The biggest Oscars speeches from over the years, ranked — from best to worst
Acceptance speeches are a fine art, and much like critiquing the looks at the Met Gala while wearing your PJs with your hand in a sharing bag of chilli heatwave Doritos, it is something everyone thinks they are capable of.
Don’t speak for too long, don’t cry too much, road test the jokes beforehand and always, always remember to thank your mum. It can’t be that hard, right? Wrong. With over 94 years of Oscars ceremonies as evidence, we can confidently say that not all acceptance speeches are good speeches. That being said, once you get a good one, you love and cherish it like a new born baby. They really can go either way.
For that exact reason, we have broken down historical Oscars speeches into the most fair, scientific criteria there is: Snog, Marry, Avoid. Come with us while we kiss, wed and ditch our way through the Academy Awards.
Snog: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2018
Frances McDormand accepted her Best Actress Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri like only Frances McDormand could: stony faced, respectful and ready to lay down some truths. She begins flustered: “I’m hyperventilating a little bit, if I fall over pick me up because I’ve got some things to say.” By the end of this sentence, Dormand is cool, calm, and in total command of the room. She even seems a little angry. It’s the type of line delivery that gives you chills — she’s holding that little gold statue for a reason.
Marry: Viola Davis, Fences, 2016
Viola Davis taking to the stage to accept her Oscar (this was her third nomination) felt like something that was destined to happen sooner or later. And if you know Viola Davis, you know she gives good speeches. This was no exception. The best part is, she starts with an absolute clanger: “You know there’s one place, one place [where] all the people with the greatest potential are gathered,” she pauses, the room pauses with her, assuming it is the room she’s in right now — “The graveyard,” Davis says.
It seems a bit strange but she follows it up with the most moving tribute to untold stories and overlooked individuals. “People ask me all the time, ‘What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?’ and I say ‘Exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories.’” Boom.
Avoid: Sean Penn, Mystic River, 2004
Oooph. Sean Penn won Best Actor for his performance in Mystic River in 2004, got a standing ovation, and immediately made everyone wish they had remained seated. It’s not a terrible speech, it’s just extremely awkward. “If there’s one thing that actors know… other than there weren’t any WMD’s,” he begins, referencing the rationale behind the Iraq war. To be fair, he gets some whoops and whistles, but it feels like a strange place to begin.
He later admits he hasn’t written a speech, which makes everything make a lot more sense, but honestly maybe he should have opened with this. The rest of it is meandering and slow and he doesn’t really go out with a bang, making one of the biggest award acceptances of the night feel like a bit of a damp squib.
Snog: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah, 2022
This speech has some of the funniest and most authentic moments in Oscars history. Kaluuya accepted his award for Best Supporting Actor at a rather muted and empty (socially-distanced) Oscars ceremony and somehow managed to set the room on fire. Thanking the crowd for recognising his role in Judas and the Black Messiah, he addressed his mother: “For my mum, thank you so much for pouring into me, you gave me everything. You gave me my factory settings.”
At points he simply takes it in, saying “Bro, we out here, yo” to himself. There’s a long list of thank yous, and then Kaluuya rounds it up with another brilliant reference to his mum: “My mum, my dad, they had sex! It’s amazing,” he jokes. His mum looks less than impressed and his sister puts her head in her hands, but we enjoyed it plenty.
Marry: Olivia Colman, The Favourite, 2019
This is a perfect Oscars acceptance speech on all counts. From the moment Olivia’s name is called and she sinks into her chair, to the people who surround her urging her to get up, to the Renaissance-painting-esque shot of her being kissed on both cheeks by her husband and Emma Stone, to the actual words she says: no notes.
She opens with a quintessentially British, “Ooh, it’s genuinely quite stressful,” and gets everyone laughing, then follows with the even better, “This is hilarious. Got an Oscar?!” The speech is short and sweet, she gets her thank yous out of the way quickly, and then ends it with a touching tribute to her fellow actresses. The best part is when she sees Lady Gaga sat in front of her and simply says: “Lady Gaga” and blows her a kiss. The whole thing is so chaotic it can’t help but bring a tear to your eye.
Avoid: Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love, 1999
Oh, Gwyneth, we love you, but this is not your finest hour. It starts off fine — she takes to the stage and says her thank yous (one of which has to go to Harvey Weinstein, which has not aged well for obvious reasons) but then she descends into tears. She gets so choked up she literally chokes, and can’t quite hold her voice from quavering.
All in all it’s not that bad, which is funny considering how it is regarded as one of the worst Oscar speeches of all time (huh, an emotional woman, who knew people could hate that?) but it is just a bit soppy. Especially considering the mega force she’s gone on to become, it’s strange to see the Goop Queen this simpering. Let’s hope she wins another one so she can get up there and flog some of her jade eggs this time.
Snog: Lupita N’Yongo, Twelve Years a Slave, 2014
What a speech! What a dress! What a cute little headband! First time winner (and nominee) Lupita N’Yongo absolutely nails her acceptance, getting up there and professing “YES!” out of pure joy, then moving seamlessly into emotional territory. “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.”
She goes on to land more emotional hard hitters, like, “Thank you so much for putting me in this position, it has been the joy of my life,” and her final note: “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.” One for the history books.
Marry: Marlon Brando, The Godfather, 1976
In a move that shocked many at the time (and still remains pretty shocking now) Marlon Brando failed to turn up to accept his Oscar for The Godfather and instead sent Sacheen Littlefeather in his place. She used her time to talk about the negative portrayals of Native American people in Hollywood — a sentiment which, you’d expect, to be accepted as fair criticism. Not in 1976! Littlefeather was interrupted by a chorus of catcalls and boos and legend has it John Wayne had to be physically restrained to stop him invading the stage. Yikes. Anyway Littlefeather killed it, and props to Brando for having this awareness back when so many other members of the Academy were lacking it.
Avoid: Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interuppted, 2000
We’ve tried to forget Angelina Jolie’s phase of being OTT with her brother, James Haven. But we’re reaching into the far recesses of your mind and wrenching it back into your consciousness because this is an Oscars speech for the awkward Oscars speech hall of fame. Jolie, who is serving full Morticia Addams, rises to the stage to accept her Best Actress award and subsequently declares: “I’m so in love with my brother right now.” Not “I love my brother so much right now,” no, “I’m so *in love* with my brother right now.” And yes, that might seem like a rather harsh reading of her speech, but she did go on to literally kiss him on the lips later in the night, so…
Snog: Julia Roberts, Erin Brokovich, 2001
It’s hard not to love Julia Roberts giving an acceptance speech when she’s flashing those massive gnashers at you like the Cheshire Cat. When the producers try to play her off a little too hastily she quickly hits back, “Sir, you’re doing a great job but you’re so quick with that stick, so why don’t you sit, because I may never be here again!” She talks about how grateful she is to be nominated, saying: “It just felt like such a triumph to me to be in that list, my name starts with R so I’m always last but I still love the list.” She gets distracted, talks about how pretty the statue is, veers into talking about her dress — it’s a mess and it’s great.
Marry: Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball, 2002
A monumental moment in history — Halle Berry winning Best Actress for Monster’s Ball marked the first time a Black woman had ever won the award. And, in an ultra depressing update, nearly 20 years have passed and she’s still the only one. But, on a positive note, her speech is brilliant. She acknowledges the milestone, saying, “This moment is so much bigger than me,” and dedicates the award to black actresses past and present. “This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of colour that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.” A perfect speech — hopefully we see that door actually get some use sometime soon.
Avoid: Jane Fonda, Klute, 1972
A quite frankly hilariously short speech from Fonda. Known for being outspoken and verbose, this felt a bit weird from her, but who knows, maybe she had places to be.
Snog: The La La Land fiasco, 2017
Oh, what a tonic. The Oscars had gotten so boring by this point that when this happened I wanted someone to pour it down my gullet so I could swallow it whole. Drink it up baby, this is real drama. To recap: Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty took to the stage to announce Best Picture, but were handed the wrong envelope, which confuses Beatty, so he hands to to Dunaway and she reads out “La La Land”, when what it actually says is “Emma Stone — La La Land” from back when Best Actress was announced. Chaos ensues and the faces in the audience are honestly priceless. Watch if you’re ever feeling down. (Unless you’re Damien Chazelle, sorry Damien Chazelle).
Marry: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant, 2016
Remember when everyone was astounded by Leonardo Dicaprio’s lack of an Oscar? Well, he got one for The Revenant in 2016 and the house whoops for so long he can barely give a speech. His silky smooth tones deliver the speech with panache, and he’s just very classy about it all, plus he brings up climate change, so this is a strong marry.
Avoid: The McConnaissance, Dallas Buyers Club, 2014
You know when you get stuck at a party talking to some guy who is just… on one. Matthew McConaughey is this guy when he wins his Oscar. It starts off fine but then he veers onto this tangent of him being his own hero and it goes on for so long and gets so convoluted that he can’t even save it with his trademark “Alright alright alright” at the end. Short and sweet guys, short and sweet! On that note, I’m out.