Weepy spluttering, boycotts and empowered calls-to-arms: the most memorable Oscar speeches of all time

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Harriet Hall
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The 88th Academy Awards are taking place this Sunday and the international media and Hollywood heavyweights alike are waiting with baited breath for this year’s winners to be announced.

Will Leonardo finally get to grasp a gold statuette? Will the #OscarsSoWhite boycotts by actors get a heavy mention, or be quietly overlooked? And will women on the red carpet be asked more?

It’s difficult to know what we’re most excited about: the winners, the dresses or the speeches. But when it comes to the latter, there’s a lot to contend with in the way of memorable moments.

From weepy spluttering to empowered calls-to-arms for gender and racial equality, and even boycotts, we’ve collated our favourite Oscar’s speeches of all time.

1969 - Barbra Streisand

"Hello gorgeous."

Barbara Streisand and Katherine Hepburn tied for Best Actress in 1969 - Hepburn, for her role as Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter, and Barbra Streisand, for her performance in Funny Girl. Hepburn wasn’t there to collect the award but when Streisand went up, she picked up the gold statuette and said, simply in her husky tone: “hello gorgeous,” her opening line in the film. 

1972 – Charlie Chaplin

"You are wonderful, sweet people."

Short but utterly heartfelt, Charlie Chaplin’s honorary Oscar speech at the 1972 awards remains one of the most touching. He simply said: “Words seem to futile, so feeble. I can only say that thank you for the honour of inviting me here and you are wonderful, sweet people. Thank you.”

1973 – Marlon Brando

“He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award”

A game-changing speech in every sense of the phrase. When Marlon Brando was awarded Best Actor for his role in The Godfather in 1973, instead of going up to graciously collect the accolade, Brando didn’t attend the awards.

Instead he sent native American activist, Sacheen Littlefeather, to the lectern, with a pre-prepared statement that said he would be declining the award, in protest of Hollywood’s maltreatment of Native Americans.

“He has asked me to tell you…that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award and the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.”

As well as being rather presumptuous, Brando’s move changed the rule book, prompting the Academy to ensure absent winners could not send anyone else to accept awards on their behalf. It later transpired that Littlefeather wasn’t in fact Native American, but Mexican. 

1991 – Joe Pesci

“It’s my privilege, thank you.” 

Securing his place in this list for the shortest Oscar’s speech of all time, Joe Pesci’s acceptance for Best Supporting Actor in Goodfellas, said only: “It’s my privilege, thank you.” Surprisingly touching. 

1997 – Cuba Gooding Jr

“I love you all.”

Winning Best Supporting Actor for his role in Jerry McGuire, Gooding’s speech was upbeat and excitable. When the music started up interrupting his speech, Gooding continued to shout excitedly louder, thanking everybody involved and shouting “I love you” to everyone, “I love you all.” The music only served to give his speech power, whilst he jumped for glee on the stage, and was met with a standing ovation from the audience. The happiest speech ever. 

1998 – James Cameron

“I’m king of the world!”

When James Cameron won Best Director at the 1998 Oscars for Titanic, he thanked all the usual suspects in a classically restrained speech. Until, that is, the end – when he signed off by referencing Leonardo DiCaprio’s famous line from the movie, saying: “Mom, Dad, there is no way that I can express to you what I'm feeling right now, my heart is full to bursting, except to say, ‘I’m the king of the world!’ Woo woo woo.” Which was awkward for everyone. 

1998 – Robin Williams

“Just have a back-up profession like welding.”

Always known for his dry sense of humour, Robin Williams was no different when it came to giving a cracking Oscar’s speech. When awarded Best Supporting Actor for Good Will Hunting in 1998, Williams recalled the advice his father gave him about securing a lucrative career. “Most of all, I want to thank my father, up there, the man who when I said I wanted to be an actor, he said, ‘Wonderful. Just have a back-up profession like welding.’”

1998 - Ben Affleck and Matt Damon

“It’s really, really scary.” 

Undeniably one of the most genuine and heartfelt Oscars speeches ever, when Hollywood ingénues Ben Affleck and Matt Damon won Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting, their excitement was palpable. Affleck opened, completely dumbfounded, saying “I just said to Matt, ‘losing would suck and winning would be really scary.’ And it’s really, really scary.” 

The pair could hardly string a sentence together, Affleck stringing a series of thank yous together, while Damon grinned like the Cheshire Cat beside him, interjecting with “my dad right over there!” and “all our friends and family.” The pair also thanked their mothers, who joined them at the ceremony, saying they were “the most beautiful women here.”

1999 – Gwyneth Paltrow

“I'd like to thank my earthly guardian angel.”

Wearing a pastel pink Ralph Lauren gown and looking every bit the polished princess, Gwyneth Paltrow completely fell apart when it was announced that she’d won Best Actress for Shakespeare in Love. Paltrow could hardly breathe as she spluttered out messages of gratitude for everyone she’d ever met. “I would not have been able to play this role had I not understood love of a tremendous magnitude and for that I thank my family.” She also thanked her “earthly guardian angel.” Paltrow dedicated the award to “two young men who lost their lives very early” – her cousins.

It was a bit of a mess, with the audience looking on uncomfortably shifting in their seats, but we couldn’t help but adore Gwyneth for her genuine gratitude. 

2000 – Angeline Jolie

"I’m so in love with my brother right now.”

“I’m in shock and I’m so in love with my brother right now,” was Jolie’s opening remark when she accepted the award for Best Supporting Actress for Girl, Interrupted. “He just held me and said he loved me,” she continued, before closing her speech with another dedication to him, saying: “Jamie I have nothing without you. You are the strongest and most amazing man I’ve ever known – I love you.”

And later in the night the pair were papped in a lingering lip-lock which was splashed all over the front pages the following day. Perhaps we’re just not that into our siblings, but the whole thing made us feel a little uncomfortable. 

2001 – Julia Roberts

“I love it up here!”

Walking onto stage and pulling out her famous mega-watt smile, Julia Roberts pulled-out a long Oscars speech when she was awarded Best Actress for Erin Brokovich, warning viewers in advance by saying: “I have a television, so I’m going to spend some time here to tell you these things. And sir, [To orchestra conductor:] you’re doing a great job, but you’re so quick with that stick. So why don’t you sit, ‘cause I may never be here again.”

Roberts described the amazing experience of the “sisterhood” of the women she was working with, shakily interspersed her speech with comments such as “I can’t believe this is….,” thanking “everyone I’ve ever met in my life,” and squealing and whooping saying “I love it up here!” before ending her speech saying: “I love the world I’m so happy thank you.” 

2002 – Halle Berry

"For every nameless, faceless woman of colour."

Making history by becoming the first black woman to win Best Actress for her role in 2002’s Monster’s Ball, Berry was visibly blown away by the announcement.

Berry took to the stage sobbing and shaking, exclaiming “Oh my God” and hardly able to string a sentence together.

She said “This moment is so much bigger than me…. It’s for every nameless, faceless woman of colour that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.” 

2010 – Sandra Bullock

“Did I really earn this or did I just wear you all down?”

Bullock’s personable speech for The Blind Side was collected, professional and humble. She also referenced Cary Mulligan’s talent which she said “makes me sick,” before thanking Meryl Streep who she said was “such a good kisser.” “To everyone who’s shown me kindness when it wasn’t fashionable.” A cracker all-round, and just the right length. 

Bullock ended the speech by thanking her own mother, who she said she never thanked enough. “For reminding her daughters that there’s no race, no religion, no class system, no colour, nothing, no sexual orientation that makes us better than anyone else—we are all deserving of love,” and of course, “my lover Meryl Streep.” 

2012 – Meryl Streep

"Come on... Her, again?"

Unashamedly referencing her long line of Oscar nominations and three wins, for Best Actress Academy Award for The Iron Lady Streep began her speech by saying: “When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, ‘Oh no. Come on... Her, again?’ You know. But, whatever.” 

And everyone loved her forever for being so honest about her success. Having waited 30 years for the second win, Steep said she was giving a full speech, “because I really understand I'll never be up here again.”

But we don’t believe that for a second. 

2013- Jennifer Lawrence

“This is nuts.” 

Tripping up over the mille-feuilles of her couture Dior gown when she walked up to accept her award for Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence was met with a standing ovation, but said:  “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell and that’s really embarrassing.” Before exclaiming: “this is nuts.”

She styled it out like a pro.

2014 – Jared Leto

“Places like the Ukraine and Venezuela”

Jared opened his speech for Dallas Buyers Club Best Supporting Actor by thanking his mother, who had fought against adversity to bring him and his brother up. He also took the opportunity to make a somewhat murky political statement, saying the award was for “all the dreamers out there around the world out there watching tonight, in places like the Ukraine and Venezuela, I wanna say ‘we are here and as you struggle to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible, we’re thinking of you tonight.’”

He finished his speech, by relating back to the content of the film, saying “to those of you who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or love, I stand here in front of the world with you and for you.” 

2014 – Lupita Nyong'o

“It doesn’t escape me for a second that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.”

Lupita Nyong’o became the darling of the celebrity world in 2014 after her breathtakingly powerful performance in Steve McQuen’s 12 Years a Slave. When she stepped onto the stage in a powder blue Prada dress to accept the award for Best Supporting Actress, she yelped “Yes” before humbly saying “it doesn’t escape me for a second that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.” Nyong’o ended her speech saying “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every child, no matter where you’re from your dreams are valid.” The actresses’ speech was emotional and teary, but concise and to the point, whilst remaining humble.

Not an easy balance to strike. 

2014 – Matthew McConaughey

“My personal hero... it’s me in 10 years.”

Matthew McConaughey’s acceptance for Winning Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club in 2014 was one of the more bizarre speeches in Oscar’s history. He started by thanking God, “because that’s who I look up to. He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand,” before thanking his late father, his mother and finally, his personal hero who turned out to be…. Himself. “It’s me in 10 years,” said McConaughey, before saying “I’m never going to be my hero and that’s fine with me because that keeps me with something to chase.” Each to their own, we say. 

2015 - Patricia Arquette

"It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women."

After thanking the whole cast and crew on Boyhood, for which Patricia Arquette won Best Supporting Actress, she took the opportunity to use her platform to make an empowering call-to-arms for gender equality, saying: “to every woman who gave birth, to every tax payer and citizen of this nation we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights, it’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” Her speech quickly went viral and earned her a spot in’s feminists of 2015 list. 

Images: Rex Features