The Wizard of Oz

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(1939, directed by Victor Fleming)

- inducted 2018 –

“It’s impossible to imagine today: a studio greenlights a big-budget fantasy adapted from a popular series of books. The screenplay goes through a long list of mostly uncredited writers, with rewrites continuing into production. Multiple directors come and go on the project, and one of the lead actors is replaced after filming has begun after the demands of the production literally make him sick. The movie’s star, a relative unknown, is nothing like the character as originally conceived. The production goes over budget and schedule, goes through reshoots and, after test screenings, is substantially recut (the star’s big number, which studio execs worry is too downbeat, barely survives). When it’s released, it gets generally warm reviews but fails to turn a profit. A couple of decades later, it’s one of the most iconic movies of all time, an enduring crowd-pleaser and one of the masterpieces of its era.

“Even taking into account the ways that the studio system has changed since the 1930s, The Wizard of Oz is remarkably idiosyncratic for a movie with near-universal appeal. Dark Side of the Rainbow isn’t an entirely ironic juxtaposition – the movie’s Technicolor renderings of Baum’s world and its characters are genuinely trippy, its more hallucinatory moments amplified by the way they nestled into our consciousness when most of us were kids. And, for many of us, the fear it inspired was as indelible as its sense of wonder; the first time I attempted to watch the film, the first time Margaret Hamilton appeared, I promptly ejected the tape and would have no more of it that day. As I already had an appetite and a strong tolerance for creepy fare, I’d guess the moment affected me more strongly because, it being a kids’ movie, it felt safe up until that point – the Wicked Witch of the West’s abrupt entrance was a violation of the rules as I knew them, and a constructive one. The Wizard of Oz is sweet but not saccharine, with a palpable threat of danger that is mostly absent from contemporary children’s movies.

“It’s also an unmistakably, if unintentionally, queer film in ways that go beyond the appeal of its star. Billie Burke’s entrance in a shimmering pink soap bubble aside, its queer appeal isn’t precisely rooted in camp – it’s a sincere story of a constructed family of misfits who, in searching to complete what they perceive as broken about themselves, learn that they were whole all along. The movie’s emotional directness was bracing as a kid and remains so as an adult – E.T. aside, it’s hard to think of other family classics with as many scenes of its main characters full-on sobbing. Judy Garland’s heart-on-her-sleeve performance is key to the movie’s enduring appeal; the sense of yearning she brings to ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ feels achingly real, and it grounds Dorothy’s journey in a way that a typically cloying child actor performance couldn’t have. If there’s one thing I never cared for about the movie even as a kid, it’s how immediately Dorothy is focused on returning to Kansas. There may be no place like home, but genuine vacations from reality are rare enough that it seems a waste not to enjoy it. The disappointment is softened somewhat by the mirroring of the characters in Kansas and Oz; while this may not have been what the movie’s many creators intended, I always took this to mean that even the drabbest reality may more than what we perceive and, perhaps, a Technicolor escape is only a click of the heels away.”

~ Andrew Bemis

Principal cast: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Pat Walshe, Clara Blandick, Terry, The Singer Midgets
Screenplay by Noel Langley and Florence Ryerson & Edgar Allan Woolf
Adaptation by Noel Langley
Based on the book by L. Frank Baum
Produced by Mervyn LeRoy
Cinematography by Harold Rosson
Art direction by Cedric Gibbons
Set decoration by Edwin B. Willis
Costume design by Adrian
Film editing by Blanche Sewell
Music by Harold Arlen
Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
Musical adaptation by Herbert Stothart
Musical numbers staged by Bobby Connelly
Character makeup created by Jack Dawn
Sound recording director: Douglas Shearer
Special effects by A. Arnold Gillespie
Associate producer: Arthur Freed (uncredited)
Uncredited additional direction by George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, King Vidor

Duration: 101 minutes
Languages: English
Filmed in color (Technicolor), black and white (Sepiatone)
Sound mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Presents
Produced by Loew’s Incorporated
Released in USA by Metro Goldwyn Mayer
Premiered in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, USA on 12 August 1939

Awards and honors:
- National Film Registry selection, 1989
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 22 December 1996
- Academy Awards (USA), 1939: Best Music, Original Score (won)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1939: Best Music, Original Song – “Over the Rainbow” (won)
- Cannes Film Festival, 1939: Palme d’Or (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1939: Best Picture (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1939: Best Cinematography – Color (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1939: Best Art Direction (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1939: Best Effects, Special Effects (nominated)