15 Of The Most Iconic And Memorable Oscars Acceptance Speeches Of All Time

Olivia Blair
·8-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Acceptance speeches at the Oscars have a reputation being emotional, awkward, inspirational or, somehow, all three at the same time.

Let's not forget that these are actors and therefore people who make money from being dramatic or creating drama for a living.

So, is it really any surprise that when these actors win the highest honour in their field, things get very intense very quickly?

From Gwyneth Paltrow sobbing in a pink princess dress to Michael Moore berating George Bush, ahead of the 93rd Academy Awards this weekend (April 25), let's take a look back at some of the most memorable Oscars speeches from throughout the years...

The Most Empowering Oscars Speeches

Lupita Nyong'o - Best Supporting Actress Oscars Speech, 2014

Nyong'o glided up to accept her award for her role in the harrowing Steve McQueen movie 12 Years A Slave, looking radiant wearing a Prada dress and headband which only added to the angelic nature of the speech. Nyong'o thanked McQueen and her co-stars so authentically before paying tribute to her brother and best friend and ending with a message to the audience, 'May this remind you that no matter where you are from, your dreams are valid.'

John Legend and Common - Best Original Song Oscars Speech, 2015

After a searing performance of their song 'Glory', which accompanied Ava DuVernay's Martin Luther King Jr. drama Selma, John Legend and Common took to the stage to accept their Oscar. The duo spoke about the parallels between the march for equal rights and justice acknowledged in the film and song and the people who continue fighting for their rights today. Legend used his platform to highlight the injustices in the American judicial system and urge for criminal justice reform.

Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney - Best Adapted Screenplay, 2017

The Moonlight director and writer gave an impassioned acceptance speech, encouraging young Black and LGBTQ+ people watching to have the confidence to tell their stories.

'This goes out to all those Black and brown boys and girls and non-gender conforming who don't see themselves, we're trying to show you, you and us. So thank you, this is for you,' said McCraney.

While Jenkins reminded viewers that the Academy and ACLU - America's biggest civil rights organisation - were there for them saying, 'All those people out there who feel like there's no mirror for you and your life is not reflected... we have your back and for the next four years we will not leave you alone and will not forget you.' Later on in the night, the two returned to the stage to accept the award for Best Picture, though were ultimately and understandably caught off guard after La La Land was announced as the wrong winner.

Frances McDormand - Best Actress Oscar Speech, 2018

'I'm hyperventilating a little bit, if I fall over pick me up because I've got some things to say,' began McDormand before paying tribute to her Three Billboards colleagues, her husband Joel Cohen and son Pedro McDormand Cohen before asking all the female nominees from every category in the room to stand with her. 'Meryl if you do it, everyone else will,' she said to Streep in the front row.

She then proceeded to educate ask the men in the room to meet with all the women they see standing to listen to their career ambitions and projects before mentioning two words, and subsequently enticing the audience at home to Google rapidly, 'inclusion rider' - a clause in an actor/filmmaker's contract that ensures a certain level of diversity in the cast and crew on a production.

The Most Entertaining Oscars Speeches

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon - Best Original Screenplay Oscars Speech, 1997

Aged just 25 and 27, childhood friends Affleck and Damon won an Oscar for writing their film, Good Will Hunting. The pair shouted their speech, as they reeled off people to thank from Minnie Driver to Robin Williams to their mothers, escalated in volume as they became more excitable and aware of the time limit.

Julia Roberts - Best Actress Oscars Speech, 2001

The actress won the Best Actress Academy Award for portraying environmental lawyer Erin Brockovich in 2001 and accepted it with a hilarious speech which alternated between thanking everyone Roberts has ever met (she literally thanks 'anyone I've ever met in my whole life') at one point and battling with the behind the scenes Oscars crew keeping time on her speech: 'Man with the stick I see you!'

Olivia Colman - Best Actress Oscars Speech, 2019

When Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell announced the former Peep Show star as the winner and she was stunned into the backs of her seat, while being embraced and kissed by her husband, Ed on one side and a weeping Emma Stone on the other, we knew this was going to be a great speech.

Colman did not disappoint, starting her speech with, 'It's genuinely quite stressful, this is hilarious, I've got an Oscar', before poking her tongue out at the teleprompter when she was told to wrap up and simply pointing and saying 'Lady Gaga' at the star and her fellow nominee in the front row.

The Most Emotional Oscars Speeches

Gwyneth Paltrow - Best Actress Oscars Speech, 1999

Paltrow was famously tearful when she won an Oscar for her role in Shakespeare In Love in 1999. The star became the most emotional when paying tribute to her father Bruce Paltrow, who was in the audience with her mother Blythe Danner, and who was diagnosed with oral cancer in 1999. Paltrow passed away from cancer complications in 2002 aged 58.

Halle Berry - Best Actress Oscars Speech, 2002

Berry had tears running down her face when she reached the stage to accept her Academy Award for Monster's Ball, becoming the first Black woman to win the Best Actress award in the process. 'This moment is so much bigger than me,' Berry said as she struggled to speak through tears while recounting her acting heroes. 'It's for every faceless, nameless, woman of colour who now has the chance because this door tonight has been opened.'

Jamie Foxx - Best Actor Oscar Speech, 2005

Starting with some Ray Charles vocals in homage to the singer he portrayed in the Oscar-winning film, Foxx then thanked his daughter (who he brought to the Oscars that night) for telling him just before the award, 'If you don't win Dad, you're still good', before a heartfelt tribute to his grandmother, Marie, where Foxx struggled to hold back tears.

Heath Ledger - Best Supporting Actors Oscars Speech, 2009

In 2009, Ledger was posthumously awarded an Oscar for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight, a year after his death. The award was received on his behalf by his family, who said they had been 'truly overwhelmed' by the honour and respect attributed to Ledger and accepted it on behalf of his daughter with Michelle Williams, Matilda.

Viola Davis - Best Supporting Actress Oscar Speech, 2017

Davis was overcome with emotion as she delivered her Oscars speech for her role in Fences in 2017, especially when talking about the impact of her parents on her life and career. Emma Stone looked particularly teary-eyed at the end when Davis paid tribute to her husband Julius Tennon and their children. 'I'm so glad you are the foundation of my life,' Davis said as she wrapped up her speech.

The Most Political Oscars Speeches

Marlon Brando - Best Actor Oscars Speech, 1973

The actor won his award for The Godfather in 1973 however declined his award and gave the opportunity for a speech to actress Sacheen Littlefeather, who used the platform to criticise the depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood. She passed on the message that Brando couldn't accept the award because of the 'treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television and movie reruns'.

Michael Moore - Best Documentary Oscars Speech, 2003

Accepting his award for gun-control documentary Bowling for Columbine, director Michael Moore used his time on stage to criticise the George Bush presidency and Iraq War.

An impassioned Moore raised his voice as he said, 'Shame on you Mr Bush' while the audience roundly booed (though some applause was had) and high-profile celebrities like Adrien Brody looked on awkwardly.

Writing about his Oscars speech for The Hollywood Reporter, in 2017, Moore said: 'Later, my wife and I walked over to the Governors Ball. When I walked in, it was like the Red Sea parting. No one there wanted to be anywhere near the guy who got booed off the stage. One board member told me, "Wow, you really know how to ruin a standing ovation."'

However, he caveated that over the years he has a lot more of a positive reception to his speech than on the night in 2003.

Leonardo DiCaprio - Best Actor Oscar Speech, 2016

In 2016, the world waited with baited breath to see if The Revenant star would finally win an Oscar many thought he should have received years before. He did and nailed his speech in the process, using the platform to eloquently pay tribute to and urge protection of indigenous people while also asking for action on Climate Change, which he called 'the most urgent threat facing our entire species'.

Oh, we can't wait for the Oscars this weekend.

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