Even though fans of the Academy Awards may not agree on much, they can agree on one thing: it is a rare event that an Academy Award winner receives widespread acclaim. The history of the Oscars is replete with victors who provoked astonishment, controversy, and resentment, though there may be a few exceptions.
So let’s examine ten of the most controversial and thought-provoking Academy Award wins in history in more detail.
Will Smith- Best Actor
It was not meant to be an eventful victory for Will Smith as best actor for King Richard. However, the famed slap event gave rise to an unforeseen debate. Smith hit Chris Rock across the face on the Oscars stage while the latter was introducing the Best Documentary category.
Shakespeare in Love- Best Picture
When John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love defeated Steven Spielberg’s military epic Saving Private Ryan to win the coveted Best Picture Oscar in 1999, it was one of the most controversial upsets in the history of the Academy Awards.
Marisa Tomei- Best Supporting Actress
Many Oscar commentators were caught off guard when Marisa Tomei unexpectedly won Best Supporting Actress at the 1993 Oscars. Following her unexpected victory, there were rumors going around that said she wasn’t the real winner and that her name was called in error.
Roman Polanski- Best Director
Roman Polanski won Best Director at the 75th Academy Awards for his film The Pianist. Polanski served 42 days in prison when it was decided that he had sexual relations with a minor in 1977. Talks concerning Polanski’s contentious past and his acceptance in the film business resurfaced after the award show.
Marlon Brando- Declined acceptance of Best Actor Award
When Marlon Brando was named the 45th Academy Awards’ best actor winner for his performance in The Godfather, it created a very contentious moment. But instead of accepting the prize, Brando asked activist and actress Sacheen Littlefeather, of the Apache tribe, to speak out against the abuse of Native Americans in the film business.
Kevin Costner- Best Director
At the 63rd Academy Awards, Kevin Costner’s western drama Dancing With Wolves made a strong impression by winning Best Picture and Best Director out of a possible 12 nominations. Being nominated in these top categories with Martin Scorsese’s critically praised gangster epic, Goodfellas, added to the controversy surrounding Costner’s triumphs.
George C. Scott- Best Actor
George C. Scott created history at the 43rd Academy Awards when he turned down his Best Actor trophy, which he won for his performance in Patton. The Oscars, according to Scott, are a planned event.
The English Patient- Best Picture
The English Patient, a love epic directed by Anthony Minghella, took home the top prizes for Best Picture and Best Director at the 69th Academy Awards, making it the clear winner. Nonetheless, a number of Oscar experts thought the Academy erred on the side of caution by selecting The English Patient over Fargo by the Coen brothers.
Bohemian Rhapsody- Best Editing
Moviegoers and reviewers alike were deeply offended by the win since they thought the Queen biopic was among the year’s worst edited movies. A viral video essay, released post-Oscars, meticulously outlined the sloppy editing in Bohemian Rhapsody and garnered over 3 million views.
Green Book- Best Picture
Prior to Green Book, starring Peter Farrelly, taking home the top honor at the 91st Academy Awards, Crash was thought to be the least favorite Best Picture winner of the twenty-first century. There were questions after it defeated the highly regarded play Roma, which had garnered multiple prizes. Reportedly, the Academy members’ resistance to giving the top prize to a Netflix film affected the result of the Best Picture competition.