The Most Moving and Inspirational Oscars Speeches of All Time
Giving a speech at any awards show is a difficult task, but the stakes are especially high at the Oscars, the pinnacle of Hollywood's awards season. Winners are typically flustered, emotional, and shocked, and they have only seconds to collect themselves before the music tries to play them offstage. Over the years, though, there have been some truly memorable speeches — speeches that moved us, motivated us, and reminded us why we tune in to watch in the first place. Click through for 12 of the most inspirational and poignant Oscars acceptance speeches of all time. (Photos via Kevin Winter/Getty Images + Steve Starr/Corbis via Getty Images)
Frances McDormand, 2018: "I'm hyperventilating a little bit. If I fall over, pick me up, because I've got some things to say," McDormand began as she accepted her Best Actress award for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. She wasn't kidding. After placing her Oscar on the floor beside her, she launched into a speech about feminism, diversity, and the power of different perspectives in storytelling.
"If I may be so honored to have all the female nominees in every category stand with me in this room tonight — the actors, the filmmakers, the producers, the directors, the writers, the cinematographer, the composers, the songwriters, the designers," she said, urging them to their feet. "Okay, look around, everybody. Because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed. … Invite us in to your office in a couple days — or you can come to ours, whichever sits you best — and we'll tell you all about them. I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentleman: inclusion rider."
As we now know, an inclusion rider is a clause in an actor's contract stipulating that the film they're working on must meet a certain level of diversity in the cast and crew. Months after McDormand's speech, Warner Bros. became the first Hollywood studio to implement the practice on a company-wide scale. Her words led to concrete action — and what's more inspiring than that? (Photo via Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Viola Davis, 2017: Davis' speech for her Best Supporting Actress win for Fences was one of the clear highlights of the 2017 Oscars. "You know, there's one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place. And that's the graveyard," she began. "People ask me all the time, 'What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?' And I say, 'Exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost.' I became an artist, and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life." (Photo via Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Common and John Legend, 2017: After winning Best Original Song for "Glory" from Selma, both Common and John Legend used their time at the mic to spotlight some of the major issues facing our nation.
"Recently, John and I got to go to Selma and perform 'Glory' on the same bridge that Dr. King and the people of the civil rights movement marched on 50 years ago," Common began. "This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation but now is a symbol for change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status. The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the South Side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life, to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression, to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy. This bridge was built on hope, welded with compassion, and elevated with love for all human beings."
When it was Legend's turn, he quoted Nina Simone, saying: "'It's an artist's duty to reflect the times in which we live.' We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now." He went on to address voting rights and the mass incarceration of people of color, before turning his attention to those fighting to make things right. "When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on." (Photo via Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Leonardo DiCaprio, 2016: Despite plenty of stellar performances over the course of his career, DiCaprio repeatedly left the Oscars empty-handed. He finally got his moment in the spotlight in 2016, when he won Best Actor for his role in The Revenant. But instead of using the time just to reflect on his long road to an Academy Award, he took the opportunity to advocate for a cause near and dear to his heart.
"Making The Revenant was about man's relationship to the natural world, a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow," he began. "Climate change is real — it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters or the big corporations, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people who would be most affected by this, for our children's children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed. I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted." (Photo via Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Patricia Arquette, 2015: Like Frances McDormand, Arquette used her Oscars win — for Best Supporting Actress in Boyhood — to draw attention to something bigger than her own performance. In a speech that sparked a gif-worthy response from Meryl Streep that still captures all of our moods in that memorable moment, Arquette told the crowd, "It's our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America!" (Photo via Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Graham Moore, 2015: Moore accepted the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Imitation Game with a moving, honest speech about the real-life subject of the film and Moore's own painful past. "Alan Turing never got to stand on a stage like this and look out at all of these disconcertingly attractive faces. And I do. And that's the most unfair thing I think I've ever heard," he said. "So in this brief time here, what I want to use it to do is to say this: When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself, because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I'm standing here. So I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she's weird or she's different or she doesn't fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do. Stay weird. Stay different. And then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along." (Photo via Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Lupita Nyong'o, 2014: Nyong'o earned rave reviews and a Best Supporting Actress award for her feature film debut in 12 Years a Slave. Her speech at the Oscars was joyful, heartfelt, and eloquent — everything you want from a winner. And after thanking her loved ones and other people involved in the film, she sent a hopeful message to all of her fellow dreamers: "When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you're from, your dreams are valid." (Photo via Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Markéta Irglová, 2008: Irglová and Glen Hansard won the Best Original Song Oscar for "Falling Slowly," from the Irish musical romance Once. After Hansard gave his speech urging the audience to continue to "make art," the pair were ushered offstage. But host Jon Stewart later brought back Irglová so she could have a chance to speak, too — and thank goodness he did, because her heartfelt words were some of the best of the night.
"This is such a big deal, not only for us but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling," she said in her speech. "The fact that we're standing here tonight, the fact that we're able to hold this, is just proof that no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible. … This song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are." (Photo via Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)
Halle Berry, 2002: Thanks to her performance in Monster's Ball, Berry became the first (and so far, only) Black woman to win Best Actress at the Oscars. "This moment is so much bigger than me," she told the audience through her tears. "This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened. Thank you. I'm so honored." (Photo via Getty Images)
Tom Hanks, 1994: Hanks won the first of his two Oscars in 1994, for the movie Philadelphia, in which he played a gay man who has AIDS and is fired from his law firm. In his moving acceptance speech, he paid tribute to the real-life victims of the AIDS epidemic, saying, "I know that my work in this case is magnified by the fact that the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels. We know their names. They number a thousand for each one of the red ribbons that we wear here tonight. They finally rest in the warm embrace of the gracious creator of us all, a healing embrace that cools their fevers, that clears their skin, and allows their eyes to see the simple, self-evident commonsense truth that is made manifest by the benevolent creator of us all and was written down on paper by wise men, tolerant men, in the city of Philadelphia 200 years ago." (Photo via Steve Starr/Corbis via Getty Images)
Elizabeth Taylor, 1993: After winning two Best Actress Oscars in 1961 and 1967, Taylor was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1993. "Tonight I am asking for your help," she said in her speech. "I call upon you to draw from the depths of your being to prove that we are a human race. To prove that our love outweighs our need to hate. That our compassion is more compelling than our need to blame. That our sensitivity to those in need is stronger than our greed. That our ability to reason overcomes our fear. And that at the end of each of our lives, we can look back and be proud that we have treated others with the kindness, dignity, and respect that every human being deserves." (Photo via Barry King/Liaison via Getty Images)
Shirley MacLaine, 1984: MacLaine won Best Actress for Terms of Endearment in 1984 and charmed the audience with a heartfelt (and funny!) speech. "I'm gonna cry because this show has been as long as my career," she joked, before going on to reflect on her involvement in the film. "I don't believe there's any such thing as accidents," she mused. "I think we all manifest what we want and what we need. I don't think there's any difference, really, between what you feel you have to do in your heart and success. They're inseparable. … When you trust your own insides, and that becomes achievement, it's a kind of a principle that seems to me is at work with everyone. God bless that principle. God bless that potential that we all have for making anything possible if we think we deserve it. I deserve this. Thank you." (Photo via Ron Galella/WireImage)