportions that regularly tops lists of the best films ever made. At least the recent series Fosse/Verdon gives some insight into the blood, sweat, and tears Fosse put into his work.
When Rocky won Best Picture (1977)
This very moment has cemented Rocky in culture as the quintessential underdog film. Nobody expected it to win Best Picture, especially going up against instant classics like Taxi Driver and All the President's Men. But the inspirational film—written by and starring Sylvester Stallone—struck a chord with audiences, so the win felt like a victory for both the filmmakers and the fans. If Rocky itself wasn't a solid case that you can win fights with the odds stacked against you, this Oscar moment certainly was.
When Grace Kelly won an Oscar for her role in The Country Girl (1955)
Grace Kelly winning an Oscar in 1955 wasn't surprising by any means. It was the same year that she had given two unforgettable performances in two unforgettable Alfred Hitchcock films: Rear Window and Dial M for Murder. But oddly enough, Kelly won Best Actress for her, um, less iconic role in The Country Girl. The win feels even more perplexing when you consider the fact that it came the same year that Judy Garland had finally been nominated.
When Leonardo DiCaprio didn't win, and didn't win, and didn't win, and didn't win, and didn't win (1994–2014)
In 1994, Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in What's Eating Gilbert Grape. In 2005, he was nominated for Best Actor for The Aviator. In 2007, he was again nominated for Best Actor, for Blood Diamond—and again, in 2014, for The Wolf of Wall Street (which also earned him a Best Picture nomination, since he was a producer). He didn't win a single award.
Of course, it's an honor just to be nominated. But at a certain point, it's just insulting. Luckily, he broke the bad luck streak in 2016, by picking up a Best Oscar win for his role in The Revenant.
When Adrien Brody won Best Actor (2003)
People weren't upset about Adrien Brody's unlikely Oscar win, but they were pleasantly surprised. His performance in The Pianist was generally applauded, but Brody was up against Hollywood heavyweights like Michael Caine, Jack Nicholson, and Daniel Day-Lewis, making his chances to bring home the prize slim to none. He beat all odds when he not only won the award, but also became the youngest man to ever receive the Oscar for Best Actor, a record he still holds to this day.
When Dances With Wolves beat Goodfellas (1991)
If you had to guess who won Best Director in 1991, you'd probably pick Martin Scorsese for his work on Goodfellas. In fact, Scorsese shockingly lost to Kevin Costner, who took the Oscar for Dancing With Wolves in one of the biggest Academy Award upsets of all time.
When The Shawshank Redemption lost every category (1995)
Frank Darabont's unforgettable film, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, was expected to take all the big wins of the night. The movie—based on the Stephen King novella—was nominated for a whopping seven Oscars, and took home a bleak zero. Most upsettingly, it lost Best Picture to Forrest Gump, a film that has not exactly stood the test of time.
When Chariots of Fire won Best Picture (1981)
Even the filmmakers of this Olympic tale were astounded by its shocking win. There were plenty of worthy Oscar contenders in 1981, including Warren Beatty's Reds and Mark Rydell's On Golden Pond. Many were surprised that Chariots of Fire was even nominated, and when its name was called to the Oscar stage, the cast and crew looked around at one another in ecstatic awe. Talk about a gold medal.
When Shakespeare in Love unexpectedly stole the show (1999)
When Oscar season rolled around in 1999, everyone was expecting Saving Private Ryan to be the big winner of the night. With a Steven Spielberg-helmed, Tom Hanks-led war movie on the ballot, people figured the awards were said and done. Little did they know, the night would take a major turn when announcers began dishing out awards to Shakespeare in Love left and right. The film won a total of eight Oscars that night, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Best Original Screenplay.