The Most Iconic Moments in Oscars History

Where were you when Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper sang "Shallow"?

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While the Oscars has seen its fair share of unplanned and unscripted behavior, some of them ranking among the Oscars' most controversial moments, that can also be part of its charm. From beautiful speeches by overwhelmed winners to that record-breaking selfie to unforgettable performances (hello, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper!), film's biggest night has given us meaningful moments that went viral in the best way. Some of these moments were planned, and some were a complete surprise, but each of them is a delight to remember. Below, the 32 best moments from the Oscars, ever.

The Streaker

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Host David Niven was introducing announcer Elizabeth Taylor to the stage in 1974 when a streaker ran across the stage behind him. Not missing a beat, Niven quipped, "Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?" Not to be outdone, Taylor took the stage and said, "That's a pretty hard act to follow!"

Leonardo DiCaprio Wins

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In the years after Leonardo DiCaprio was overlooked at the Oscars for Titanic, it became a source of great discussion: why wasn't the actor nominated more often, and why hadn't he won? That changed when Leo was awarded the Best Actor statue in 2016 for The Revenant.

Bjork's Swan Dress

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Back in the day, the Oscars wasn't really the place to debut "out-there" fashion. But singer-songwriter Björk has never been one to conform to such rules, even in the most formal of occasions. Thus, she wore this Marjan Pejoski dress, astonishing everyone and instantly becoming one of the most recognizable garments of all time.

Roberto Benigni's Acceptance

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When Life Is Beautiful won Best Foreign Language Film, Roberto Benigni was so delighted he jumped on top of the seats in front of him, then walked onto nearby seats to cheer, shake hands, and generally wave at nearby attendees before running up to accept the award.

Glenn Close Dances

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Lil Rel Howery was doing film trivia in the crowd for the 2021 Oscars when he asked Glenn Close about the 1988 song "Da Butt"—to which she got up to demonstrate the dance moves. Close later admitted she knew the moment was coming but that the dance was spontaneous.

Jack Palance's Pushups

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In what I imagine to have been a strange in-theater moment, Jack Palance was in the middle of his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor in 1992 when he stopped speaking, got down on the ground, and did some one-armed pushups, before getting back up and continuing to speak.

Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Speech

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Gooding started the speech saying, "I know I have a little bit of time," and indeed the music came in pretty quickly. But Gooding continued to shout the names of people he appreciated and loved for another full 50 seconds, before literally jumping for joy, in what's now considered one of the most memorable speeches ever.

Tom Hanks' Speech

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During his 1994 Best Actor win for Philadelphia, Hanks referenced his high school drama teacher, Rawley Farnsworth, and classmate John Gilkerson, as “two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men, that I had the good fortune to be associated with.” Fun fact: Farnsworth wasn't out yet, but (thankfully) had given permission for Hanks to share with the world.

"Adele Dazeem"

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In 2014, there was no bigger (family-friendly) movie than Frozen. John Travolta took the stage to introduce Idina Menzel, who was about to perform the most anticipated number of the night ("Let It Go") and called her "the wickedly talented Adele Dazeem." And just like that, a meme was born.

Tatum O'Neal Wins

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In case you thought Anna Paquin (also on this list) was the youngest person to ever win an Oscar, guess again: Tatum O'Neal was only 10 years old when she won for Paper Moon. (Shirley Temple won a "juvenile" Oscar at 6, though, so she has everyone beat.)

Anna Paquin Wins

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Anna Paquin, at a mere 11, won an Oscar for The Piano. She approached the podium and was speechless for almost 20 seconds—which, in fairness, is appropriate for a literal pre-teen in a room full of the most famous people you've ever met—before delivering a highly professional speech.

Patricia Arquette's Speech

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Patricia Arquette got onstage to for Best Supporting Actress to speak about "it's our time to have wage equality...and equal rights for women in the United States of America." The camera cut to Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez, who were enthusiastically cheering in support of Arquette and her message.

Brie Larson Hugs Each Assault Survivor

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During a performance of Lady Gaga's "Til It Happens to You," for the movie The Hunting Ground, a number of sexual assault survivors took the stage. As they exited, Brie Larson (who had won for a similarly harrowing movie, Room), hugged them all individually.

Greer Garson's Longest Speech Ever

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For her Best Actress win for Mrs. Miniver, Greer Garson apparently delivered a speech that was a whopping seven minutes long. Since this was back in 1942, no video of said speech exists, but it's thought to be the inciting incident for making winners cut their speeches short.

There's a Tie

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There have actually been a few ties over the course of the Oscars' history, but certainly the one that people remember the most was for Best Actress in 1969: Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn never attended the Oscars, so the moment was all Streisand's: “Hello, gorgeous.”

Sally Field's Speech

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In a moment that has been discussed, quoted, and satirized, Sally Field won the 1984 Best Actress Oscar for Places in the Heart and exuberantly addressed the room at the end of her speech, saying, "I can't deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me! Thank you."

Michelle Yeoh Wins

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The first Asian American woman to even be nominated for Best Actress, Michelle Yeoh basically swept all the awards that year for Everything Everywhere All at Once, culminating in her Oscar. "Ladies, don’t let anybody ever tell you that you’re past your prime,” she said in her speech.

A Star-Studded Selfie

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Back in 2014, when selfies were still kind of a new thing in our cultural consciousness, host Ellen DeGeneres was taking photos in the crowd and decided to put together the most star-studded selfie ever. She said she was trying to break the retweet record—and in fact, the photo was retweeted 750,000 in 45 minutes.

Billy Porter's Gown

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"My goal is to be a walking piece of political art every time I show up. To challenge expectations," said Billy Porter of wearing a dress to the Oscars. "From this [Oscars] moment, I want people to understand that you don’t have to understand or even agree with other people’s authenticity or truths, but we must all respect each other."

Robin Williams' Speech

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When Robin Williams took the stage as the winner of Best Supporting Actor in 1997 (for Good Will Hunting), he delighted and confused some people: “I want to thank the cast and crew, especially the people of South Boston: you’re a can of corn,” which in local slang means sweet and easygoing.

Charlie Chaplin Wins

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When Charlie Chaplin was allowed to returned to the US after two decades (he had been labeled a Communist in the McCarthy era), it was for an honorary Oscar for his impact on the industry. When he took the stage, it was to a record-breaking 12-minute-long standing ovation.

Kathryn Bigelow Wins

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The first woman to ever be nominated for Best Director, Kathryn Bigelow took home the win for her film The Hurt Locker. "This is the moment of lifetime," she said breathlessly. Fun fact: she thanked her fellow nominees, which included ex-husband James Cameron.

Halle Berry Wins

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When Halle Berry won Best Actress for Monster's Ball, she was the first Black woman to do so. Berry was visibly shocked to have won the award, and the moment wasn't lost on her. “This moment is so much bigger than me,” she said, in part. "It’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”

Cher Wins

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Cher had long had an...interesting relationship with the Academy, including her creative interpretation of the event's black tie dress code in response to a feeling of being snubbed. So by the time she won an Oscar in 1988, it was in a sheer dress, naturally, that showed off her naval.

Robin Williams Performs 'Blame Canada'

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If you're the South Park guys (and you're both famous for trolling the Academy), and your song "Blame Canada" from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is a Best Original Song nominee, you put on a huge, envelope-pushing number together, and you have Robin Williams sing.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper Perform

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It was one of those viral Oscars moments that lived long beyond the event itself. When Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper took the stage to perform their blockbuster hit “Shallow” from A Star Is Born, they were so demonstrably connected that viewers were (wrongly) convinced they had feelings for each other IRL.

'Parasite' Wins

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In what would mark a continuing shift for the Academy to be more inclusive of international films, Parasite won Best Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, Best Director and Best Picture in 2020. A delighted, delightful Bong Joon Ho made his two Oscars statues kiss.

Chloe Zhao Wins

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Chloé Zhao, the second female director to win Best Director for Nomadland, and the first Asian woman to win the award, said in her speech, "This is for anyone who has the faith and courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves and in each other. This is for you; you inspire me to keep going."

Heath Ledger Wins Posthumously

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The world of film (and the world in general) were devastated to learn about Heath Ledger's death at the very young age of 28. It was not surprising, but still incredibly moving, for him to win Best Supporting Actor for The Dark Knight and to have his family accept the honor.

Hattie McDaniel Wins

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Hattie McDaniel was the first Black person to win an Oscar—in 1940, for her performance as Mammy in Gone With the Wind—and, because of segregation, normally wouldn't even have been able to step foot in the hotel where the event was being held. Even then, she had to sit in the back.

'Moonlight' Wins

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Even if you don't know much about the Oscars, you probably remember when Warren Beatty was handed the wrong envelope and, thus, read out the wrong movie as winning Best Picture. Once you get that absolutely wild fact out of the way, though, it's important to remember the movie that won: the absolutely gorgeous Moonlight.

Ryan Gosling's 'Barbie' Performance

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I may be suffering from recency bias, but the recent Oscars felt like they needed something big and exciting to revitalize the ceremony (instead of the kind of shocking act, a.k.a. "The Slap," that had dominated 2022). Enter: Ryan Gosling as Ken performing Barbie's "I'm Just Ken," with the kind of reckless enthusiasm we all needed.

Katherine J. Igoe
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.