The Best Oscar Speeches of All Time

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Photo Source: HO/AMPAS/ Aaron Poole/©A.M.P.A.S./Blaine Ohigashi/©A.M.P.A.S.

The Academy Award acceptance speech has evolved—and more than doubled in length—since the first ceremony was held nearly a century ago. Some winners use their time onstage  to raise awareness for political and humanitarian issues, while others pay tribute to the cultural legacies that paved the way for their wins; many simply revel in the moment. Poignant, entertaining, and infinitely rewatchable, here are some of the most iconic turns on the Oscars stage.

Darryl F. Zanuck
Honorary Award, “The Jazz Singer” 

The inaugural ceremony was a far less robust affair than it is today, lasting only 15 minutes. The show’s single acceptance speech came from Zanuck, the producer of “The Jazz Singer” (the world’s first “talkie,” which is now infamous for its use of blackface). He dedicated the award to studio head Sam Warner, who died the day before the film opened.

Hattie McDaniel
Best Actress in a Supporting Role, “Gone With the Wind” 

Though nominated for her role as Mammy in this 1939 best picture winner, McDaniel was forced to sit at a segregated table away from her costars. When she became the first Black person to receive an Oscar, the actor expressed her hope that she would “always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry.” 

Sidney Poitier
Best Actor in a Leading Role, “Lilies of the Field” 

It would be 24 years until another Black person won an Academy Award: Poitier for his starring role in this 1963 Ralph Nelson film. After an extended round of applause, a visibly overcome Poitier talked about his “long journey to this moment,” for which he felt “indebted to countless numbers of people.”

Sacheen Littlefeather on behalf of Marlon Brando
Best Actor in a Leading Role, “The Godfather” 

In protest of “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry,” Brando boycotted the Oscars and sent Apache activist Littlefeather in his stead. After announcing that the actor would not be accepting the award, she called attention to the plight of Indigenous performers, as well as to the civil rights occupation of Wounded Knee, SD. The speech so scandalized the Academy that it led to a ban on proxy award acceptances.

Ingrid Bergman
Best Actress in a Supporting Role, “Murder on the Orient Express” 

After admitting that it’s “always very nice to get an Oscar,” Bergman called out the Academy’s tendency to sideline foreign films. She ended by saying, “Please forgive me, Valentina. I didn’t mean to,” directed at Italian actor Valentina Cortese, who was nominated in the same category for François Truffaut’s “Day for Night.”

Sally Field
Best Actress in a Leading Role, “Places in the Heart” 

If you know anything about awards speeches, you’ve heard of Field’s famous declaration, “You like me! You really like me!” But that’s a misquote; while accepting the statuette for Robert Benton’s drama, the actor actually ended her speech by saying, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!” 

Joe Pesci
Best Actor in a Supporting Role, “Goodfellas” 

Pesci might have been a motormouth as Tommy DeVito in Martin Scorsese’s legendary mob film, but he accepted his award for the performance with badass brevity. His speech was just five words long: “It’s my privilege. Thank you.”

Jack Palance
Best Actor in a Supporting Role, “City Slickers” 

At the age of 73, Palance proved he hadn’t let his fitness fade in the nearly 40 years since he’d last been nominated for an Oscar. He performed one-armed pushups onstage, then downplayed the power move as “nothing, really.” 

James Cameron
Best Director, “Titanic” 

Cameron’s statuette was one of 11 that “Titanic” earned, tying it for most-winning film with “Ben-Hur” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” So it isn’t surprising that the director ended his speech with his movie’s most emblematic line: “I’m the king of the world!”

Roberto Benigni
Best Foreign Language Film, “Life Is Beautiful” 

Benigni exuded pure joy when his comedy-drama won its third award of the night, climbing on top of the seat in front of him and making his way to the stage by walking across the packed rows. In his speech, the writer-director-star dedicated the award to the Holocaust victims his film portrayed: “They gave their life in order [that] we can say: Life is beautiful.”

Halle Berry
Best Actress in a Leading Role, “Monster’s Ball” 

Berry broke into tears when she became the first Black woman to win best leading actress. “This moment is so much bigger than me,” she said. She then paid tribute to “every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.” 

John Legend and Common
Best Original Song, “Glory” (“Selma”) 

When Legend and Common took the stage, they used their time to draw attention to the racism the Black community continued to face 50 years after the Selma to Montgomery March. Legend ended on a note of hope, saying, “When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you that we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on.”

Leonardo DiCaprio
Best Actor in a Leading Role, “The Revenant” 

All it took was pretending to be viciously mauled by a bear for DiCaprio to score his first win after two decades of Oscar noms. The actor’s speech highlighted the impact of climate change and reflected the gravity of the moment, especially in his closing statement: “Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.”

Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney
Best Adapted Screenplay, “Moonlight” 

When they accepted this win for their groundbreaking Black LGBTQ+ drama, Jenkins and McCraney shone a light on underrepresented communities. McCraney said, to great applause, that he dedicated the award “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.” 

Ruth E. Carter
Best Costume Design, “Black Panther” 

Upon becoming the first Black person to win for costume design, Carter began by thanking Spike Lee, whose “Malcolm X” earned the designer her first Oscar nod. While “Marvel may have created the first Black superhero,” she said, “through costume design, we turned him into an African king.” 

Olivia Colman
Best Actress in a Leading Role, “The Favourite” 

Colman began her speech by cheekily promising a “massive snog” to anyone she forgot to thank. She then paid tribute to her fellow nominees, blowing a kiss to Lady Gaga and telling Glenn Close, “You’ve been my idol for so long.” (Colman would later admit she was so drunk at the ceremony that she couldn’t remember what she’d said.) 

Bong Joon-ho
Best Director, “Parasite” 

The South Korean filmmaker made history when his dark social satire became the first non-English-language feature to win best picture. Speaking via translator when he accepted best director, Bong thanked the filmmakers who lit the way for him, including his fellow nominee Martin Scorsese. He finished by saying, in English, that he would “drink until next morning.”