The Most Inspiring Awards Show Speeches Of All Time

Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images.
Some award show speeches are so inspiring, so iconic, you want to jump up out of your couch and cheer along with the celeb standing at the podium. We all remember watching the television when we saw Halle Berry accept the Oscar for Best Actress, or when Heath Ledger's family collected his posthumous award for The Dark Knight.
Award shows are often criticized for being shallow and self-congratulatory, but these celebrities rose to the occasion to use their time powerfully. While the entire nation was watching live, they used their enormous platforms to advocate for causes like equal pay, people of color in the industry, and climate change. Some celebs, like Fiona Apple, used that moment to say something profound about how we act as people, and how the very notion of celebrity is, in her words, "bullshit," and how we should "go with" ourselves. These award acceptance speeches remind us that Hollywood and the entertainment industry aren't afraid to call out the destructive forces at large, even if it sometimes seems like they are.
And sometimes, they can be used to break down barriers. While Berry still remains the only black woman to have won an Academy Award for Best Actress, she shattered that glass ceiling and mentioned by name her contemporaries: Vivica Fox, Jada Pinkett Smith, among others. For that, her win was historically important, and in her speech, she showed up beautifully to the moment. We're hoping to see more actors of color win awards, but will always remember her speech as giving us hope. Check out more inspiring speeches in this slideshow.
1 of 16
Fiona Apple at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards

Fiona Apple accepted the award for Best New Artist, and during her speech, she admitted that she hadn't written anything down.

"Maya Angelou said that we, as human beings, at our best, can only create opportunities. And I'm gonna use this opportunity the way that I want to use it," she declared nervously. Apple then said the words that would make her the bane of parents everywhere. "This world is bullshit," she said, and as the chorus of boos from the audience started, she implored them to listen to her, and explained that "you shouldn’t model your life about what you think that we think is cool and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying and everything. Go with yourself. Go with yourself."

The speech was roundly criticized at the time for its nihilistic overtones, but Apple was trying to convey a sense of independence and questioning. According to Genius, she later said that "The MTV thing… I was not comfortable in that situation, but that was my top moment of self-parenting. No matter if I didn’t say it completely right, I said what I wanted to say."
2 of 16
Halle Berry at the 2002 Academy Awards

This is one of the award show moments that you'll never forget. In 2002, Halle Berry won the Oscar for Best Actress for Monster's Ball — the first time a black woman had won that award, and as of 2017, still the only one.

She immediately began sobbing as her name was called, and stammered out "Oh my God. Oh my God. I'm sorry. This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened. Thank you. I'm so honored. I'm so honored. And I thank the Academy for choosing me to be the vessel for which His blessing might flow."
3 of 16
Viola Davis at the 2017 Academy Awards

This was the standout speech of 2017, and one of the Academy Award's most recent standout speeches in general. Davis won Best Supporting Actress for her role in Fences, and used the moment to expound beautifully about her craft. "People ask me all the time, 'What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?' And I say 'Exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories - the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost."
4 of 16
Cuba Gooding, Jr. at the 1997 Academy Awards

This speech was full of pure, unbridled joy. Gooding, Jr. won the award for Best Supporting Actor in Jerry Maguire, and jumped and screamed like he was, well, winning an Oscar. Can all speeches be this happy?
5 of 16
Patricia Arquette at the 2015 Academy Awards

If you've ever seen the GIF of Meryl Streep yelling "yes!" and Jennifer Lopez, seated next to her, smiling and clapping, it's because of this speech by Patricia Arquette. In the speech, Arquette called out Hollywood for lack of equal pay.
6 of 16
Lupita Nyong'o at the 2016 Academy Awards

Nyong'o won Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years a Slave for her role as Patsy. She glided up the stage in a stunning blue gown. In her speech, she thanked the original Pasty, a real-life person that her character was based on.
7 of 16
Jennifer Lawrence at the 2013 Academy Awards

This speech isn't so much inspiring because of what she said, it's inspiring because she fell down on her way to collect her award in her voluminous Dior couture dress, and helped us to realize that humiliation is a totally natural and normal part of existence.

Backstage during the press briefing, a reporter asked her why she fell. She replies "do you see this dress?"

Lawrence won Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook.
8 of 16
Jodie Foster at the 2013 Golden Globes

Jodie Foster accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award for "outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment," and in a rousing 10-minute speech, touched on her history as a filmmaker and actress, and pressed for the need to keep private lives private. In other words, she came out without really coming out.
9 of 16
Adele at the 2013 Golden Globes

We're happy anytime we get to see Adele, but her acceptance speech for winning Best Song for Skyfall was truly a charming moment.
10 of 16
Sacheen Littlefeather for Marlon Brando at the 1973 Academy Awards

Marlon Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to collect his Oscar for Best Actor in The Godfather. Littlefeather used to platform to passionately protest Native American treatment.
11 of 16
Al Gore at the 2007 Oscars

Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, won for Best Documentary, and he used to moment to champion climate change and our response to it, imploring all of us to take it seriously. If you've never seen the film, it will put a chill down your spine.
12 of 16
Asghar Farhadi at the 2017 Academy Awards

Ashgar Farhadi, an Iranian filmmaker, won for Best Foreign Film. In protest of President Donald Trump's travel ban against non-citizens from Muslim-majority countries, Farhadi had a statement read about his decision to attend the ceremony.

"My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immingrants to the US," the statement said. "Dividing the world into the 'us and our enemies' categories creates fear. A deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression."
13 of 16
Meryl Streep at the 2017 Golden Globes

Streep, one of Hollywood's most decorated actors, used the speech to call out President Trump for allegedly mocking a disabled reporter. "Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence, and when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose," she said.
14 of 16
Angelina Jolie at the 2013 Governor's Awards

Angelina Jolie broke down into tears and thanked her family, her mother, and talked emotionally about her humanitarian work as she accepted the honorary Oscar.
15 of 16
Heath Ledger at the 2009 Academy Awards

That year, Ledger joined the tragic shortlist of actors who'd won the Oscar posthumously. His family flew in from Australia to accept his speech, moving us all to tears as they described how thrilled Ledger would have been.
16 of 16
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of celebrity news, fun takes on pop culture, and trending stories on the Refinery29 Entertainment Facebook page.

Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!

More from Entertainment


R29 Original Series