The Wizard of Oz: A Ranking of Movies Based on L. Frank Baum's Oz Books

by Cineanalyst | created - 12 Jan 2020 | updated - 29 Jul 2020 | Public

After reading Lewis Carroll's Alice books, I became so impressed with children's literature that I read Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." Now, I think I'm done reading kiddie junk. Seriously, though, Baum's first entry in the Oz series isn't entirely without merit, and it was certainly an easy read. There were even a few good puns and a surprising number of decapitations. The real pleasure, however, was in reviewing the film adaptations, which to a large extent becomes more of a comparison study with the adaptation that dominates the land of Oz and obviously tops this ranking.

(P.S. Note that I've intentionally skipped what seemed to be some of the more childish motion-picture tales of Oz. I can only tolerate so much, after all. Also, it should be noted that the first Oz film--really, a multi-media presentation--is lost, "The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays of Oz" (1908), Baum's first but not last foray into adapting his own stories.)

List now also at and open to comments at letterboxd:

My average rating of ranked movies: 5.2 stars.

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1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

PG | 102 min | Adventure, Family, Fantasy

92 Metascore

Young Dorothy Gale and her dog are swept away by a tornado from their Kansas farm to the magical Land of Oz, and embark on a quest with three new friends to see the Wizard, who can return her to her home and fulfill the others' wishes.

Directors: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe, King Vidor | Stars: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr

Votes: 392,815 | Gross: $2.08M

The obvious choice to top this ranking, MGM's Technicolor musical may be the most popular and beloved film of all time. With a wonderful ensemble cast led by Judy Garland, fantastic use of color, cinematic reflexivity, camp, entertaining musical numbers, memorable lines and improving upon Baum's text in every significant regard, it deserves to be, too.

My Full Review

2. The Wizard of Oz (1933)

9 min | Animation, Short, Comedy

Dorothy is swept in a twister from her boring Kansas farm to the wonderful land of Oz, where she makes some friends and is welcomed in the Emerald City.

Director: Ted Eshbaugh

Votes: 367

The actual first Technicolor film treatment of Baum's book, this cartoon's release was reportedly hindered by contractual disputes, but it's an interesting, if odd, take on the text. Plus, it's short.

My Full Review

3. Return to Oz (1985)

PG | 113 min | Adventure, Family, Fantasy

42 Metascore

Dorothy, saved from a psychiatric experiment by a mysterious girl, is somehow called back to Oz when a vain witch and the Nome King destroy everything that makes the magical land beautiful.

Director: Walter Murch | Stars: Fairuza Balk, Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie

Votes: 27,244

Disney's sequel to the MGM masterpiece is a surprisingly shocking departure, including a Halloween theme. Its shared fondness with Baum for the removal of heads is a highlight.

My Full Review

4. Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

PG | 130 min | Adventure, Family, Fantasy

44 Metascore

A small-time magician is swept away to an enchanted land and is forced into a power struggle between three witches.

Director: Sam Raimi | Stars: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis

Votes: 207,261 | Gross: $234.91M

This Disney prequel is more in line with the studio's usual propensity for self-promotion and effects-laded fluff. The movie effectively continues the 1939 film's reflexivity of the Wizard creating films-within-the-film, though.

My Full Review

5. The Wiz (1978)

G | 134 min | Adventure, Family, Fantasy

53 Metascore

An adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz" that tries to capture the essence of the African-American experience.

Director: Sidney Lumet | Stars: Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross

Votes: 15,233 | Gross: $21.05M

An all-black cast variation on Baum's tale, although "The Wiz," too, owes its plot structure to the 1939 film. Unfortunately, the musical numbers tend to be tiresome with the exception of "Ease on Down the Road," and its translation of a story focused on white characters from Kansas to an African-American urban dreamscape is only partially effective.

My Full Review

6. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910)

Not Rated | 13 min | Adventure, Fantasy, Short

An early version of the classic, based more on the 1902 stage musical than on the original novel.

Director: Otis Turner | Stars: Bebe Daniels, Hobart Bosworth, Eugenie Besserer, Robert Z. Leonard

Votes: 1,522

The earliest film on this list is largely a filmed play in the dated tableau style, but it's somewhat cute and short, which puts it above the rest of the silent Oz films.

My Full Review

7. The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914)

81 min | Adventure, Family, Fantasy

Ojo and Unc Nunkie are out of food, so they decide to journey to the Emerald City where they will never starve.

Director: J. Farrell MacDonald | Stars: Violet MacMillan, Frank Moore, Raymond Russell, Leontine Dranet

Votes: 485

The first of three Oz films that Baum produced himself. They were amateurish even by 1914 standards, although, I suppose, they're not without some charm.

My Full Review

8. The Magic Cloak (1914)

38 min | Short, Adventure, Family

Fairies weave a magic cloak that grants one wish. They give it to an unhappy girl who has just lost her father and been forced to move into town with her brother, who becomes king, and her donkey, who becomes a hero.

Director: J. Farrell MacDonald | Stars: Mildred Harris, Violet MacMillan, Fred Woodward, Vivian Reed

Votes: 314

These Baum films are much of the same. This one may be shorter because of lost footage.

My Full Review

9. The New Wizard of Oz (1914)

59 min | Family, Fantasy, Adventure

A wicked king has taken over the Emerald City, and wants his daughter, Princess Gloria, to marry the horrid courtier Googly-Goo, though she loves Pon, the Gardener's Boy. The camera now ... See full summary »

Director: J. Farrell MacDonald | Stars: Violet MacMillan, Frank Moore, Pierre Couderc, Fred Woodward

Votes: 486

Again, more of the same, and if you can tolerate seeing all three of Baum's Oz trilogy, you might dare to watch the final film on this list.

My Full Review

10. The Wizard of Oz (1925)

TV-G | 95 min | Comedy, Family, Fantasy

Dorothy, heir to the Oz throne, must take it back from the wicked Prime Minister Kruel with the help of three farmhands.

Director: Larry Semon | Stars: Dorothy Dwan, Charles Murray, Oliver Hardy, Mary Carr

Votes: 1,587

Some have proposed this to be the worst film of the silent era. They may be right.

My Full Review

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