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.