The Oscars. Hollywood’s biggest night. Not only is the gold statuette the highest honor an actor can receive, but it can also lead to very significant pay bumps for those who win. According to a college study published by the Independent in 2016, male actors can see their salaries jump by $3.9 million after an Oscar win. Unfortunately, Best Actress winners only see a $500,000 salary increase on their next gig.
And if a film receives a Best Picture nomination? Their revenue can more than double. But the fact remains, once you have that gold in your hand, you’ll forever be able to call yourself an Oscar winner. For some, that means their careers skyrocket, but for others, it can be a forgotten footnote in history and just a story they tell at parties.
So throw on your black tie or designer gown (or both), and let’s look at the nominees for celebs you forgot who have Oscars.
Community star Jim Rash won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay
Yes, Greendale Community College’s Dean Pelton, Jim Rash, won the 2012 Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for co-writing the comedy-drama, “The Descendants,” alongside Nat Faxon and director Alexander Payne. In an interview with Time, Rash revealed that “The Way Back,” a film he co-wrote with Faxon, “caught the attention of Alexander Payne” and the director thought the tone of that script “might be a great fit” for an adaption of the source novel.
During the acceptance speech, Rash decided to strike the same pose as the award’s presenter, Angelina Jolie who was showing off a lot of leg. “Honestly, as soon as I saw her pose like that, I was like, ‘I’m going to do that,'” Rash told Entertainment Weekly. “I knew Alexander [Payne] was going to take the reins, so I was like, ‘How can I make a moment?’ — selfishly.'” He added, “I almost thought it was a little Dean Pelton, somehow. I was bringing it all together.” Classic Dean Pelton.
The media quickly pounced on the pose and accused the actor of making fun of Jolie. He made sure people knew that wasn’t the case. “I just saw her pose and I thought, you know what, we have exactly the same legs,” he told Us Weekly. “And I wanted to show everyone what it meant. It was a loving tribute.”
Kevin Costner won Best Director for his directorial debut Dances With Wolves
Kevin Costner is one of those actors who has seemingly been around forever. With over 63 acting credits to his name, the man has played everything from Superman’s dad in “Man of Steel” to Whitney Houston’s boyfriend in “The Bodyguard.”
But at the 63rd Academy Awards in 1991, Costner was king for the night, winning Best Director and Best Picture for his directorial debut “Dances With Wolves.” While winning Best Director for your first feature is an amazing feat in itself, Costner was competing against such directing legends as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Stephen Frears. What a night indeed.
Costner hasn’t won an Oscar since, but the impact of “Dances With Wolves” lives on as new generations are discovering it for the first time. “I’ve been seeing messages from a lot of you watching Dances With Wolves for the first time since it’s on Netflix,” Costner wrote in an Instagram post in 2021. “I love the renewed interest in what will always be one of the most personal projects I’ve ever worked on. If you’re a first timer, tell me in the comments!”
Anna Paquin won an Oscar at 11 years old
When you think of Anna Paquin, the first things that might come to mind are her roles as Sookie Stackhouse in “True Blood” or as the mutant Rogue in the X-Men franchise. All those opportunities came after one night in 1994 when Paquin won Best Supporting Actress for “The Piano” when she was just 11 years old, beating out the likes of Winona Ryder, Emma Thompson, Rosie Perez, and her “The Piano” co-star, Holly Hunter (via Oscars). Paquin was visibly shocked when her name was called and still couldn’t believe it when the trophy was in her hand. It was adorable.
During a 2019 interview with The Guardian, Paquin was asked to name her greatest career achievement. Her answer might surprise you. “I hope that’s yet to come. My Oscar? That was a combination of Holly Hunter being an amazing actress, Jane being an extraordinary director and me being in the right place at the right time,” she said. “I had no idea what I was doing. It’s given me this amazing life, but it’s not the highlight of my career.”
The talented actress told Stuff in 2019 that she doesn’t really remember that night and compared it looking at a photo of herself as a child. “I have that experience of thinking, ‘do I remember that birthday, or have I just looked at that picture enough times?'” she said.
Peter Calpadi won an Oscar for a short film in 1995
“As Franz Kafka struggles to come up with the opening line to his new novel, “Metamorphosis,” the reclusive writer finds himself involved in a series of bizarre interruptions from laughter at a Christmas party downstairs to a vagrant in search of his pet cockroach.” That’s the synopsis for what won “Dr. Who” himself, Peter Capaldi, the Best Short Film (Live Action) Oscar in 1995 for his darkly humorous 24-minute short, “Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life” (via TCM).
Written and directed by Capaldi for $30,000, the film starred British acting legend Richard E. Grant (via Roger Ebert). Den of Geek said of the film, “Richard E. Grant is superb as the tortured writer, so riddled by anxieties he shudders through scenes like a stop-motion marionette. Most of all, this short shows that Peter Capaldi isn’t just a great Doctor, he’s a great director as well.”
During an appearance on “The Graham Norton Show” in 2017, Capaldi revealed that his flight back to London was economy and he thought he could use his Oscar to get a free upgrade. “I thought ‘if I turn up at the Los Angeles and place my Oscar [on the counter], surely I’ll get upgraded,'” he said. “I didn’t.” Hey, worth a shot.
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's Good Will Hunting was almost something completely different
It’s hard to imagine a world where Matt Damon and Ben Affleck aren’t huge Hollywood stars, but before their massive commercial success as actors, the pair won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1997 for their low-budget indie drama, “Good Will Hunting.” However, the touching drama about a genius college janitor who works out his demons with the help of a compassionate therapist (played by the late and always great Robin Williams) was almost a completely different movie.
“We came up with this idea of the brilliant kid and his townie friends, where he was special and the government wanted to get their mitts on him … where the kids from Boston were giving the NSA the slip all the time,” Affleck told Boston magazine in 2013. “At the time we imagined the professor and the shrink would be Morgan Freeman and De Niro, so we’d do our imitations of Freeman and De Niro. It was kind of hopelessly naive and probably really embarrassing in that respect.”
In 2019, Damon told People that his kids refuse to watch the film that made their dad a Hollywood power player. “I am kind of trying to force them, it’s not working,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to see Good Will Hunting? You know your dad and Uncle Ben wrote it, right?’ ‘Yeah, dad, I know.’ It’s like, ‘Nope.'”
Jennifer Hudson's Oscar for her film debut ratcheted up the pressure
Three years after being a finalist on “American Idol,” Jennifer Hudson won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in her film debut as the spurned Effie White in the musical drama, “Dreamgirls.” Featuring a truly all-star cast, it was Hudson who stole the show and her life changed forever. However, Hudson was so new to the movie business that when she auditioned for the part she had no idea what the process even entailed. “I didn’t even know what a screen test was at the time,” she said (via Entertainment Weekly).
She revealed that she felt no pressure during filming because she was surrounded by megastars. “I felt as if I’m good because no one’s looking for me,” she explained. “You got all these megastars in it from Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Beyoncé Knowles, and Jamie Foxx — no one’s thinking about me. So I was able to do my work without having any pressure.”
That all changed after she took home the trophy, because where do you go after you win an Oscar for your very first movie? Speaking to 9Honey Celebrity in 2020 to promote “Cats,” Hudson admitted that “pressures do come because people have that expectation” of Oscar-worthy performance. “And you’re like ‘but that was a whole ‘nother character, that was a whole ‘nother production’ and I even had to tell myself that,” she said.
Diablo Cody wouldn't write Juno today
Stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody burst on the scene in 2007 with the release of “Juno.” The script for the comedy-drama about a teenager dealing with an unwanted pregnancy earned Cody the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, but she also faced criticism from those who thought her dialogue was unrealistic. “I think teenage girls deserve a better shake in cinema,” she told Entertainment Weekly that year. “God knows people might say the dialogue in ‘Juno’ is too stylized, but I’ve met so many hyper-articulate teenage girls who are not just shallow and image-obsessed.” Take that.
During a 2019 appearance on the Crooked Media “Keep It!” podcast, Cody lamented that in today’s political climate of constant anti-choice legislation, she would have never written the script that won her the coveted gold statue, because the pro-choice message of the film would be twisted to promote a conservative agenda since the main character chooses to keep the baby. “I don’t even know if I would have written a movie like ‘Juno’ if I had known that the world was going to spiral into this hellish alternate reality that we now seem to be stuck in,” Cody explained (via Deadline). “I think I probably would have just told a different story in general. She added, “I wasn’t thinking as an activist; I wasn’t thinking politically at all.”
Three 6 Mafia made history
In one of the most shocking moments in Oscar history, Tennessee-based Three 6 Mafia became the first hip-hop group to win Best Original Song for the track “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” in the 2006 drama “Hustle & Flow.” Fun fact: they beat out Dolly Parton. Speaking to Variety in 2021, Juicy J and DJ Paul (above posing with Common), reflected on their improbable Oscar win. “We was up against Dolly Parton, how is Three 6 Mafia gonna beat Dolly Parton? I don’t know if you can see it on [the video] but I’m nervous as f**k, movin’ my thumbs and biting my lips. Then they called our names,” Juicy J said.
“We went crazy, we was happy as hell. My lawyer/manager at the time had given me a piece of paper with a list of people to thank, but I threw it away because I was like, ‘We’re not gonna win,” DJ Paul added. “But I wished I still had it because [in the acceptance speech], I named everybody in the world except for people who had something to do with it … I named George Clooney just because he was cool when I met him.” We wish he hadn’t thrown that piece of paper away.
Cher had a busy 1987
Cher was barely 21 years old when she had #1 hit single “I Got You Babe” as part of the folk-rock duo Sonny & Cher. After selling over 80 million albums, Cher went solo in the ’70s and had even more hits, then transitioned into acting, earning a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the 1983 drama, “Silkwood.”
A short five years later, Cher would head back to the Academy Awards once again, but this time she would take home the Best Actress Oscar for 1987’s “Moonstruck.” She also released a platinum album that year. No biggie.
During a 2020 interview with The New York Times, Cher reflected on her experience making the landmark film. “‘Moonstruck’ is special,” she said. “It’s when everything is right. And I can look back — I’m actually looking outside right now, but I can look back and remember so many moments of it. And it was because we were always together. And we really got along. Really, really got along. We just loved each other.”
Marisa Tomei's Oscar win started a conspiracy theory that lasted for over a decade
When you think Oscar bait, the 1992 courtroom comedy “My Cousin Vinny” wouldn’t be the first film that came to mind. So when Marisa Tomei was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mona Lisa Vito, the fasting talking New Yorker with an encyclopedic knowledge of cars, she was immediately considered the dark horse competing against such heavy hitters like Vanessa Redgrave and Miranda Richardson.
Tomei, who only had six film credits to her name at the time and was best known for a sitcom, pulled off the upset win and took home the Oscar. What should have been a proud achievement for the actress turned sour when a conspiracy theory floated the idea that presenter Jack Palance read the wrong name on the card. This was immediately shot down by the Academy, with a spokesman saying, “It’s the policy of the Academy that should wrong information be given, a Price Waterhouse rep is empowered to go on stage and make the correction” (via Entertainment Weekly).
The conspiracy theory was so pervasive that even Snopes had to debunk it, while claiming the rumor was started by the “former son-in-law of a distinguished Academy Award winner.” Anyway, the joke’s on that guy, because Tomei has earned two nominations since then and has enjoyed a remarkable career.
Brad Pitt's first Oscar wasn't for acting
Brad Pitt has been a Hollywood star for most of his adult life, so it was great to see him finally being recognized for his onscreen talents by winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as stuntman/awesome best friend in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” in 2020.
But that wasn’t Pitt’s first time stepping on the Oscar stage holding an award. That happened in 2014 when he accepted the Best Picture Oscar as a producer for the period-drama “12 Years a Slave.” The film’s director Steve McQueen thanked Pitt during his acceptance speech, saying that without Pitt, “this film just would have just not have been made.”
During an interview with Today in 2013, Pitt said that this type of story was why he “got into film in the first place.” He added, “It’s one of those few films that cuts to the base of our humanity.” With over 60 producing credits to his name at the time of this writing, Pitt’s words aren’t just words. He has produced some of the most important films of the last decade including, “Moonlight,” “Selma,” “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” and “Minari.”
Gwyneth Paltrow's Best Actress win caused controversy
Long before her controversial Goop days and not remembering that she was in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Gwyneth Paltrow’s career ranged from Spielberg’s studio blockbuster “Hook” to gritty crime dramas like “Se7en” and “Flesh and Bone.” But in 1998, Paltrow became a household name by starring in five films that year, including the critically-acclaimed and box-office smash, “Shakespeare In Love.”
Paltrow earned Best Actress for 1998 romantic period comedy-drama film that sparked controversy as many believed Cate Blanchett should have won for her role as Elizabeth I in “Elizabeth.” The film also won Best Picture over the highly-favored “Saving Private Ryan.” Regardless, Paltrow became a star overnight and had difficulty adjusting to her newfound fame. “I remember I was staying with my parents at their house in Santa Monica and I just kind of hid for three weeks afterward,” she told People in 2021. “It was so intense. Lonely is the right word, it was really strange.”
The “Iron Man” actress admitted that after her win, “part of the shine of acting wore off,” and the public scrutiny made her feel like a fraud. “You’re also kind of embarrassed that you’re nominated for an Oscar and you have imposter syndrome and you think, ‘I can’t even believe this is happening. I’m not even that good. Does everybody hate me?'” she mused.
Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie scored big with The Muppets
Bret McKenzie, one half of the New Zealand comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, took home the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2012 for “Man or Muppet” off the “The Muppets” soundtrack. Speaking to Popsugar after his win, McKenzie acknowledged the pressure to write a memorable song for a beloved franchise that has churned out some iconic ones.
“A friend of mine said, when I got the job of working on the film, ‘You’ll never write another ‘Rainbow Connection,'” he explained. “And I said, ‘You’re right.’ And I didn’t. ‘Rainbow Connection’ didn’t win an Oscar, but there’s no doubt that their song is an absolutely timeless classic, and this song is nothing in comparison.”
McKenzie said he was ready to use his Oscar win to roast his Flight of the Conchords co-star, Jemaine Clement, when it was time for them to write again. “Because I’ll be able to pull out the Oscar card and say ‘Mmm, I think we should use this chord . . .’ and ‘I won an Oscar!’
Nicolas Cage once beat out Anthony Hopkins for Best Actor
For the last 20 years or so, you could make the case that Nicolas Cage signs on to projects without reading the script, making it easy to forget that one time he was one of Hollywood’s most successful actors. That all culminated in 1996 when he won Best Actor for his heartbreaking portrayal of an alcoholic on a quest to drink himself to death in the bleak “Leaving Las Vegas.” Beating out such powerhouses like Anthony Hopkins and Sean Penn for the coveted award, Cage used his acceptance speech to show his love for the art and his hopes for what it could be. “I know it’s not hip to say it, but I just love acting, and I hope that there’ll be more encouragement for alternative movies where we can experiment and fast forward into the future of acting,” he said.
During a 2012 Moviefone Q&A (via Vanity Fair), Cage stated that winning awards isn’t his goal. “I think that if you go about making movies to win Oscars, you’re really going about it the wrong way,” he said. “I think that it’s … right now, what I’m excited about is trying to create a [pauses] kind of a cultural understanding through my muse that is part of the zeitgeist that isn’t motivated by vanity or magazine covers or awards.” He added, “I would like to find a way to embrace what Led Zeppelin did, in filmmaking.” Never change, Nic.
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