The Best Oscar Acceptance Speeches

At some point in their lives, most aspiring actors and actresses have stood in front of a bathroom mirror with a hairbrush held like a microphone and said the magic words: “I’d like to thank the Academy…” Since they were first televised more than six decades ago, the speeches given by newly-crowned Oscar winners remain the most memorable parts of the show. Sometimes emotional, sometimes hilarious, but always fascinating, these brief glimpses into the grateful hearts of our favorite stars are why millions of viewers watch the telecast each year. To help remind you why you love movies, here are a few of the best Oscar acceptance speeches of all time.

John Wayne – True Grit

John Wayne Wins Best Actor: 1970 Oscars by Oscars


John Wayne Wins Best Actor: 1970 Oscars by Oscars

When Barbra Streisand handed John Wayne his first (and only) Oscar for his gritty performance as a one-eyed Texas lawman in the 1969 classic True Grit, viewers of the telecast saw a side of the Duke that only those closest to him knew existed. Accepting the award for Best Actor, the famously stoic Wayne seemed profoundly humbled by the honor. Dabbing at a tear or two, he bashfully joked, “If I’d known that, I’d have put that patch on 35 years earlier.” The legendary Western star made one final public appearance at the Oscars nine years later to present the award for Best Picture to the producers of The Deer Hunter. He died two months later.

Louise Fletcher – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Louise Fletcher Wins Best Actress: 1976 Oscars by Oscars


Louise Fletcher Wins Best Actress: 1976 Oscars by Oscars

Playing one of the most malevolent medical practitioners in movie history, Louise Fletcher’s chilling performance as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1976. “Well, it looks like you all hated me so much that you’ve given me this award,” she quipped from the podium, “and I’m loving every minute of it.” After graciously acknowledging her fellow cast and crew, Fletcher brought viewers (and herself) to tears as she thanked her parents, both of whom are deaf, using American Sign Language.

Sally Field – Places in the Heart

Sally Field winning an Oscar® for “Places in the Heart” by Oscars


Sally Field winning an Oscar® for Places in the Heart by Oscars

Despite winning for Norma Rae five years earlier, Sally Field’s Best Actress Oscar for the 1985 drama Places in the Heart prompted one of the most memorable, and most parodied, acceptance speeches in history. “The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it,” Field exclaimed from the podium, “and I can’t deny the fact that you like me! Right now, you like me!” Though the outburst was actually meant as a reference to a line of dialogue in Norma Rae, the connection didn’t quite register the way she’d intended. Nevertheless, Field poked fun at the speech when she reprised it for a hilarious Charles Schwab TV commercial a decade later.

Jack Palance – City Slickers

Jack Palance Wins Supporting Actor: 1992 Oscars by Oscars


Jack Palance Wins Supporting Actor: 1992 Oscars by Oscars

Though he’d been nominated for Best Supporting Actor twice before, Jack Palance had to wait until he was 72-years-old to take home an Oscar for playing a grizzled cowpoke in the blockbuster 1991 comedy City Slickers. The telecast took a memorable turn when, during his acceptance speech, Palance dropped to the floor and began doing one-arm pushups to show movie producers that he could still handle anything a younger performer could. Host Billy Crystal used the unexpected display as a running gag, commenting “Jack Palance just bungee-jumped off the Hollywood Sign” when the show returned from its next commercial break.

Tom Hanks – Philadelphia

Tom Hanks winning an Oscar® for “Philadelphia” by Oscars


Tom Hanks winning an Oscar® for “Philadelphia” by Oscars

The 1993 Best Actor category was crowded with amazing talent, including Tom Hanks, whose extraordinary performance in Philadelphia earned him his first Academy Award win. Speaking with all the grace and humility that we’ve come to expect, Hanks acknowledged his high school drama teacher and a fellow acting classmate as “two of the finest gay Americans” with whom he had the good fortune to know at such a young age. With a quiver in his voice, Hanks’ impassioned prayer for the souls of those who’ve died of AIDS was an unforgettable Oscar moment. “The streets of Heaven are too crowded with angels,” he movingly concluded.

Roberto Benigni – Life is Beautiful

Roberto Benigni Goes Wild: 1999 Oscars by Oscars


Roberto Benigni Goes Wild: 1999 Oscars by Oscars

When Sophia Loren announced that Roberto Benigni had won the Academy Award for Best Actor for Life is Beautiful, the impish Italian comedian leapt to his feet, and onto the chair in front of him! Having also written and directed the 1999 Best Picture nominee, Benigni’s excitement was evident as he bounded to the stage like an over-caffeinated Bugs Bunny. After complimenting Loren on “the waves of her beauty” and thanking his parents for giving him “the biggest gift of poverty,” the joyful filmmaker dedicated the Oscar to the victims of the Holocaust.