Chloé Zhao, the China-born director of best-picture winner "Nomadland," made history -- becoming just the second woman in the 93 year of the Academy Awards to win best director, and the first woman of color.
The biggest surprise of the night came when best actor went to Anthony Hopkins for his performance in the dementia drama "The Father." The award had been widely expected to go to Chadwick Boseman for his final performance in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."
And in a pandemic year when award shows faced unprecedented challenges, the Oscars brought back red-carpet glamour.
Here's a look at that and other big moments from Sunday night's Academy Awards on ABC:
Anthony Hopkins wins best actor in a surprise
Anthony Hopkins has won his first Oscar since he was victorious for playing Hannibal Lecter.
Despite his pedigree, Hopkins was a surprise as the winner of the Academy Award for best actor for his work on "The Father."
The late Chadwick Boseman was expected to win the award, which, in a very rare move from the academy, was the last to be handed out this year instead of best picture.
It was also an anti-climax on a show where Hopkins wasn't present to accept the trophy. Joaquin Phoenix's reading of his name was the last dramatic moment of a most unusual ceremony.
The second Oscar for Hopkins comes nearly 30 years after his first in 1992, for playing Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs." He's been nominated four times since without a win.
The 83-year-old Hopkins won the Oscar for his role as a man who battles with dementia opposite Olivia Colman in the film directed by Florian Zeller.
Chloe Zhao becomes second woman in Oscars history to take home top prize for directing
"Nomadland" director Chloe Zhao became the second woman in Oscars history, and the first woman of color, to win the award for achievement in directing.
With four nominations, Zhao is the most-nominated woman in a single year in Oscar history.
Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win in the directing category in 2010 for "The Hurt Locker."
How to watch, stream the 2021 Oscar best picture nominees
Yuh-Jung Youn becomes first Korean actor to win an Oscar
Veteran Korean actor Yuh-Jung Youn gained recognition with American audiences Sunday when she took home the Oscars for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the first Korean actor to win at the Academy Awards.
She seemed starstruck herself by Brad Pitt, who presented the award.
"Mr. Brad Pitt, finally, nice to meet you!" she said.
SEE THE FULL LIST OF OSCARS WINNERS HERE
She said many throughout the world have badly botched the pronunciation of her name, but "tonight you are all forgiven."
The "Minari" actor acknowledged the exceptional performances of her fellow nominees with the charm and humor she's become know for over the awards season, even joking that she must be luckier than Glenn Close, has now been nominated for eight Oscars without a win.
Now 0-8 for Oscar wins, Glenn Close makes her mark with 'Da Butt'
It probably wasn't the kind of Oscar history she wanted to make: Close is now 0-8 at the Oscars, tying Peter O'Toole for most nominations without winning.
Surely she will win one day, but for Sunday's telecast at least, she had to make her mark another way. She did it with humor, in a rare comedy bit.
Playing a game where Questlove would play a song and a celebrity would guess if it was ever nominated for or won an Oscar, Close was given E.U.'s "Da Butt." In what appeared a scripted moment, she exclaimed: "Wait a second. Wait a second. That's Da Butt."
She then jumped out of her seat and, well, gyrated her butt, providing a needed moment of levity.
Thomas Vinterberg gives emotional tribute to daughter during acceptance speech for 'Another Round'
Thomas Vinterberg got emotional during his Oscar win on Sunday as he remembered his late daughter during his speech.
Vinterberg daughter, Ida, died when her father was days into production on "Another Round," the winner for best international feature.
Ida was set to have a role in the film and, upon reading the script months earlier, according to her father, was "blown away with excitement."
"She was supposed to be in this and if anyone dares to believe that she's here with us somehow, you'd be able to see her clapping and cheering with us," Vinterberg said on stage. "We ended up making this movie for her -- as her monument. So, Ida, this is a miracle that just happen, and you're a part of this miracle -- maybe even pulling some strings somewhere. But this one is for you."
Red carpet glam returns
Red carpet glam was back Sunday at the Oscars with lots of award-worthy gold, bright white and red looks.
Andra Day rocked a sexy gold gown exposed to the thigh with a waist cutout. Carey Mulligan also stunned in gold, her look Valentino couture.
Amanda Seyfried showed up in vibrant red from Armani Prive, her hair in an Old Hollywood side-swept updo. Viola Davis wore a stunning white custom look from Alexander McQueen with intricate cutouts in a snug bodice that fell to a princess skirt. Midriff looks also made a strong showing, with Zendaya in bright yellow from Valentino.
Riz Ahmed, Leslie Odom Jr. and Daniel Kaluuya, in a Bottega Veneta tux, were among many of the guys who went without ties.
Daniel Kaluuya thanks his mom after winning best supporting actor
Daniel Kaluuya used a lead role to win a best supporting actor Oscar. He'll take it.
Kaluuya won his first Academy Award for playing one of the two title roles in "Judas and the Black Messiah."
"I'd like to thank my mom," Kaluuya said, as his mother teared up while watching. "You gave me everything. You gave me your factory settings. So I could stand at my fullest height."
He then said: "My mum met my dad, they had sex. It's amazing. I'm here. I'm so happy to be alive." His mother, in her seat, could clearly be seen asking what the heck he was talking about. Backstage, Kaluuya explained: "She's got a sense of humor."
Kaluuya played Chicago Blank Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was killed in an FBI raid in 1969. The other nominees were Paul Raci, Leslie Odom Jr. and Sacha Baron Cohen.
"Promising Young Woman" and "The Father" take home early prizes for screenplay
There was a wealth of history to be made this Oscar night, and much of it came for women.
First off was Emerald Fennell, who won the night's first award -- best original screenplay -- for the fierce and provocative revenge thriller, "Promising Young Woman," her directorial debut. The busy Fennell, who also found time for an acting role in "The Crown," became the first woman in 13 years to win a screenwriting Oscar.
Fennell, who is pregnant, joked that she was also pregnant when she shot "Promising Young Woman," and thanked her son for waiting until the shoot was over to arrive: "I was crossing my legs."
Regina King opens Oscars with nods to COVID-19, Derek Chauvin conviction
Actor and director Regina King acknowledged the hardships of the past year during an opening straight out of the movies for the 2021 Oscars.
"It has been quite a year and we are still smack dab in the middle of it," King said. "We are mourning the loss of so many, and I have to be honest, if things had gone differently this past week in Minneapolis, I might have traded in my heels for marching boots."
In addition to her reaction to the guilty verdict at Derek Chauvin's trial in the killing of George Floyd, King noted the personal impact recent news cycles have had on her.
"Now, I know that a lot of you people at home want to reach for your remote when you feel like Hollywood is preaching to you. But as a mother of a black son, I know the fear that so many live with and no amount of fame or fortune changes that," she said.
Tyler Perry accepts humanitarian award
The Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was presented Sunday to Tyler Perry in recognition of his charity efforts.
As Perry stood on stage, he recalled a story of when he offered money to a homeless woman. She, however, asked for a pair of shoes.
The woman, staring down, said, "Thank you, Jesus, my feet are off the ground," Perry recalled.
The woman said to Perry that she thought he'd hate her. Perry said he responded: "How can I hate you when I used to be you?"
Perry said he dedicates his award "to anyone who wants to stand in the middle no matter what's around the walls" because "that's where healing happens" and where "change happens."
"So anyone who wants to meet me in the middle to refuse hate... to help lift someone's feet off the ground, this one is for you, too," he said.
Disney's 'Soul' wins best animated film
The Disney Pixar film "Soul" took home the award for Best Animated Feature Sunday night. What began as a "love letter to jazz" became an exploration of the meaning of life, according to as described by director Pete Docter, who thanked music and art teachers in his speech. "You make the world a better place."
Later in the evening, "Soul" also took home the prize for Original Score.
RED CARPET: Gowns, glamour return to Hollywood's biggest night despite unusual award season
After the last award is handed out, stay with "On The Red Carpet" for continuing coverage. Be sure to follow @OnTheRedCarpet on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok for all your Oscar news and information.
The Associated Press, ABC News and CNNWire contributed to this report.