For more than 90 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has rewarded excellence on the big screen. Over the decades, there have been a lot of "first"s (and some "first and only"s) as the Academy Awards have grown and evolved. Here are 15 of them.
1. First Black Artist To Win An Oscar: Hattie McDaniel
In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American artist to be nominated for an Oscar—then the first to win an Oscar—when she took home the Best Supporting Actress statuette for her performance in Gone with the Wind. Nearly a quarter-century later, in 1964, Sidney Poitier became the first African American actor to win a Best Actor Academy Award for playing Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field.
2. First Actor To Refuse An Oscar: George C. Scott
In 1971, George C. Scott refused both the nomination and eventual win for Best Actor in Patton. Scott sent the academy a telegram saying that he refused to accept the nomination because he disliked the voting process and felt that competing against his fellow actors was artistically wrong. When his name was announced as the winner, Scott was asleep at home with his family in upstate New York. When asked about refusing the Academy Award a few days after the ceremony, Scott replied that he had "no feeling about it one way or another."
3. First Person To Present Him/Herself With An Oscar: Norma Shearer
During the third Academy Awards in 1931, Norma Shearer was the presenter for the Best Actress category. Shearer was nominated for two Oscars in the Best Actress category that year, and she won the award for her role in The Divorcee (which she had to announce, rather awkwardly). It was the last time a nominated actor presented an Oscar for his or her own category.
4. First Color Movie To Win A Best Picture Oscar: Gone With The Wind
In 1938, A Star Is Born became the first all-color movie to receive a Best Picture nomination. Two years later, Gone with the Wind became the first color movie to win the award. It took a long time for Hollywood to fully embrace the technology; it wasn't until 1956 that all five Best Picture nominees were color movies.
5. First Person Named Oscar To Win An Oscar: Oscar Hammerstein II
Composer Oscar Hammerstein II was the first person named "Oscar" to win an Oscar. Hammerstein won two Academy Awards throughout his career, one for the song "The Last Time I Saw Paris" from Lady Be Good in 1942 and another for "It Might As Well Be Spring" from State Fair in 1946.
6. First Televised Awards Ceremony: The 25th Academy Awards
The first Oscar ceremony to be televised was the 25th Academy Awards in 1953. The event was simulcast in black and white from both the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, with Bob Hope as host, and the NBC International Theatre, with Fredric March, in New York City.
In 1966, the Academy Awards ceremony was broadcast in color for the first time on ABC.
7. First X-Rated Movie To Win A Best Picture Oscar: Midnight Cowboy
The first and only X-rated movie to win Best Picture was Midnight Cowboy in 1970. In 1972, A Clockwork Orange was the last X-rated movie to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. In 1990, the MPAA moved away from the "X" rating because of its association with pornographic films and instead introduced the "NC-17" rating for movies with graphic sex and violence.
8. First Sequel To Be Named Best Picture: The Godfather: Part II
In 1975, The Godfather: Part II became the first sequel to win an Oscar for Best Picture, two years after the original won the same award. The Silence of the Lambs and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King would follow The Godfather: Part II as sequels that also won Best Picture Oscars.
9. First Woman To Win A Best Picture Oscar: Julia Phillips
In 1974, Julia Phillips accepted the Oscar for Best Picture for The Sting, alongside Tony Bill and her then-husband/producing partner, Michael Phillips. The film's success paved the way for Julia and Michael to make Taxi Driver just two years later; in 1977, they earned another Best Picture nomination for the dark Martin Scorsese classic.
10. First Woman To Be Named Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow
In 2010, after 82 years of Academy Awards, Kathryn Bigelow became the first female filmmaker to win the Best Director Oscar. She won for directing The Hurt Locker, which also ended up winning Best Picture.
Only six other women have been nominated for Best Director Oscars: Italian director Lina Wertmüller was nominated for Seven Beauties in 1977, Jane Campion was nominated for The Piano in 1993, Sofia Coppola was nominated for Lost in Translation in 2004, and Greta Gerwig was nominated for Lady Bird in 2018. In 2020, for the first time, two female directors received nods: Emerald Fennell for A Promising Young Woman and Chloé Zhao for Nomadland.
11. First Best Picture Nominee To Be Released On Home Video Before The Oscars Ceremony: The Silence Of The Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs was the first Best Picture nominee to be released on home video (VHS and laserdisc) before the start of the awards ceremony. The movie was released in theaters on February 14, 1991 and on VHS on October 24, about four months before the Oscars telecast in 1992. It was also the first horror film to win Best Picture.
12. First Animated Film To Earn A Best Picture Nomination: Beauty And The Beast
Although it didn’t win the award, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) was the first animated movie to receive a nomination for Best Picture. Since then, Pixar's Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) have also received Best Picture nominations. In 2001, the Academy introduced a Best Animated Feature Film category.
13. First Actor To Receive Two Nominations For The Same Role: Barry Fitzgerald
In 1945, Barry Fitzgerald became the first and only actor to ever be nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for the same role, for playing Father Fitzgibbon in Going My Way (he ended up winning the latter). AMPAS later changed the rules and guidelines for acting nominations, so that a double nomination couldn’t happen again.
14. First Actor To Win A Posthumous Award: Peter Finch
Peter Finch was the first actor to win an Academy Award posthumously. He received the Best Actor Oscar in 1977 for his electrifying performance as TV anchor Howard Beale in Network. Finch died of a heart attack on January 14, 1977, less than three months before the ceremony.
In 1956, James Dean was nominated posthumously for his performances in Giant and East of Eden, but didn’t win.
Prior to Finch’s acting honor, others had been awarded posthumous Oscars for screenwriting, composing, art directing, and producing. Actor Heath Ledger was the second actor to win an Oscar posthumously for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight. In 2021, the late Chadwick Boseman was nominated for Best Actor for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but lost to Anthony Hopkins for his performance in The Father.
15. First 3D film(s) To Earn Best Picture Nominations: Avatar And Up
Though the 3D format has been around since 1915, it took until 2010 for the first stereoscopic film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. And it was a big year for the format, as it wasn't just one 3D film that earned the Oscars' top nod—there were two of them: James Cameron's Avatar and Pete Docter and Bob Peterson's Up (ultimately, both films lost to Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker).