Honorary Awards are given for lifetime achievements, exceptional contributions to motion picture arts and sciences, and outstanding service to the Academy.
The Academy’s Honorary Award is given at the discretion of the Board of Governors, and is not necessarily awarded every year. The Honorary Award may or may not be an Oscar statuette; when it is, the Award is presented as part of the Academy Awards ceremony. This is the Honorary Award most familiar to the public. It is sometimes given to honor a filmmaker for whom there is no annual Academy Award category: choreographer Michael Kidd in 1996, for instance, or animator Chuck Jones in 1995. It can be also given to an organization, such as the National Film Board of Canada in 1988, or even a company, such as Eastman Kodak, which received it that same year.
The Honorary Award is not called a lifetime achievement award by the Academy, but it is often given for a life’s work in filmmaking – to Polish director Andzrej Wajda in 1999, for example, and to Elia Kazan the previous year.
The Honorary Award can be given for outstanding service to the Academy, although the last time this happened was in 1979 when an Oscar statuette was presented to Academy Governor Hal Elias, who had served more than a quarter century on the Board of Governors.
The Honorary Award can also take the form of a life membership in the Academy, a scroll, a medal, a certificate or any other design chosen by the Board of Governors. The John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation, given for “outstanding service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the Academy,” is considered an Honorary Award. It is usually given at the annual presentation of Scientific and Technical Awards, a dinner ceremony separate from the annual Oscar telecast.
The only life membership to be conferred as an Honorary Award was given to Bob Hope in 1944 “for his many services to the Academy.” Hope received four Honorary Awards. In addition to his life membership, he received a special silver plaque in 1940 “in recognition of his unselfish service to the Motion Picture Industry,” a gold medal in 1965 for “unique and distinguished service to our industry and the Academy” and an Oscar statuette in 1952 “for his contribution to the laughter of the world, his service to the motion picture industry, and his devotion to the American premise.” And, while it wasn’t an Honorary Award, the Bob Hope Lobby of the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study (home of the Margaret Herrick Library) was dedicated to Hope in 1990 when he continued to serve the Academy and the industry with a contribution of $1 million to the Center’s Endowment Fund.
The most unusual Honorary Awards went to Edgar Bergen in 1937 and Walt Disney the following year. Bergen’s, presented “for his outstanding comedy creation, ‘Charlie McCarthy,’” was a wooden Oscar statuette with a movable mouth. Disney’s Honorary (his second) was “for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, recognized as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field for the motion picture cartoon.” It was a standard Oscar statuette and seven miniature statuettes on a stepped base.
Rules for the awarding of the Honorary Award can be found in the annual Academy Awards Rules section.
See all past Governors Awards Honorees here.
2007 Honorary Award recipient, production designer Robert Boyle