Oscars Red Carpet: The 21 Most Memorable Dresses of All Time

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The red carpet at the Academy Awards is usually considered hallowed ground. Unlike the Grammys or the MTV Awards, or even the Golden Globes, it is neither the time nor the place for funny business. In fact, it is sometimes, as Sofia Coppola recently warned, too tasteful, too safe, and, sadly, too dull. But, in between the usual fishtail dresses and retro ballgowns, a few fearless women sometimes dare to really wow on the red carpet. There was Nicole Kidman in 1997, for example, spectacular in chartreuse by John Galliano for Dior. Then there was Marion Cotillard, redefining the meaning of fishtail gowns in Gaultier couture that actually looked like fish scales. Sharon Stone once turned a Gap button down into a power statement, and Lupita Nyong’o gave us princess dressing without being predictable. As for sheer bravado there’s always Cher, perpetually clad in Bob Mackie and eager to flout the conventions of “tasteful dressing.” Here, the 21 most memorable gowns of all time.


Speaking of Galliano: At the 69th Annual Academy Awards in 1997, Nicole Kidman would forever change red carpet dressing by sporting one of his designs for Dior, a flawless, devastating silk gown in iridescent chartreuse that immediately appalled Joan Rivers and upstaged Tom Cruise.


Cher at the 45th Annual Academy Awards in 1973 wearing a bedazzled crop top.


Anjelica Huston at the 58th Annual Academy Awards in 1986 wearing a one-sleeve emerald green dress.


Madonna at the 63rd Annual Academy Awards in 1991 wearing Bob Mackie and $20 million worth of Harry Winston diamonds.


Sharon Stone at the 70th Annual Academy Awards in 1998 wearing a Gap shirt paired with a Vera Wang skirt.


Cate Blanchett at the 71st Annual Academy Awards in 1999 wearing a sheer John Galliano dress with an open back.


Celine Dion at the 71st Annual Academy Awards in 1999 wearing a Dior tuxedo backwards.


Halle Berry at the 74th Annual Academy Awards in 2002 wearing a sheer Elie Saab gown.


Marion Cotillard at the 80th Annual Academy Awards in 2008 wearing Jean Paul Gaultier couture.


Charlize Theron at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in 2010 wearing Dior.


Angelina Jolie at the 84th Annual Academy Awards in 2012 wearing Atelier Versace.


Gwyneth Paltrow at the 84th Annual Academy Awards in 2012 wearing a Tom Ford cape.


Lupita Nyong’o at the 86th Annual Academy Awards in 2014 wearing Prada.


Barbra Streisand at 41st Annual Academy Awards wearing sequin see-through bell bottom pants with a matching top.


Diane Keaton at the 76th Annual Academy Awards wearing three-piece menswear-inspired suit with bowler hat.


Hilary Swank at the 77th Annual Academy Awards wearing backless Guy Laroche gown.


Penelope Cruz at the 79th Annual Academy Awards wearing an Atelier Versace gown.


Jennifer Lawrence at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards wearing a red Calvin Klein Collection dress.


Lady Gaga at the 88th Annual Academy Awards wearing new designer Brandon Maxwell.


Jennifer Lopez during The 75th Annual Academy Awards, donning an unexpected mint hue.


In 2018, Rita Moreno walked the Oscars red carpet in the same black and gold gown she wore to the Oscars in 1962.