The 12 Worst Oscars Hosts Ever
You never know what’s going to happen on Hollywood’s Biggest Night, and though most of us tune in just to see who wins what, there’s a lot more that goes into making the Oscars happen than simply handing out awards. Having a show to begin with, for example, and a live show of this caliber always needs a host who’s up for the job.
Hosting the Academy Awards is a tough gig, and though they’ve been doing this for almost a century, it’s rare that a host is deemed genuinely great at the job. From the second their comedic opening monologue or flashy musical number begins, the audience in the theater and at home know whether or not they’re going to be able to sit through a whole night of this. There have been a few winners: Bob Hope remains the pinnacle of what an Oscars host should aspire to, Billy Crystal reinvented the form for the modern era during his four-year run, and Hugh Jackman’s musical number still hits 25 years later.
That said, with great pressure comes even more opportunities to fail, and the most talked-about Oscars ceremonies are often the ones whose hosts completely bomb. Maybe their tone isn’t reverent enough, maybe their jokes don’t land, or maybe their chemistry with their co-hosts is off, but whatever the case, Oscars hosts have found seemingly infinite ways to be terrible at their jobs. Below are a few otherwise consummate professionals, experts in their fields, who gave the Oscars and their audience a night we’ll never forget—no matter how much the Academy wishes we would.
1995: David Letterman
“Oprah. Uma. Uma. Oprah.” So begins one of the worst nights of David Letterman’s career, the night he hosted the Oscars in 1995. The comedian and late night star kicked off his gig by playfully berating the orchestra for playing for too long, shot off a quick one-liner about Hoop Dreams, and then skipped from one end of the stage to the other, saying the names of Oprah and Uma Thurman over and over. “Have you kids met Keanu?” he added, to more perplexed laughter. It only went downhill from there, and Letterman, who said afterward that he was “perspiring” the whole night, kept bringing the weird name thing back up! Dubbed the “Oprah-Uma” broadcast thereafter, the 67th Academy Awards nonetheless attracted the highest ratings for the show since 1983, and the Academy even invited Letterman to host again (though he hasn’t taken them up on that yet).
2010: Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin
There was nothing truly terrible about Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin’s night at the 82nd Academy Awards in 2010. They simply had zero chemistry together. After an entrance fit for a Busby Berkeley musical number, with the co-hosts in tuxedos descending from the ceiling atop a shimmering orb, the rest of the night felt like watching a couple of amateurs bomb their first gig. Baldwin seemed nervous and jittery the whole night, and Martin slogged through all of his awkwardly written jokes. Maybe it was something about the audio recording, or maybe it was really that silent in the auditorium, but after the first five minutes no one at the ceremony seemed to be reacting at all to their material.
1983: Walter Matthau, Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, Richard Pryor
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The 1983 Oscars ceremony is reason enough to never start your show with an opening musical number if half of your hosts don’t know what they’re doing. It also proved that more does not always mean more when having four hosts wasn’t enough to save the night. Liza Minnelli nearly brought home the show’s terrible opening number, a jazzy show tune called “It All Comes Down to This,” but her professionalism wasn’t enough to wake up her co-hosts. Dudley Moore put up a good front responding to all of Minnelli’s cues, Richard Pryor mumbled through the entire song, and after a few bars Walter Matthau just sort of stood there looking lost.
2015: Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris attempted to punt the Oscars into the modern #woke era, to mostly mixed-to-bad results. His tongue-twisting opening musical number was good, if a little too Tonys, and from there it seemed to spiral out of control. The first joke of the night was a dig at the Academy’s lack of diversity—“We celebrate the best and the whitest—sorry, brightest”—that seemed less like self-aware humor and more like an influential Hollywood institution trying to compensate for itself. An endless stream of ill-timed jokes, including one about a documentary filmmaker’s dress delivered right after she dedicated her win to her late son and another about David Oyelowo’s British accent, gave the night a mean, uncomfortable edge.
We’re sort of cheating here, since 1989’s Oscars ceremony famously (or maybe infamously) went without a host for the first time ever, but the opening number is too catastrophic to be missed. A squeaky-voiced Snow White, played by actress Eileen Bowman, sings an Oscars-themed medley while shaking hands with the unlucky audience members in the front row, while a bunch of stars wearing high heels can-can onstage. The bit then segues to the “Cocoanut Grove,” where Roy Rogers, Cyd Charisse, and Vincent Price are trotted out amidst more sequined dancers, and culminates in an awkward duet between Snow White and her “blind date” Rob Lowe, fresh from his sex tape scandal the year prior. Frank Wells, president of Disney at the time, later told the Academy he was “very unhappy.”
1988: Chevy Chase
Chevy Chase was a hit when he co-hosted the 1987 Oscars with Goldie Hawn and Paul Hogan, but bombed the following year when the Academy had him do it all on his lonesome. Opening with a risky “Good evening, Hollywood phonies” that didn’t win him any friends in the audience, Chase and his material were seen as irritating and smarmy, prolonging the event even longer than was necessary. After bantering a bit with Paul Newman before the actor presented Cher with the Best Actress award for Moonstruck, Chase deliberately dropped his pants onstage. “Well, there’s something to be said for comedy,” Newman responded, cringing. It didn’t help that the Writers Guild of America was on strike that year and unable to provide any help streamlining the affair.
2011: Anne Hathaway and James Franco
Listen ... Anne Hathaway innocent. She and James Franco were an unusual match for co-hosts, and their onstage chemistry proved completely nonexistent. Though she started the show with an uncomfortably bug-eyed, “Oh my gosh, you’re all real,” Hathaway did her best to save the night when Franco decided he was just over the whole thing. Sullen and sulky, the actor gave absolutely nothing all night, forcing Hathaway to turn her excitement dial up way too many notches. The result is an uncomfortable watch, if you can watch it at all. We don’t recommend it!
2013: Seth MacFarlane
The good news: The Academy learned from past mistakes and got a guy who could actually sing to host their show and deliver a rousing opening number. The bad news: It was Seth MacFarlane. The prince of potty humor was such a risky choice for Hollywood’s biggest night that Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise himself beamed in from the future to stop it from happening in the show’s first moments. Nevertheless, MacFarlane persisted, and his big opening song, titled “We Saw Your Boobs,” called out every accomplished actress in the theater who had ever performed nude. No one could tell whether the reaction shots from Amy Adams and Charlize Theron hiding their faces were staged or not, and you could feel the audience and the public turning on MacFarlane almost immediately. Not even a chipper soft-shoe from Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt was enough to get the host back in everyone’s good graces, and MacFarlane’s effort as host is considered by many to be the worst the Academy ever got.