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Roberto Benigni at the 71st Academy Awards
Image: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Culture

The Most Iconic Moments at the Oscars

Looking back at some highlights at the Oscars before the 95th Academy Awards

The 10 Most Memorable Oscar Moments 

The 95th Academy Awards will premiere at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California on March 12, 2023. A night of glitz and glamour among the Hollywood elite accompanies the celebration of excellence in film. These prestigious film awards have also been called “The Oscars” in recent years

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has hosted the awards since 1929. The Academy currently presents their iconic gold statues to winners in 24 film categories each year. While there’s debate about which films deserve the distinguished accolade, the Oscars show is usually a memorable night. Throughout the past 95 years, Oscar night has been the setting of many iconic moments in film industry history. 

10. The first tie in Academy Awards history happened in 1932.

In 1932, there were so many superior acting performances that the Academy couldn’t decide on one winner. Wallace Beery and Fredric March shared the Best Actor award that year for their roles in The Champ (1931) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), respectively. Beery and March would not be the only two actors to share an Oscar win. In 1969, Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand tied for Best Actress.

9. In 1956, James Dean became the first actor nominated for an Oscar posthumously.

Legendary Hollywood actor, James Dean was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in East of Eden (1955). Dean, who passed away in an automobile accident in 1955, was the first actor to be nominated posthumously. Though Dean’s film career only spanned three films, he remains revered in Hollywood history as a symbol of rebellion against convention. Dean’s posthumous nominations for East of Eden and The Giant one year later show the impact this “rebel without a cause” has on cinema history and culture.

Leonardo DiCaprio at the 88th Academy Awards
Image: Oscars.org

8. Leonardo DiCaprio finally wins an Oscar.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s patience and perseverance paid off at the 88th Academy Awards. After four previous nominations, he finally took home an Oscar statuette. DiCaprio was first nominated by the Academy for Best Supporting Actor in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993). DiCaprio was later nominated for Best Actor for his performances in The Aviator (2004), Blood Diamond (2006), and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). He finally won the Oscar for his portrayal of frontiersman Hugh Glass in The Revenant (2015). DiCaprio has since received a sixth nomination for Best Actor in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), but his win at the 88th Academy Awards remains the only time he took home the prize. 

7. Robin Williams’ performance of “Blame Canada” at the 72nd Academy Awards was a memorable Oscars moment. 

While the unscripted moments at the Oscars generate the most press, some musical performances are unforgettable. In 2000, “Blame Canada” from South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut received a nomination for Best Original Song. Hollywood comedic icon and showman, Robin Williams led the entertaining, large-scale performance of the satirical song. Despite the humorous performance, the song didn’t garner any wins for its lyricists, Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman. However, the magnitude of the production and William’s stage presence make this live performance one of the most memorable ones in Academy Awards history.

Moonlight wins Best Picture at the Oscars in 2017
Image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

6. Moonlight wins Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards.

It was the win that almost wasn’t. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway took the stage to announce La La Land the winner of Best Picture in 2017, because of an envelope mix-up. It took several minutes to sort out the gaffe, after which Moonlight was declared the winner. The teams of both movies handled the error with grace. This mistake ended up making Moonlight’s win more memorable. The Best Picture Error of 2017 is a reminder that mistakes exist, even in Hollywood.

5. The epic rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis was its own show at the Oscars in 1963.

Hollywood starlets Joan Crawford and Bette Davis feuded for years inside and outside of the film industry. Both actresses starred in the horror/thriller film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). However, Davis was the only one of the duo to be nominated for the coveted Best Actress Oscar. Crawford allegedly sabotaged Davis’ win by maligning her reputation to the Academy. On Oscar night 1963, Crawford took the stage to accept the Best Actress award on behalf of the winner, Anne Bancroft. Bancroft was starring in a Broadway play, and couldn’t make the ceremony herself. Crawford’s move was particularly petty because Davis would have made Oscars’ history if she had won her third Best Actress award. 

4. Katharine Hepburn makes Oscars history with most wins for Best Actress.

In 1982, Katharine Hepburn made Oscars history by winning her fourth Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in On Golden Pond (1981). Hepburn’s talent earned her the respect of her peers. Throughout her illustrious career, she was nominated for Best Actress 12 times, winning in 1934, 1968, 1969, and 1982. Despite Hepburn’s milestone achievement, she never attended the Oscars in person to accept her awards, citing her work as her prize. No other actor in Academy Awards history has broken her record yet.

Sacheen Littlefeather at the Oscars in 1973
Image: Bettman/Getty Images

3. Marlon Brando refuses his Oscar for The Godfather.

In 1973, Marlon Brando won an Oscar for Best Actor for his iconic portrayal of Don Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. Brando did not show up to the awards in protest of Hollywood’s treatment of indigenous people in film. He sent Native American actress and activist, Sacheen Littlefeather to reject the award and use the platform to speak out about Hollywood’s negative depictions of indigenous people. Since then, other actors have used their Oscar speeches to speak out against unfairness in Hollywood, like Patricia Arquette in 2015 and Ariana DeBose in 2022.   

2. Roberto Benigni accepts his Oscar win with sincere, heartwarming enthusiasm.

In 1999, Roberto Benigni’s reaction to winning the Best Foreign Language Film for Life is Beautiful is an authentic display of pure surprise and joy. While there’s an element of unpredictability at the Oscars, Benigni’s appreciative reaction to his win is an unforgettable moment in Oscars’ history. At the 71st Academy Awards, Benigni celebrated his win by standing up on the auditorium seats and shaking the hands of his peers. Benigni, who starred in and directed Life is Beautiful, also took home an Oscar for Best Actor that night.

The Lord of the Rings Return of the King Oscars
Image: Oscars.org

1. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King stands undefeated at the 76th Academy Awards. 

In 2003, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King made history at the Academy Awards. The last installment in the Lord of the Rings saga took home 11 Oscars, winning in all the categories it received nominations for. Only two other movies hold the record for winning 11 Oscars: James Cameron’s Titantic (1997) and William Wyler’s Ben Hur (1959). The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the only film in that stands undefeated in every category it was nominated for at the Oscars. 

Written By

Danielle Cappolla is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher based in New Jersey. She has a B.A. in English from Fordham University and an M.S. in Education and Special Education from Touro College. When she’s not writing, you can find her swapping TV theories with her family and friends over dinner. You can follow her work at https://daniellecappolla.contently.com/.

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