A look back at the best Oscars hosts of years gone by

While we are guessing who'll take a crack at it this year, we take a look at who’s made it work in the past

Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Oscars twice, in 2007 and 2014. AP Photo

The Oscars will have a host again this March after three hostless ceremonies, ABC Entertainment president Craig Erwich has announced. The glitzy annual event last featured a host when Jimmy Kimmel presided over a 2018 event at which Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water took the prize for Best Film.

The 2019 ceremony should have been fronted by Kevin Hart, but he was forced to stand down at short notice after a host of homophobic tweets resurfaced. The Oscars pressed ahead with no host that year, and after a surprise rise in viewing figures, opted to retain the format in 2020. But the trend didn’t continue.

In 2020, the number of US viewers dropped to a low of 23.6 million, a 20 per cent year-on-year dip, according to data by Nielsen. Things got even worse last year when a stripped-down, and again hostless, event forced by the pandemic was watched by a little more than 10 million people, the smallest audience the award show has ever received. Organisers will hope to turn things around this year with a return to something like the star-studded parties of old.

Erwich hasn’t given any hint as to who may host this year, but he’s doubtless aware that making the right decision could determine whether the Oscars can halt the slide. You’d be forgiven for assuming that the process would simply involve picking a popular comic or TV presenter, writing them a few gags at the expense of Hollywood celebrities, and handing them a pile of winners’ envelopes, but it's not so.

Recent events have seen apparent sure things like late-night TV dons Jon Stewart and David Letterman, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and Saturday Night Live mainstays Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin fail to convince audiences or critics.

Here are some of our favourite Oscars hosts, along with some thoughts on who could work their magic at this year’s event.

Bob Hope

Bob Hope is surely the undisputed king of the Oscars. He has hosted an incredible 19 times, beginning in 1940, before the Oscars were broadcast on television, and handing on responsibility following the 1978 ceremony. For decades Hope was synonymous with the Oscars, and he received a medal from the Academy in 1966 for his service to the show. Hope may not be as edgy, as aspirational or as smooth as some of our more recent hosts, but without him there would simply be no Oscars as we know them today.

Johnny Carson

A lot has changed since the original king of late-night TV last hosted the event in 1984, his fifth and final stint in charge. His successors, who include Letterman and Stewart, could probably learn a thing or two by studying his turns at the podium. Carson brought a welcome irreverence to the event, even at a time when winners were still so admired that they could make “thank you” speeches that went on for days without being played off like today’s winners. Lines such as “I see a lot of new faces here tonight, especially on the old faces” would surely stand up with the most cutting put-downs today’s hosts have to offer.

Billy Crystal

When Harry Met Sally star Billy Crystal took to the Oscars stage a whopping nine times – second only to Bob Hope – between 1990 and 2012. With so many hours spent presenting the Oscars, not every second has been perfect – the star admitted to IndieWire in 2021 that some shows were “better than others”, but overall audiences and critics alike agree that the star’s cheeky but friendly approach was a winner. He’s even won four Emmys for his Oscars efforts. Sadly, Crystal revealed in the same interview that he hasn’t been approached to return since 2012, and also hinted he’d be unlikely to accept even if he was.

Actor Billy Crystal hosts the ceremony of the 84th Annual Academy Awards on February 26, 2012 in Hollywood, California. AFP PHOTO Robyn BECK (Photo by ROBYN BECK / AFP)

Whoopi Goldberg

Solo female hosts are something of a rarity historically, with women usually presented as the glamorous half of a male/female pairing, so it’s noteworthy that Goldberg is one of two solo women among our favourite hosts to date, and perhaps a statistic the organisers should take note of. The comic was the host four times between 1994 and 2002, flitting effortlessly from her trademark wacky humour and extravagant outfits to the more respectful tone required in 1994, when Steven Spielberg’s sobering Schindler’s List dominated proceedings.

Ellen DeGeneres

Comic and daytime TV doyenne DeGeneres has hosted the Oscars twice, in 2007 and 2014, but it is the latter stint that put her in the history books. The awards themselves were actually of some note, delivering major prizes to Steve McQueen, Lupita Nyong’o and Alfonso Cuaron a full year before #OscarsSoWhite started trending. The event was most memorable, however, as the year DeGeneres made the Oscars a true social media event – videos of her having pizza delivered to the audience of A-listers went viral, while that selfie, featuring DeGeneres with Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper, Nyong’o and many more quickly became the most tweeted picture ever at the time.

Ellen DeGeneres takes that famous Oscar selfie (pictured) with a gaggle of celebs, causing Twitter to crash for 20 minutes and beating the previous champion for retweets, a photo of Barack and Michelle Obama. Ellen DeGeneres / AP Photo

This year?

We still don’t know who could be lined up for this year’s gig. ABC chief Erwich joked it could be him, though hopefully things aren’t that desperate yet. The role has become something of a poisoned chalice, with Deadline magazine calling it “thankless” in 2019 and Crystal saying that the pressure of the social media age “makes a lot of people not want to do it”. One big name to throw his hat into the ring is Tom Holland, riding high on the success of Spiderman: No Way Home and seemingly untouchable in Hollywood.

Updated: January 13th 2022, 10:13 AM