The weirdest Oscar acceptance speeches of all time

Five men in suits holding Oscar statues
The Oscar statues are some of the most recognisable awards in the world | Shutterstock

They’re 13 and a half inches tall and weigh just under 4kg. Well over 3,000 of the things have been handed out since Emil Jannings received the first one way back in 1929. They are, of course, Academy Awards of Merit. Or, to give them their more common name, Oscars.

Oscars are, arguably, the most famous awards on the planet. Okay, so Nobel Prizes might be a shade more prestigious, but who even knows what a Nobel Prize looks like?

This year’s Academy Awards, the 94th ceremony, is due to be held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on the evening of 27th March. Interest in the awards isn’t what it was a few years ago, certainly. Yet, while viewing figures may be down, most folk still like to know who’s won the top gongs. We also like to know if anything weird happened, don’t we?

Did anyone wear anything daft? Were there any funny incidents? Did the presenters’ gags bomb? Were there any weird acceptance speeches…?

Oscars’ history is littered with strange examples of high-profile actors and actresses making the collection of their Academy Award a downright strange affair. And thank the movie gods because it’s these moments that keep us interested in what can be an otherwise fairly mundane Tinseltown backslap-a-thon.

Here are some of our very favourite examples from down the years:

Marlon Brando

Film: The Godfather

Year: 1973

Award: Best Lead Actor

Let’s kick off with an actor so intent on causing a stir during his trophy collection that he sent a Native American woman up in his place. And not to accept his award for Best Actor for The Godfather, either. To reject it.

Roger Moore and Liv Ullman announced Brando as the winner back at the ‘73 awards, but instead of the moody method actor strolling out onto the stage, a woman in traditional Apache dress walked on in his place.

“Hello. My name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I'm Apache and I am president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee…”

She went on to explain Brando’s reasons for rejecting the Oscar (the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry) and was met by a mixture of cheers, applause, jeers, and boos from the audience.

Plenty of big names would comment on what happened during the ceremony. The night's co-host, Michael Caine, criticised Brando for "letting some poor little [Native American] girl take the boos, instead of standing up and doing it himself.”

And when the hero of a hundred westerns Clint Eastwood presented the Best Picture award, he claimed - tongue in cheek - that he was "presenting it on behalf of all the cowboys shot in John Ford westerns over the years".

Joe Pesci

Film: Goodfellas

Year: 1991

Award: Best Supporting Actor

The millions of dollars, the hundreds of guests, the countless hopes and dreams of an industry… and yet Joe Pesci said just five words when he picked up his award back at the 1991 Oscars. It was a speech as short as the man himself.

The diminutive powerhouse wasn’t being disrespectful though, he seemed pretty heartfelt during his three-second appearance on stage. But after a career of toil, a quick “it’s my privilege, thank you” hardly seems worth it.

Maybe the My Cousin Vinny star is just a man of few words. Perhaps he’s a helpful guy and he knew the ceremony was running behind. Or maybe he just needed to go to the toilet. Who knows?

Jack Palance

Film: City Slickers

Year: 1992

Award: Best Supporting Actor

Not even Jack Palance’s advancing years could stop the World War Two veteran and all-around tough cookie from showing off his strength and testosterone back at the ’92 Oscars.

Picking up the same prize as Joe Pesci had the year before, the 73-year-old took his award from Whoopi Goldberg and addressed the crowd. Referring to the night’s host and his City Slickers co-star who was lurking on the stage, Palance deadpanned: "Billy Crystal... I cr*p bigger than him."

The Shane star didn’t stop there. In the middle of a brief speech in which he jokingly discussed ageism in Hollywood, Palance dropped to the floor and demonstrated the ease with which he could nail out half a dozen one-armed push-ups, even at his advanced age.

Now that’s an old-school star.

Vanessa Redgrave

Film: Julia

Year: 1978

Award: Best Supporting Actress

Tinseltown and the watching public don’t mind brevity or even push-ups. What they don’t like, as we’ve already heard, is too much politics. Nowadays, of course, it’s fashionable - maybe even expected - for those accepting Oscars to mention social or political issues, but back in the day? It was all rather frowned upon.

English actress Vanessa Redgrave didn’t quite expect the backlash she would receive for her words following her win back in 1978.

"I salute you, and I thank you, and I pledge to you that I will continue to fight against anti-Semitism and fascism. Thank you."

It was fairly low-key and quite in context. The film Julia is about the Holocaust, after all. It was, however, Redgrave’s previous use of the term “Zionist hoodlums” earlier in her speech that landed her in hot water. Especially given it came after the Jewish Defence League had picketed the ceremony due to her nomination. The JDL objected to Redgrave having recently narrated a documentary called The Palestinian, which was critical of Israel.

George C. Scott

Film: Patton

Year: 1971

Award: Best Lead Actor

The Academy would’ve probably preferred to give it to someone else. But in 1971, there was no one else. George C. Scott’s powerhouse performance as US General George S. Patton in Franklin J. Schaffner's biopic was heads and shoulders above the rest. Trouble was, Scott didn’t want the award.

Try as they might, the Academy couldn’t convince the Dr. Strangelove actor to accept it. "The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade, I don't want any part of it.” Those were Scott’s thoughts on the matter.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, Scott had refused to accept his nomination nine years previous for his role in The Hustler. The man had form.

Presenter of the award Goldie Hawn was surprised that he actually won, though (“Oh my god! George C. Scott!”). Collecting the award on his behalf was Patton’s producer Frank McCarthy, who praised the Academy for its decision. It was a bit lily-livered compared to Scott’s staunch viewpoint, but it kept everyone happy. Well, everyone but George. In the end, though? Who looked the coolest…?

Melissa Leo

Film: The Fighter

Year: 2011

Award: Best Supporting Actress

We end on the most splendid example of a weird Oscar acceptance speech. In 2011, the always-excellent Melissa Leo deservedly won an Oscar for her role in David O. Russell’s film The Fighter. Her performance on the night, however, was not so good. She wandered about, asked 96-year-old award presenter Kirk Douglas out on a date, dropped an F-bomb, rambled a load, and then left the stage.

She wasn’t quite done yet, though. As she strode off stage with Douglas, she took his walking stick from him and pretended to be an old lady with it. Never change, Melissa.

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Written by:

Steve Charnock

Steve Charnock is a freelance writer who scribbles all sorts of things for all sorts of people, specialising in the darker side of life and death. He mainly writes features, reviews, blogs, articles and lists. But always forgets to write his mum a birthday card.