The Oscars: myths, legends and statistics


Four score and seven years ago (or thereabouts) the Oscars burst onto the world. With this year’s ceremony fast approaching, let’s take a look back at the highs and lows of Academy Award history…

1927: World War I based thriller Wings wins the first ever Best Picture Oscar. It is the last silent film to win until The Artist wins in 2012.

1933: In a scene reminiscent of the early scenes of Zoolander, comedian Will Rogers opens the Best Director envelope and says “Come and get It Frank!” Unfortunately, there were two directors called Frank nominated in that year. Frank Capra was half way to the podium before Rogers clarified that it was Frank Lloyd, director of Cavalcade who had won, not Capra. Happily, Frank Capra wins for Mr Deeds Goes To Town in 1936. In future years, the awards are always announced in a heavily scripted way, to avoid such a cock up happening again.

1941: How Green Is My Valley beats Citizen Kane, subsequently the most critically acclaimed film of all time, for Best Picture.

1968; A tie in the Best Actress category! Barbara Streisand wins for Funny Girl. Katharine Hepburn also wins for The Lion In Winter (her third).

1970: George C. Scott wins Best Actor for Patton. He chooses not to attend and instead watches a ball game on the other channel.

1972: Native American Sacheen Littlefeather picks up Marlon Brando’s Oscar for him to promote Native American issues (it is Brando’s second. This one is for The Godfather). She is actually not a political activist herself but a small time actress and later appears in Playboy.

1973: David Niven remarks of a streaker at the ceremony that “the only laugh that man will ever get is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings”.

1974: Robert De Niro wins his first Oscar playing Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. Marlon Brando played the same character in 1972’s The Godfather. It is the only time two actors have won Oscars for playing the same (fictional) person.

1980: Robert De Niro also wins his second Oscar for Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. The timing is awkward as President Reagan has just been shot. His attempted assassin John Hinckley was reportedly inspired by Scorsese and De Niro’s 1976 film Taxi Driver.

1981: Katharine Hepburn wins her fourth and final Oscar for On Golden Pond. No other actor, male or female, has ever won four. Cate Blanchett later wins one for playing Hepburn herself in The Aviator in 2004.

1992: Rumours abound that Jack Palance read out the wrong name during his announcement of the Best Supporting Actress winner Marisa Tomei. In fact, this is impossible: only one name is ever on the card, the name of the winner. Marisa Tomei in fact thoroughly deserved to win for My Cousin Vinny (even though it was a surprise result). That said, Palance did seem to be in a somewhat “tired and emotional” state as he announced the award.

1995: Tom Hanks wins two Best Actor Oscars in consecutive years (a feat not achieved since Spencer Tracey in the 1930s) for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Both times he delivers excruciating acceptance speeches inadvertently “outing” a high school teacher in the first (a moment which inspired the Kevin Kline film In and Out) and in the second stating “I feel like I’m standing on magic legs.”

1995: Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) loses the Best Supporting Actor Oscar to Martin Landau (Ed Wood). Lipreaders can see Jackson clearly says “shit” on hearing the announcement (from 12 year old An Paquin). Jackson is later unrepentant, arguing he deserved the award more than Landau.

2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King becomes the third film to win eleven Oscars. The others are Ben-Hur (1959) and Titanic (1997). All About Eve (1950) and Titanic remain the most nominated films (14 each).

2012: Meryl Streep wins her 17th nomination (and her third win) for The Iron Lady. No actor has ever been nominated as many times as she has. In 2014, she won her 18th nomination for August: Osage County. Her other wins were for Kramer Vs Kramer and Sophie’s Choice.

2013: Daniel Day Lewis wins his third acting Oscar for Lincoln. Only five other actors have achieved this: Katharine Hepburn (who won four), Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Walter Brennan and Ingrid Bergman.

Trying to guess who will win this year’s Best Picture Oscar? Why not let the past be your guide?

Sixteen of the last fifty Best Picture winners were based on true stories (for the record, I am counting The French Connection as “true” but not Shakespeare In Love). This, of course, means that around 68% of the last fifty Best Picture winners were entirely fictional. The most recent “real life” winners were and 12 Year’s A Slave.

Comedies hardly ever win the Best Picture Oscar. Only around five of the last fifty Best Picture winners were comedies. Annie Hall, Forrest Gump, The Artist, Shakespeare In Love and American Beauty. And some would dispute that American Beauty or Forrest Gump are comedies.

Nearly half of the past fifty Best Picture winners had either a British director, lead actor or actress, a British setting or has other heavy British involvement.

No science fiction film has ever won Best Picture. Gravity, Avatar, Star Wars and A Clockwork Orange were all nominated but didn’t win in this category.

Only two sequels have ever won. The Godfather Part II (the first Godfather film also won) and the third Lord of the Rings film.