For many actors and filmmakers, winning an Oscar is a dream come true. By receiving an Academy Award, a person becomes a part of movie history forever, and that includes the speech they give to accept the honor. But, some winners may later wish that wasn't the case. Some Oscar speeches have ended up being pretty cringeworthy, either because of what the winner said or because of how their words were received.
This is something that Avatar director James Cameron knows all too well. In a new interview on Who's Talking to Chris Wallace? (via CNN), Cameron said that he "took flack for all 25 years after that" after he gave his speech accepting the Best Director award for Titanic. He joked, "You do have to be careful what you say in your acceptance speech, me and Sally Field, we have a little self-help group together on this."
Read on to find out what Cameron regrets about his speech, and for four more infamous Oscar mishaps.
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At the 1998 Oscars, Titanic was nominated for 14 awards. When Cameron won for Best Director, he had already won for Best Editing, and he would go on to win for Best Picture. The filmmaker opened his speech saying, "I don't know about you, but I'm having a really great time."
In his conclusion, while thanking his parents, he quoted the movie itself. "Mom, Dad, there is no way that I can express to you what I'm feeling right now. My heart is full to bursting, except to say, 'I'm the king of the world!' Woo!"
In his interview with Chris Wallace, Cameron explained of the speech, "I was trying to express the joy and excitement that I was feeling in terms of that movie—and the most joyful moment for Leonardo DiCaprio's Titanic character was when he was free and at the bow of the ship."
The director added, "What I learned is you don't quote your own movie to the Academy if you win, because it's cringeworthy. It makes the assumption that you didn't win by a narrow margin, but that every single person sitting in the audience on that night at the Kodak Theatre saw and loved Titanic. And we'll never know how much we won by, but it might not have been a landslide at all."
Cameron referenced Field in his reflection on his own Oscar speech, because she became responsible for one of the most famous Oscar acceptances of all time when she won Best Actress for Places in the Heart in 1985. Field referenced her previous win in 1980 for Norma Rae, which she apparently felt conflicted about.
"I want to say 'thank you' to you," she said in the speech. "I haven't had an orthodox career. And I wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn't feel it. But this time, I feel it. And I can't deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!"
The final lines have been misquoted over the years, which made the speech more cringeworthy than it actually was, according to Field. She told Variety in 2022 of people misquoting it, "Sometimes I want to punch them in the nose, but mostly because they don't ever say the context of what I said before. When I'm there talking about it, I say I haven't had an orthodox career, that this has been a struggle for me, but for this one moment in time, I have to allow myself to know and feel that you like me. And I could've been more eloquent. I should've used a word like you 'appreciated' my work. I don't know what the word was. To me, what mattered was for that one moment in time I did it. I did it. I landed it, and I thanked them for feeling it."
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When Ben Affleck was one of producers who won a Best Picture Oscar for Argo in 2013—which he also directed and starred in—he thanked his then-wife Jennifer Garner. But, people watching didn't find the way he went about it very romantic.
"I want to thank my wife, who I don't normally associate with Iran," he said. "But I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It's good. It is work, but it's the best kind of work and there's no one I'd rather work with." The lines about his marriage being "work" elicited laughs from the crowd.
A few months later, Affleck hosted Saturday Night Live, and Garner joined him on the show to joke about the speech. "I want to tell you how I wish I had ended that speech," Affleck said. "I couldn't do any of the things I do without you, without your support. You're my angel, my wife, my world." The punchline was that Garner revealed he was reading the lines off of a cue card.
Anne Hathaway won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2013 for her role in Les Misérables. And she got the most backlash for just three words of her speech. When the actor took to the stage, she gazed down at her Oscar and said, "It came true." The rest of the speech was pretty typical, with Hathaway thanking colleague and loved ones. She ended the speech by mentioning her Les Misérables character: "Here's hoping that someday in the not too distant future the misfortunes of Fantine will only be found in stories and nevermore in real life."
In an interview with The Guardian in 2016, Hathaway opened up about the speech. "I felt very uncomfortable," she said. "I kind of lost my mind doing that movie and it hadn't come back yet. Then I had to stand up in front of people and feel something I don't feel which is uncomplicated happiness. It's an obvious thing, you win an Oscar and you're supposed to be happy. I didn't feel that way. I felt wrong that I was standing there in a gown that cost more than some people are going to see in their lifetime, and winning an award for portraying pain that still felt very much a part of our collective experience as human beings."
She continued, "I tried to pretend that I was happy and I got called out on it, big time. That's the truth and that's what happened. It sucks. But what you learn from it is that you only feel like you can die from embarrassment, you don't actually die."
Matthew McConaughey, essentially, thanked his future self for his Academy Award when he won Best Actor in 2014 for Dallas Buyers Club. He explained that when he was 15, "a very important person" in his life asked who his hero was, and he determined it was himself 10 years in the future. When he was 25, he realized his hero was himself at 35.
"So, you see every day, every week, every month, and every year of my life, my hero's always 10 years away," he said. "I'm never gonna be my hero. I'm not gonna attain that. I know I'm not, and that's just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing."
The speech might have seemed a little silly to some, but McConaughey stands by it. He reflected on the speech in a video for the Academy in 2021 and said that he hadn't prepared it ahead of time. "I remember not having any speech, It would be a bit arrogant or a coup de grace to have something written," he said. "It was like, nah, that's not for me to do. That's a little presumptuous."