Though The Wizard of Oz was very popular and successful upon its August 1939 release, it nevertheless only earned $3,017,000 ($55,688,827 today) on a $2,777,000 budget ($51,258,824 today) which didn’t include promotional costs. That added up to a loss of $1,145,000. The film didn’t make a profit for MGM till its 1949 rerelease, when it earned $1.5 million ($16 million today).

Prior to the 25 August 1939 general release, it had a sneak preview in San Bernardino, California, followed by test market previews in Dennis, Massachusetts (where I’ve visited many times) and Kenosha, Wisconsin on 11 August and Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on 12 August. Its Hollywood première was at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on 15 August. The NYC première followed on 17 August at Loew’s Capitol Theatre.

Critical reviews were overwhelmingly glowing, though there were some naysayers. Russell Maloney of The New Yorker lambasted it as “a stinkeroo,” and Otis Ferguson of The New Republic said “it weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet.” Some moviegoers also thought 16-year-old Judy Garland was a bit too old to convincingly play Dorothy.

Regardless of these minority opinions, The Wizard of Oz came in seventh on Film Daily‘s nationwide year-end poll of 542 critics.

The film was nominated for six Academies, and won for its score and the song “Over the Rainbow.” Judy Garland won an honorary Academy Juvenile Award.

On 3 November 1956, The Wizard of Oz became the first Hollywood film shown without commercial breaks in prime time on a national U.S. TV network, as part of the last program in the about-to-be-cancelled series Ford Star Jubilee on CBS. Most people in that era only had B&W televisions, however, so they were unable to see the film as it was intended.

CBS earned $225,000 for the broadcast, which was a big success. When they showed it again on 13 December 1959, even more people tuned in. From then on, it became an annual tradition.

The Wizard of Oz is possibly the most famous and beloved film to be regularly shown on U.S. television.

The film was one of the 25 inaugural inductees to the National Film Registry in 1989, and is one of only a dozen films on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

The Wizard of Oz has had many theatrical rereleases since its first triumphant one in 1949, and has always been among the very first films on various home media formats (VHS, DVD, laserdisc, CED, Blu-ray, 8 mm film).

Over the last eighty years, countless critics have continued lauding the film, and it always shows up on those incessant best-of lists. Salman Rushdie cites it as his inspiration for becoming a writer. Innumerable TV shows, films, cartoons, books, songs, and music videos have referenced it.

One of the film’s most famous icons, Dorothy’s ruby slippers, were silver in the book, but MGM changed them for the sake of making more impact in Technicolor. The studio’s chief costume designer, Adrian, created their final form.

3 thoughts on “The Wizard of Oz at 80, Part III (Reception and legacy)

    1. Cara:

      and the costumes.

      The silver-to-red change is so powerful. A small thing like that on Technicolour.

      Thinking of times like when the Witch melted and we saw the Wizard for who they really were – though I don’t think the latter really needed special effects.

      [That scene too where he showed the four adventurers their real worth and the lack of his – it feels like teachers in school making up special awards for their students or giving end-of-year performance reviews – or end-of-course/end-of-project].

      And when Dorothy was taken away in the tornado and she ended up in Oz.

      It took a lot for me to believe she had not just bumped her head on a farm post while riding her bike. Or that she was dreaming like ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Or in some other kind of liminal state.

      Any other effects you found hard to believe while being integrated/immersed in the film?

      Which ones stay with you and why?

      What would you show in particular to someone experiencing the mythos and phenomenon for the first time or the first time in a long time?

      Like

  1. And I still do not quite believe that Rushdie was inspired to become a writer because of THE WIZARD OF OZ.

    Maybe because it’s Rushdie – even though I know logically that lots of writers were inspired to become what they are because of Baum’s universe and the many adaptations – including of course the 1939 movie we are discussing.

    And those Franklin Mint dolls of Dorothy and GONE WITH THE WIND’S Scarlett O’Hara in that emerald dress. They do touch something deep in our responding/receptive chords in the world symphony.

    “The film was one of the 25 inaugural inductees to the National Film Registry in 1989, and is one of only a dozen films on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.”

    Wow again. Yes – UNESCO is good at having us remember the world – and so easy to confuse with UNICEF or other agencies because of the whole Children’s Rights push 30 years ago in the UK and around the world. Australia was a little slower to get with the programme because of neoconservatives and neoliberals especially those of the H R Nicholls Society.

    The National Film Society I recognise as being up there with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and of course Music Television and its Music Video Awards and Nickelodeon’s Teen Choice and Kids Choice. Yes, I have been watching lots of awards shows recently.

    Might quickly talk about these initial paragraphs about the reception of THE WIZARD OF OZ:

    “Though The Wizard of Oz was very popular and successful upon its August 1939 release, it nevertheless only earned $3,017,000 ($55,688,827 today) on a $2,777,000 budget ($51,258,824 today) which didn’t include promotional costs. That added up to a loss of $1,145,000. The film didn’t make a profit for MGM till its 1949 rerelease, when it earned $1.5 million ($16 million today).

    Prior to the 25 August 1939 general release, it had a sneak preview in San Bernardino, California, followed by test market previews in Dennis, Massachusetts (where I’ve visited many times) and Kenosha, Wisconsin on 11 August and Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on 12 August. Its Hollywood première was at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on 15 August. The NYC première followed on 17 August at Loew’s Capitol Theatre.

    Critical reviews were overwhelmingly glowing, though there were some naysayers. Russell Maloney of The New Yorker lambasted it as “a stinkeroo,” and Otis Ferguson of The New Republic said “it weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet.” Some moviegoers also thought 16-year-old Judy Garland was a bit too old to convincingly play Dorothy.

    Regardless of these minority opinions, The Wizard of Oz came in seventh on Film Daily‘s nationwide year-end poll of 542 critics.”

    Promotional costs would have been a great big chunk of the movie. Still think the biggest promotion would have been word-of-mouth and mass theatre.

    Ah – 1949! The post-war hopefulness and enterprise and empowerment would have made it the right movie at the right time. Ten years of release would have created lots of generations and generative feedback.

    Yes, Dennis, Massachusetts – isn’t it great to have that personal connection. I imagine many of the USians reading this would have a similar connection with at least one of the places the WIZARD was screened.

    The Chinese Theatre and its awesomeness.

    Maloney! and Ferguson might have been on to something.

    How did Film Daily get so many critics? Is it like the Foreign Press Association or more like other trade papers and gossip magazines? Trying to think of one that would have reach today – like Roger Ebert’s site; the Internet Movie Database [which is all of us]; Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. And Cinema Papers and ATOM [Australian Teachers of Media to which I sometimes subscribe].

    One more question: has THE WIZARD OF OZ always been shown without commercial breaks since 1956; or was that a one-off for that station and timeslot?

    So the annual tradition is 60 years old now. When and where was it shown in 2019 – and when and where in 2020 for those people looking forward to it and who like to plan ahead a little?

    Like

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