Mix-Ups and Smackdowns: The 10 Most Shocking Moments in Oscars History

We generally tune in to the Academy Awards to find out which of the Oscar-nominated movies will take the top accolade, but there’s more to this awards ceremony than honouring the best and the brightest of Hollywood.

Every year, the event is marked with at least one shocking moment that proves as memorable as the movies being celebrated.

In this article, we list 10 shocking moments from Hollywood’s biggest night.

Have we missed a memorable moment that you think deserves a mention? Let us know in the comments below.

Joaquin Phoenix’s Acceptance Speech

Acceptance speeches are often the least interesting moments of the Academy Awards. After all, how many of us want to listen to actors and filmmakers droning on about their loved ones and the people who inspired their latest movies?

And how many of us want to listen to them praising the opposing nominees who lost out on an Oscar? Watching the faces of their secretly seething competitors while they act for all they’re worth, trying to show the world that they’re glad for the winner, is far more enjoyable! 

But not every speech is a borefest. Some make us sit up in our seats and surprise us, as was the case at the 92nd Oscars ceremony in 2020 when Joaquin Phoenix decided to use his allotted time to fight for animal rights instead of listing off his friends and family members.

Needless to say, nobody expected to hear these words on Oscars night:

“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.”

This was an unbelievable (but insightful) moment that presumably shocked many attendees out of their slumber and encouraged them to look for milk substitutes!


In 2017, at the end of the 89th Oscars ceremony, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway took to the stage to announce the Best Picture winner. And the winner was? La La Land! 

Except it wasn’t. Beatty knew something was wrong when he opened the card to see La La Land printed on the front. Speaking to reporters afterwards, he said:

“I read the card that was in the envelope… I thought this is very strange because it says Best Actress on the card. I felt that maybe there was some sort of misprint. And as planned, I gave to it Faye. I don’t know anything. I don’t think anyone knows. I’ve asked and I haven’t got an answer. You can talk to Faye and she can verify that she read the card.”

The winning movie was Moonlight, which was announced shortly after the mix-up but not before a few moments of chaos as those behind and on the stage went into a state of flustered panic. 

This shocking moment led to a rather emotional one as La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz humbly handed over the Oscar to the Moonlight team with grace, humility, and love for their work.

Jennifer Lawrence’s Fall

Jennifer Lawrence has risen to the top of Hollywood but she has also experienced a fall. We mean this quite literally as the Hunger Games actress was so stunned after hearing her name read out at the 85th Academy Awards in 2013 that she fell when climbing the stairs to the podium. The fact that she was wearing an unbelievably long dress probably contributed to this tumble.

Thankfully, Lawrence wasn’t hurt but she was a little embarrassed. Speaking to the shocked audience who gave her a standing ovation, she said:

“You guys are just standing up ’cause you feel bad that I fell, and that’s really embarrassing, but thank you.”

Marlon Brando’s No-Show

There was a time when Marlon Brando was one of the greatest actors in the world, with acclaimed acting roles in On The Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire and Apocalypse Now. 

But as good as his performances often were, he is often remembered for not turning up at the 1973 Academy Awards to claim his prize for winning Best Actor for his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather. In his place stood Native American civil rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather who read out a letter from Brando which explained he was rejecting his Oscar because of the “treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.”

An enraged John Wayne tried to stop her apparently, which is of little surprise considering his name was made off the back of Western movies that can now be considered racist. 

Naked Shenanigans

One of the most talked about subjects of any Oscars ceremony is the fashion sense of the the Hollywood celebs and which famous labels they are wearing on the big night. 

But at the 1974 Academy Awards, one man wasn’t wearing anything. Gay civil rights activist Robert Opel took to the stage completely naked, much to the surprise of audience members who were treated to quite the eyeful! 

Host David Niven managed to keep his composure, however, and said:

“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?”

An Unexpected Oscar Win for Anna Paquin

Oscar night can be very predictable when handing out the Best Actor/Actress awards. When Meryl Streep is nominated, you know she is probably going to win. And when any performer takes on the role of an inspirational real-life figure, it’s almost guaranteed that they’re going to take the top prize. 

At the 1994 Academy Awards, however, it was a different story. Holly Hunter, Emma Thompson, Rosie Perez, and Winona Ryder were all nominated for the award for Best Supporting Actress. These celebrated performers were all deserving of the award but none of them took home the golden statuette. That honour went to Anna Paquin for her role in The Piano.

Paquin’s win was a complete surprise, not only because The Piano was her first film but because she was only 11 years old when she claimed the Oscar. Her age made her the second youngest person to ever win the award, the first person being Tatum O’ Neal who won Best Supporting Actress at the age of 10 for her role in Paper Moon. 

Despite Paquin’s young age, the Oscar was well-deserved, which we’re sure the other nominees (eventually) agreed upon!

A Surprise Best Picture Winner

Ang Lee’s critically lauded Brokeback Mountain was the front-runner for Best Picture at the 2006 Oscars. It had already won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and it had scooped top prize at the BAFTAs and Golden Globes. As such, the movie was a shoo-in for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, right? Erm…no…

The winner of the night was the Paul Haggis movie Crash. While it’s certainly not a bad film, it did have a mixed critical response, with some of the criticism focussed on its simplistic depiction of race relations in America.

Not only was the Oscar win a surprise but according to some commenters at the time, it was also indicative of the alleged homophobia of the old, male and straight Academy members who were responsible for choosing the Best Picture win.

Michael Moore Gets Political

At the 2003 Academy Awards, filmmaker Micheal Moore was given the Best Documentary award for Bowling for Columbine. It was a deserving win, although American supporters of the right to carry firearms probably didn’t agree!

Michael Moore used his moment at the podium to take a pop at then President George Bush and his “fictitious war” in Iraq.

Moore said:

“We live in a time where fictitious election results give us a fictitious president. We are now fighting a war for fictitious reasons. Whether it’s the fiction of duct tape or the fictitious ‘Orange Alerts,’ we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you. And, whenever you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up.”

The fact that Moore used his time on stage to get political probably isn’t that shocking as he’s famous for speaking his mind. What is more shocking, perhaps, is the moment during his speech when some of the audience members started to boo him. But considering they were probably Bush supporters (or awards attendees who liked to listen to long speeches about family members and agents), perhaps their response wasn’t that shocking after all!

The Slap

After making a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head at the 2022 Academy Awards, Chris Rock was confronted by an angry Will Smith who stood up in defence of his wife. When the Men in Black actor angrily strode up to Rock, many audience members assumed it was all an act. But it turned out it wasn’t. Smith smacked Rock in the face and then launched a verbal, foul-mouthed tirade at him as he walked back to his seat.

Perhaps Rock’s joke was misjudged but for most of us, it was Smith’s response that was the most shocking. Some might even call it arrogant – that he felt he had the right to defend his wife on a public platform because of his elevated sense of celebrity.

The moment is hard to watch but at least Smith got a ten-year ban from the Academy for his vile behaviour. Still, another, perhaps more shocking moment was due to follow that unwarranted smackdown.

The Standing Ovation for Will Smith

Several minutes after Will Smith’s public display of hostility, the actor won the Best Actor award for his role in King Richard. There’s no doubting the quality of his performance in that film and he probably deserved the win. 

However, while giving a teary-eyed speech, Smith almost justified his violent actions when he said:

Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family. In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world. Making this film I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis, who was one of the strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met. I got to protect Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], the two actresses that played Venus and Serena. Being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people.”

In the rest of his speech, he did go on to apologize to the Academy and his fellow nominees for his behaviour, but shockingly, he didn’t say sorry to Rock. It was only after the ceremony that he did reach out to Rock with an apology that we hope was heartfelt.

However, it’s not his initial speech that is the most shocking aspect of that post-slap moment. It’s the fact that many of the celebrities in attendance at the ceremony gave him a standing ovation. The man had just hit somebody, hard, but they still stood up to publically praise him. Jim Carrey called their response “spineless” and Mila Kunis, who didn’t stand, later criticized those who did. 

We should not support bullying, in any of its forms, but on Oscar night in 2016, the majority of those in attendance inadvertently did.

Which Oscar moments have shocked you the most? Let us know in the comments below.


2 thoughts on “Mix-Ups and Smackdowns: The 10 Most Shocking Moments in Oscars History”

  1. Thanks Yahyeh. I hadn’t notice that typo but have now corrected it.

    I appreciate your getting in touch.


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