Delivering a great Oscar acceptance speech requires a bit of magic, with the winner having to strike just the right balance of charm and humility.
However, often the speeches most remembered are those that end in disaster.
Over the years, many actors have been booed, pitied or laughed at for their podium faux pas. Some speeches are too saccharine, others too long. The worst are when an actor thinks only of themselves.
Despite Frances McDormand’s empowering speech about Hollywood’s gender imbalance a few years back, attempts to inject the ceremony with political messaging haven’t always been handled so well. Oscars history is peppered with the uncomfortable silences and jeers that have invariably greeted bad political jokes and clumsy protests.
As the clock counts down to the 94th awards ceremony, all of the nominees will be hoping to bring home a statue. But more than that, should they win, they will be hoping to accept the award with grace and composure – or else they risk falling into the ranks of these 10 historic misfires.
Sally Field for Places in the Heart
Sally Field set the bar high for self-congratulations with her infamous Best Actress acceptance speech in 1985. Often misquoted as “You like me, you really like me,” Field actually said: “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!” The look-at-me sentiment was clear and the catchphrase would last in the public memory longer than most of her films. Luckily, Field saw the funny side of things, repeating the line in a commercial for Charles Schwab bank in 2000.
Gwyenth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love
Gwyneth Paltrow’s weepy Best Actress acceptance speech for 1998’s Shakespeare in Love is often held up as the epitome of awards season schmaltz. On the verge of tears from the get-go, Paltrow trembled with emotion as she sobbed her way through a long list of collaborators and loved ones. The full-bore sentimentality of it left some viewers doubting her sincerity. Others simply felt sorry for Paltrow, who was clear unable to hold it together.
Sean Penn for Mystic River
Sean Penn, picking up his first Best Actor award in 2004, opened with a joke about the missing Iraqi WMDs. The quip garnered unimpressed silence, with the audience remaining quiet as Penn proceeded to thank a long, scattershot list of collaborators. At least he remembered to credit Robin Wright, then his wife – a mention he neglected to give five years later when he won again for Milk.
Sam Smith for Spectre
Sam Smith caused a stir when they accepted their award for Best Original Song “Writing’s On the Wall”, which they co-wrote with Jimmy Napes for the Bond flick in 2016. Smith, who has since announced their decision to use gender-neutral pronounces, later admitted they were drunk when they made the erroneous claim that “no openly gay man had ever won an Oscar” before. The crooner had misinterpreted a fact given to them by Sir Ian McKellen, who was referring specifically to the acting categories. In fact, the Best Song category alone features both Elton John and Stephen Sondheim as prior winners. Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Milk in 2009, quickly called Smith out on their blunder. The pop singer later apologised.
Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables
Anne Hathaway’s Best Supporting Actress win in 2012 was seen as inevitable. However, in the run-up to the Oscars, the actor’s appeal began to wane thanks to her controversial comments on weight loss, and her admission that she had cried watching herself perform on screen. Accepting the award, Hathaway began by excitedly muttering “it came true” – a mawkish gesture that epigraphed a speech that many viewers found insincere and over-rehearsed.
Jack Palance for City Slickers
Jack Palance was 73 years old when he accepted the Best Supporting Actor award in 1992. After remarking on the producers’ supposed concerns about his age, he dropped to the floor and started performing one-armed push-ups. While the crowd cheered, he looked ridiculous, and the bawdy jokes that followed did little to help. To his credit, Palance would keep acting for over a decade afterwards.
Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew McConaughey’s journey from middling rom-com star to Hollywood A-lister – dubbed “the Mcconaissance” – reached its apex in 2014 when the Dazed and Confused star collected the Best Actor award for his charismatic turn in Jean-Marc Vallée’s film. McConaughey began by thanking God, going on to talk about his “hero” – a person whom he must “chase.” Turns out, McConaughey was talking about himself in ten years’ time. Even dropping in his signature catchphrase “alright, alright, alright” wasn’t enough to tie up the strange and egotistical speech that left the audience baffled.
Roberto Benigni for Life is Beautiful
Although English may not be Roberto Benigni’s first language, there’s no accounting for some of the expressions he used during his 1999 acceptance speech. Having beaten Hollywood megastar Tom Hanks, nominated for Saving Private Ryan, the eccentric Italian gave an animated speech, which included the strange line: “I would like to be Jupiter and kidnap everybody and lie down in the firmament making love to everybody.”
Melissa Leo for The Fighter
Having built a respected career as a character actor, Melissa Leo finally gained mainstream recognition when she won Best Supporting Actress in 2010, at the age of 50. Leo had personally funded Hollywood trade ads for her Oscar campaign. And while they worked a treat, her speech didn’t follow suit. She started by flirting with a 94-year-old Kirk Douglas, before deploying both an accidental F-bomb and a gushing thank-you to the Academy. To top it off, Leo left the stage stooped over, using Douglas’ walking stick.
George C Scott for Patton
In 1971, George C Scott became the first actor to ever refuse an Oscar. Writing to the Academy, Scott said he objected to the notion of actors being in competition with one another, calling the whole ceremony a “meat parade.” Producer Frank McCarthy, who accepted the award in Scott’s absence, seemingly missed the memo and gave a speech generously praising the Academy.
You can read the full list of Oscar 2022 nominations here.