The Definition Of Iconic: 'The Wizard Of Oz' Turns 80

Aug 15, 2019

The only thing more popular than the song “Over the Rainbow” is the movie it came from.

The Wizard of Oz was released 80 years on Aug. 15, 1939. Fans all over the world are rejoicing, especially in Oconomowoc, where it was reported that The Wizard of Oz had its world premiere at the Strand Theater.

Ryan Jay, film contributor and Oz historian, goes down the yellow brick road offering little known facts and dispelling myths.

To start, the real world premiere of The Wizard of Oz was in Hollywood on Aug. 15, 1939. Oconomowoc was the host of a sneak preview of the film days before, as were other Midwestern towns, like Appleton and Kenosha, Wis., according to Jay.

A poster for the sneak preview of "The Wizard of Oz" at the Strand Theater in Oconomowoc, Wis.
Credit International Wizard of Oz Club

Why did they want to test the waters on Midwestern audiences? Because they didn't want reactions just from big cities.

"Coming to the Midwest and gauging reaction to the film was as good as any other place," says Jay.

Contrary to another rumor, Jay notes the movie did really well when it first came out.

"The reviews were raves. The reactions by audiences and families were fantastic," he says.

By nature of being released during wartime and it being a family film, Jay says it didn't make the box office in 1939 but since it has certainly recouped.

"That perfect nature of cast and script and story and song is very, very rare in film history."

"That perfect nature of cast and script and story and song is very, very rare in film history," he says.

The film has had a unique cultural influence and Jay says it holds up to modern movies: "It's still as entertaining and as beautiful as today's CGI films." 

The Wizard of Oz has certainly had influence over Jay's life — his lifelong love for the movie shaped his career, leading him into entertainment journalism. In fact, Jay says The Wizard of Oz "has been scientifically proven, through researchers and scientists in Italy, through independent study, as the most influential film of all time."

A 2009 screening of "The Wizard of Oz."
Credit International Wizard of Oz Club

Songs, films, stage productions, TV series, and idioms have been influenced by this movie. It lives on in costumes, museums, movies screenings, prequels, sequels, and countless other references.

"We're not in Kansas anymore" is a frequently used phrase. "Over the Rainbow" is one of the most covered songs in all of music history, says Jay.

Why is it so quintessential and celebrated to this degree 80 years later?

"It's the very definition of iconic," says Jay.