Harrison Ford has a reputation for occasionally being gruff and prickly, but he certainly let his emotional side show when he was moved to tears after receiving a surprise Palme d’Or during the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday.

The 80-year-old megastar received the unannounced honor just before the world premiere of Ford’s new film, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The award recognized his contributions to cinema, and the crowd honored him with a standing ovation.

“You’ve given my life purpose and meaning, and I’m grateful for that,” Ford said after receiving the award at the Grand Theatre Lumière. “I am deeply moved by this honor and humbled—but I’ve got a movie you’ve got to see. So let me get out of the way.”

The Palme d’Or is the highest prize awarded at Cannes and is considered one of the film industry’s most prestigious honors. It’s normally bestowed upon the festival’s best film each year, but an honorary Palme d’Or is sometimes awarded to actors or directors for their overall body of work.

Swedish director Ingmar Bergman received the first honorary Palme d’Or (then called the Palme des Palmes) in 1997 during the fest’s 50th anniversary. Starting in 2002, the festival began routinely giving honorary Palme d’Or awards to directors and actors who had never won it competitively. Other actors and filmmakers to receive the honorary award include Woody Allen, Jane Fonda, Clint Eastwood, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Agnès Varda.

Upon receiving his prize, Ford said he was “deeply moved and humbled.” Actor Michael Douglas also received an honorary Palme d’Or earlier this week, but his award was announced in advance, unlike Ford’s.

Cannes head Theirry Fremaux also introduced a highlights reel featuring clips from a variety of Ford’s most celebrated performances, including films like American Graffiti (1973), The Frisco Kid (1979), The Mosquito Coast (1986), Working Girl (1988), The Fugitive (1993), and K-19: The Widowmaker (2002). It also featured some of his most iconic characters, such as android hunter Rick Deckard in the Blade Runner films, smuggler Han Solo in the original Star Wars trilogy, and adventurer and archeologist Indiana Jones.

“They say when you’re about to die you see your life flash before your eyes,” Ford said after watching the highlights reel, “and I just saw my life flash before my eyes.”

harrison ford, dressed like indiana jones, smiling on a film set among a group of other people, including actress phoebe waller bridge wearing a white shirt and cream pants
Harrison Ford on the set of his new film Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, along with costar Phoebe Waller-Bridge, in Sicily on October 18, 2021
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Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny will have its theatrical release on June 30 and marks the fifth time Ford has played the titular adventurer. Other films included Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

While all previous entries of the franchise were directed by Steven Spielberg, Indiana Jones 5 is helmed by director James Mangold. The film received a five-minute standing ovation after its premiere, though Variety called that a “lukewarm” reception by Cannes standards, describing the ovation as “more of a polite formality.”

Ford, who has said this will be the final time he plays Indiana Jones, gave shoutouts to Mangold after receiving the Palme d’Or, as well as his Dial of Destiny co-stars Mads Mikkelsen and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. “I’m so grateful to be able to work with artists like Jim, Phoebe, Mads, and I’m deeply moved by this honor.”

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Colin McEvoy
Senior News Editor, Biography.com

Colin McEvoy joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had spent 16 years as a journalist, writer, and communications professional. He is the author of two true crime books: Love Me or Else and Fatal Jealousy. He is also an avid film buff, reader, and lover of great stories.