The Wizard of Oz disc collection

Unboxed: The Wizard of Oz on Home Video Through the Years

This week marks another home video milestone for The Wizard of Oz. As the iconic 1939 musical fantasy celebrates its 80th anniversary, Warner Home Video honors the occasion with a 4k Ultra HD release. Over the years, director Victor Fleming’s adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s children’s classic has been at the forefront of any new home video format, from VHS and Laserdisc to DVD, Blu-ray, and even 3D.

If I’m not mistaken, Oz is the oldest Hollywood movie to get the Ultra High-Def treatment. For a film that was – and still is – considered a technological marvel, such a distinction only seems fitting.

Of course, ever since the dawn of home video, MGM and then Warner Bros. have milked every penny they could from The Wizard of Oz, and with such a rabid fan base, who can blame them? The beloved film has touched and continues to touch every segment of the population both here and abroad, and its universal appeal spans generations. We all may have fallen in love with The Wizard of Oz as children, but for many of us, the affection remains just as ardent into adulthood, throughout middle age, and beyond. I was first introduced to The Wizard of Oz at age four. I’m 56 now, and I adore the film as much as I ever did.

When MGM/UA released the 50th anniversary VHS edition in 1989, I eagerly snatched it up. I also grabbed Warner Home Video’s 60th anniversary DVD in 1999, the Three-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD in 2005, the 70th Anniversary Blu-ray in 2009, and the 75th Anniversary 3D Blu-ray in 2014. All the anniversary editions were available in lavish box sets filled with all sorts of fascinating and fickle collectibles. (Another massive box set, The Ultimate Oz, was released by MGM/UA in 1993 on both VHS and Laserdisc formats.) Did I need a new Wizard of Oz edition every few years? No. Did I anticipate and welcome each and every one like a visit from Santa Claus? Absolutely! To this day, I deeply appreciate the thought and care that oozes from every release. Each is lovingly designed, and even if some of the kitschy swag reeks of shameless marketing gimmickry, the tie-in trinkets bring whimsy and warmth – essential elements of The Wizard of Oz – to each set.

So, here’s a fond and nostalgic look back at all the Oz special releases I’ve collected over the years. Perusing them in preparation for this piece was a real treat and filled me with the kind of childlike wonder only The Wizard of Oz can inspire.

1989 50th Anniversary VHS

The most modest special edition, this release features a cover flap that opens to reveal a glued-in 28-page booklet celebrating the movie’s 50th anniversary. Contents include a lengthy essay by Oz expert John Fricke, scads of color and tinted photos, and descriptions of the bonus material that follows the movie on the cassette. Though bonus features are commonplace on DVDs and Blu-rays, they were pretty rare on VHS tapes, so the inclusion of trailers, newsreel clips, and outtakes is noteworthy. This edition also marks the first time the original sepia-toned Kansas scenes were included on a home video release, and the first time a bona fide Technicolor print was used for the transfer.

The Wizard of Oz - 1989 50th Anniversary VHS

The Wizard of Oz - 1989 50th Anniversary VHS Booklet

1993 Ultimate Oz VHS Box Set

Does size really matter? The largest of all the Oz special editions, this behemoth measures 12-3/4″ x 12-3/4″ x 2″ and features fluorescent emerald green lettering on the cover. (The same box was used for a Laserdisc edition released simultaneously.) Raise the box top, and printed on its underside are historical liner notes by John Fricke superimposed over a blow-up purple-tinted portrait of Judy Garland as Dorothy. Inside the box, nestled in a custom-made slot, lies the Oz Continuity Script. The hefty volume “contains all material from the March 15, 1939 ‘Cutting Continuity’ script taken from Printer’s Dupe. Scenes and dialogue later deleted for the final release version of The Wizard of Oz have been indicated in italics.” Underneath the script are five glossy 8″ x 10″ black-and-white scene and production stills, and right below them sit two VHS tapes: the main feature, distinguished by a “new Technicolor restoration from the original nitrate negative” and “restored audio created from original soundtrack masters,” and the 1990 documentary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, narrated by Angela Lansbury.

The product spec sheet amusingly heralds, “You’ll hear Oz like you’ve never heard it before!” While I’m sure that was true at the time, I can only imagine what the audio on that VHS tape sounds like compared to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track included on the Blu-ray and 4k UHD discs. If only MGM/UA Home Video could have peered into Professor Marvel’s crystal ball and foreseen the audio advancements on the horizon…

The Wizard of Oz - 1993 Ultimate Oz VHS Box Set

The Wizard of Oz - 1993 Ultimate Oz VHS Box Set Back Cover

The Wizard of Oz - 1993 Ultimate Oz VHS Box Set Script Book

The Wizard of Oz - 1993 Ultimate Oz VHS Box Set Tapes

The Wizard of Oz - 1993 Ultimate Oz VHS Box Set Photos

1999 Deluxe Edition DVD

The first deluxe DVD Oz edition measures 11-1/2″ x 9″ x 2-3/4″. A yellow brick road trim lines the big shimmery box that displays the faces of the four principals and a drawing of the intrepid quartet approaching the Emerald City on its cover. Open the flap, and you’ll find a packet of six 8″ x 10″ matte stills. There are three color reproductions of various Oz posters, two black-and-white scene stills, and one black-and-white publicity portrait. Underneath the photos lies the same continuity script included in the Ultimate Oz box set (albeit with a different cover), and beneath that is the Oz DVD in one of the snapper cases that were a trademark of Warner Bros back in the format’s early days. The fold-out, three-panel cover features plenty of small color pictures, a scene index, and descriptions of all the disc’s supplemental materials. Tucked inside are two booklets. The eight-page Merry Music of Oz is a “DVD Audio Supplements Guide” that lists and describes the voluminous rare audio material (scoring sessions, alternate vocal takes, and radio shows) included on the disc. This is actually an invaluable reference book, because the Audio Jukebox is included on every subsequent Oz release, and this booklet lists and describes all the material. The other booklet is a quaint, six-page, illustrated DVD tutorial. You’re Off to See TThe Wizard of Oz: How to Get the Most Out of Your DVD explains how to use your remote control (my parents would still find those instructions invaluable!), how to navigate the on-screen menus (all of which are pictured), and what happens when you click on various selections. Once again, the packaging heralds a “never-before-seen restoration” that “looks and sounds better than ever.”

The Wizard of Oz - 1999 Deluxe Edition DVD

The Wizard of Oz - 1999 Deluxe Edition DVD Interior

The Wizard of Oz - 1999 Deluxe Edition DVD Script Book

The Wizard of Oz - 1999 Deluxe Edition DVD Photo Cards

The Wizard of Oz - 1999 Deluxe Edition DVD Snapper Case and Booklets

2005 Three-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD

The most compact Oz collector’s edition measures 7-1/2″ x 5-1/2″ x 1-1/2″ and features eerier, more foreboding cover art that showcases the Wicked Witch of the West in a creepy silhouette with a textured rendering of Dorothy and her friends in a crystal ball. The Witch’s green hands are textured, too, and raised gold lettering on the front and sides of the slipcase adds a touch of elegance. The 10-sided fold-out digipak houses three DVD discs, content listings for all three discs, and a couple of artist renderings of notable scenes. Several small color pictures are sprinkled throughout as well.

Two stunning 5″ x 7″ portfolio packets are also included in the set. The 1939 Promotional Portfolio contains a beautiful eight-page reproduction of the original program from the movie’s 1939 premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre; a 16-page reproduction of a 1939 issue of Photoplay Studies magazine, which chronicles the making of Oz and analyzes the intent behind the production; a 12-page reproduction of the original MGM studio Oz press book; a glossy color postcard displaying a montage of original Oz poster art; and facsimiles of the original invitation and ticket to the movie’s gala premiere. The 1939 Kodachrome Portfolio includes ten gorgeous glossy reproductions of original 1939 Kodachrome publicity art printed on high-quality postcards. The vibrant, lush color is truly magnificent and the clarity is breathtaking, too.

Sometimes the best things really do come in small packages. I’m a sucker for any kind of classic movie memorabilia, so I really appreciate these beautifully reproduced artifacts and very much enjoy perusing them now and then. It really is like holding little pieces of film history in your hands.

The Wizard of Oz - 2005 Three-Disc Collector's Edition DVD

The Wizard of Oz - 2005 Three-Disc Collector's Edition DVD Interior

The Wizard of Oz - 2005 Three-Disc Collector's Edition DVD Photo Cards

The Wizard of Oz - 2005 Three-Disc Collector's Edition DVD Promo Materials

2009 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray

Arguably the most beautiful Oz collector’s edition of them all, the 70th anniversary box set measures 11-3/4″ x 8″ x 2-3/4″. This is a limited, numbered edition. Warner Home Video produced 243,000 units (mine is #10,632). Opening the box’s flip-top lid reveals a copy of the original budget/ledger sheet for Production #1060, which began shooting on October 12, 1938 and completed on February 27, 1939. It’s a fascinating document, and shows that the film exceeded its budget by just over $1 million. Beneath that sheet lies a gorgeously designed, lavishly illustrated 11″ x 7-1/2″, 52-page hardcover book that chronicles the Oz production through text by John Fricke, rare behind-the-scenes color and black-and-white photos, script and document reproductions, and brief biographies of the main cast members.

Next is a wonderful miniature reproduction of the complete 60-page Campaign Book that MGM distributed to its theater owners. It’s packed with promotional materials, tie-ins, and publicity plans in both color and black-and-white. Digging deeper finds a small rectangular tin box that contains a surprisingly lovely souvenir watch featuring a 70th anniversary image of the five principal cast members against an emerald green background on its face, which is studded with four “diamond” chips. I’ve never removed it from its box, so I can’t vouch for its functionality or durability, but as far as souvenir swag goes, it’s really quite nice.

Beside the watch, a fold-out three-disc digipak resides in a substantial slipcase, along with a separate digital copy disc (itself an artifact of a bygone age). One of the Blu-ray discs contains the movie and hours of special features related to it, while the other is packed with still more extras, including documentaries about director Victor Fleming and writer L. Frank Baum, a TV movie about Baum starring John Ritter and Annette O’Toole, and all the previous Oz silent films. A double-sided DVD presents the acclaimed six-hour TNT documentary MGM: When the Lion Roars, a fascinating history of the studio that boasted “more stars than there are in the heavens.” The 70th Anniversary Edition contains the most supplemental material of any Oz release by far, and is invaluable from that standpoint.

The Wizard of Oz - 2009 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray

2009 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Interior

2009 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Watch

2009 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Discs

2009 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Digipak

2009 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Book

2009 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Book Interior

2009 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Promo Campaign Book

2009 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Promo Materials

2009 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Call Sheet

2013 75th Anniversary 3D Blu-ray Box Set

Actually released when the film was only 74-years-old, the last of the big Oz collector sets to date measures 11-3/4″ x 8 ” x 4″ and is also a limited edition. Warner Bros. produced 220,000 units of this set (mine is #40,804); that’s 23,000 less than the 70th Anniversary set. Underneath the lid is another 11″ x 7-1/2″, 52-page, lavishly illustrated hardcover book. This one, however, cleverly uses a timeline format to tell the story of the film’s production. Text is limited to terse descriptions of what happened on a particular day, but the comprehensive array of photos chronicles the production well. The design isn’t as nice as the 70th anniversary book and all the photos (except one) are in black-and-white, but it’s still an attractive, interesting volume. A reproduction of a color lithograph of Judy Garland on the Munchkinland set and an illustrated map of Oz printed on textured paper to give it a historical look (both measure 10-1/2″ x 7-1/2″) are nestled in the box below the book.

Dig deeper and you’ll find what is probably the most useless extra in all the Oz sets: a hardcover 6-1/4″ x 8-1/4″ Oz diary. The blank journal contains dozens of lined pages with an illustrated tornado superimposed on each one. It’s big and heavy, and I can’t really imagine anyone snuggling up with it to transcribe their most intimate thoughts. Beneath that lies a cute Wizard of Oz flash drive that’s housed in a flexible rubber rendering of the Wicked Witch of the East’s black-and-white stockinged legs (complete with ruby slippers), which memorably stick out from underneath Dorothy’s house after it crash-lands in Oz. There’s also a cardboard jewelry box that holds three very attractive pins – a diploma, heart-shaped clock, and courage medal – that replicate the gifts the Wizard gave the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. The quality and craftsmanship of the pins are impressive, and together they make a nice set. Beside those items lies the standard Blu-ray case (nothing fancy there) that contains a 3D Blu-ray, two regular Blu-rays, and two DVDs, one of which is the MGM: When the Lion Roars documentary.

2013 75th Anniversary 3D Blu-ray Box Set

2013 75th Anniversary 3D Blu-ray Box Set Interior

2013 75th Anniversary 3D Blu-ray Box Set Trinkets

2013 75th Anniversary 3D Blu-ray Box Set Book

2013 75th Anniversary 3D Blu-ray Box Set Book Interior

2013 75th Anniversary 3D Blu-ray Box Set Posters

2019 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray – Keepcase & SteelBook

It’s been a few decades since an Oz home video release did not include a special collector’s edition, but that seems to be the case with this new 4k UHD release. A SteelBook edition seems to be the closest we’ll get to a collectible this time around. We may never know why Warner Bros decided not to produce yet another box set. Was it lackluster sales of the 75th Anniversary box? A dearth of swag ideas? Worry over the impending demise of physical media? Or maybe just plain old corporate economizing? In any event, the 4k UHD release, which comes in a no-frills sleeve, is lean, to the point, and contains the one element all Oz aficionados care about the most: the best transfer yet of one of the greatest films of all time. The hyperbole might seem outdated a few decades from now, but this edition of The Wizard of Oz really does make the movie look and sound better than ever!

The Wizard of Oz - 2019 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray

The busy, unfocused cover art on the standard case packs too many elements – the tornado, Emerald City, Dorothy and her friends, Kansas, the Wicked Witch, Glinda, the yellow brick road – into one image, so that nothing really catches your eye. On the other hand, the simple, elegant SteelBook case beautifully evokes Dorothy’s dreamy fantasy.

The Wizard of Oz - 2019 4k Ultra HD SteelBook

The Wizard of Oz - 2019 4k Ultra HD SteelBook interior

Addendum 1: 1988 Special 50th Anniverary Edition Criterion Collection Laserdisc

From the collection of Joshua Zyber:

The Wizard of Oz - 1988 Criterion Laserdisc

The Wizard of Oz - 1988 Criterion Laserdisc Back Cover

The Wizard of Oz - 1988 Criterion Laserdisc Interior Gatefold

Addendum 2: 1993 Ultimate Oz Laserdisc Box Set

From the collection of Joshua Zyber:

The Wizard of Oz - 1993 Ultimate Oz Laserdisc Box Set

The Wizard of Oz - 1993 Ultimate Oz Laserdisc Box Set Interior Cover

The Wizard of Oz - 1993 Ultimate Oz Laserdisc Gatefold

Addendum 3: 2009 70th Anniversary 3-Disc Emerald Edition Blu-ray

From the collection of Joshua Zyber:

The Wizard of Oz - 2009 70th Anniversary 3-Disc Emerald Edition Blu-ray

Addendum 4: 2013 3D Blu-ray MetalPak

From the collection of Joshua Zyber:

The Wizard of Oz - 2013 3D MetalPak

The Wizard of Oz - 2013 3D MetalPak Interior


        • David Krauss

          I contacted Warner Home Video about the possibility of an American release of the Limited Collector’s Edition referenced above by RockyRaccoon, and the response I received was that there was “no news” regarding any American release at this time, but that if anything changed, they would let me know. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed we get that American release!

  1. Chris B

    That 4k SB is one of the most beautiful designs I’ve seen on a home video release. I wish BestBuy was carrying it up here in Canada. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

  2. Chris R Grubbs

    I have the 75th ann 3d limited edition and my daughter LOVED the journal that it came with, it was her fav feature. The set isn’t much now that the journal is used up, but thats ok, i rather her enjoyed it.

    • David Krauss

      Chris, I am so happy to hear that! I apologize for my curmudgeonly comments about the diary. It’s great to hear that your daughter got so much enjoyment out of it. I’m sure others must have as well!

  3. Julian

    I love the fact that the ‘1993 Ultimate Oz VHS Box Set’ was also available as a Beta edition. Beta releases were already quite rare back then (I have a 1993 ‘Hook’ Beta tape, but that was a Sony release, and it made sense that Sony would support its invention for as long as it could).

  4. Brett

    David –

    With the shuttering of Bonus View I was wondering what your present status is here on HDD. I’ve always enjoyed your well-written, enthusiastic and informative contributions to the site and was just starting to catch up on your From Silents to the Seventies entries. The Golden Age is one of the major gaps in my movie knowledge and you’ve been my one-stop source here! In fact just very recently my blind-buy of the Funny Face Blu was informed by your review (received it this week along with Sunset Blvd., African Queen [again your review] and Wait Until Dark). Can you give us any updates on your status here?

    • I happen to know that David is currently traveling on vacation. Any further reviews he’s able to contribute to this site would appear on the main page in the Blu-ray and UHD section. He recently completed reviews of Oz and It’s a Wonderful Life on UHD.

    • David Krauss

      Brett, thanks so much for your kind words! My love of classic film is boundless, but my reviews don’t seem to inspire much comment or dialogue among readers, so sometimes I feel as if I am writing them merely for myself. But if I can inspire even a few people like you to sample some of these great films, then all the work is worth it! Josh gave me this wonderful column, which has allowed me to truly indulge my passion for the classics, and I will always be grateful to him for that. It was just a year ago that the column debuted, and to say I am sad to see it go is a colossal understatement! I will still be reviewing discs for HDD, and will try my best to get as much classic content on the site as I can. Sadly, though, classics are more of a specialized market and don’t generate as much interest as the new theatrical releases, so it becomes ever more challenging to make a case for reviewing them. That’s just one more reason why I appreciate Josh’s support for my work so much. He trusted my judgment and really gave me carte blanche to review whatever I wanted to, which was simply fantastic! I sincerely hope we can collaborate on another project together in the future.

      Brett, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed our conversation about Body Heat and Double Indemnity! (Did you get around to watching The Postman Always Rings Twice yet?) I would love to hear your views on all the movies you just purchased, too. That’s a great array of films! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to review Sunset Blvd. or Wait Until Dark, but both are top-notch films. Please keep posting here. If nothing else, we can at least continue a dialogue. Thanks again for the support! It means a lot.

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