The Legacy of the Oscars: A look back at the Academy Awards

The Oscars, officially known as The Academy Awards, represent the pinnacle of achievement in the film industry, showcasing a storied history that spans over 90 years.

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This prestigious event was conceived in 1927 during a dinner at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, attended by 36 influential figures from the industry, leading to the creation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The beginnings

The first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929, at a private dinner at the same hotel, with less than 300 guests. At this inaugural event, awards were presented in 12 categories, recognizing films produced from 1927 to 1928.

The Oscars were designed to celebrate excellence in cinematic achievements as assessed by the Academy’s voting membership. Over the years, the number of categories has expanded to more than 20, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress, among others.

The Design

The design of the Oscar statuette—a knight holding a crusader’s sword, standing on a reel of film—has become an iconic symbol of cinematic success. The statuette was officially dubbed “Oscar” in 1939, although the origins of the nickname are not definitively known, with several Hollywood legends claiming credit.

Initially, the results of the awards were provided to newspapers for publication at 11 p.m. on the night of the ceremony. This changed in 1940 when the Los Angeles Times published the winners in its evening edition before the ceremony began, leading the Academy to adopt a sealed envelope system that is still in use today.

Criticism

The Oscars have not been without controversy, including criticisms over lack of diversity, voting processes, and representation. Notable moments, such as the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, have spurred ongoing discussions about inclusivity and recognition in the industry. In response, the Academy has made efforts to diversify its membership and reform its policies.

The ceremony itself has evolved from a small, industry-only gathering to a global event watched by millions, featuring red carpet arrivals, musical performances, and heartfelt acceptance speeches. It has celebrated countless memorable moments, such as the first color film to win Best Picture, “Gone with the Wind” in 1939, and the first film not in the English language to win Best Picture, “Parasite” in 2020.

The history of the Oscars is a reflection of the changes in the film industry and society at large, marking achievements and setting benchmarks for excellence. As the film industry continues to evolve, the Oscars remain a testament to the enduring power of storytelling and the magic of cinema.

Notable wins throughout history

  1. Katharine Hepburn – Won 4 Oscars, all for Best Actress in Leading Roles for her performances in “Morning Glory” (1933), “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967), “The Lion in Winter” (1968), and “On Golden Pond” (1981).
  2. Walt Disney – Holds the record for the most Oscars with 22 wins from 59 nominations, primarily in categories related to animation and documentary films, including awards for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (an honorary award in 1938) and numerous Best Animated Short Film Oscars.
  3. John Ford – Won 4 Oscars for Best Director, more than anyone else in this category, for “The Informer” (1935), “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940), “How Green Was My Valley” (1941), and “The Quiet Man” (1952).
  4. Meryl Streep – Has been awarded 3 Oscars, including two for Best Actress in a Leading Role for “Sophie’s Choice” (1982) and “The Iron Lady” (2011), and one for Best Supporting Actress for “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979).
  5. Daniel Day-Lewis – Won 3 Oscars for Best Actor in a Leading Role for “My Left Foot” (1989), “There Will Be Blood” (2007), and “Lincoln” (2012), the most wins in this category.
  6. Ingrid Bergman – Won 3 Oscars; two for Best Actress in a Leading Role for “Gaslight” (1944) and “Anastasia” (1956), and one for Best Supporting Actress for “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974).
  7. Jack Nicholson – Has won 3 Oscars; two for Best Actor in a Leading Role for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) and “As Good as It Gets” (1997), and one for Best Supporting Actor for “Terms of Endearment” (1983).
  8. Edith Head – Won 8 Oscars for Best Costume Design, more than any other costume designer, for films like “The Heiress” (1949), “Samson and Delilah” (1950), “All About Eve” (1950), and “The Sting” (1973).
  9. Alfred Newman – Won 9 Oscars for Best Original Score for movies such as “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (1938), “The Song of Bernadette” (1943), and “Camelot” (1967), among others.
  10. Dennis Muren – Has won 9 Oscars, mostly for his work in visual effects, including awards for his contributions to “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982), and “Jurassic Park” (1993).