No Academy Awards is complete without some emotional acceptance speeches on stage – and some political ones to boot.
With just 90 seconds to make an impact, many actors have used the platform as a voice for political change, calling attention to hot-button issues like climate change and gender equality, while others have simply reveled in their wins. Either way, acceptance speeches are always some of the most entertaining parts of the evening.
In honor of this year’s Academy Awards, Variety has compiled a complete list of the most memorable speeches in Oscar history, tackling everything from Halle Berry’s emotional best actress acceptance to Jennifer Lawrence’s ill-fated walk up the Academy steps.
See the full list of speeches below.
Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney (Best Adapted Screenplay for “Moonlight” in 2017)
After taking home an Oscar for best adapted screenplay, Barry Jenkins and Terell Alvin McCraney tackled issues of representation with their acceptance speech, honoring both young people of color and gender non-conforming viewers. “This goes out 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. So thank you, thank you. This is for you,” McCraney said while accepting the award.
Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (Best Original Screenplay for “Good Will Hunting” in 1997)
Ben Affleck became one of the youngest people ever to win an Oscar for best original screenplay when he took home the award alongside Matt Damon in 1997, and his youth showed. “There’s no way we’re doing this in less than 20 seconds,” he laughed, before tackling a long list of thank you’s filled with excited interjections from Damon throughout the entire speech. “I know we’re forgetting somebody,” he concluded before Damon took over with some shouts of love, reminiscent of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s own speech earlier in the evening: “Whoever we forgot, we love you! We love you!”
Cate Blanchett (Best Actress for “Blue Jasmine” in 2014)’
Cate Blanchett used her speech to set the record straight for anyone who is “still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences.” “They’re not,” she said. “Audiences want to see them, and in fact, they earn money.” The actress also decided to honor her fellow nominees with some light humor and well-meaning words. “Sit down, you’re too old to be standing,” she began, before launching into a long catalog of praise for her fellow nominees in the category, including Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock and Judy Dench. Her speech also created some confusion after she told Julia Roberts to #SuckIt, which was left unexplained until a year later when she told Jimmy Kimmel that it was merely a way of saying goodbye to the previous year.
Cuba Gooding Jr. (Best Supporting Actor for “Jerry Maguire” in 1997)
Cuba Gooding Jr. wanted to spread the love with his acceptance speech, which involved fist-pumps, jump kicks and multiple “I love you’s” shouted to the crowd. The passionate exhibition got the crowd on its feet and showed viewers that Oscar speeches don’t have to be formal thank you letters.
Frances McDormand (Best Actress for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” in 2018)
Frances McDormand used her acceptance speech to teach viewers about inclusion riders – a stipulation that actors and actresses can have inserted into their contracts, which would require a specific level of diversity within a film’s cast and crew. While somewhat vague, McDormand’s speech was a clear call to action that fit in well with the surrounding #MeToo rhetoric. “Don’t talk to us about it at the parties tonight. Invite us into your office in a couple days, or you can come to ours, whatever suits you best, and we’ll tell you all about them. I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: ‘inclusion rider,'” she said.
Halle Berry (Best actress for “Monster’s Ball” in 2002)
Tears were already streaming down Halley Berry’s face before she even took the stage for her best actress acceptance speech in 2002. In between sobs and shrieks of joy, the actress acknowledged a number of other actresses, before dedicating the award to women of color in general. “This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened,” she said.
Jennifer Lawrence (Best Actress for “Silver Lining Playbooks” in 2013)
Jennifer Lawrence’s speech isn’t famous for what she said, but more so for what happened right before it. The ever-relatable actress took over the internet after she fell on the stage steps while walking up to accept her award. “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell and that’s really embarrassing, but thank you,” she said about the applause. “This is nuts.”
Joe Pesci (Best Supporting Actor for “Good Fellas” in 1991)
With only 90 seconds to deliver an entire acceptance speech, most actors struggle to find their words before the Academy starts playing its music. But for Joe Pesci, the audience had barely finished clapping by the time he finished his speech. In what goes down as probably shortest Oscar speech of all time, Pesci accepted his award with a simple, “It was my privilege. Thank you.”
John Legend and Common (Best Original Song for “Glory” from “Selma” in 2015)
John Legend and Common got political in their acceptance speech, calling out issues of race and incarceration rates in America in a speech reminiscent of some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s own words. “We know that the voting rights, the act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real,” Legend said. “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. 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.”
Julia Roberts (Best Actress for “Erin Brokovich” in 2001)
Julia Roberts was all about sisterhood during her passionate acceptance speech, in which she recognized her fellow nominees. “I would like to start with telling you all how amazing the experience of feeling the sisterhood of being included in a group with Joan Allen and Juliette Binoche and Laura Linney and Ellen Burstyn for these last weeks has been,” she said. “It’s just felt like such a triumph to me to be in that list. My name starts with ‘R’ so I’m always last, but I still love the list.”
Leonardo DiCaprio (Best Actor for “The Revenant” in 2016)
After five Oscar nominations and no wins, all eyes were on Leonardo DiCaprio when he took the stage for his first Oscar acceptance speech. But what followed was not a cathartic shout of joy but rather a powerful call to action – the “Revenant” star clearly had some more pressing issues on his mind. After thanking several people who worked on the film, DiCaprio spent the majority of his speech addressing climate change, highlighting the detrimental effects of big polluters and leaving viewers with the powerful last words, “Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.”
Marlon Brando (Best Actor for “Godfather” in 1973)
Marlon Brando goes down in acceptance speech history for not giving a speech at all. Instead, the “Godfather” actor asked Apache Native American Sacheen Littlefeather to accept the best actor award in his stead, protesting the film industry’s treatment of Native Americans as well as the abuse occurring at Wounded Knee at the time. “I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that we will in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity,” Littlefeather said to both boos and cheers from the audience.
Patricia Arquette (Best Supporting Actress for “Boyhood” in 2015)
Any speech endorsed by Meryl Streep is a speech worth listening to, and Patricia Arquette’s 2015 acceptance speech appears to be one of her favorites. The “Boyhood” actress ended her Oscar win with a powerful message about gender equality, garnering finger points and shouts of agreement from Streep herself. “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” Arquette said. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Reese Witherspoon (Best Actress for “Walk the Line” in 2006)
Reese Witherspoon endeared audience members with her distinctive country twang and a speech chock-full of childhood memories and feel-good country values. After honoring her fellow actors in the same tradition as childhood inspirations Johnny Cash and June Carter, Witherspoon reflected on her relationship with her grandmother who she said taught her “how to be a real woman, to have strength and self respect and to never give those things away.”
Roberto Benigni (Best Foreign Language Film for “Life Is Beautiful” in 1999)
Few Oscar winners can claim the same level of excitement as Roberto Benigni who celebrated his Oscar win by crawling across the Academy seats and thrusting his arms into the air. The excitement continued as he walked to the stage, hopping up each step before embracing presenter Sophia Loren and bowing to the audience.
Sally Field (Best Actress for “Places in the Heart” in 1985)
According to Sally Field, winning a second Oscar is even more exciting than the first. While accepting the best actress award in 1985, the “Places in the Heart” actress acknowledged that she had never fully appreciated her first win, before concluding with an emotional cry to the audience, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!”
Shirley MacLaine (Best Actress for “Terms of Endearment” in 1984)
Shirley MacLaine said what everyone was thinking when she first took the stage: “I’m going to cry because this show has been as long as my career.” But the jokes ended there as MacLain delivered a rousing speech about the power of passion in making your dreams come true. “Films and life are like clay, waiting for us to mold it. And when you trust your own insides and that becomes achievement, it’s a kind of a principal that seems to me that works with everyone,” she said. “God bless that principal. God bless that potential that we all have for making anything possible if we think we deserve it. I deserve this, thank you.”
Tom Hanks (Best Actor for “Philadelphia” in 1993)
Red ribbons were everywhere at the 1993 Oscars as actors donned the crimson thread in honor of AIDS victims across the world, a cause Tom Hanks took to heart during his acceptance speech for best actor. Hanks got personal during his speech, reflecting on the importance of the gay men in his life and confronting the extreme loss brought on by the disease. “I know that my work in this case is magnified by the fact that the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels,” he said. “We know their names. They number a thousand for each one of the red ribbons that we wear here tonight.”