12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen’s searing depiction of the brutality of slavery, scooped the best picture Oscar, pipping rival films Gravity and American Hustle to Hollywood’s biggest prize.
On a rain-soaked afternoon in Hollywood, the film also won best supporting actress for Lupita Nyong’o’s performance, and best adapted screenplay, by John Ridley.
The victory defied concerns that members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would shun the film over its violent and distressing scenes.
Its victory halted the momentum of Gravity, the evening’s other big winner, which dominated the technical awards.
Alfonso Cuarón won best director for the space epic which broke ground for its use of 3D. Making a film is a “transformative experience”, he said, as he accepted the award. “Gravity took so long [to make] which is good, because if it hadn’t it would have been a waste of time.”
The film, which stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, dominated the technical categories, also for visual effects, cinematography, film editing and sound mixing.
There were few surprises, with most of the pre-award favourites winning. Cate Blanchett won best actress for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. “To those still clinging to the idea that films with women at their centre are niche … they are not,” she said. “Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money.”
Matthew McConaughey won best actor for Dallas Buyers Club. Jared Leto picked up the best supporting actor award for his performance as the transvestite Rayon in the same movie.
Walt Disney’s Frozen won best animated film – and best original song, beating more established acts such as U2 (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) and Pharrell Williams (Despicable Me 2).
Frozen’s success comes amid a revival of Disney’s animated output, with the film nearing $1bn in global box office revenues.
There was disappointment for David Russell’s American Hustle, which had been highly fancied to win several Oscars, with Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence all missing out.
The film, which has earned more than $200m worldwide, was financed by Sony Pictures and Megan Ellison, the billionaire daughter of Oracle founder Larry Ellison.
Ms Ellison also produced Her, which was written and directed by Spike Jonze, who won an Oscar for his screenplay.
Social media played a big role in the ceremony, with host Ellen DeGeneres tweeting a picture from the audience with some of the stars in attendance, including Bradley Cooper, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep.
The picture quickly went viral with 2m “retweeting” it, breaking the previous record set for a retweet of a picture by Barack Obama when he won the 2012 presidential election.