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The Most Iconic Oscars Moments of All Time

Remembering the good, the bad, and the ugly

Will Rogers, Frank Lloyd
1 of 27 New York Times Co./Getty Images

Will Rogers learns to always use last names (1934)

When he was presenting the award for Best Director at the 6th Academy Awards, Will Rogers opened the envelope and said, "Come up and get it, Frank!" Cue Lady for a Day director Frank Capra jumping up out of his seat and making his way to the stage. But the actual winner was Frank Lloyd, who directed Cavalcade. Talk about awkward.

2 of 27 Bettmann/Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel is the first African-American Oscar winner (1940)

Hattie McDaniel made Oscars history in 1940, becoming the first African-American to win an Academy Award. She took home the Best Supporting Actress honor for Gone with the Wind.

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Greer Garson goes long (1943)

In order to keep the show running on time, it's not uncommon for the orchestra to start playing Oscar winners off the stage almost as soon as they start making their remarks these days. That might be due in part to Greer Garson, who spoke for more than five minutes after winning Best Actress in 1943.

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Jerry Lewis ad-libs (1959)

Nowadays, Oscar ceremonies infamously run long, oftentimes into the wee hours of Monday morning. But in 1959, the Academy had the opposite problem, when the ceremony ended 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Comedian Jerry Lewis, who was one of six hosts emceeing the ceremony that year, was forced to ad-lib at the end of the broadcast, improvising a finale that featured several of the nominees, presenters and winners dancing on stage to "There's No Business Like Show Business." Yet it was still the only time the Oscars have ever run short.

5 of 27 Getty Images

Sidney Poitier breaks a barrier (1964)

Sidney Poitier won Best Actor for Lilies of the Field at the 36th Academy Awards, becoming the first African-American man to do so. And the second didn't come for 38 years, when Denzel Washington won for Training Day in 2001.

6 of 27 Bettmann/Getty Images

Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn tie (1969)

For the first time in history, Oscar voting ended in a tie in 1969, and both Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl) and Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter) were named Best Actress. However, Streisand was the only one who gave a speech, since Hepburn opted to skip the ceremony. Streisand greeted the statue with the famous line, "Hello, gorgeous."

7 of 27 Bettmann/Getty Images

Sacheen Littlefeather stands in for Marlon Brando (1973)

At the 45th Academy Awards, Marlon Brando won the Best Actor award for his role in The Godfather. But he refused the statue, sending actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather to speak in his place, in order to protest the treatment of Native Americans in the film and television industry and the ongoing siege at Wounded Knee. The move prompted the Academy to ban proxy acceptance speeches at future ceremonies.

8 of 27 Bettmann/Getty Images

Charlie Chaplin makes a comeback (1972)

Charlie Chaplin was presented with an honorary Oscar at the 1972 ceremony, and received a 12-minute standing ovation when he was introduced -- not just because of the award, but because the night marked the silent film star's return to the U.S. after a 20-year exile from the country after he was accused of having Communist sympathies. Chaplin made a brief speech, but then he propelled the audience members to their feet again when he donned his signature bowling hat and cane.

9 of 27 Bettmann/Getty Images

A streaker disrupts the show (1974)

Ah, the joys and dangers of live television. In 1974, the Oscars were briefly disrupted by a male streaker who ran across the stage shortly after the Best Actor award was presented to Jack Lemmon. A mere 76 million people were tuning in to the broadcast at the time, but luckily the offender was only caught on camera from the waist up.

10 of 27 ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

Vanessa Redgrave gets political (1978)

Vanessa Redgrave was booed during her Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech, in which she blasted President Richard Nixon and Sen. Joseph McCarthy and called critics of her pro-Palestine made-for-TV documentary The Palestinian "a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums."

11 of 27 ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

Sally Field feels the love (1985)

Sally Field won her first Best Actress statue in 1980, for Norma Rae. But when she took home her second little golden man at the 57th Academy Awards, for Places in the Heart, Field indicated in her frequently (mis)quoted speech that she finally felt like she had arrived. "I can't deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!" she told the audience.

12 of 27 Randy Leffingwell/Getty Images

Rob Lowe dances with Snow White (1989)

Opening numbers at the Oscars are famously hit-or-miss. One of the more egregious misfires was Rob Lowe's campy duet with "Snow White" (aspiring actress Eileen Bowman) at the 61st Academy Awards. Bowman, in character, offered a bizarre take on "I Only Have Eyes for You" as she strutted through the baffled crowd, before eventually linking up with Lowe for an off-key rendition of "Proud Mary." The 15 minutes of infamy led to producer Allan Carr being blacklisted from Hollywood, and prompted an open letter signed by 17 industry figures including Julie Andrews and Billy Wilder, denouncing the opener as "an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry." To top it all off, Disney later sued the Academy for unauthorized use of its animated princess.

13 of 27 Craig Fujii/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Jack Palance does push-ups (1992)

At the 64th Annual Academy Awards, 73-year-old Best Supporting Actor winner Jack Palance demonstrated his physical prowess on stage by performing a series of one-handed push-ups. The host, Palance's City Slickers co-star Billy Crystal, turned the bit into a running joke, quipping later in the ceremony that Palance was backstage on a stairmaster and later, bungee jumping off the Hollywood sign.

14 of 27 Reed Saxon/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Tom Hanks honors AIDS victims (1994)

In his acceptance speech for Best Actor for playing an AIDS patient in Philadelphia, Tom Hanks paid tribute to those who had lost their lives to the disease. "The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels," he said. "We know their names. They number a thousand for each of the red ribbons we wear here tonight."

15 of 27 Don Emmert/Getty Images

"Oprah, Uma" (1995)

Host David Letterman got off to a rocky start at the 67th Academy Awards. In his opening monologue, one of his first jokes involved a not-so-subtle jab at celebrities with uncommon first names. "Oprah? Uma. Uma? Oprah," Letterman deadpanned, addressing Oprah Winfrey and Uma Thurman. "Have you kids met Keanu?" he asked. The joke fell flat.

16 of 27 Susan Sterner/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Cuba Gooding Jr. shares the love (1997)

After winning Best Supporting Actor for his role in Jerry Maguire, Cuba Gooding, Jr. refused to be played off the stage during his acceptance speech at the 69th Academy Awards. Shouting over the orchestra music, Gooding expressed his love for... well, pretty much everybody before finally wrapping up.

17 of 27 Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images

Robero Benigni celebrates a Beautiful win (1999)

In what might be the most endearing Oscar moment ever, Italian actor/director Roberto Benigni was simply ecstatic when his film Life Is Beautifulwon Best Foreign Language Film and he won Best Actor at the 71st Academy Awards. Benigni stole the show, standing on the backs of chairs and applauding the audience before going up on stage to deliver his speech. The film also won best score, and Benigni also received nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director.

18 of 27 Getty Images

Halle Berry makes history (2002)

At the 74th Annual Academy Awards, Halle Berry became the first black woman to take home the Best Actress prize, winning for her role in Monster's Ball.

19 of 27 Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images

Michael Moore's fiery speech (2003)

After winning Best Documentary Feature for Bowling for Columbineat the 75th Academy Awards, Michael Moore laid into President Bush, who had launched a bombing campaign and invasion in Baghdad days before the ceremony, referencing "fictitious election results" and the "fictitious times" we were living in. Moore was booed for his angry acceptance speech and eventually played off the stage.

20 of 27 Brian Vander Brug/Getty Images

Adrien Brody plants one on Halle Berry (2003)

Such a move might not be as well-received today, but audiences were mostly charmed when Best Actor winner Adrien Brody locked lips with presenter Halle Berry when he accepted his award for The Pianist at the 75th Academy Awards.

21 of 27 Steve Granitz/Getty Images

Three 6 Mafia win big (2006)

One of the biggest surprises at the 78th Annual Academy Awards was rap group Three 6 Mafia winning the Best Original Song award for its Hustle & Flow anthem "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp."

22 of 27 Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Kathryn Bigelow becomes the first female Best Director (2010)

At the 82nd Annual Academy Awards, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to accept the Best Director prize for her war drama The Hurt Locker.

23 of 27 Getty Images

Ellen DeGeneres takes a selfie (2014)

At the 86th Annual Academy Awards, host Ellen DeGeneres kept the audience entertained in between segments by doing a number of bits, including taking an epic selfie with the likes of Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The viral photo broke the Internet, so to speak.

24 of 27 Kevin Winter/Getty Images

"Adele Dazeem" (2014)

Ellen's selfie wasn't the only moment from the 86th Annual Academy Awards that went viral. It's still unclear what exactly happened to John Travolta, as he was introducing performer Idina Menzel at the 2014 Oscars, but her name came out "Adele Dazeem." The mispronunciation became an instant meme.

25 of 27 Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Envelope-gate (2017)

Perhaps the most (in)famous Oscar moment of all time occurred just in 2017, when actor Warren Beatty announced La La Land as the Best Picture winner, and the producers and cast came up and began giving their acceptance speeches. That's all well and good, except for one problem: La La Land didn't win best picture. After a commotion onstage, it was revealed that the honor actually went to Moonlight, with La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz waggling the correct envelope as proof. Oops!

26 of 27 Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The first host-less Oscars since 1989 (2019)

Technically this whole debacle went down before the ceremony, but considering this is the first time tweets have disrupted a broadcast, it's truly an iconic moment. After it was announced that Kevin Hart was set to emcee the ceremony, a series of homophobic tweets from the comic's past resurfaced; amid the ensuing uproar, Hart refused to apologize... until he did, as he stepped down as host. The whole ordeal took place over 48 hours -- but wasn't over. During an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show, DeGeneres pleaded with Hart to reconsider. After further criticism, Hart decided against hosting once and for all, leaving the Oscars without a host for the first time since 1989. As the youth say, never tweet.

27 of 27 ABC

Are Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in love or aren't they? (2019)

No introduction was needed for this performance. A Star Is Born was one of the biggest hits of the year because the onscreen romance between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga blew everyone out of the water. In fact, after a press tour filled with gushing, affectionate interviews, many wondered if the chemistry was bleeding into real life despite Cooper having a long term girlfriend. The culmination of this Oscars gambit was a live performance of the movie's hit song "Shallow" in which things got.....weird. For the final portion of the song, where they finish out the song together with sha-sha-la-la-la-low's, Cooper sat next to Gaga on her piano bench, and they proceeded to close their eyes and rub their faces together as they sang. The super zoom under the orange lights didn't really help the super awkward situation either. Just like that, we realized some romances should stay on-screen.