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Ranking The Oscar Hosts: The Importance of Not Being Franco

From Seth MacFarlane to Steve Martin, we list the Oscar hosts of the last 25 years from worst to best

james franco anne hathaway oscars host

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Hosting the Oscars is a tough gig. Oscar Night is always the highest-rated non-sports TV event of the year, so people really notice when the host sucks. You have to dress up. You have to smile. You celebrate the stars, the movies, the ridiculousness of it all. You stay away from jokes about the show running long, those wacky technical categories or George Clooney's date. You let the moment happen. And it really helps if you aren't James Franco.

So here's a breakdown of the Oscar hosts of the past 25 years, ranked from worst to best. Some of these hosts hit historic highs. Others Franco'd. And one of them Uma-meet-Oprah'd. Nobody wants to see that again. So good luck Sunday night, Ellen. But you won't need it – you could sit on the stage and cry for four hours and you'll still be more fun than last year.

by ROB SHEFFIELD

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12. Seth MacFarlane (2013)

So sweet: The Make-a-Wish Foundation decided to grant the request of some precocious child ravaged by terminal doucheness by letting him take over Hollywood's biggest night. Oh no, wait – that's Seth MacFarlane! He opened with a month of skits about what a big deal he is, unwise considering he wasn't one of the hundred (or two hundred) most famous people in the room. He sang. He danced. He told jokes about how he can't tell black guys apart. At the end, when Argo won Best Picture, they cut away before producer George Clooney could say "thank you" because Seth needed time to sing one more show tune. What a tool.

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11. Eddie Murphy (never)

He bailed right before the 2012 ceremony, which means he deprived us of the joy of watching him bail during the ceremony. I mean, he's the guy who got nominated for Best Supporting Actor, came unglued when he didn't win, and so walked out in the middle of the show. It would have been a blast to see him stomp off the Oscars. ("Wait, they didn't nominate me for Sound Mixing?") But alas, he threw his I'm-outta-here tantrum with a couple months notice, giving them time to call Billy Crystal again. Yeah, thanks for that, Eddie.

 

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10. James Franco & Anne Hathaway (2011)

Who doesn't wake up in the morning sometimes and say, "Damn it, kiddo, you are just going to have to Anne Hathaway through this day"? Her eyes. They haunt me. The fear. The pain. The way her trembling lashes seemed to plead, "Why? Why is this happening to me? What is wrong with Franco? Why is he standing there like he just drank a Malibu-and-Klonopin smoothie? Did he die? Did we both die and this is purgatory? Hey, look, people – my dress is sparkly! It swishes like this!" It was like those scenes in Don't Look Back where Dylan is freezing out Joan Baez and she's desperately trying to get his attention. No man has treated an Anne Hathaway this shabbily in public since Shakespeare died and left his wife his second-best bed. Hathaway, your strength inspires me. Everything nice that ever happens to you forever is fine by me.

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9. Steve Martin & Alec Baldwin (2010)

Steve Martin was a lot funnier hosting without this guy. Remember the Vince Neil solo hit "You're Invited But Your Friend Can't Come"? Like that.

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8. Hugh Jackman (2009)

Hugh would be an easy Number One if we're ranking Oscar hosts on how fast they make your mom lock herself in the bedroom after asking if you have any extra AA batteries. But his song-and-dance razzle was a little corny for the Oscars, and I say that as an unrepentant Viva Laughlin fan. His greatest Oscar moment came last year: When Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence stumbled on her way up the stairs, Hugh valiantly leaped from his seat to catch her. Now that's a true star.

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7. David Letterman (1995)

Dave is famous for never getting stuck in a situation he doesn't control – and here's why, because he was clearly out of his element hosting an event that had nothing to do with him. (The big moment of Dave's movie career was his cameo in Cabin Boy, which he kept mocking all night.) He's never stopped joking about what a flop this was, especially the legendarily unfunny "Oprah, Uma" gag. But to be honest, what really sucked at the Oscars that year was Forrest Gump.

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6. Ellen DeGeneres (2007)

This was the Oscar ceremony that only existed for one purpose – give Scorsese his damn statue already. That mission got accomplished, allowing us all to move forward with our lives, but Marty worship aside, Oscar Night was a godawful mess. It wasn't Ellen's fault – she just got trapped in a slog of dancing mimes and endless montages. (Remember the scene in Raging Bull when De Niro says, "You overcook it, it's no good – it defeats its own purpose"? That's how the night felt.) Al Gore wasn't just the guest of honor – he was the life of the party. But like she did on American Idol, Ellen kept her game face in a bad situation, even when she was vacuuming in the aisles. Prediction: She'll be ten times funnier on Sunday night. Let's just say she has an easy act to follow.

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5. Whoopi Goldberg (1994, 1996, 1999, 2002)

Whoopi went 3 for 4 – 2002 was the year she didn't bring her Full Whoopi game. But part of the gig is thinking on your feet, and that was Whoopi's specialty. Her greatest hit was 1999 – the year of the infamous Shakespeare In Love vs. Saving Private Ryan battle. She turned Roberto Benigni's slobbering shtick into a riotous gag all night. She also made a famous entrance dressed as Queen Elizabeth I: "Good evening, loyal subjects – I am the African Queen." Then after removing the makeup, she asked, "Who knew it was this hard to get a virgin off your face?"

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4. Jon Stewart (2006, 2008)

This guy knew how to host – make a few jokes, then get out of the movie stars' way. The 2006 Oscar show is the one everybody remembers for "It's Hard Out There For a Pimp," and the reason we remember is Stewart knew how to milk that moment. He handled the surprises like a pro – first when Three Six Mafia performed ("I think it just got a little easier out here for a pimp"), then when they won Best Song in a shocker upset and gave their instant-classic acceptance speech. "That's how you accept an Oscar," Stewart raved. "For those of you keeping score at home: Martin Scorsese, zero; Three Six Mafia, one."

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3. Billy Crystal (1990-1993, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2012)

Weird as it seems to remember now, Billy Crystal used to host this bitch every year because he killed every year. He made Oscar Night the event it is today. Starting in 1990, he rescued a franchise that was doddering and decrepit – the "Rob Lowe sings a duet with Snow White" years – with his shameless Mr. Saturday Night shtick, right down to his show-tune medleys. His Baseball Reference page would look a little like Frank Thomas's – monster seasons all through the 1990s, then a few sad years after 2000 when he can't lift the bat. (In the new TCM doc about the Oscars, it takes six whole minutes for Billy to make his trademark "hey, the show sure runs long" joke.) So you have to dock him for those last three go-rounds, especially his 2012 fiasco. But Frank Thomas is going to Cooperstown this summer, and Billy's a Hall of Famer as well.

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2. Steve Martin (2001, 2003)

"Hosting the Oscars is like making love to a beautiful woman. It's something I only get to do when Billy Crystal's out of town." Steve Martin turned on the Cary Grant charm for his Oscar gigs, responding to surprises like Michael Moore's fiery speech about the Iraq War. ("It was so sweet backstage, you should have seen it – the Teamsters were just helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo.") He understood the occasion, without taking it too seriously, and gave the Oscars some dignity on a night when Best Picture went to freaking Gladiator. Best line: "It's not easy to keep a marriage going in Hollywood because, well, we sleep with so many different people."

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1. Chris Rock (2005)

The greatest award-show host ever – his first two shots at the VMAs (1997 and 1999) are the Godfather I and II of the art form. (And his 2003 gig was the Goodfellas.) He brought the pain to the Oscars, skewering Hollywood glitz while also celebrating it, even if he hurt Sean Penn's feelings. ("There's only four real stars. The rest are just popular people. Clint Eastwood is a star. That's a star. Tobey Maguire is just a boy in tights.") He was on fire all night, like when he introduced Tim Robbins: "He thrills us with his acting, and he bores us with his politics!" (Robbins, who can take a joke, just laughed and flipped him off.) A sweet sentimental note at the end: Rock yelled, "Brooook-lyyyyn!" Mic drop. Needless to say, they never let him host again.

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