They don’t give out awards for acceptance speeches, but it’s not for a lack of viable nominees. Beyond the red carpet intrigue and glammed-up celebrities, the Academy Awards are, at heart, a celebration of the hard work both in front of and behind the camera that makes movies great — not to mention the honor of a lifetime for those lucky enough to win one. Here are eight of the most honorable Oscar acceptance speeches ever given.
It’s my privilege. Thank you.
— Joe Pesci, 1991
Sometimes less is more. That’s the approach Joe Pesci took when winning Best Supporting Actor for his all-timer of a performance in Goodfellas. His brevity is especially notable given how aggressively — and, at times, frightfully — verbose his character in Martin Scorsese’s crime epic is. As the saying goes, leave them wanting more and you know they'll call you back — and they did, as Pesci was nominated in the same category just last year for The Irishman.
I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!
— Sally Field, 1985
One of the most (mis)quoted Oscar speeches ever given, Sally Field's “you like me!” moment deserves some context. She had just won Best Actress for her leading role in Places in the Heart, her second time claiming the prize in five years (the first was for 1979’s Norma Rae). Field opened her speech by saying “this means so much more to me this time; I don’t know why. I think the first time I hardly felt it because it was all so new.”
In the incredibly rare position of having won two Academy Awards, Field was able to appreciate the fact that her first wasn’t a fluke and that the voters truly were honoring her, not just an individual performance. In that sense, she was absolutely right — they really did like her, and with good reason.
Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.
— Leonardo DiCaprio, 2016
Political themes in Oscar acceptance speeches aren’t exactly rare, but the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio — who, much to the chagrin of his countless admirers, didn’t win the big one until being nominated for the sixth time — used this particular platform to speak more about the climate crisis than he did about himself is remarkable all the same. The star of Titanic, Inception, and The Revenant (for which he finally took home his trophy) is among the most famous and revered actors of his generation, as evidenced by the standing ovation he received after his name was finally called in Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre.
It wasn’t just the assembled crowd who was happy. DiCaprio’s acceptance speech is the most-watched video on the Oscars’ YouTube channel by far, having been viewed more than 40 million times.
This moment is so much bigger than me... it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.
— Halle Berry, 2002
As the first — and, 20 years later, still the only — Black woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, Halle Berry felt the weight of history on her shoulders when accepting her statuette. In a highly emotional speech that took a bit longer to begin properly due to both the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction and Berry’s own tears, the Monster’s Ball star thanked not only peers like Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, and Vivica Fox by name, but also such forebears as Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, and Diahann Carroll. It was a beautiful moment, and one that will hopefully be repeated sooner rather than later.
Words seem so futile, so feeble.
— Charlie Chaplin, 1972
It only makes sense that the face of the Silent Era would have trouble summoning the words to express his gratitude upon receiving an honorary Academy Award in 1972, several decades after his heyday. The audience wasn’t as hesitant: Chaplin received a 12-minute standing ovation, the longest in Oscar history, in recognition not only of his singular career but also the circumstances surrounding the ceremony.
A day after Chaplin, who was born in England, departed New York for London in 1952 to attend the world premiere of his film Limelight, his re-entry permit was revoked over questions of his political views (read: McCarthyism). He spent the next two decades in Europe, during which time his reputation in America suffered, and didn't return (reluctantly, at that) until the Academy offered him his Honorary Award. His reception speaks for itself and marked the beginning of viewers’ renewed appreciation for his one-of-a-kind genius.
I know you Americans are famous for your hospitality, but this is really ridiculous.
— Julie Andrews, 1965
Can you imagine Mary Poppins being anything less than charming? Julie Andrews lived up to her most beloved character’s delightful nature and then some upon winning Best Actress for her performance as the umbrella-flying nanny, exuding grace and humility as she addressed both the assembled crowd and everyone watching at home. It’s certainly true that the Academy loves English actors (who doesn’t?), but Andrews’ win goes far beyond the group’s penchant for honoring our friends across the pond — her speech is genuinely iconic in a way that few others are.
Could you double check the envelope?
— Martin Scorsese, 2007
There are overdue winners, and then there’s Martin Scorsese. Arguably the most respected living filmmaker, the Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas helmer didn’t hear his name called at the ceremony until his eighth nomination; as you can imagine, he wanted to make sure this wasn’t a mistake. Quite the opposite: Scorsese being named Best Director for his work on The Departed (which also took home Best Picture) was a well-deserved honor after many snubs along the way, and he certainly didn’t rest on his laurels afterward — he’s since been nominated for a further six awards, most recently for The Irishman.
For my mother and my father, I want to say thank you for teaching me to have a dream. You are seeing my dream come true.
— Louise Fletcher, 1976
In the case of Louise Fletcher, who won Best Actress for her villainous turn in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it wasn’t just what she said onstage but how she said it: in sign language. As both of her parents are deaf, Fletcher ended her speech by simultaneously signing and speaking to show her appreciation for her mother and father — a moment that might even make Nurse Ratched tear up. It wasn’t the only memorable part of her speech ("Well, it looks like you all hated me so much that you've given me this award for it, and I'm loving every minute of it" was quite the zinger as well), but it was certainly the most moving.
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