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The Most Costly Oscar Statuettes Ever Bought at an Public sale

The Most Costly Oscar Statuettes Ever Bought at an Public sale

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Winning an Oscar statuette is one of the most prestigious honours an actor can receive in Hollywood. The coveted trophy is a celebration of achievements in cinema across all roles, and thus, its value as an artistic merit is unparalleled. Many iconic artists have taken home Oscars trophies over the years, and while not everyone can win an Oscar, some collectors have tried to buy their own. In light of Monday’s 2024 Oscars ceremony, here’s a look at the most expensive Oscar statuettes that have ever been sold at an auction.

If you are thinking of buying an Oscar trophy, know that it is not an easy task, nor is it allowed any more. In 1951, The Academy revised its rules related to the trophies and a clause was added to indicate that all winners who wished to sell their Oscar statuettes must first offer them to The Academy at the modest price of USD 1. These same rules also apply to the heirs of the winners, who may receive the trophies in the event of the winner’s passing.

Oscar statuettes of Bette Davis and Clarke Gable on display at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. (Image: Shane Gritzinger/Getty Images)

Director Steven Spielberg is known to have a different view when it comes to the sale of Oscar statuettes. Previously, the filmmaker purchased an Oscar won by Hollywood icon Bette Davies at an auction for USD 578,000. After winning the bid as an anonymous buyer, Spielberg donated the statuette back to the Academy to preserve its legacy. He would go on to do the same for an Oscar trophy belonging to Clark Gable.

While the rule only applies to Oscar statuettes awarded after 1951, those awarded from the years before have been allowed for auctions, fetching high prices. Collectors include some celebrities have paid to buy the iconic Oscar trophies won by the Hollywood stars and filmmakers of Hollywood’s golden years.

The 2024 Oscars Awards culminated in an exciting evening, with Oppenheimer sweeping wins across multiple categories including Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Robert Downey Jr., and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Cillian Murphy. Meanwhile, Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark horse Poor Things likewise received numerous accolades at the 2024 Oscars, taking home the awards for Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design, and Best Actress in a Leading Role for Emma Stone. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie received the 2024 Oscar for Best Original Song with Billie Eilish’s What Was I Made For.

The 2024 Oscars ceremony was hosted by comedian Jimmy Kimmel, featuring performances by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell, Ryan Gosling, Jon Batiste, Becky G and Scott George and Osage Singers. To celebrate the conclusion of the awards ceremony and the hard work of the winners who have rightly been honoured, we look at some of the Oscar trophies of Hollywood’s past that have fetched high prices at auctions.

Most expensive Oscar statuettes ever sold at an auction

Gone with the Wind’s Best Picture Oscar

David O. Selznick won the biggest honour of best picture for his 1939 classic Gone with the Wind. Starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, and Leslie Howard in lead roles, the film was met with massive box office success. By the time Selznick’s Oscar trophy went up for auction in 1999 through Sothesby’s, the film had made significant waves as a Hollywood classic. To that end, a well-known celebrity ended up paying a record price for it. To everyone’s surprise, the celebrity was later revealed to be pop legend Michael Jackson, who shelled out USD 1.54 million to acquire the statuette. The sellers had initially estimated its worth to sit at a mere USD 300,000 but Jackson, a well-known movie buff, was ready to pay a price far beyond what was expected.

Following Jackson’s unexpected death in 2009, the statuette has been reported as missing as it was not recovered in his belongings. In 2016, Jackson’s attorney Howard Weitzman told The Hollywood Reporter that, “The estate does not know where the Gone with the Wind statuette is. We would like to have that Oscar because it belongs to Michael’s children. I’m hopeful it will turn up at some point.”

Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane Oscar trophy

Most expensive Oscar statuettes auction
Orson Welles starred and directed in the acclaimed film Citizen Kane which won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. (Image: IMDB)

The groundbreaking 1941 film Citizen Kane, which was written and directed by Orson Welles, was nominated for nine Oscars. However, it would only receive one award for Best Original Screenplay. The film had been, and continues to be considered a Hollywood crown jewel, and has even enjoyed a moniker as the greatest film ever made. Thus, the one Oscar statuette that it won certainly held the gaze of many collectors.

As per The Hollywood Reporter, auction house owner Nate D. Sanders had put up the trophy for sale in 2011, with a handful of bidders from around the world taking part. An undisclosed buyer ended up taking the statuette home, paying USD 861,542 for it. Since Welles had won the Best Original Screenplay honour alongside Herman Mankiewicz, the latter’s trophy was also sold at a later auction in 2012, reportedly fetching USD 588,455.

The history of Welles’ Oscars trophy is slightly complicated. While Welles did not attend the Oscars in 1942, the trophy he won on the night of its awarding was presumed missing in 1988, after his daughter Beatrice asked the Academy for a replacement statue. Following his death in 1985, the original trophy was not found in his belongings.

However, years later, the original statuette itself found its way into the spotlight, and became the same one to be sold at Nate Sanders’ auction. In 2023, the replacement statuette was sold to an unknown bidder at Heritage Auctioneers’ Hollywood Entertainment auction, with a starting bid of USD 250,000 and a winning bid of USD 645,000.

Vivienne Leigh’s 1941 Best Actress Oscar

Vivien Leigh expensive Oscar statuette auction
Vivien Leigh won the Best Actress award for her performance in Gone with the Wind in 1941. (Image: Getty Images)

The earliest Oscars trophy sale can be traced back to 1993 when Hollywood star Vivien Leigh’s family put her Oscar for Best Actress from Gone with the Wind up for auction. The trophy fetched a jaw-dropping price of USD 563,000. Considering Leigh’s popularity and the massive success of Gone with the Wind, it made sense that the trophy caught the eye of several collectors.

Despite not bending the clause, the sale of Leigh’s trophy did not go well with the Academy, who issued a statement that said, “The statuettes are symbols of recognition by one’s peers of excellence in filmmaking. That recognition belongs only to the winner and always will belong to the winner. The Academy remains concerned and will consider all legal options open to it with regard to each sale, but does not choose to discuss those options.”

Norman Taurog’s 1931 Best Director Oscar statuette

Director of Skippy, Norman Tourag was the youngest Best Director winner at Oscars. (Image: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Best Director trophy is the most coveted and honourable win even today. It is among the final trophies handed out at the ceremony and the suspense built up for it each year is what moviegoers enjoy, and have even bet on. Among the history of filmmakers who have won this honour, Norman Taurog remains one of the most iconic, given that he was the youngest ever winner of Best Director. Taurog won the award for his film Skippy at age 32; further making history, Skippy was also the first comic movie to be nominated for Best Picture. In 2012, Taurog’s Best Director trophy was sold at an auction for USD 301,973.

Years later, director Damien Chazelle joined Taurog in being the youngest winners of the Best Director Oscar. Chazelle, who took home the honour in 2016 for his film La La Land, was likewise 32 years old at the time of his winning.

Clyde de Vinna’s 1930 Oscar trophy

An Oscars statuette is considered one of the most collectable items in movie history. Thus, the trophies preceding the 1951 ceremonies (which do not come under The Academy clause) still fetch sizeable amounts at auctions. In 2022, a rare 1930s Oscar statuette won by cinematographer Clyde de Vinna was put up for auction. This trophy holds a special significance, as it was awarded during the second Oscars ceremony ever held, with the first ever Academy Awards event held just one year prior in 1929. Clyde de Vinna received the Oscar for White Shadows in the South Seas; following the auction, it was purchased by an unknown buyer for USD 228,000.

Best Picture Oscar trophy from 1941

In 2012, several Oscar trophies that had been won by films made between the 1930s and 1940s were sold at an auction in Los Angeles. Among these trophies was a Best Picture statuette which was presented for How Green Was My Valley, a film directed by John Ford starred Maureen O’Hara and Roddy McDowell in lead roles. Inspired by Richard Llewellyn’s novel of the same name, the film tells the story of the Morgans, a hard-working Welsh mining family. The statuette eventually sold for USD 274,520.

William Wyler’s Wuthering Heights’ Oscar statuette

In 1939, Director William Wyler adapted Emily Bronte’s famed novel Wuthering Heights into a film, casting legends like Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Cathy. The film won high praise for its fantastic scoring and cinematography, receiving an Oscar for the latter. In 2012, Wuthering Heights’ Oscar for Best Cinematography was put up for auction, fetching USD 226,876. It was the only Academy Award won by the classic film which marked the Golden era of filmmaking.

(Main and featured images: Al Seib/Getty Images)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

See Also

– How much is an Oscar statuette worth?

In 1951, it was mandated that any resale of an Oscars statuette must be preceded by its being offered to The Academy for USD 1. As such, the price of an Oscar is just that. However, old statuettes pre-dating the 1951 clause have been sold for over a million dollars.

– Why is the Oscar only worth USD 1?

The Academy believes that the trophy is an achievement for artistic merit and to avoid its commercial use, has put up a clause about its resale, mandating that it be sold back to the Academy at the mere price of 1 USD.

– Has anyone sold their Oscar?

The Oscar trophies of stars such as actress Vivienne Leigh and others have been put up for auction by their estates and families.

– Can you buy an old Oscar?

Oscars awarded before 1951 can be bought if they are legitimately sold at auctions.

– How much gold is in an Oscar?

The statuettes are solid bronze and plated in 24-karat gold, weighing roughly eight and a half pounds.

Source: Prestige Online

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