“I’d Like to Thank…”

03.02.14

Best Oscar Speeches of All Time: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep & More

There’s one real reason we all tune in to the Oscars each year: to watch A-list celebrities cry. Who’s delivered the best speeches ever? Here’s our list.

Tom Hanks - 1993

Video screenshot

“The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels.” BRB I’M WEEPING FOREVER. Everything about Tom Hanks’s Oscar acceptance speech for his performance in Philadelphia is perfect, except that he calls Rita Wilson his “lover.” Twice.

Julie Andrews - 1965

Video screenshot

“I know you Americans are famous for your hospitality, but this is really ridiculous.” Our love affair with Julie Andrews’s effortless charm and grace began a long, long time ago.

Meryl Streep - 2012

Video screenshot

Everyone knows you need a good opening line. Few deliver in as perfect fashion: “I had this feeling I could hear half of America saying, ‘Oh no. C’mon. Why? Her again?’ But whatever.” After nailing the lede, Meryl Streep delivers the most gracious, warm speech any actress has ever given, opening by thanking her husband, Don Gummer, “because when you thank your husband at the speech, they play him out with the music.” Classy. But not as classy as how she ended the whole thing: “The thing that counts to me is the friendships and the love and the sheer joy we have shared making movies together, my friends.”

Joe Pesci - 1991

Video screenshot

There’s something to be said about short and sweet, and Joe Pesci’s very short acceptance speech in 1991 for his performance in Goodfellas was exceptionally sweet. Just five words—“It’s my privilege, thank you”—but with a look in his eyes that said much more.

Gwyneth Paltrow - 1999

Video screenshot

It’s really hard, no matter what you think of the Queen of GOOP now, not to be touched by how overcome Gwyneth Paltrow was with genuine emotion when she won the 1999 Best Actress trophy for Shakespeare in Love. Let’s be honest, when these typically buttoned-up celebrities win these awards, you want to see them cry, dammit, and Paltrow delivers in spades, particularly during her emotional tribute to her parents and recently deceased cousin. It really is an almost perfect speech.

Marlon Brando - 1955

Video screenshot

So everyone knows about that whole wild Sacheen Littlefeather stunt that Marlon Brando pulled at the Oscars, but not many people know that when Brando won an Oscar for On the Waterfront in 1955 he was actually extremely good-natured and gracious. (Not to mention impossibly debonair.) “It’s much heavier than I imagined,” he said, long before how heavy awards statues became a tired thing that everyone says. “I don’t think ever in my life have so many people been directly responsible for me being so very, very glad.” So classy and appropriate.

Charlie Chaplin - 1972

Video screenshot

Charlie Chaplin received an honorary Oscar at the 1972 awards, getting an unprecedented—and never matched—12-minute standing ovation before he could get a word in edge-wise. The best line of his speech: “Words seem so futile, so feeble.” How absolutely appropriate.

Sandra Bullock - 2011

Video screenshot

“Did I really earn this, or did I just wear you all down?” That’s debatable, surely, but Bullock earned a spot on this list with her fantastic Blind Side acceptance speech. There are two women that an Oscar winner should always, always thank when they win: her mother, and Meryl Streep. No one does either as brilliantly or eloquently as Sandra Bullock. (Well, mostly eloquently.) She tearfully thanks her mom, “For reminding her daughters that there’s no race, no religion, no class system, no color, nothing, no sexual orientation that makes us better than anyone else—we are all deserving of love,” and Streep, “You know what I think of you…and you’re such a good kisser.” The best.

Robin Williams – 1998

Video screenshot

 “This might be the one time I’m speechless.” You’d hope that Robin Williams’s Oscar acceptance speech would be funny, and you would hope that he refrains from exhausting vocal ticks, impressions, and voice throwing. Thankfully, his speech was both heartwarming and hilarious, as he thanked his father, who once told him to find a backup profession, like welding. (Bonus: BFF Billy Crystal, who hosted that year, giving Williams a big bear hug as he exited, trophy in hand, to the wings.) 

John Wayne - 1970

Video screenshot

OK, maybe not the best speech ever. But it’s sure fun to watch the icon of cinematic manliness and toughness shed some tears when finally winning an Oscar in 1970, after more than 35 years as one of Hollywood’s most popular and respected stars.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck - 1998

Video screenshot

Winning an Academy Award is a big freaking deal. Right? In fact, one might say it is the biggest freaking deal. The crying is great, but, like, shouldn’t there be some happiness, too? Like some extreme happiness? Cue Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, two uncontainable jumping beans of unbridled enthusiasm after winning Best Original Screenplay in 1997. Two people who are so purely happy.

Ruth Gordon - 1969

Video screenshot

“I can’t tell ya how encouragin’ a thing like this is.” Ruth Gordon is the cutest!