Although it was not called the Oscars until 1939, the first Academy Awards were presented in 1929. Over the years, there have been some surprising occurrences, such as in 1938 when the Best Supporting Actress Award went to Alice Brady who was too ill to collect it. When her award was announced, an unknown man climbed onto the stage to accept it on her behalf. Neither he nor the award was seen again and the mystery of who he was still remains today. According to History Extra, this was just one of several strange events.
In 1939, George Bernard Shaw became the only person to have won an Oscar and a Nobel Prize. In 1940, the winners’ names were leaked before the ceremony and Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar. Other occurrences included the 1968 ceremony being delayed because of the death of Martin Luther King and, in 1973, Marlon Brando refused to accept the Oscar he was awarded for his performance in The Godfather, saying the award ceremony was no more than a meat market.
These are just a sample of some of the events that have surrounded the Oscars but, for some people, even more surprising are some of the winners from the past.
‘Marlon Brando’ – Lou via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
1939 – Best Actor: Robert Donat For Goodbye Mr. Chips
The favourite to win this award was Clark Gable for his portrayal of Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind. Another strong contender was James Stewart for Mr. Smith Goes to Hollywood but no one expected Robert Donat to win it. All three of these films have become classics and that is mainly because of the fantastic performances of these actors.
1942 – Best Picture: How Green Was My Valley
As Business Insider points out, Citizen Kane is thought of as one of the finest films ever made but that is not how it was received when it was first released. Although it was nominated for nine awards, it only won one, which was for the screenplay by Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz. The Best Film award went to How Green Was My Valley, the Variety magazine of the time having the theory that this was because ‘The Mob prefers regular guys to a genius’. There were 10,000 people allowed to vote in this particular year, and 6,000 of them were film extras.
1953 – Best Picture: The Greatest Show On Earth
High Noon was the expected winner in 1953, especially as westerns were the favourite genre of film at the time. It was a shock to most people when The Greatest Show On Earth took the coveted Best Picture award; the only ones that weren’t shocked were its two stars, James Stewart and Charlton Heston.
1977 – Best Supporting Actress: Beatrice Straight
The part Beatrice Straight played in Network lasted just 5 minutes. Her performance as a jilted housewife was said to be very moving and good enough to win her an Oscar. This must be the shortest screen time a major award has ever been given for.
1981 – Best Picture: Chariots Of Fire
Over the next few years, there were quite a few surprise winners at the Oscars but it was Chariots of Fire winning the Best Picture award in 1981 that is said to be one of the biggest shocks in the history of the Academy Awards. Reds and On Golden Pond were the two favourite films expected to battle it out for this award, and no one was more surprised at the win than the makers of the film.
An event such as the Oscars is as popular for betting as any of the major sports that people place wagers on, with the odds for each category being published by the bookmakers. 2019 was another shock year for the awards. Bohemian Rhapsody did not show amongst any of the top five betting favourites as compiled by Oddschecker, for example, but walked away with four of the awards. Remi Malek, who has the lead role in the film, took home the best actor award. The odds for him doing that were 5/1, with Bradley Cooper being the bookmakers’ favourite.
1991 – Best Director: Kevin Costner
Everyone expected Martin Scorsese to pick up this award for the highly praised Goodfellas. It was considered to be a certainty, but instead, the Oscar went to Kevin Costner for directing Dances With Wolves. At the time, Scorsese was described as the best director never to win an Oscar.
1994 – Best Supporting Actress: Anna Paquin
1994 was the year that an 11-year-old shocked everyone by winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The Academy does not normally award children for their performances, but in this particular year, Anna Paquin beat off competition from Emma Thompson, Winona Ryder, Rosie Perez, and Holly Hunter. Anna herself was surprised to win the award, but very proud of it, too. While it was a shock, people were very pleased for the young actress.
‘Tom Hanks.Forrest Gump figure at Madame Tussauds’ – Loren Javier via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
1995 – Best Picture: Forrest Gump
1995 was a year where many brilliant films were released, including the winner, Forrest Gump. Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption are two more notable films from the same year. Forrest Gump was the outsider of the three, and still some people are amazed that it won. The other two have remained very popular films, with Pulp Fiction, in particular, developing a cult following that has crossed generations.
1997 – Best Supporting Actress: Juliette Binoche
Lauren Bacall had never won an Oscar when she took the part in The Mirror Has Two Faces. She was very happy when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and most people expected her to win it. However, the Oscar went to Juliette Binoche for her performance in The English Patient, and this was something that Lauren Bacall never got over. In her autobiography, she blamed aggressive campaigning by Harvey Weinstein for her loss.
1998 – Best Picture: Shakespeare In Love
In July of 1998, the Steven Spielberg film Saving Private Ryan had premiered to great acclaim. It was considered to be the inevitable winner of the Best Picture award until December when Shakespeare In Love was released. It was Harrison Ford who announced the winner and when he revealed which film had won, there were gasps rippling throughout the audience.
2002 – Best Director: Polanski
Because of the legal problems that had kept Polanski out of the US, no one expected him to win. The front-runners were Rob Marshall for Chicago and Martin Scorsese for Gangs of New York. However, The Academy surprised everyone when the award went to Polanski.
2017 – Best Picture: Moonlight
2017 is a year where the awards ceremony was thrown into turmoil because the wrong picture was announced as the winner. It is a moment that will go down in Oscar history. La La Land was the expected winner and was announced as such by presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. As the cast was on the stage to accept the award, it was revealed that the presenters had been given the wrong envelope and in fact, Moonlight was the winner. Social media went crazy with tweets, posts, and memes discussing and parodying the mistake.
The producer of La La Land encouraged the surprised crew of Moonlight to come to the stage and accept the award. As a film that was made by an independent film company, it beat the odds-on favourite to one of the biggest prizes of the ceremony. This was not only a shock winner but the chaos this mistake caused will not be quickly forgotten.
The Oscars Will Continue To Shock
There is no doubt the Oscars have provided plenty of shocks and talking points over the years. However, with streaming and social media, the decisions are more under the spotlight than ever. The instant discussion generated by online resources is only likely to amplify any shock, which could mean we still have the biggest shocks to come, at least in relative terms.