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From the selfie to the slap: 22 of the most memorable Oscars moments ever

The altercation between Will Smith and Chris Rock is just the beginning of the list of conversation-starting moments that have played out at the Academy Awards.
/ Source: TODAY

When you say "Oscars," many things may come to mind: Cinematic snubs and surprises, legendary filmmaking records, headline-making gowns and touching acceptance speeches.

But over the years, there's been plenty of moments that have made viewers grab their popcorn.

The award show, often spanning at least three hours, names winner in more than 23 categories, touching on all facets of filmmaking. And after almost 100 ceremonies, there have been plenty of memorable unscripted moments beyond the thanking of the Academy.

These Oscar-worthy Oscar moments range from controversial political speeches to presenters announcing the wrong name onstage.

Here are 22 of the most conversation-starting moments in Oscars history.

Will Smith, Chris Rock and 'the slap' (2022)

It was the slap seen 'round the world. The 94th annual Academy Awards ceremony had gone without a hitch until its final minutes.

Presenter Chris Rock quipped about Jada Pinkett-Smith's bald head, and her husband Will Smith took umbrage with the joke. Pinkett-Smith has been vocal about her struggle with alopecia, an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss.

Swiftly getting up from his seat, Smith walked up to Rock on the stage and hit the comedian in the face. Smith then returned to his seat, and won a best actor statue a few minutes later for “King Richard."

Confusion reigned at first, as some thought the altercation was a comedy bit in a night full of them. Smith seemingly addressed the incident in his acceptance speech, and apologized the next day. The Academy has launched a formal review into the incident.

'La La Land' is named best picture, but 'Moonlight' really won (2017)

In another "Wait, was that actually a joke?" moment, "Bonnie and Clyde" stars Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty read out the wrong film for winner of best picture.

The mix-up began when the presenters took the wrong envelope to the stage. Their card pronounced the winner for best actress: Emma Stone in "La La Land." Confused, Dunaway declared "La La Land" the winner for best picture. The musical's cast and filmmakers swarmed the stage, but quickly the truth emerged.

"I’m sorry, no, there’s been a mistake," Jordan Horowitz, "La La Land" producer, said from the stage, holding the correct card out to the audience. "'Moonlight,' you guys won Best Picture. This is not a joke. Come up here."

Jack Palance drops and gives the audience five push-ups (1992)

After winning the Oscar for best supporting actor, Palance, then 73, gave a speech about what happens when an actor hits an age plateau in Hollywood. Producers question if an actor is worth the "risk" or not, he said, instead of asking if they are physically up to the task.

So, to seemingly prove himself, the "City Slickers" actor runs across the stage and drops to the ground into a plank position, showing off four one-handed push-ups and one regular push-up, to cheers and applause from the audience.

"That's nothing really," he said, returning to the podium to continue his speech. "As far as the two-handed push-ups are concerned, you can do that all night."

George C. Scott just says 'no' to best actor (1971)

After winning best actor Oscar for the 1970 film "Patton," George C. Scott joined the club of actors who declined to accept their Academy Award.

You can't say the universally-lauded star didn't warn the voting community. After his second acting nomination for "The Hustler," Scott sent the Academy a telegram asking them to rescind his nomination, saying he didn't like the idea of competition between actors.

He even called the ceremony "a two-hour meat parade, a public display with contrived suspense for economic reasons," as the L.A. Times reported.

But the Academy nominated him for "Patton" anyway, and he won. "Patton" producer Frank McCarthy accepted for him.

Marlon Brando makes a political statement (1973)

Just two years after the Scott incident, Marlon Brando won for "The Godfather." Brando sent actor Sacheen Littlefeather to the podium on his behalf. Littlefeather, president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, indicated she was turning the statuette down, as per his desires.


"The treatment of American Indians today by the film industry … and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee," Littlefeather said, referencing an armed conflict between the federal government and Native American activists in South Dakota.

Littlefeather's speech was met with boos, in addition to applause. According to Littlefeather, actor John Wayne had to be restrained from coming to the stage to remove her.

“During my presentation, he was coming towards me to forcibly take me off the stage, and he had to be restrained by six security men to prevent him from doing so," Littlefeather told The Guardian.

Joaquin Phoenix's lactose intolerance (2020)

Other actors, like Brando, have used the Oscars stage as a platform to share political thoughts.

Patricia Arquette won best supporting actress for "Boyhood" in 2015 and spoke about the female wage gap; Frances McDormand won best actress in 2018 for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," and talked about the idea of an "inclusion rider." Jessica Chastain, who won best actress for "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," condemned “discriminatory and bigoted legislation,” likely a reference to Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Joaquin Phoenix won best actor in 2020 for "Joker," and devoted his speech to standing up for animal rights. Phoenix laid into the dairy and meat industry, sparking debate among viewers.

"We go into the natural world and we plunder it for its resources," he said during his speech. "We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal."

Who named James Cameron 'king of the world?' (1988)

James Cameron's "Titanic" won 11 of the 14 Academy Awards it was nominated for, including one for best director. Picking that prize up, Cameron quoted a line from the film: "I'm the king of the world!"

Cameron's utterance turned a line of youthful triumph, shouted by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film, into a sardonic catch phrase for overblown ego. The cry has never fully recovered.

"I now realize what was wrong with my choice to do that," Vanity Fair quoted Cameron saying in 2018. "There’s a hubris in assuming that everybody in the audience has seen your movie, even though you won. Or that they’re actually all fans."

Leonardo DiCaprio finally gets an Oscar (2016)

Between 1994 and 2014, DiCaprio racked up four acting nominations, and one producing nomination, but never won. In 2016, "The Revenant" changed his streak, and gave the popular performer a best actor Oscar at long last.

In 2020, DiCaprio was nominated for a best actor role in "Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood," and reverted back to being an also-ran.

And the winner is ... both of them! (1969)

Oscar voters don't do ties very often, particularly not with the tentpole categories like best picture, best actor, and best actress. But in 1969, Barbra Streisand won best actress for "Funny Girl" and Katharine Hepburn won for "The Lion in Winter."

Hepburn did not attend the awards, which gave Streisand the podium all to herself. "Hello, gorgeous," she told the statue, repeating her first line from the film.

Bob Fosse beats 'The Godfather' (1973)

Bob Fosse was a beloved choreographer, mostly associated with the stage. When he took his musical directing talents to the small screen, Fosse was met with an Oscar statuette.

With "Cabaret," Fosse's second film as a director, he picked up a best director prize, beating out veteran legends including John Boorman, Francis Ford Coppola and Joseph L. Mankiewicz in a surprise upset.

"I must say I feel a little like Clint Eastwood, that you’re letting me stand up here because Coppola or Mankiewicz hasn’t shown up yet," he quipped.

Yo, Rocky wins! (1977)

Today, Sylvester Stallone is known as being an action hero — so it's easy to forget that his film "Rocky" was a notoriously low-budget film starring its screenwriter, a little-known actor whose affect didn't exactly scream "Juilliard polish."

When "Rocky" beat serious films that would go on to become classics like "All the President's Men," "Network" and 'Taxi Driver," the Philadelphia-set film became an underdog story of triumph both on and off the screen.

The selfie (2014)

At the 2014 Academy Awards, Ellen DeGeneres casually dropped a photo — you know the one —  that soon made Twitter history for most retweets ever at the time, breaking Barack Obama's record.

Crammed in the selfie camera lens was a hodge-podge of celebrities, not often seen together on screen: Jennifer Lawrence, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey, Jared Leto, Channing Tatum, Bradley Cooper, Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyong’o and her brother, Peter Nyong’o, Jr.

"If only Bradley’s arm was longer. Best photo ever. #oscars," she captioned the photo.

At first, many had questions about the identity of Peter Nyong’o, Jr., who was next to Cooper in the selfie. Lupita Nyong’o later cleared things up, telling E!, “I think that’s his win for sure. He got into the most famous selfie in the world. I’m glad I could have facilitated that.”

Because the moment generated so much attention, some also wondered if the selfie was a sponsored placement from Samsung, a claim the company denied.

However, Samsung later announced that it would donate $1.5 million to charities of DeGeneres' choice in honor of the "epic moment.

As of 2023, the photo has more than 22 million retweets.

Marisa Tomei's win surprises audiences (1993)

When the first award of the evening at the 65th Oscars ceremony went to supporting actress and relative newcomer Marisa Tomei for "My Cousin Vinny," she was all smiles.

But whispers about how she could have earned the award quickly sprouted up, and there was a rumor that (a la "La La Land"/"Moonlight") presenter Jack Palance had read the wrong name. He hadn't: She'd won it fair and square. But the rumor has followed her ever since, as if she didn't deserve the prize.

"That was very hurtful for me," Tomei told Contact Music in 2003. "I was a young actress and it was exciting, but there was a cloud over it."

'Crash' wins best picture (2006)

It's hard to say what sours the public on an Oscar win, but "Crash" winning best picture had people scratching heads that very night. The film featured a large ensemble cast of known actors and had done well at the box office on a small budget. The movie was up against far more lauded films like “Capote,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Munich” and ‘Brokeback Mountain.”

These days, even "Crash" director Paul Haggis thinks something went wrong. "Was (Crash) the best film of the year? I don’t think so," he told Variety in 2015. "I’m very glad to have those Oscars. They’re lovely things. But you shouldn’t ask me what the best film of the year was because I wouldn’t be voting for ‘Crash,’ only because I saw the artistry that was in the other films."

David Letterman jokes about Oprah and Uma (1995)

Ahead of presenting the best supporting actor award in 2022, Yuh-Jung Youn (who'd won a supporting actress Oscar for her role in "Minari" in 2021), referred to the difficulties some people had in pronouncing her name.

Well, she's not alone. Names have gotten people tangled up at the Oscars.

When hosting the Oscars in 1995, David Letterman made a joke about Oprah Winfrey and Uma Thurman's names. He introduced himself to both, saying, “Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah.” He later added Keanu Reeves to the mix.

The bit didn't land. Reflecting on the joke in 2020, Letterman explained his intentions to highlight unusual names. "We have Oprah — I don’t know that I know another Oprah, although there probably are hundreds of them now; same with Uma; and Keanu ... it’s still a different name. And I just thought, 'Oh, this will be so fun and lighthearted,'" he told the Hollywood Reporter.

Adele Dazeem (2014)

86th Annual Academy Awards - Show
John Travolta at the 2014 Oscars.Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Later, John Travolta would say the cue card he read was spelling "Idina Menzel" phonetically. But as he introduced the "wickedly talented" singer ahead of her "Let It Go" performance from "Frozen," Travolta created a whole new way to pronounce the name.

Was she Adele Nazeem? Adele Dazeem? Whatever Travolta said, it was certainly not her real name: Idina Menzel. Fortunately, Menzel knew how to get over such a strange event instantly: Just ... let it go.

"It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me," Menzel told "The Late, Late Show's" James Corden" in 2021. "He’s written so many nice, apologetic emails. He’s sent flowers. He’s so kind. To make up for it, he would, like, fly wherever at this point, he’s so sweet."

A streaker reaches the stage (1974)

Few actors can say they bared it all on stage more than Robert Opel, an art gallery owner who sneaked into the 1974 ceremony and ran naked across the stage, flashing a peace sign at the camera.

Quipped presenter David Niven, "Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen ... But 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?"

Academy Awards Streaker
Roberto Opel.Bettmann Archive

Vanessa Redgrave burned in effigy outside the theater (1977)

Vanessa Redgrave's Oscar nomination for best supporting actress for "Julia" sparked controversy due to her work on the documentary "The Palestinian," which some criticized as support for the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Academy Awards ceremony was picketed by members of the Jewish Defense League and by counter-protesters from the PLO, according to the New York Times. She was also burned in effigy outside the theater.

Redgrave won the Oscar for her role as an anti-Nazi agent during World War II and thanked the academy for refusing "to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums" in her speech, which was met with boos from the crowd.

Daniel Kaluuya thanks his parents in a special way (2021)

Having earned a best supporting actor Oscar for "Judas and the Black Messiah," Daniel Kaluuya was all for thanking everyone who'd given him a leg up in his career. He took the conceit even further when thanking his parents.

"You got to celebrate life, man," he said as his acceptance speech wound down. "We’re breathing, we’re walking, it’s incredible. Like, it’s incredible, my mum met my dad… they had sex. It’s amazing. You understand, I’m here. I’m so happy to be alive, so I’m going to celebrate that tonight."

His parents' reactions were captured by the camera.

Angelina Jolie celebrates brotherly love (2000)

Back in 2000, Angelina Jolie was a rising star who had just picked up her first Oscar nomination and win for supporting actress in "Girl, Interrupted."

After her name was announced, Jolie kissed her brother, James Haven, on the lips. She went on to shout him out in her acceptance speech: "I’m in shock, and I’m so in love with my brother right now. He just held me and said he loved me, and I know he’s so happy for me. Thank you for that."

In 2006, Jolie told Entertainment Weekly that there was "nothing more than brotherly love" between them. "My parents really loved that moment, and that’s what will always matter,” she said.

Adrien Brody kisses Halle Berry (2003)

Actor Adrien Brody kisses presenter Actr
Adrien Brody kisses presenter Halle Berry.Timothy A. Clary / AFP via Getty Images

In 2003, Adrien Brody won a best actor Oscar for "The Pianist," an award presented by Halle Berry. Brody took his moment in the sun to wrap his arms around Berry and give her a kiss, leaving her with a stunned look.

Now, we know what was going on inside Berry's head. In 2017, Berry told Andy Cohen that the kiss shocked her. She said she'd been thinking, "What the f--- is happening?" and "just f---ing went with it."

Jennifer Lawrence trips while collecting her award (2013)

On her way to the stage to accept her Oscar for "Silver Linings Playbook," Jennifer Lawrence tripped on the steps, later blaming the long dress as the culprit. She fell, then got up and the show went on. She seemed utterly unfazed during her speech.

But internally, Lawrence had complicated emotions about the fall. In 2020, Lawrence talked a bit about the moment on the "Absolutely Not" podcast.

"I actually don’t remember what that moment felt like when they said my name, and then I fell and it just erased everything from my mind. My full brain went blank. I can look back at it now that I’m a little bit older fondly, but for a very long time the fall thing was very sensitive," Lawrence said.