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The best Oscars hosts ever, ranked

Over the course of the 94 Academy Awards ceremonies that have taken place since 1929, a total of 79 individuals have served as host. Many hosted on their own, while others co-hosted with fellow actors, musicians, or other Hollywood personalities. The first hosts ever were Douglas Fairbanks and William C. DeMille, who co-hosted together in 1929. Bob Hope hosted the ceremony a shocking 19 times.

Agnes Moorehead has the honor of being the first female co-host in 1948, while Whoopie Goldberg was the first woman to host solo in 1993. Whether for fantastic performances or viral moments, each host has left his or her mark. With that in mind, here’s our list of the most memorable Oscars hosts ever.

Bob Hope (1940-1943, 1945-1946, 1953, 1955, 1958-1962, 1965-1968, 1975, 1978)

The First Televised Oscars Opening in 1953

This Hollywood icon hosted the ceremonies more than anyone, sometimes with co-hosts but often on his own. He remains the gold standard for what a host should be. In 1966, during the 38th Academy Awards, the Academy handed Hope a Gold Medal, a well-deserved honor, for his “unique and distinguished service to the industry” and to the Academy.

David Niven (1958-1959, 1974)

The Streaker: 1974 Oscars

Long before Will Ferrell went streaking in the 2003 film Old School, Niven faced his own streaking incident in 1974 during his last of three hosting gigs. As he was introducing Elizabeth Taylor, a man came prancing across the stage naked. True to Niven’s poised and debonair style, the British actor elegantly handled the situation. “Isn’t it fascinating to think,” he said after letting out a few chuckles, “that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?” The moment became one of the most memorable ever for the Oscars, in part because of the incident, but also due to Niven’s quick wit.

Jack Lemmon (1958, 1964, 1972, 1985)

The Opening of the Academy Awards in 1985

The actor known for roles in movies like Mister Roberts, which earned him an Academy Award, Some Like it Hot, Save the Tiger (which earned him a second win), and Glengarry Glen Ross, Jack Lemmon hosted the ceremonies four times, though he was only solo for the gig twice. The first time, he was joined by Rosalind Russell, James Stewart, Bob Hope, and Donald Duck (yes, the fictional character).

For his second time, he shared the stage with Helen Hayes, Alan King, and Sammy Davis Jr. Lemmon might have hosted during the event’s lowest-rated show of the decade in 1985, but he remains one of the most memorable hosts. This is mainly because he was a respected actor and one of few to host who had actually won Oscars himself.

Johnny Carson (1979-1982, 1984)

The Opening of the Academy Awards in 1980

It’s no surprise that Carson was asked back to host multiple times, including four times in a row. As expected for the consummate late-night talk show host, he delivered a solid performance every time, knowing just how to balance his delivery to generate laughs and entertainment. “I see a lot of new faces here,” he said during one year’s event, “especially on the old faces.” Some say Hope is the man to beat when it comes to the top Oscars host of all time, but others believe that distinction belongs just as much to Carson.

Billy Crystal (1990-1993, 1997-1998, 2000, 2004, 2012)

Billy Crystal Oscars Opening -- 1998 Academy Awards

While Carson and Hope are legends, in more recent years Crystal became near-synonymous with the Oscars, having hosted a total of nine times. While his later appearances may not have lived up to his earlier days, they always received critical praise; he has even been awarded several Emmys for hosting and writing for the show. Crystal earned praise for his always hilarious opening sequences where he inserts himself into a video and musical montage that pays tribute to the nominated films.

Jimmy Kimmel (2017, 2018, 2023)

Jimmy Kimmel's Oscars Monologue 2018

Kimmel demonstrated his quick wit delivering fun gags, like inviting tourists into the theater, much to their shock and amazement. That said, perhaps what made his time on the stage most memorable was when the wrong Best Picture winner was named at the end of the 2017 ceremonies, catching him off guard. But we can hardly blame him for that one, and we’ll never forget that moment. Kimmel, who hosted the Golden Globes is set to host the 95th Academy Awards in 2023, and all eyes are on him to see if he makes a triumphant return.

Ellen DeGeneres (2007, 2014)

Ellen DeGeneres' 86th Oscars Opening

While some of her jokes might have fallen flat, and a few gags left viewers puzzled (ordering pizza for guests?), DeGeneres became one of the most memorable hosts for one specific reason: Arranging a star-studded selfie. That #oscarselfie photo, taken by Bradley Cooper and including other A-list, front-row actors like Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, and Jennifer Lawrence, along with DeGeneres herself, literally broke Twitter.

It became the most retweeted image ever, garnering over 3.3 million retweets overall. (It has since been dethroned and now ranks as fourth-highest behind two tweets from a Japanese billionaire and a Wendy’s free chicken nuggets challenge.)

Whoopi Goldberg (1994, 1996, 1999, 2002)

Whoopi Goldberg hosting the Oscars®

As the first woman to host the ceremonies on her own, Goldberg showed why she deserved to be on the stage. Alongside her fantastic comedic timing and quirky sensibilities, she also recognized when to tone down the comedy, especially during her first time hosting, when the powerful film Schindler’s List won Best Picture. On the flipside, Goldberg also wasn’t afraid to be kooky and go the extra mile to get laughs.

Seth MacFarlane (2013)

Seth MacFarlane's Best Jokes at the Oscars

Arguably one of the most polarizing hosts, MacFarlane is one of those funnymen whose style you either love or hate, and that translated to the Oscars. His “crude” humor was a hit with some viewers and audience members, but a miss with others. His opening tribute song to female actors who had appeared topless in movies called “We Saw Your Boobs!” was dubbed one of the most memorable missteps in Oscar history by Vanity Fair. But despite some not agreeing with his brand of humor, ratings that year were higher than the Academy had seen since 2010.

Hugh Jackman (2009)

Hugh Jackman's Opening Number: 2009 Oscars

Another polarizing host, Jackman took the gig in a unique direction, focusing more on song and dance than any other host before him. Some viewers loved it, while others felt such a style should be reserved for the Tony Awards instead. Whatever your impression, the introduction of a dapper young actor who also happens to be musically inclined made for a solidly rated event. His musical opening tribute to the nominated films has received more than 21 million views on YouTube.

Anne Hathaway and James Franco (2011)

James Franco and Anne Hathaway host the Oscars®

It was almost too difficult to watch. While Franco was barely present, standing doe-eyed as though he would rather be anywhere else than on that stage, Hathaway overcompensated by being far too animated and excited. With jokes that fell flat and zero chemistry, they go down in history as the worst, and weirdest, Oscar host pairing ever. Still, the hosting gig was memorable, albeit for negative reasons.

Neil Patrick Harris (2015)

Neil Patrick Harris's Opening Number: 2010 Oscars

Harris must have knocked it out of the park, right? He seems born to be a host, with a killer smile, great comedic timing, musical talents, and a lengthy hosting résumé. But Harris sadly didn’t live up to the expectations. Along with his jokes addressing the #OscarsSoWhite controversy being total misses, a recurring gag throughout the broadcast about a mysterious glass case of fake Oscar envelopes never seemed to pay off.

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin (2010)

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin's Opening Monologue: 2010 Oscars

A perfect example of how two good things aren’t necessarily better together, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin are each hilarious in their own right, but for some reason, as co-hosts, the chemistry just wasn’t there. Despite having hosted successfully in 2001 and 2003 on his own, when Martin was paired with Baldwin, the magic was gone.

Many criticized their lack of comedic timing. It was a surprising blunder since there were high expectations for the talented comedic pair. For this reason, they have become two of the most memorable Oscar hosts, proving that chemistry is just as important as an ability to generate laughs.

Chris Rock (2005, 2016)

Chris Rock's Opening Monologue

Rock did a great job bringing attention to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy when he hosted for the second time in 2016, with a memorable 10-minute opening monologue that touched on serious issues with humor. “This year,” he joked, “the In Memoriam package, it’s just going to be black people that were shot by the cops on the way to the movies.”

It seemed every joke or one-liner tackled the issue of racism with a wry dose of humor, and considering his unofficial duty was to combat the #OscarsSoWhite issue, he certainly achieved his goal.

Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes (2022)

94th Oscars Opening Monologue with Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes

The trio of Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes combined to make for an entertaining Academy Awards ceremony with tastefully (and not so tastefully) placed jokes and hilarious (and hilariously awkward) interactions with the attending celebrity nominees and other actors. They touched on all the hottest topics, from race to sexism and homophobia. Their hosting gig, however, is mostly memorable because of a situation they weren’t even part of: it was overshadowed by the much-talked-about “Oscar slap.”

When returning to the stage to introduce the next award following the shocking debacle, Schumer dazedly and jokingly said she had just returned from the bathroom and asked “Did I miss anything?” in a moment of perfect comedic timing. During a year that was all about female empowerment, the three marked a solid representation of several generations of successful women in different facets of comedic entertainment. Their ability to take the position and run with it was perfectly summed up in one joke, when they noted they were all hired for the job because “it’s cheaper than hiring one man.”

Did you know they hosted?

Among the many Oscars hosts over the years, there have been some surprising ones. As mentioned, Donald Duck co-hosted once, appearing only on film alongside Hope, Niven, James Stewart, Jack Lemmon, and Rosalind Russell. Crooner Frank Sinatra hosted twice: Once in 1963 on his own, and a second time in 1975 alongside Sammy Davis Jr., Hope, and Shirley MacLaine.

Some A-list actresses who have worn the hosting hat include Jane Fonda (in 1977 with Warren Beatty, Ellen Burstyn, and Richard Pryor, then again in 1986 with Alan Alda and Robin Williams), Liza Minnelli (in 1983 with Dudley Moore, Pryor, and Walter Matthau), and Goldie Hawn (in 1976 with Gene Kelly, Matthau, George Segal, and Robert Shaw, then again in 1987 with Chevy Chase and Paul Hogan).

Kimmel isn’t the only late-night talk show host to have taken the stage after Carson: In 1995, David Letterman served as host of the ceremonies as well.

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Christine Persaud
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