While Oscars viewers will ostensibly tune in Sunday to see what films win best picture and other coveted honors, it's the unexpected moments that will really get social media buzzing. The past decade has seen Ellen DeGeneres set a record for retweets with an epic selfie, Angelina Jolie’s leg spark a meme and Jennifer Lawrence’s trip up the stairs turn into the perfect GIF.
But of course, the decades before Twitter, Facebook and Instagram featured plenty of Oscar surprises too — we just don't have the mountains of internet evidence to memorialize them. Here are some of the moments that would have gone viral, had social media existed at the time.
1. Sacheen Littlefeather declines the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando would have inspired plenty of tweets when he rejected the best actor Oscar for his performance as Don Vito Corleone in "The Godfather" in 1973. The actor memorably sent 26-year-old Native American activist and aspiring actor Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to announce that he "very regretfully" could not accept the award, because he was protesting the film industry’s treatment of Native Americans.
2. Streaker on stage
In 1974, artist and gay rights activist Robert Opel shocked viewers when he streaked across the stage, flashing a peace sign, as actor David Niven was about to introduce Elizabeth Taylor, who would announce the best picture winner. While the image would have likely prompted some hilarious memes, Niven said it best: "Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?"
3. "You like me, right now, you like me!"
Sally Field impressed the Academy with her performance as a struggling widow during the Great Depression in "Places in the Heart." But it was her acceptance speech for best actress in 1985 that really endeared her to audiences. The often-misquoted line “I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!" would have been endlessly retweeted.
Cher’s outrageous spiderweb ensemble and over-the-top headpiece, designed by longtime collaborator Bob Mackie, would have been an Instagram sensation in 1986.
5. Musical Rob Lowe
Rob Lowe’s campy “Proud Mary” duet with Snow White, played by 22-year-old actress Eileen Bowman, has long been deemed one of the Oscars’ most embarrassing numbers. Had social media been around in 1989, viewers would have had a greater outlet to voice their snarky reactions.
6. Palance's pushups
In 1992, Jack Palance, then 73, dropped down and began performing a series of one-armed pushups while accepting Best Supporting Actor for "City Slickers." Just imagine the GIFs!
7. Cannibal Crystal
Billy Crystal’s unforgettable Hannibal Lecter skit — in which he told “The Silence of the Lambs” star Anthony Hopkins, “I'm having some of the Academy over for dinner. Care to join me?" — would have racked up numerous YouTube views after the show in 1992.
8. Uma? Oprah?
In 1995, host David Letterman’s famously awkward “Oprah, Uma” joke received plenty of mocking — even before social media. We can only imagine how much more awkward it would have gotten had the internet been around to make Photoshopped memes.
9. King of the Oscars
When James Cameron picked up his best director award for “Titanic” in 1998, he chose to quote one of the movie’s more cringe-worthy lines, proclaiming, "I'm king of the world!" He later told Entertainment Weekly, “After jumping up and making a fool of myself with my acceptance speech (for “Titanic”), I’m sure nobody wants to see me at the Academy Awards again. Or maybe they want me to win again to see if I can make an even bigger fool of myself.”
10. Benigni was beautiful
Five years before Facebook was created, Roberto Benigni made a would-be viral moment when he jumped on a chair and proclaimed “I want to kiss everybody!” after winning Best Foreign Language Film for his moving Holocaust film, “Life Is Beautiful,” in 1999.
Tune in April. 25 to see what this year’s most meme-worthy moments will be.
An earlier version of this article was published on Feb. 20, 2015.
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