During the 2016 Academy Awards, Oscar winners won’t be able to get away with forgetting to thank their partners.
For the first time in the history of the show, a pre-prepared thank-you scroll will run across the bottom of the screen when winners are announced during the ABC telecast on Feb. 28. In hopes of providing the audience at home with more memorable acceptance speeches (instead of a laundry list of thank-yous), the Academy is essentially ushering in the end to an era of actors and actresses who fail to mention a loved one in the overwhelming moment.
The Hollywood Reporter went through 30 years’ worth of acceptance speeches — every acting award given from 1986 to 2015, 120 in all — and confirmed that of the 90 winners who were married or in a relationship during their Academy Award win, 32 did not thank their partners, and 60 percent ended up consciously uncoupling down the road. Out of the nearly two-thirds of those winners who thanked their partners in their acceptance speeches — 40 percent split anyway.
THR also found truth to the theory of an “Oscar love curse” — which suggests that women who win best actress typically go on to break up with their partner. In fact, more women than men ended up splitting after their Oscar win, as a whole, whether they thanked their partner or not.
While it can’t be determined whether the lack of or delivery of a thank-you has anything to do with the success of a relationship — Hollywood couples are not immune to the national divorce rate, which is estimated to be anywhere between 30 and 50 percent — history does suggest that winners who fail to thank their partners are more likely to split up than winners who do.
As history shows, omitting a significant other doesn’t go unnoticed. In the past, the absence or questionable wording of a thank-you to a movie star’s spouse or lover has stirred up gossip and speculation. It’s not unfounded: As THR has now learned, an omission can predict a split.
Hilary Swank is one winner whose speeches famously raised eyebrows. After forgetting to thank Chad Lowe when she won best actress for Boys Don’t Cry in 2000, Swank began her 2005 speech for Million Dollar Baby with loving words for her husband. “I’d like to think I learn from past mistakes,” she said. “Chad, you’re my everything.” Swank and Lowe finalized their divorce, in 2007, shortly after — and they aren’t the only ones.
MARRIED AND LONG-TERM COUPLES
A significant majority of the 90 winners were married, or had been dating the same person for at least five years, when they received an Academy Award. Among them, those who did acknowledge a partner in an acceptance speech had the best chance of not splitting up, with 64 percent remaining together after the awards show (until present day or the death of one partner).
However, among the married and long-term couples who neglected to mention a romantic partner or spouse in their speeches, the break-up rate rose by more than 10 percent, from 37 to 50 percent.
Consider the case of two-time best actor winner Sean Penn, who thanked then-wife Robin Wright when he won in 2004 for Mystic River, but did not thank the House of Cards star during his Milk win in 2009. The pair divorced in 2010.
Winners who had been dating a partner for less than five years at the time of their nomination were less likely to give thanks, but just over two-thirds of those who did thank their partner split up anyway.
This includes Julia Roberts, who thanked then-boyfriend Benjamin Bratt when she won best actress for Erin Brockovich in 2001. (The pair split later that year.)
Winners in short-term relationships who did not thank their partners fared even worse, with 80 percent splitting: Mira Sorvino (1996 best supporting actress, Mighty Aphrodite) failed to thank boyfriend Quentin Tarantino; Renee Zellweger (2004 best supporting actress, Cold Mountain) thanked her cast but not specifically beau Jack White; and Whoopi Goldberg (1991 best supporting actress, Ghost) made no mention of her date Timothy Dalton. This group is the only category in which more winners split with their partners than stayed together overall.
Of the 120 winners, 30 fell into an unclear category. In some cases, this meant the winner was single or not present to accept the award; in others, it meant the winner’s relationship fell into a gray area.
This includes Gwyneth Paltrow, who won best actress in 1999 for Shakespeare in Love. She split from boyfriend Ben Affleck shortly before the show, but thanked him as her “friend” in her speech. The pair was also seen together at the after-party (and were rumored to have rekindled later that year, before officially separating in 2000).
Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, who won for their supporting roles in 2008 and 2009, respectively, also fall into this category. The pair was snapped on vacation together on the Maldive Islands in October 2007, but they kept their relationship largely under wraps (until tying the knot in 2010) and neither winner thanked the other at the time.
And then there was Affleck himself when his movie Argo won for best picture in 2013. He doesn’t fall into the main acting categories, but is worth a mention since his speech remains one of today’s most-talked about. He did remember to thank Jennifer Garner, but in a way many considered to be a less-than-exuberant. “I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases,” he said. “It’s good, it is work, but it’s the best kind of work and there’s no one I’d rather work with!” The pair announced the end of their 10-year marriage last year.
ONE EXCEPTION: THE OSCAR LOVE CURSE
As for the recently popular theory of the “Oscar love curse,” there appears to be some truth. Out of the 24 best actress winners who were in public relationships since 1986, 15 of them ended up splitting from their partner, whether they thanked him or not — which makes a break-up rate of nearly 63 percent after receiving the award.
A handful of winners during the time period — including Jessica Lange (with Sam Shepard, whom she didn’t thank), Susan Sarandon (with Tim Robbins, whom she did thank) and Helen Hunt (with Hank Azaria, whom she did thank) — ended up splitting from their partner and then-Oscar date.
But, contrary to the overall findings, it doesn’t seem to matter if best actress winners expressed thanks: The majority of the winners who ended relationships after winning an Oscar actually did thank their partners in their acceptance speeches. Among best actor winners, those who thanked a partner had a better chance of staying together, with only one-third splitting up. The best actress winners didn’t have the same luck: 64 percent of women who thanked their partner split up anyway.
But it’s the more recent winners who inspired the “Oscar love curse” theory.
From 2000 and on, more than half of the best actress winners ended their relationships after their Oscar win. Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball, 2002) thanked then-husband Eric Benet and Charlize Theron (Monster, 2004) spoke to her former longtime boyfriend Stuart Townsend from the stage. Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, 2006) and Kate Winslet (The Reader, 2009) both thanked their husbands and then divorced in the year following their win; Witherspoon from Ryan Phillippe, Winslet from director Sam Mendes. Sandra Bullock did not mention then-husband Jesse James by name (though she gestured his way while talking about love) as she accepted the award for The Blind Side in 2010. The pair divorced later that same year.
Men who won best actor had a lower break-up rate of 44 percent. But in the same time-frame — from 2000 and on — only four of 13 winners ended their relationships post-Oscar, including Jean Dujardin (The Artist, 2012), who mentioned his wife Alexandra Lamy; and Russell Crowe (Gladiator, 2001), who did not thank his then-girlfriend (and later wife) Danielle Spencer.
On Feb. 28, the thank-you scroll is sure to change up the acceptance-speech moment, but the stats from 30 years of winners provides one clear piece of advice for those who do take the stage on 2016 Oscar night: It never hurts to give thanks.