Menu Join now Search

Most Surprising Oscar-Winning Performances of All Time

Most of the time it's fairly easy to predict which actors will be nominated for an Oscar, especially during years when long-time Academy favorites star in prominent films. Occasionally, however, an unlikely candidate will not only earn a nomination but take home the Oscar itself. Here are some of the most surprising and memorable Oscar moments.

Anna Paquin

1 / 15

VIEW ALL

Adorable 11-year-old Anna Paquin was clearly shocked when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was played the daughter of Holly Hunter's character in the 1993 period drama The Piano, which was only Paquin's second film.

Cher

2 / 15

VIEW ALL

Cher is most famous for her singing career, but she has turned in some impressive acting over the years—including her Oscar-winning performance in Moonstruck, for which she won Best Actress in 1988.

John Wayne

3 / 15

VIEW ALL

Although John Wayne was among the most popular stars in Hollywood, he was not considered a great actor. So, it was surprising when he beat out Richard Burton and Dustin Hoffman to win Best Actor for True Grit in 1970.

Adrien Brody

4 / 15

VIEW ALL

29-year-old Adrien Brody could not contain his excitement when he became the youngest man to win Best Actor (he starred in the 2002 drama The Pianist). He was so enthusiastic that he planted a big kiss on award presenter Halle Berry.

Marisa Tomei

5 / 15

VIEW ALL

Two things were surprising about Marisa Tomei's Best Supporting Actress win for My Cousin Vinny in 1993: the fact that she won for a comedic role and her age. Tomei was just 26 at the time of filming.

Roberto Benigni

6 / 15

VIEW ALL

Who could forget Roberto Benigni's exuberant reaction to winning Best Actor for Life Is Beautiful? The win was particularly impressive since Benigni was virtually unknown in America before his starring role in this compelling 1999 dramedy.

Ginger Rogers

7 / 15

VIEW ALL

Classic film star Ginger Rogers is best remembered for being Fred Astaire's dance partner in a number of glittering musicals, but she was also a talented dramatic actress. She won Best Actress for Kitty Foyle in 1941.

Jean Dujardin

8 / 15

VIEW ALL

No one would've expected a silent movie to debut in 2012, but French film The Artist proved be a critical and box office success. Lead actor Jean Dujardin took home the Oscar.

Goldie Hawn

9 / 15

VIEW ALL

Goldie Hawn has delivered many impressive acting performances over the years, but when she won Best Supporting Actress for Cactus Flower in 1970, she hadn't yet shaken her image as a ditzy sex kitten.

Robin Williams

10 / 15

VIEW ALL

Robin Williams was always admired for his comic genius, but his gift for dramatic acting was acknowledged when he won Best Supporting Actor for his role as a psychologist in 1997's Good Will Hunting.

Tatum O'Neal

11 / 15

VIEW ALL

The youngest person to ever win a competitive Oscar was 10-year-old Tatum O'Neal in 1974 for her career-defining performance as the precocious Addie, opposite her father Ryan O'Neal, in the quirky Depression-era flick Paper Moon.

Nicolas Cage

12 / 15

VIEW ALL

His performances in a multitude of popular action-adventure flicks and wacky comedies eclipse Nicolas Cage's more serious work, like his Oscar-winning lead role as desperate alcoholic Ben Sanderson in the 1995 drama Leaving Las Vegas.

Kim Basinger

13 / 15

VIEW ALL

For years the strikingly beautiful Kim Basinger was known for her ultra-sexy roles. Her performance as one of these femme fatales, Lynn Bracken, in L.A. Confidential earned her Best Supporting Actress in 1998.

Whoopi Goldberg

14 / 15

VIEW ALL

Looking at Whoopi Goldberg's resume, it appears that she really can do it all. Her acting talent, which is often overshadowed by her comedic skills, was validated when she won Best Supporting Actress in 1991 for Ghost.

Matthew McConaughey

15 / 15

VIEW ALL

It wasn't that surprising when Matthew McConaughey won Best Actor for his critically acclaimed performance in Dallas Buyers Club, but it's pretty impressive considering his best-known movie for several years prior to that picture was Magic Mike.

More You'll Love

Close