After nine decades, the Oscars, also known as the Academy Awards, remains the most prestigious show in the film community. It’s the Super Bowl for movies as Hollywood’s best and brightest stars meet under one roof to celebrate the year in film. Winning an Oscar, or even being nominated for an Oscar, can change someone’s career overnight.
Because the ceremony is live, anything can happen. Sometimes, a heartwarming speech like Bong Joon-ho’s in 2020 goes viral for all the right reasons. In other cases, like the 2022 Oscars, a slap by the eventual winner for Best Actor becomes one of the most talked about moments in the show’s history for all the wrong reasons.
Ahead of the 2023 Oscars, check out the 10 best Oscar shows ever, ranked from 10 to 1.
The Oscars are famous for awarding actors an “it’s time” Oscar. Many of the greatest actors and directors had to receive multiple nominations and wait decades before the Academy awarded them their much-deserved Oscar. Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke) falls into that category. Before the 1987 Oscars, Newman had been nominated for seven Oscars, with six coming for Best Actor.
Because of his winless streak, Newman decided to stay home for the 1987 Oscars to change his luck. That year, Newman was nominated for his role as “Fast Eddie” Felson in The Color of Money. 25 years prior, Newman originated the role of Felson in 1962’s The Hustler, which resulted in a Best Actor nomination. The eighth time was the charm for Newman as he finally won an acting Oscar in 1987, the feather in the cap for an illustrious career.
At the Oscars, the “Big Five” categories consist of picture, director, actor, actress, and screenplay. Before the 1992 Oscars, only two films won all five categories: 1934’s It Happened One Night and 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. At the 1992 Oscars, The Silence of the Lambs became the third film to win the “Big Five,” winning picture, director (Philadelphia’s Jonathan Demme), actor (The Father’s Anthony Hopkins), actress (True Detective’s Jodie Foster), and screenplay (12 Strong’s Ted Tally).
At the ceremony, host Billy Crystal famously entered the ceremony in a straitjacket as an ode to Dr. Hannibal Lecter. History was also made when Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film nominated for Best Picture.
The 2014 Oscars were all about firsts. Alfonso Cuarón (Roma) won Best Director for Gravity, becoming the first person of Mexican descent to win the award. For 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen became the first Black director to direct a Best Picture-winning film. McQueen also became the third Black director to receive a nomination for Best Director.
Robert Lopez (Frozen II) became the youngest EGOT winner of all time at the age of 39 when he won Best Original Song with his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Coco), for Let It Go in Frozen. Despite all of the history, the most memorable moment of the night became a selfie orchestrated by host Ellen DeGeneres (Finding Dory), which was the most-liked tweet of all time up until that point.
If you look up the word “domination” in the dictionary, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King would be in the definition. The first two films, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, won six Oscars out of 19 nominations. The Return of the King led the field in 2004 with 11 nominations. The film did not lose in any category, winning all 11 awards. It marked the largest clean sweep in Oscar history, a record it still holds to this day. Additionally, The Return of the King tied 1959’s Ben-Hur and 1997’s Titanic for the most wins at one ceremony with 11.
Other notable moments include Keisha Castle-Hughes (Game of Thrones) becoming the youngest nominee in the Best Actress category (at the time) for her role in Whale Rider. Mystic River also became the fourth film to win Best Actor (Flag Day’s Sean Penn) and Best Supporting Actor (Castle Rock’s Tim Robbins).
In the previous 81 ceremonies, no woman had ever won Best Director at the Oscars. At the 2010 ceremony, that changed when Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) became the first woman to win Best Director for The Hurt Locker. Bigelow won over her ex-husband James Cameron (Avatar: The Way of Water) for his groundbreaking work on Avatar. Speaking of Avatar, Bigelow bested the sci-fi epic in Best Picture when The Hurt Locker took home the top prize.
In Best Picture, Up became the second animated film nominated in the category. Geoffrey Fletcher also became the first African American to win a screenwriting Oscar, winning Best Adapted Screenplay for Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.
Best Picture at the 1977 Oscars is referred to as one of the best categories in the ceremony’s 95-year history. The five films nominated were All the President’s Men, Bound for Glory, Network, Rocky, and Taxi Driver. All the President’s Men and Network went on to win four Oscars each. However, Sylvester Stallone’s (Rambo) underdog story of a Philadelphia boxer fighting for the world heavyweight reigned supreme as Rocky won Best Picture. Rocky also won Best Director and Best Editing.
In the four acting categories, Network won Best Actor (Sunday Bloody Sunday’s Peter Finch), Best Actress (Chinatown’s Faye Dunaway), and Best Supporting Actress (Poltergeist’s Beatrice Whitney Straight), while Jason Robards (Magnolia) won Best Supporting Actor for his role in All the President’s Men. Finch became the first posthumous acting winner, having passed away two months prior.
Despite being one of the greatest living American filmmakers, Martin Scorsese (Killers of the Flower Moon) had never won an Academy Award heading into the 2007 Oscars. Scorsese previously received seven Oscar nominations, but none resulted in a win. The most egregious snub came at the 1991 Oscars when Kevin Costner (Yellowstone) and Dances with Wolves beat Scorsese and Goodfellas in Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture.
However, Scorsese finally broke through at the 2007 Oscars, winning Best Director for The Departed, which also went on to win Best Picture. Steven Spielberg (The Fabelmans), Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather), and George Lucas (Star Wars) presented Scorsese with the award. Upon receiving the sward, Scorsese jokingly asked to “double-check” the envelope.
At the 1998 Oscars, there was one king of the world, and his name was James Cameron. The Canadian director was the mind behind Titanic, the highest-grossing film of the year. The epic disaster film about the sinking of the RMS Titanic launched stars Leonardo DiCaprio (Don’t Look Up) and Kate Winslet (Mare of Easttown) into superstardom. Titanic received 14 nominations, tying the record with 1950’s All About Eve and 2016’s La La Land.
Titanic won a record-tying 11 awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, which is only matched by 1959’s Ben-Hur and 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In the acting categories, Jack Nicholson won Best Actor for his role as Melvin Udall in As Good as It Gets, becoming the fourth performer to win at least three acting Oscars. For their work on Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon (The Last Duel) and Ben Affleck (Air) won Best Original Screenplay, and Robin Williams (The Crazy Ones) won Best Supporting Actor. The ceremony remains the highest-rated telecast in Oscars’ history, garnering over 57 million viewers.
Until the 2020 Oscars, no non-English language film ever won Best Picture. That all changed with Parasite. Heading into the ceremony, 1917 was the presumed favorite in Best Picture, while Sam Mendes (Empire of Light) was a heavy favorite in Best Director. However, Parasite gained serious momentum after a feel-good win for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at the SAG Awards.
After Parasite won Best Original Screenplay earlier in the night, winning the final two categories became more probable. Bong Joon-ho upset Mendes for Best Director and gave one of the best speeches in Oscar history, paying tribute to Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood) and Martin Scorsese (The Irishman). Finally, Parasite did the impossible by upsetting 1917 for Best Picture.
The top spot on the list goes to the ceremony with the biggest mishap of all time. At the 2017 Oscars, Warren Beatty (Heaven Can Wait) and Faye Dunaway (Network) presented the last award of the night, Best Picture. La La Land was the favorite in the category, winning six Oscars from a record-tying 14 nominations. Beatty and Dunaway received the wrong card and mistakenly announced La La Land as the winner of Best Picture.
After gathering onstage and beginning their acceptance speeches, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz (Hollywood Stargirl) announced that Moonlight won Best Picture. In one of the most famous images in the ceremony’s history, Horowitz held the correct envelope to the camera, stating that Moonlight won Best Picture. One of the most infamous moments in Oscar history quickly became one of its best as Moonlight became the lowest-budgeted film ($1.5 million) to win Best Picture.
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