clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Biggest Acceptance-Speech Errors in Academy Awards History

Five years ago, Ben Affleck said “marriage is work.” Somehow, that is not the worst thing someone has ever done while accepting an Oscar.

A photo illustration of Hilary Swank, James Cameron, and Melissa Leo at the Oscars Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Not everyone has to be good at public speaking, but you know who should be good at public speaking? People who work in Hollywood. Especially actors. Humble as some may seem—and look, I’ve heard some great Tom Hanks anecdotes—it still takes quite a bit of hubris to become an actor, an occupation that sometimes literally requires taking the stage in front of thousands of people. I’m sure John Lithgow is great, but also, he released an entire book that’s just a collection of his favorite poetry. Who does that? An actor does! As for directors? Producers? Yeah, the ego is strong there, too.

Despite this, the simple act of going on stage at the Oscars to receive a trophy and give a speech has led to some incredible, surprisingly varied blunders over the decades. There’s no better time to revisit these stupendous errors than right now, five years removed from the 2013 Oscars, a ceremony that was especially riddled with rough acceptance speeches. Ben Affleck possibly ruined his marriage; Anne Hathaway briefly ruined her career; Jennifer Lawrence barely managed to make it onto the stage! In honor of that infamous ceremony, here are the best (worst?) acceptance-speech errors in Academy Awards history.

Marriage Maybe Isn’t Argo-ing Well

The Award: Best Picture
The Year: 2013
The Culprit: Ben Affleck (Argo)

What Went Wrong: Iced coffee enthusiast Ben Affleck had a very good Oscars in 2013. Argo—a movie he produced, starred in, and directed—won Best Picture. But Ben Affleck also had a very not good Oscars in 2013. Because during his speech, instead of thanking his wife, Jennifer Garner, in an endearing manner, he chose to tell the millions of people watching at home that marriage just kinda sucks and is a lot of work.

“I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases,” he said, motioning to Garner in the crowd. “It is work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with.” Yes, that is a man using the word “work” four times in two sentences that were apparently meant to be about the joys of romantic union. That, uh, hasn’t aged well:

The Premeditated F-Bomb

The Award: Best Supporting Actress
The Year: 2011
The Culprit: Melissa Leo (The Fighter)

What Went Wrong: It happens sometimes: You get really excited over something and inadvertently blurt out a curse word. It’s an honest mistake, and in certain moments, it can be rather endearing. What isn’t endearing is throwing out the word “fuck” in such a way that everyone knows you were planning on saying it the whole time, as Melissa Leo did in 2011. Leo apologized and played it off as a mistake after the ceremony, but I don’t know—she really wound up for that sucker.

Honestly, though, that was just part of what ended up being a Russian nesting doll of awkwardness. Shall we count the layers?

1. This Oscars was the one that was hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway.

2. The legendary Hollywood vet Kirk Douglas presented the award, and when he came on stage he asked Hathaway, “Where were you when I was making pictures?” In case you ever wondered what it sounds like when a 94-year-old man hits on a 28-year-old woman at a public event.

3. Kirk Douglas trolled the nominees by taking his sweet time reading the winner, which everyone laughed about except for Helena Bonham Carter, who was having none of it:

4. The aforementioned moment when Melissa Leo decided to say “fuck.”

5. Matthew McConaughey:

6. And finally, Melissa Leo stole Kirk Douglas’s cane leaving the stage:

“Yeah hilarious, I get it, but for real, I need that to remain upright.”—Kirk Douglas, probably.

You Sure You’re Not Forgetting Someone?

The Award: Best Actress
The Year: 2000
The Culprit: Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry)

What Went Wrong: “Just on the off chance that I got up here, I brought this piece of paper because I knew I couldn’t forget anyone,” Swank said during an acceptance speech that glaringly omitted her husband, Chad Lowe. To her credit, Swank did name a lot of people—her mom, acting coach, and publicist—but she absolutely did not name her husband. Imagine how awkward the conversation was when she got back to her seat. “Great job honey! Can I see that list?”

In fairness, Swank did make it up to Lowe in 2005 when she won Best Actress for Million Dollar Baby. “I am going to start by thanking my husband because I’d like to think I learned from past mistakes,” she said. But again, Oscars acceptance speeches never lie, and the couple separated in 2007. At least when Swank looks back on her first Oscar win now, the memory isn’t tainted by any references to any failed relationships.

The “I Am Officially Uncomfortable and Will Be Eternally Haunted by This” Speech

The Award: Best Supporting Actress
The Year: 2000
The Culprit: Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted)

What Went Wrong: Angelina Jolie was very ecstatic about the support of her older brother, James Haven, on the night of the 72nd Academy Awards. Maybe too ecstatic, one could argue. “I’m in shock and I’m so in love with my brother right now!” is quite a way to open an Oscars speech.

And it continued: “He just held me and said he loved me and I know he’s so happy for me. Thank you for that.”

And continued: “Jamie, I have nothing without you. You are the strongest, most amazing man I’ve ever known and I love you.”

People freaked out about this, but if you ask me, there’s nothing weird about a sister expressing her love for her brother. It’s not like they passionately kissed in the press room or anything.

[Gets message via in-ear monitor.]

They kissed in the press room? OK, but it was just like a chill peck between siblings, right?

[Further information.]

Ah, jeez—it was more like Tom Brady kissing his son?

[Confirmation that, yes, it was like Tom Brady kissing his son.]

OK, after further review, I’ve concluded that people were right to be put off by Angelina Jolie’s speech.

“It Came True”

The Award: Best Supporting Actress
The Year: 2013
The Culprit: Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)

What Went Wrong: Just to be clear, the vitriolic backlash Hathaway received for her Oscars speech was completely out of line, and takes away from a couple of things: She was legitimately great in Les Mis, and has continued to be great (everyone please go see Colossal). Hathaway is good. Consider the Hathaway.

Now that that’s out of the way: The disingenuousness of Hathaway’s “It came true” here can’t be overlooked. It’s awkward and clearly rehearsed, which makes everything that follows—remarks that are probably sincere—read as potentially fake. Nobody should be getting out the pitchforks, but this is not a good acceptance speech. The lesson here: Allow yourself to be surprised and feel emotions—do not try to manufacture those things.

A quick aside: There’s a moment during Hathaway’s speech when the camera cuts to Hathaway’s very proud costar Hugh Jackman, and you can see Justin Theroux behind him. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

Just a stunning collection of bearded men.

King of the Nerds

The Award: Best Director
The Year: 1998
The Culprit: James Cameron (Titanic)

What Went Wrong: Everyone remembers the end of Cameron’s speech, when he shouted “I’m the king of the world!” It was delivered with the enthusiasm of a piece of plywood, and literally sounded like the yelp of a child going through puberty. It is as bad as you remember.

What’s been given far less attention, and what is far worse, however, is what preceded the shout. I’m referring to the moment in which James Cameron gives thanks to “my original producers,” a.k.a. his mom and dad. James Cameron is terrible.

Hey, Jack Palance, Are You Old?

The Award: Best Supporting Actor
The Year: 1992
The Culprit: Jack Palance (City Slickers)

What Went Wrong: Palance, who was 73 at the time, literally began his speech by talking about his man-sized shits. He then went on a rant about how old he is. He spoke of hitting plateaus, making films in 1949, and dumb-shit producers worrying about him dying on set. He also did one-armed push-ups midway through the speech.

And then he used that display of nonsense to talk about having sex with prostitutes: “As far as two-handed push-ups, you could do that all night! And it doesn’t make any difference whether she’s there or not! And besides, it’s a hell of a lot less expensive. Wow.”

That “wow” is Jack Palance immediately recognizing that he’s made a gigantic mistake. On second thought, this might be the best speech ever given at the Academy Awards.

La La Land

The Award: Best Picture
The Year: 2017
The Culprit(s): Technically, this accountant, but also La La Land producers Marc Platt and Fred Berger

What Went Wrong: Yes, I know it’s fresh on our minds from last year, and that we all remember what happened, but I want to point out two things that shouldn’t be glossed over. Because before Jordan Horowitz stepped in and Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture”–ed all of us, two La La Land producers made some egregious acceptance-speech errors.

First, Marc Platt said, “Here’s to the fools who made me dream,” which is—and this is true—the lamest thing anyone has ever said at any awards show. And second, by the time Fred Berger went up to speak, he was already aware that there was an envelope mix-up. Berger could be heard briefly refusing to take the mic, but then he apparently just said “Fuck it!” and gave a speech anyway. While chaos was erupting and Damien Chazelle was turning into a meme behind him, Berger thanked his family before throwing out a casual, “We lost, by the way, but, you know.” Uh, what? Berger was the first person to let the crowd and the TV audience know that something was amiss, but he did so in such a salty, vague manner that he created only more confusion. He is the reason Horowitz was forced to become an American hero.

And can we return to the fact Berger gave a speech even though he knew he didn’t win? Just in general, “Don’t give acceptance speeches if you have nothing to accept” is a good rule to follow.

Note to Future Winners: Don’t Do This

The Award: Best Documentary Short Subject
The Year: 2010
The Culprit(s): Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett (Music by Prudence)

What Went (Gloriously) Wrong: This is the Citizen Kane of Oscars acceptance-speech blunders.

At first glance, you might think the real recipient of the Oscar was rudely (and confusingly) interrupted by some random person mid-speech.

“The man never lets the woman talk,” the interruptor says. “Isn’t that just the classic thing?”

Let’s back it up a bit: The person interrupting this man is Elinor Burkett, a producer on the short film Music by Prudence, about a Zimbabwean woman with arthrogryposis frontlining a band comprised of other musicians with disabilities in her native land of Zimbabwe. The director of the film—a.k.a. the dude who first goes up to the Oscars stage—is Roger Ross Williams. You see, Williams and Burkett had a falling out during production, and since both were eligible for the Oscar, Williams sprinted to the stage to beat Burkett there. Reportedly—and I really need this to be true—Williams’s mother blocked Burkett from getting out of her seat.

I don’t want to pick sides here, but that dude is sprinting.

The music soon played them off, and neither Williams nor Burkett was able to finish their respective speeches. Prudence could be seen smiling in the crowd, though I’m sure she was screaming internally while witnessing the petty feud of two egomaniacs overshadow the triumphant acknowledgement of her inspiring story.

The Oscars acceptance-speech errors on this list are not ranked, and they don’t need to be. But the Oscar for Best-Worst Oscar Acceptance Speech should clearly go to Williams and Burkett. Please don’t race one another to make it to my office, you two. We don’t have a trophy.