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'Oz' Film Adaptations

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Models of Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow and Toto on a Yellow Brick Road by the gates of the Emerald City
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!1
- 'Ozymandias', Percy Shelley

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is credited as being the first American fantasy novel and one of the most popular and influential works of children's fiction of all time. Created at a time when it was largely considered among literary critics that the genre of fantasy and fairy tales was unsuitable for an American audience, and such things had been left behind in the 'old world', author L Frank Baum2 created a series which combined traditional fairy tale ingredients of witches, wizards and magic with elements that would have been familiar to children growing up in America's mid-west, namely scarecrows, farmhouses and balloons3. The plot is very similar in many ways to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland stories, only with Dorothy falling up via a cyclone to a wonderland rather than down a rabbit hole, and both encountering magical creatures before returning home.

The Films

A selection of some of the films inspired by The Wizard of Oz book series are listed below, though a complete list of everything that this popular series has inspired is impossible. This entry also states whether the films pass the Bechdel Test. This can be summarised as whether the film involves two or more female characters who have a conversation together that is not about men. Names in Bold worked on more than one Oz adaptation.

In many ways the films can be divided into two categories – the 1939 The Wizard of Oz, which is considered a classic and the most-seen film of all time, and every other film, none of which have come close to recapturing its success. Curiously none of the films has been financially successful on first release. A box office disappointment can be defined as a film that makes less profit than hoped, a flop is a film that recoups its production cost but not its marketing budget, and a box office bomb does not even bring back its production cost.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910)

DirectorOtis Turner
StudioSelig Polyscope Company
Plot

After being chased by Hank the Mule on her Kansas farm, Dorothy discovers that her scarecrow is alive shortly before a tornado strikes. Hiding in a haystack, Dorothy, the scarecrow and animals Hank, Imogene the cow and Toto a dog are all carried to Oz. There the king, the Wizard of Oz, wants to hide his secret that he's not really a wizard after all by issuing a proclamation announcing that fact, but his kingdom is conquered by Momba the witch. The good witch Glinda turns Toto into a bigger dog. They encounter a Cowardly Lion, a Tin Woodman and Eureka the Cat, but are all imprisoned by Momba. Will they be able to escape and restore order to the Emerald City of Oz? And can Dorothy find her way home?

Film TypeSilent black & white short with intertitles
Length13 minutes
Dramatis PersonæNo official record of who played which role survives other than crediting Hobart Bosworth, Eugenie Besserer, Robert Leonard, Bebe Daniels, Winifred Greenwood, Lillian Leighton and Olive Cox as "the performers". It is believed:
  • Dorothy (Bebe Daniels)
  • Tin Woodman (Robert Leonard)
  • Scarecrow (Hobart Bosworth)
  • King Wizard (Hobart Bosworth)
  • Momba, Wicked Witch (Eugenie Besserer)
  • Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Olive Cox)
  • Union Rep (Lillian Leighton)
  • Aunt Em (Winifred Greenwood)
Based OnThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900 novel and 1902 musical)
Bechdel TestN/A – Silent film

The Selig Polyscope Company gained the film rights to make a series of Oz short films after L Frank Baum's first attempts to bring his Oz books to the screen failed financially, resulting in him being heavily indebted (he was officially declared bankrupt in 1911). He owed the Selig Polyscope Company thousands after they made film segments for his 'Fairylogue and Radio-Plays' show. Three short sequels followed in 1910, but none of these survive. Dorothy and the Scarecrow in Oz was first, and The Land of Oz was second. The third, John Dough and the Cherub, was based on another of Baum's books, which was not part of Oz (although the characters had cameo roles in the book The Road to Oz (1909) in the hope that this would boast sales of Baum's non-Oz work). The script of the short film is as much based on Baum's 1902 musical play The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as on the novel – the play introduced characters such as Imogene the Cow, as a pantomime cow is easier to see on a stage than a small dog. This play gave Dorothy the surname of 'Gale' and named the Tin Woodman 'Nick Chopper'. A witch named 'Mombi' had first appeared in the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904).

Oz Film Manufacturing Company

Baum was always interested in the performing arts, and preferred writing plays rather than novels. In 1880 he opened his own theatre in Chicago, the Baum Opera House, which allowed him to write, direct and star in his own productions. Tragically the theatre burned down in 1882. He moved to Chicago as the city held the 1893 World Fair in a venue called 'White City' that had numerous attractions including a 'Midget City', which is likely to have played a part in inspiring the Emerald City and Munchkinland.

After the success of his book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) Baum wrote a Broadway adaptation, which was influenced by vaudeville and ran between 1902 and 1911. He did the same with his second Oz novel, though this was less successful. In 1908 he created a live-action Oz show titled Fairylogue and Radio-Plays, which combined live actors in costumes, hand-coloured film and magic-lantern slides. Baum himself gave a live lecture on the land of Oz and was accompanied by the oldest known film score. However, despite its popularity, each performance cost more to produce than could be recouped from ticket sales.

Following this failure Baum moved to Hollywood and decided to use his fortune to create his own film studio, The Oz Film Manufacturing Company, making three Oz films in 1914. Unfortunately, the Oz Film Manufacturing Company's films flopped, failing to find an audience - it was widely perceived then that the infant medium of cinema was unsuitable for children; parents were reluctant to take their children to see a film. The films also featured a lot of cavorting and dancing, as well as basic Georges Méliès-esque effects that by 1914 had drastically lost their popularity - even Méliès had been forced into bankruptcy in 1913.

Heavily influenced by vaudeville, and with 'pantomime cow'-type animals, most of the films featured the same acting troupe, with many of the actresses playing either male or female roles from film-to-film. These included Mildred Harris, who two years later at the age of 16 would become Charlie Chaplin's first wife.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914)

DirectorJ Farrell MacDonald
StudioThe Oz Film Manufacturing Company
Plot

Ojo and his uncle Unc Nunkie are starving and out of food. Heading to the Emerald City in the hope of finding the means to get by, they call in on their neighbour the Crooked Magician4 on the way. The magician has spent the last six years creating a Powder of Life to bring a stuffed life-size doll to life. The Patchwork Girl was created by his wife Margolette in order to be their servant and do all the housework. Unfortunately the Patchwork Girl is so clumsy she accidentally spills a potion over Unc Nunkie, Margolette and Margolette's daughter's fiancé, Danx, turning them to stone.

The only hope to reverse this spell involves finding the key ingredients to make a new magic potion: water from a well that has never seen daylight, three hairs from a Woozy's tail and a six-leafed clover. Ojo and Jesseva go forth to find these ingredients in order to rescue their loved ones. Jesseva has Danx shrunk to pocket-size so she can carry him around everywhere she goes. Unfortunately picking a six-leafed clover is strictly against the law and every woman who sees the small statue of Danx falls in love with it and wants him for herself.

Film TypeIncomplete silent black & white with intertitles
LengthOriginally c80 minutes
Dramatis Personæ
  • Ojo, Munchkin boy (Violet MacMillan)
  • Unc Nunkie, Ojo's uncle (Frank Moore)
  • Dr Pipt, Crooked Magician (Raymond Russell)
  • Margolette, Pipt's wife (Leontine Dranet)
  • Jesseva, Pipt and Margolette's daughter (Bobbie Gould)
  • Jinjur, Emerald City maid (Marie Wayne)
  • Danx, Jesseva's fiancé (Dick Rosson)
  • Omby Amby, Soldier with Green Whiskers (Frank Bristol)
  • Woozy, Zoop and Mewel the mule, animals (Fred Woodward)
  • Scraps, the Patchwork Girl (Pierre Couderc)
  • Wizard of Oz (Todd Wright)
  • Scarecrow (Herbert Glennon)
  • Ozma, Queen of Oz (Logo: Vivian Reed, Film: Jessie May Walsh)
  • Cowardly Lion (Hal Roach)
  • Tottenhot Jury (Harold Lloyd, uncredited)
Based OnThe Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913)
Bechdel TestN/A – Silent film

Based on the novel of the same name, which had only been published in 1913, this silent film has not fully survived - scenes are missing. It was also a financial disaster. In 1913 Baum had written a musical adaptation of his story that no-one was interested in performing, and this was adapted to become the film. Curiously there are several changes to the story, with the number of key ingredients needed for the potion reduced from five to three, the unusual creatures and races encountered changed5 and a number of character changes. The glass cat has been excised, which is understandable as to convincingly portray transparent magical animals would have been beyond 1914's technology. The Shaggy Man also does not appear. Instead the Crooked Magician has a daughter who has a fiancé as well as extra pantomime animals. One of the film's weaknesses is that it does not really reveal why picking a clover is a criminal offence that results in the main characters being imprisoned; in the novel it is at least explained that the only use for a six-leafed clover is in making strong magical potions, particularly those which were used by Wicked Witches to enslave the people of Oz.

The film was made at San Diego at the site of the exposition there. It also made film history as two key figures met on the set: actor Harold Lloyd and Hal Roach who would go on to become one of the great silent comedy film producers, particularly the Laurel & Hardy comedies. As the role of the Patchwork Girl was required to do numerous acrobatics, and female acrobats were strongly disapproved of at the time, a male acrobat, Pierre Couderc, was cast in the titular role.

His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)

DirectorJ Farrell MacDonald
StudioThe Oz Film Manufacturing Company
Plot

Elderly wealthy courtier Googly-Goo has bribed the evil dictator King Krewl to let him marry Krewl's daughter, Princess Gloria. She, however, is in love with Pon, the gardener's boy, and refuses. Krewl pays wicked witch Mombi to end her love and Gloria's heart is frozen. Dorothy tries to rescue her but is too late as Gloria no longer is able to feel emotions. On their journey from Mombi's home they encounter the Scarecrow, who has been brought to life by a stereotypical Native American for no apparent reason. The witch pulls the Scarecrow's straw out leaving him disintegrated. The Tin Woodsman, who lives in a tin castle, decapitates the Wicked Witch, but she puts her head back on. Pausing only to turn Pon into a pantomime kangaroo for no apparent reason, the witch chases Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Button Bright. Can the Scarecrow survive encounters with mermaids, birds and journeys on a raft? Will the Wizard of Oz defeat the Wicked Witch's magic in his wagon pulled by a sawhorse?

Film Type silent black & white with intertitles
Lengthc. 60 minutes
Dramatis Personæ
  • Dorothy Gale (Violet MacMillan)
  • Princess Gloria, heir to the throne (Vivian Reed)
  • Pon, the Gardener's Boy (Todd Wright)
  • Scarecrow (Frank Moore)
  • Tin Woodman (Pierre Couderc)
  • Cowardly Lion and other animals (Fred Woodward)
  • King Krewl (Raymond Russell)
  • Googly-Goo, wealthy courtier (Arthur Smollett)
  • Wizard of Oz (J Charles Hayden)
  • Mombi, wicked witch (Mai Wells)
  • Button-Bright, boy (Mildred Harris)
Bechdel TestN/A – Silent film

This story was reworked to become the second half of the following year's novel, The Scarecrow of Oz (1915), only instead of King Krewl ruling Oz he was the monarch of the adjacent kingdom of Jinxland. Baum had originally planned to end the Oz series and started writing instead a series of books featuring new characters Cap'n Bill and Trot who appeared in two previous novels The Sea Fairies (1911) and Sky Island (1912), only for those books to sell poorly in comparison with the Oz series. The novel The Scarecrow of Oz followed the plot of this film only featuring Cap'n Bill and Trot instead of Dorothy, the Wizard and the Tin Woodsman. By the end of the novel these characters find themselves in Oz.

One plot hole in this short film is that Dorothy and her friends decide to depose evil King Krewl and install Princess Gloria on the throne. Yet the instant that Krewl is overthrown, the throne is claimed by the Scarecrow instead. Also in the film but not the novel, everyone who encounters the princess falls in love with her, despite her frozen heart. The novel reveals that Pon the Gardener's Boy is descended from royalty and the witch is changed to Blinkie rather than Mombi, who had previously featured in novel The Marvelous Land of Oz.

The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914)

DirectorJ Farrell MacDonald
StudioThe Oz Film Manufacturing Company
Plot

Fairies make a magical cloak that can grant its owner a wish provided they have been given the cloak and not taken it. They give it to the unhappiest person they can find, Margaret, known to her family as 'Fluff'. She and her brother Timothy, nicknamed 'Bud', live with their cruel aunt and are sent to work in the city of Noland, along with their donkey Nickodemus. Noland's king has just died without an heir and the law states that the 47th person to enter the city after sunrise at the eastern gate is to become king. Bud is thus appointed.

Nickodemus the donkey has a series of adventures encountering various animals and rescues a kidnapped child from robbers. Meanwhile the queen of Ix, a neighbouring country, desires the magic cloak and steals it, only for it not to grant her wish of beauty. Disgusted, she throws it away. A seamstress finds the abandoned cloak and tears it up for different purposes. Meanwhile the spherical Roly-Rogues decide to invade the defenceless city of Noland and force the inhabitants to make soup. Without the magic cloak, how can their invasion be thwarted?

Film TypeIncomplete silent black & white with intertitles
Lengthc. 40 minutes
Dramatis Personæ
  • Princess Margaret 'Fluff' of Noland (Mildred Harris)
  • King Timothy 'Bud' of Noland (Violet MacMillan)
  • Nickodemus the mule (Fred Woodward)
  • Quavo (Vivian Reed)
  • Queen Zixi of Ix (Juanita Hansen)
  • The Cowardly Lion (Hal Roach)
  • Aunt Rivette (Mai Wells)
Based OnQueen Zixi of Ix (1905)
Bechdel Test N/A – Silent film

This was an adaptation of a book that was Baum's favourite of all his novels for children, but was not as successful as he had hoped as it had not been set in Oz. By changing the title for the film adaptation to include 'Oz' he hoped that it would finally find an audience.

The Wizard of Oz (1925)

DirectorLarry Semon
StudioChadwick Pictures
Plot

A grandfather tells his granddaughter a story very loosely based on The Wizard of Oz. The kingdom of Oz has been ruled by evil dictator Prime Minister Kruel since the disappearance of the baby heir to the throne, Princess Dorothea, 18 years earlier. Meanwhile in Kansas 18-year-old Dorothy is celebrating her birthday and discovers that she had been left on the doorstep and her aunt and uncle are not actually related to her after all. An envelope was left with her, with instructions to open it on her 18th birthday, but not before. Also on the farm are two nameless farmhands who are madly in love with her.

On her 18th birthday Wikked, one of Kruel's henchmen, arrives in a biplane and demands the envelope from Dorothy and her uncle and aunt. After a fight involving the farmhands – one of whom is on Dorothy's side, the other supports Kruel believing that he will be rewarded with riches and Dorothy's hand in marriage - a tornado strikes, taking the shed they are all hiding in to Oz. After opening the envelope Dorothy learns she is Princess Dorothea, ruler of Oz. Prince Kynd then inexplicably decides to imprison the nicer, clumsy farmhand and his friend Snowball for abducting Dorothy 18 years earlier despite no evidence, them having been infants at the time and thus being innocent.

After the farmhands disguise themselves as a scarecrow, tin man and lion, there is a lot of chasing around while Kruel plots to marry Dorothy to retain his position of power. Who is really a friend of Dorothy and can they save her from this dastardly scheme?

Film TypeSilent black & white with intertitles
Length85 minutes
Dramatis Personæ
  • Dorothy, 18-year-old adopted girl and secret heir to throne of Oz (Dorothy Dwan)
  • Farmhand who disguises himself as a scarecrow (Larry Semon)
  • Farmhand who disguises himself as a Tin Man (Oliver Hardy)
  • Snowball, Farmhand who disguises himself as a Cowardly Lion ('G Howe Black' - real name: Spencer Bell)
  • Wizard, fraudulent humbug (Charles Murray)
  • Prince Kynd (Bryant Washburn)
  • Prime Minister Kruel, Oz's evil dictator (Josef Swickard)
  • Aunt Em, Dorothy's adoptive aunt (Mary Carr)
  • Uncle Henry, Dorothy's adoptive uncle (Frank Alexander)
  • Lady Vishuss, evil henchwoman (Virginia Pearson)
  • Ambassador Wikked, evil henchman (Otto Lederer)
  • Phantom of the Basket (Frederick Ko Vert)
Based OnLoosely The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) with elements of The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and The Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
Bechdel TestN/A – Silent Film

The Wizard of Oz has the great Oliver Hardy in an early role, and actor/director/writer Larry Semon6 who essentially plays a Stanley Laurel substitute, and who conceived the film as his dream project. Semon cast his wife Dorothy Dwan as Dorothy, who lived with her abusive Uncle Henry. Most painfully there was an African-American farmhand stereotype named 'Snowball' and instead of Spencer Bell's real name appearing in the credits, he was renamed 'G Howe Black'. After a supposedly romantic scene involving a dirty lollipop and duck vomit we are expected to believe that the people of Oz who were on the brink of revolution against the evil Kruel chose not to want freedom after all having seen a female impersonator do a dance. While Hardy, Murray and Spencer Bell do the best with the material they have been given, this film is a mess with little basis on the Oz story.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

DirectorVictor Fleming
StudioMGM
Plot

Dorothy's dog Toto has trespassed and bitten the leg of her neighbour, Miss Gulch. Believing the dog is a danger to the community, Gulch wishes to have Toto put down. She tries to take Toto away but Toto escapes. Dorothy runs away to protect her aggressive pet, but she is encouraged to return home by a travelling entertainer.

On arriving home Dorothy encounters a tornado, falls and hits her head. She wakes to see her house flying through the air and land in the land of Oz, where she is applauded for killing the Wicked Witch of the East, on whom the house fell. After a good witch uses her magic to make Dorothy wear the evil witch's footwear, the Wicked Witch of the West swears revenge on Dorothy, as the deceased witch was her sister.

Wishing to return home, Dorothy is advised to travel to the Emerald City in the middle of Oz in order to get help from the wizard there. On her travels she encounters an anthropomorphic Scarecrow, Lion and man made of tin and promises that their wishes for a heart, brains and courage will be fulfilled by the wizard, despite not knowing the wizard's abilities. On arriving in Oz the wizard decides to send the child and her strange companions on a suicide mission to steal the witch's broomstick.

Why is everyone in the strange world of Oz strangely familiar? Can the friends of Dorothy help her in the quest, despite the attempts of the Wicked Witch to thwart them? Will Dorothy learn the most important lesson of all, that there's no place like home, there's no place like home?

Film TypeSepia and Colour
Length98 minutes
SongsLyrics by EY Harburg, music by Harold Arlen
  • 'Over the Rainbow'
  • 'Munchkinland Medley7'
  • 'Follow the Yellow Brick Road'
  • 'If I Only Had a Brain/Heart/The Nerve'
  • 'We're Off to See the Wizard'
  • 'Optimistic Voices'
  • 'The Merry Old Land of Oz'
  • 'If I Were King of the Forest'
Dramatis Personæ
  • Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland)
  • The Wizard of Oz, Professor Marvel, Gatekeeper, Guard, Carriage Driver (Frank Morgan)
  • Scarecrow & Hunk (Ray Bolger)
  • Tin Man & Hickory (Jack Haley8)
  • Cowardly Lion & Zeke (Bert Lahr)
  • Glinda, Good Witch (Billie Burke)
  • Wicked Witch of the West & Miss Gulch (Margaret Hamilton)
  • Auntie Em (Clara Blandick)
  • Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin)
  • Nikko, Winged Monkey (Pat Walshe)
Based OnThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
Bechdel TestPass

Dorothy, her dog and the red crystal slippers.

A fairly accurate retelling of the first half of the classic tale that adds classic songs and makes a few changes, especially everything from arriving at the Emerald City onwards. It is also left open-ended whether the adaptation is set in the 1930s or at the time the novel was written. The changes include bookending the story to imply it was just a dream, as it was believed that a pure fantasy setting would put off the audience. They also removed some of the novel's key characters such as the Mouse Queen and changed Glinda from being a southerly to northerly witch. The novel's Silver Shoes have also become Ruby Slippers to better stand out as this film was made with Technicolor.

According to the Library of Congress, this is the most-watched film of all time. It was chosen to be one of the first 25 films for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being 'culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant' and regularly tops 'Must Watch' or 'Best Film' lists. For most of the world's population outside the US, their knowledge and perception of Kansas is based predominantly and/or entirely on this film. When first broadcast on US television an unprecedented audience of 56 million viewers watched it, and unsurprisingly the film has gone on to influence artists in all proceeding generations. Surprisingly, despite its classic status, the film flopped on original release.

The ending of the film also does not resolve whether Toto will be put down, nor explain how Professor Marvel knows where Dorothy lives or why no-one minds that a complete stranger is suddenly looking through a young girl's bedroom window. The film won two Oscars, for Best Original Song for 'Over the Rainbow', a song that was almost cut out of the film, and Best Original Score.

Unmade: The Rainbow Road to Oz

Walt Disney is the American filmmaker most associated with the fantasy genre, and he long held the ambition to make an adaptation of the Oz books. Following the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs he tried to acquire the rights to make an Oz film only to be disappointed that the rights had been sold to MGM9. In 1954 Walt Disney bought the film rights to 11 of Baum's 14 Oz books10. He was considering adapting the Oz stories for his Fantasyland segment of his Disneyland television series (1954+ with different names) which could tie in with a potential Oz ride at his planned Disneyland theme park11. In 1957 he commissioned a two-episode script to be written. When finished, it convinced him that it might have potential to become a live-action film, Disney having successfully released his Davy Crockett Disneyland series as two films in 1955 and 1956, with a third on the way.

Many of the key roles in the Oz film spin-off were expected to go to Disneyland's cast of 'Mouseketeers'. Costumes of the Scarecrow, Patchwork Girl, Cowardly Lion and Ozma were created, sets built and excerpts from the intended film of the cast singing a selection of the songs were even broadcast on an episode of Disneyland under the title The Rainbow Road to Oz. When making this, Disney lost enthusiasm for the project and felt that the show would not be able to rival the MGM production. Instead, Disney changed his mind and adapted Babes in Toyland instead, which itself was based on a 1903 operetta inspired by the success of the original Oz musical. This featured many of the Mouseketeer cast as well as starring Scarecrow-actor Ray Bolger, as The Rainbow Road to Oz had intended. So had The Rainbow Road to Oz been made it would have been similar in scale and style to Babes in Toyland (1961), essentially a television episode released to cinemas; Walt Disney Pictures had only just begun making feature-length live-action films in the United States in 1955. Babes in Toyland was released the same year as the original West Side Story and it was clear that stylistically Disney would have to up their game and make any future musicals to a much higher standard, which they did with Mary Poppins (1964).

The Wiz (1978)

DirectorSidney Lumet
StudioMotown Productions
Plot

Dorothy, a mid-30s preschool teacher, lives in Harlem, New York. During a snowstorm she and her dog Toto fall to Oz, inadvertently knocking over a sign that squashes Evermean, the Wicked Witch of the East who had turned the Munchkins and the Good Witch of the North into graffiti. Freed, the Good Witch tells Dorothy to follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City in order to ask the Wiz to help her get home and replaces her shoes with the wicked witch's silver slippers.

On her journey through Oz, which looks remarkably like a run-down New York, Dorothy encounters a Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion who respectively feel they lack a brain, heart and courage. They escape both a subway station where the bins come to life and Poppy Girls. After encountering the giant fire-breathing head of the Wiz, they all agree to commit murder and assassinate the Wicked Witch of the West in order to gain what they most desire. Captured by the Flying Monkeys, they are taken to the Wicked Witch's sweatshop, where sweat is manufactured to be sold. The Scarecrow is sawn in half, the Tin Man squashed, and the Lion hoisted by his tail. Can Dorothy rescue her friends, kill the witch and be sent back home by the Wiz?

Film TypeMusical
Length133 minutes
Dramatis Personæ
  • Dorothy (Diana Ross)
  • Scarecrow (Michael Jackson)
  • Tin Man (Nipsey Russell)
  • Fleetwood Coupe DeVille aka Cowardly Lion (Ted Ross)
  • Herman Smith aka The Wiz (Richard Pryor)
  • Evillene, Wicked Witch of the West (Mabel King)
  • Glinda the Good Witch of the South (Lena Horne)
  • Miss One the Good Witch of the North (Thelma Carpenter)
  • Aunt Em Shelby Gale (Theresa Merritt)
  • Uncle Henry Gale (Stanley Greene)
SongsWritten by Charlie Smalls unless stated:
  • 'The Feeling That We Had'
  • 'Can I Go On?' by Quincy Jones, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson
  • 'He's the Wizard'
  • 'Soon As I Get Home'
  • 'Home'
  • 'You Can't Win'
  • 'Ease on Down the Road'
  • 'What Would I Do If I Could Feel? '
  • 'Slide Some Oil to Me'
  • 'I'm a Mean Ole Lion'
  • 'Be a Lion'
  • 'Emerald City Sequence' music by Quincy Jones, lyrics by Charlie Smalls
  • 'Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News'
  • 'Everybody Rejoice / A Brand New Day' by Luther Vandross
  • 'Believe in Yourself'
Based OnThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) & musical The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical 'Wonderful Wizard of Oz' (1974)
Bechdel TestPass

Featuring an all-black cast in an example of 'positive discrimination'12, this adaptation of the 1974 multi award-winning musical was one of the last films made during the 1970s blaxploitation13 boom. The play's original script was heavily rewritten by Joel Schumacher to give it a contemporary New York City setting but also heavily included EST14 self -improvement philosophy. The original plan had been to cast Broadway actress Stephanie Mills as Dorothy as she had played the role on stage; however, Diana Ross personally begged Universal Picture's executive producer Rob Cohen to be allowed to star, which led to the original director quitting.

At the time of release this was the most-expensive musical yet made. Despite being a box office bomb, this film has become a cult classic and in 2015 a live remake of the musical, which contained many elements created for the film version, was broadcast as The Wiz Live!. It is notable that the 2015 remake is over 20 minutes shorter as this film version's pace is painfully slow in places. This is most apparent in the sequence set in the Emerald City and filmed at the World Trade Center – in this, background characters wear green clothes and walk around in circles, then wear red clothes and walk around in circles and then wear gold clothes and spiralling meander once more. This exists solely to show various clothes designed by a multitude of fashion companies and has nothing to do with the plot.

Curiously the crows mocking the Scarecrow in The Wiz are remarkably similar to the crows that are racist stereotypes that mock Dumbo in Dumbo (1941). Michael Jackson met producer Quincy Jones when making this film; they would collaborate on Jackson's albums Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982) and Bad (1987).

Return to Oz (1985)

DirectorWalter Murch
StudioWalt Disney Pictures
Plot

In 1899, six months after a tornado all-but destroyed their farmhouse, and Dorothy claimed to have visited the land of Oz, 11-year-old Dorothy is having difficulty sleeping. Her aunt and uncle therefore decide to take her to a sanatorium run by a quack named Dr Worley in order for him to lobotomise15 her by zapping hundreds of volts through her head in an experimental electroconvulsive therapy treatment. Rescued by a mysterious girl while the hospital burns to the ground, Dorothy jumps into a raging river and wakes up in the land of Oz in the middle of the Deadly Desert. Any living thing that touches the Deadly Desert turns to sand.

After finding her way to the Emerald City along with her chicken Billina, Dorothy discovers that the city is in ruins and everyone has turned to stone. Dorothy is hunted by Wheelers, vicious people with wheels instead of hands and feet, and is rescued by Tik-Tok, a mechanical wind-up man. The only other inhabitant of the Emerald City is the Princess Mombi, a witch who has a collection of decapitated heads that she uses to change her appearance instead of changing clothes. Planning to keep Dorothy until she's old enough to have an adult head that she can add to her collection, Mombi locks Dorothy in a tower that also contains Jack Pumpkinhead, a living pumpkin-headed stick figure brought to life with the Powder of Life. Dorothy learns that Oz had been conquered by the Nome King using the Ruby Slippers that she had lost on her way out of Oz on her first visit.

Can Dorothy find a way to escape from the Witch Princess? What has happened to the Scarecrow, and can she defeat the Nome King?

Film TypeGothic
Length113 minutes
Dramatis Personæ
  • Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk)
  • Nome King, and Dr JB Worley (Nicol Williamson)
  • Princess Mombi, and Nurse Wilson (Jean Marsh)
  • Princess Mombi's other heads (Sophie Ward, Fiona Victory)
  • Princess Ozma, and Girl in hospital (Body: Emma Ridley16)
  • Aunt Em (Piper Laurie)
  • Medical Assistant, and Lead Wheeler (Pons Maar)
  • Uncle Henry (Matt Clark)
  • Billina, chicken (voice: Denise Bryer)
  • Tik-Tok, mechanical wind-up man (voice: Sean Barrett)
  • Jack Pumpkinhead (voice: Brian Henson)
  • Scarecrow (Justin Case)
  • Gump, moose-headed flying chaise longue (voice: Lyle Conway)
Based OnThe Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and Ozma of Oz (1907)
Bechdel TestPass

Disney had paid a small fortune to purchase the film rights to many of the Oz novels in the 1950s and these rights were due to expire in the mid-80s, which led to the making of this film. As it was felt to be impossible to compete with The Wizard of Oz as a musical, the decision was made to make it a darker, more gothic film and keep elements from the novels that Disney had the rights to, particularly the second and third books in the series. Though the witch Mombi had appeared in the second book as having kidnapped Princess Ozma, her character was combined with Princess Langwidere, a minor character from the same book. The Nome King was the villain in the third novel. New story elements included Dorothy's treatment in Kansas, returning to a ruined Emerald City and its inhabitants being turned to stone and ruled by a witch17. As an attempt to play homage to the classic 1939 film Disney paid MGM royalties to use Ruby Slippers in the film. The novels use Silver Shoes, with the Nome King having a magic belt instead. At the time of release this was in the Guinness Book of Records for being the sequel made after the longest period of time from the original film (46 years), though this has since been surpassed by Bambi II: The Great Prince of the Forest, made 64 years after Bambi (1942).

Return To Oz was made at a turbulent time at Disney, when they were struggling with many of their films' financial failures. Walt Disney Productions' executives were in a revolving door, with the project greenlit in 1982 by Disney's Head of Motion Picture and Television Tom Wilhite and given a budget of $30 million, only to be cancelled in 1983 by his replacement Richard Berger, after $6 million had been spent on the film, because other Disney films had gone over budget. After a brief period it was decided to continue but reduce Return To Oz's budget. Though it had been planned to have numerous animatronic characters, which would have included Jack Pumpkinhead18 and Scarecrow, they ended up with expressionless faces to save money. The animatronic Billina the chicken and the Gump head that had been made were convincing. Another consequence of the budget-slashing was that, instead of being filmed in Sardinia and Algeria for the Deadly Desert and Naples for Mombi's Palace and the Emerald City, it was filmed at Elstree Studios and the outdoor Kansas scenes were filmed on Salisbury Plain. Due to child labour laws Balk was only allowed to work for three and a half hours a day, which severely slowed production as she was in almost every scene. The scene set in the Nome King's cavern was animated using Claymation.

When the film was finished Walt Disney Productions was controlled by Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. As the film had been greenlit by previous administrations, they felt no compunction to market it effectively and so allowed it to fail. Not even recouping its production budget, Return to Oz was a box office bomb.

The Muppets' Wizard of Oz (2005)

DirectorKirk R Thatcher
StudioThe Muppets Studio
The Jim Henson Company
The Walt Disney Company
Plot

Dorothy Gale dreams of leaving Kansas, where she works at her aunt's diner, and becoming a singer. After she gives a demo CD to the Muppets, the trailer in which she lives is carried in a tornado to Oz, a magical world in which her pet prawn Toto can talk. Her trailer lands in Munchkinland on top of the wicked witch of the East, who had enslaved the Munchkins. The Witch of the North gives her the Silver Shoes of the Wicked Witch and tells her that if she goes to the Emerald City along the yellow brick road, the Wizard will make her a star.

On her journey to Oz she meets a brainless Scarecrow, heartless Tin Thing and a Cowardly Lion who wishes to be a stand-up comedian. After arriving in the Emerald City, where they have to wear special glasses, they are told that the wizard will grant their wishes if they bring him the Wicked Witch of the West's magic eye.

On their way to the Wicked Witch of the West's castle they are caught by the Flying Monkeys, a biker gang enslaved by the Wicked Witch and forced to be her servants. The Scarecrow and Tin Thing are destroyed, and Lion and Dorothy imprisoned. Can Dorothy and the Lion escape and get their hearts' desire of courage and fame?

Film TypeMuppet Musical
Length96 minutes
Dramatis Personæ
  • Dorothy Gale, teenage girl in Kansas who wants to be a star singer (Ashanti)
  • Aunt Em, Dorothy's aunt who runs a diner (Queen Latifah19)
  • Uncle Henry, Aunt Em's less strict husband (David Alan Grier)
  • The Wizard of Oz (Jeffrey Tambor)
  • Quentin Tarantino (Himself)
Muppets
  • Scarecrow (Kermit the Frog – Steve Whitmire)
  • Tin Thing (Gonzo - Dave Goelz)
  • Cowardly Lion (Fozzie Bear - Eric Jacobson)
  • Toto, Dorothy's talking pet King Prawn (Pepé - Bill Barretta)
  • Wicked Witch of the West (Miss Piggy - Eric Jacobson)
  • Glinda the Good Witch of the South (Miss Piggy - Eric Jacobson)
  • Tattypoo the Good Witch of the North (Miss Piggy - Eric Jacobson)
  • Wicked Witch of the East (Miss Piggy - Eric Jacobson)
  • Mayor of Munchkinland (Rizzo the Rat – Steve Whitmere)
  • Sal, Chief Flying Monkey (Sal Manilla – Brian Henson)
  • Flying Monkey Gaoler (Sweetums – John Henson)
SongsSoundtrack by Michael Giacchino, songs by Jeannie Lurie and Brandon Christy unless stated:
  • 'Kansas'
  • 'When I'm With You' by Michael Giacchino, Jeannie Lurie, Adam Cohen, Debra Frank and Steve L Hayes
  • 'The Witch Is In The House' by Michael Giacchino, Jeannie Lurie, Brandon Christy and Adam Cohen
  • 'Calling All Munchkins' by Michael Giacchino, Debra Frank and Steve L Hayes
  • 'Poppy Fields' by Brandon Christy
  • 'Good Life'
Based OnThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) & The Muppet Show &c (1976+)
Bechdel TestPass

The Walt Disney Company bought the rights to The Muppets from the Jim Henson Company in 2004 and immediately began work on this made-for-television adaptation of the classic novel, similar to how Disney and the Muppets had co-produced the classic The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). Jim Henson had been a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz and in fact the song 'Over the Rainbow' had been the inspiration for Oscar-nominated song 'The Rainbow Connection' (1979) from The Muppet Movie.

This adaptation is closer to the original novel, where the Flying Monkeys obey whoever wears the magical cap, people in Emerald City have to wear special glasses and the magical footwear are silver shoes, not ruby slippers. The Munchkins have been combined with Oz's Field Mice, who in the novel are important characters who rescue Dorothy and the Lion from the sleepy poppies, as they look like rats, exclusively wear blue, and perform the roles that the Field Mice play in the novel.

The story also owes a lot to The Wiz, with the story set in contemporary rather than period America, the Gale family being black and Dorothy being played by a famous singer. In fact all three actors playing the Gale family have since appeared in The Wiz, with Ashanti playing Dorothy on stage in 2009 and both Queen Latifah and David Alan Grier appearing in The Wiz Live! in 2015, as the Wiz and Cowardly Lion respectively.

Having Quentin Tarantino cameo in this film seems an odd choice as it seems unlikely that the juvenile audience would recognise a director famous for his violent films. Also many people's favourite Muppets barely appear, including Animal and the first Muppet of all, Rowlf. That said, a delightful reference in this film is when the Tin Thing asks the Wizard of Oz if he is related to Frank Oz, one of the co-founders of the Muppets who created Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Animal and Yoda.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

DirectorSam Raimi
StudioWalt Disney Pictures
Roth Films
Plot

In Kansas in 1905 a womanising con-artist named Oscar is performing in a traveling circus as magician 'The Great Oz'. After learning that the love of his life, Annie, is going to marry John Gale, he is attacked by the circus strongman for trying to seduce the strongman's wife. Oz flees in the circus' hot air balloon just as a tornado strikes. Believing himself doomed, Oz promises to mend his ways, and awakens in the magical world of Oz where he meets Theodora, a young witch who believes he is the prophesised wizard and rightful king who will save the land of Oz from a wicked witch.

Still a womaniser at heart, Oz makes Theodora fall in love with him and encourages her belief that he is the chosen one as he is keen to become the king of Oz and steal its treasures. He only confides in Finley the flying monkey, who has sworn eternal loyalty to him. After meeting Theodora's older sister Evanora, he agrees that to become king he must go to the Dark Forest and kill the witch who lives there by destroying her wand. Oz and Finley sneak out without telling Theodora and on the journey encounter a destroyed village made of china, with only a young girl surviving despite her legs having broken.

Can a con artist like Oz really use his skills to convince a wicked witch that he is a great and powerful magician, who deserves to rule the magical kingdom of Oz?

Film TypeFamily Fantasy Prequel
Length130 minutes
Dramatis Personæ
  • The Great Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs, or 'Oz' (James Franco)
  • Theodora, a naïve Witch waiting for a prophesised Wizard (Mila Kunis)
  • Evanora, Witch protector and ruler of Emerald City (Rachel Weisz)
  • Glinda, a Witch believed to have murdered the King of Oz (Michelle Williams)
  • Finley, winged-monkey servant of Oz (Zach Braff)
  • China Girl, living delicate girl made of china (Joey King)
Based OnNew story, inspired by Oz novels
Bechdel TestPass

The film is very much influenced by the 1939 The Wizard of Oz and can be seen as a prequel to it. The opening is set in Kansas in 1905, which is shown in Black and White just like the earlier film. Kansas also contains counterparts to some of the characters the Wizard would later encounter, just like the 1939 film, namely Oz's assistant Frank who is the equivalent to Finley the flying monkey, the disabled girl who is the equivalent of the china girl and most importantly Oz's lost love Annie who is the Kansas equivalent of Glinda and is destined to become Annie Gale, mother of Dorothy Gale. Whether Oz would be Dorothy's father is left unclear. These characters are played by the same actors who play their Oz equivalents. Just as in the 1939 film there are only three witches, who are sisters as the 1939 film suggested. Unlike the novels none have only one eye.

That said, as the 1939 film's copyright was owned by Turner Entertainment, Disney had to ensure that they did not breach the film's copyright and so the Wicked Witch had a completely different green skin tone, the Emerald City had a completely different appearance and the film avoided using characters and props conceived for the 1939 film, most notably Ruby Slippers.

The film idea was originally developed by Roth Films to be their third film, with Disney delightedly snapping up the opportunity to co-produce it as Roth Films had co-produced the incredibly successful Alice in Wonderland (2010) remake which had made over $1 billion at the box office. As Oz had a similar fantasy setting it was hoped it would prove as successful and it was left open for potential sequels, with the film set 20 years before the 1939 musical. Oz The Great and Powerful made a modest profit, but not sufficient to justify a sequel, unlike Roth Productions' other fantasy films co-produced around the same time20.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return (2014)

DirectorsDaniel St Pierre & Will Finn
StudioSummertime Entertainment
Plot

In Oz it has been several years since Dorothy defeated the Wicked Witch, only for a new threat to have arisen. The Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man try to contact Dorothy, for whom, as time works differently in our world, it is only the day after the tornado destroyed her farm and nearby village. In Kansas everyone in her area has been evicted from their homes by a government appraiser who says the area is no longer safe.

Dorothy is transported to Oz by a rainbow, but not to the Emerald City as the Lion and Scarecrow and Tin Man oh my are captured by the Flying Monkeys. The Monkeys had also captured Glinda and she is brought before the Jester, who is the Wicked Witches' brother. He has the Wicked Witch's broom and a crystal ball, which he uses to turn people into puppets. Dorothy encounters Wiser, a wise, overweight owl who cannot fly, and they walk through Candy County, where it is illegal to eat sweets. Dorothy and Wiser are tricked by the Jester's magic into eating sweets and are briefly sentenced to death, only to then be escorted to Emerald City by Marshall Mallow. They go via the China Kingdom, which is behind the Great Wall of China, where everything is made out of delicate China including a China Princess, who is meeting suitors that day. After Marshall Mallow enchants her, an earthquake sent by the Jester destroys much of the town and so the spoilt China Princess joins his group. When the bridge across a chasm has been destroyed they find a talking tree who allows them to turn him into boat and they reach the Emerald City, only to discover that actually they now need to go to the Jester's Castle to rescue their friends.

Can Dorothy and her new-found friends defeat the Jester? And back in Kansas, will Dorothy be able to save her home and her village?

Film TypeAnimated musical
Length88 minutes
Dramatis Personæ
  • Dorothy Gale (Lea Michele)
  • Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd)
  • Cowardly Lion (Jim Belushi)
  • Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer)
  • Jester, the Wicked Witches' brother (Martin Short)
  • Marshal Mallow, Soldier of Candy County (Hugh Dancy)
  • China Princess (Megan Hilty)
  • Wiser, overweight loquacious owl (Oliver Platt)
  • Tugg, talking tree turned into a boat (Sir Patrick Stewart)
  • Judge Jawbreaker (Brian Blessed)
  • Glinda the Good Witch (Bernadette Peters)
SongsSongs by Bryan Adams & Jim Vallance unless stated:
  • 'When the World' by Tift Merritt
  • 'Candy, Candy'
  • 'China Princess' by Jim Dooley
  • 'Jester' by Jim Dooley
  • 'Work with Me'
  • 'Even Then' by Tift Merritt
  • 'One Day'
Based OnDorothy of Oz (1989) by Roger Stanton Baum21
Bechdel TestPass

This is an animated film notorious for the way that it was financed. Made by the Carroll Brothers, the funding strategy has been compared to that of the film The Producers. Funds were raised by cold-calling people and asking for money and inviting people to fundraising events. In exchange for shares in one company that would fund another company, investors were promised that they would see returns from an animated film trilogy, extensive merchandising and licencing, a successful soundtrack, spin-off computer games and a stage musical, guaranteeing that this film would prove as successful as either The Simpsons or Toy Story series. The minimum investment allowed was $100,000 and no mention of the risks was made, in defiance of many US states' contract law. The original plan had been to raise enough to make a $20 million straight-to-DVD film, yet over $120 million was raised. Unfortunately, this film was a box office bomb, apparently costing $70 million to produce and making only $20 million. After the marketing budget was taken into account, the filmmakers claimed to have lost approximately $100 million.

Despite the questionable fundraising, which has led to speculations over how much of the money raised was actually spent on the film22, the film itself did involve respected talents. The animation was made by Prana Studios, who had animated DisneyToon Studios' Tinker Bell and Planes films. Yet the film looks cheap, a better Oz film had been released (and flopped) shortly before and the plot is predictable. The market for animated films is notoriously difficult - even quality films such as those made by Laika and Aardman struggle to compete, and established studio DreamWorks Animation collapsed in 2014, the year this film was released23. After the film failed, the home market rights were auctioned off to companies uninvolved in its production.

This film is set in the early 21st Century rather than early 20th, with Martin Short playing an evil appraiser in Kansas as well as the evil Jester in Oz. There is a scene in which Dorothy runs in panic from a rainbow, with the rainbow supposedly as threatening as a tornado, which doesn't quite work. The time difference between Oz and our world seems to be taken from the Narnia novels rather than Oz. The characters of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, instead of having brains, heart and courage all along and not needing to change but to realise that for themselves, have now gone to extremes with the Scarecrow portrayed as a genius, the Tin Man emotionally unstable and the Lion recklessly aggressive. In fact Kelsey Grammer's performance as the Tin Man contributed to him being awarded 'Worst Supporting Actor' in the 2014 Golden Raspberry Awards24.

Conclusion

As long as the Oz novels are beloved by children worldwide who have as much imagination in their brains as the Scarecrow, or fondness as the Tin Man, there will be attempts to capture the magic and bring it to the big screen. In fact at time of writing (2022) there are two Oz adaptations in production, including of the musical Wicked.

1This quote is irrelevant.2Yes, his surname has amused generations of children as it is an anagram of 'A Bum'. Snigger now and move on.3It should also be stated that the original print run was one of the first children's books with multiple colour illustrations, including of the road of yellow brick, a bright green Emerald City and a blue Munchkinland.4Crooked in the sense of bent over or twisted rather than dishonest; for example, the magician stirs his cauldrons with his feet.5Including the omission of the Horners, a race of horned people who live in radium houses for the 'health benefits'!6Shortly after finishing this film Semon had a breakdown and died in 1928 under mysterious circumstances at the age of 39.7'Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are', 'The House Began To Pitch', 'As Mayor of the Munchkin City', 'As Coroner, I Must Aver', 'Ding Dong The Witch is Dead', 'Lullaby League', 'Lollipop Guild', and 'We Welcome You to Munchkinland'.8Tin Man also voiced by Buddy Ebsen.9This is just as well as not only is the MGM film beloved worldwide but Disney overstretched himself, making numerous films at the same time only to face severe financial difficulties. Disney's 1940s adaptations of such classic tales as Jack and the Beanstalk, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Wind in the Willows were only half-finished and, with the company on the brink of collapse, hurriedly released as compilations Fun and Fancy Free (1947) and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad (1949).10The Emerald City of Oz, Glinda of Oz, The Lost Princess of Oz, The Magic of Oz, Ozma of Oz, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Rinkitink in Oz, The Road to Oz, The Scarecrow of Oz, Tik-Tok of Oz and The Tin Woodsman of Oz, later acquiring a 12th book, Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz.11The Wizard of Oz featured in Disney's Hollywood Studios' 'Great Movie Ride' and EuroDisney's 'Le Pays des Contes de Fées' boat ride.12'Positive discrimination' is the attempt to include, sometimes exclusively, underrepresented groups in areas in which they are often excluded.13A popular American genre in the 1970s with the name a portmanteau of 'black exploitation'. While this genre began with films that often perpetuated stereotypes showing the black community involved in criminal activities, it later evolved into showing black characters and communities as the main characters and heroes and were often intended for a black African-American audience.14Erhard Seminars Training, developed by Werner Erhard, which was very popular in the 1970s.15While this is fictional and the details of the medical procedure are not discussed, and in surgical terms a 'lobotomy' uses 'needles' to sever connections between the frontal lobes and the brain and not electricity, the procedure's aims in this film are consistent with the stated aims of lobotomies, which are to: prevent nightmares, aid the patient (in this case Dorothy) in being able to tell fact from fiction, and make her more compliant so she won't have to spend her life locked up in an institution.16The English actress' voice was dubbed by the director's daughter Beatrice Murch to give her an American accent.17This resembles elements of CS Lewis' Narnia saga, as a witch who turned Narnians into stone statues appeared in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the capital of Cair Paravel was in ruins in both that story and first sequel, Prince Caspian.18Jack Pumpkinhead is said to be an inspiration for the appearance of Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).19No known relation to Queen Elizabeth II.20Their debut film Alice in Wonderland (2010) led to Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016). Their second film, which was co-produced with Universal Pictures, was Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and was followed by The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016). Maleficent (2014) was followed by Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019).21L Frank Baum's great-grandson.22$70 million is a budget bigger than other films released the same year that have a much higher animation quality, including Planes: Fire & Rescue, The Boxtrolls and The Lego Movie.23DreamWorks Animation have since been taken over by Universal.24He was awarded for four performances, in The Expendables 3, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, Think Like a Man Too and Transformers: Age of Extinction.

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