The Wiz (1978)

the wiz poster 1978 movie
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great looking, great cast

Too long, story could have done more social commentary

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Wiz

Studio:  Motown Productions

Genre(s):  Musical/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Family

Release Date(s):  October 24, 1978

MPAA Rating:  G


Let’s Ease on Down the Road!

Dorothy Gale (Diana Ross) is a young teacher who has never traveled south of 125th Street but she’s about to go on the adventure of a lifetime.  When Toto runs into a snowstorm after Thanksgiving dinner, Dorothy and Toto find themselves sucked into a tornado and transported to a magical land.  Now, Dorothy wants nothing more to get home.  With silver slippers from a witch killed upon her arrival and instructions to find the Wiz (Richard Pryor), Dorothy finds allies in the Scarecrow (Michael Jackson), the Tin Man (Nipsey Russell), and the Cowardly Lion (Ted Ross).  The Wiz has plans for Dorothy, and getting home may be harder than leaving it…especially when Dorothy finds herself faced with the Wicked Witch of the West (Mabel King) who aims to destroy her and her friends.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, The Wiz adapts the 1975 stage play of the same name.  The movie is an all African-American adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from 1900.  The movie was released to mixed reviews and bombed at the box-office.  It is generally credited to ending the blaxploitation films of the ’70s (though it isn’t generally considered blaxploitation itself).  Since The Wiz’s release however, it has grown a cult following.  The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction—Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, and Best Original Score.


Turns out this was the nose Michael Jackson was going for all along

The Wiz went through a lot of problems in its production.  The original director John Badham dropped out because he wanted a younger Dorothy (Stephanie Mills who played the role on Broadway was his choice) and Lumet was brought in to replace him.  Ross was criticized for being too old for the role, but her involvement helped get Michael Jackson who was just on the verge of his solo career (and was cited as listing the movie as one of the high points of his life).  Despite Joel Schumacher penning the adaptation and such a great look, The Wiz floundered.

The biggest problem with The Wiz is that it is too long and doesn’t really know its audience.  The story is obviously just The Wizard of Oz and is actually in ways more faithful to the book than the classic 1939 movie (Dorothy’s slippers are silver, there are two good witches, and other minor things).  The movie however doesn’t have enough substance to carry the two and a half hour film…and the music (other than the catchy “Ease on Down the Road”) is rather bland.


Yeah…nothing scary as hell here…

The movie does have a fantastic cast.  Ross is a little wooden as Dorothy but probably was a good choice to bring her star status at the time.  Jackson is strong as the Scarecrow and showed some of his dancing talent that made him famous.  Nipsey Russell replaced Ben Vereen as the Tin Man, and Ted Ross also played the Lion in the Broadway version.  Richard Pryor (especially in his last scene) is pretty effective as the Wiz.  The witches played by Lena Horne, Mabel King, and Thelma Carpenter also are good casting though I have to say that something always freaked me out about Lena Horne and I think she could have made an effective Wicked Witch as well (she was also Lumet’s mother-in-law at the time).


She’ll swallow your soul!!!

The movie does look fantastic.  The imagery of the film is great and the costume designs for things like the Wicked Witch, the crows, the motorcycle winged monkeys, and the Tin Man are great…though I can’t stop looking at Michael Jackson’s Reese’s Cup nose .  The movie is also just full of weird imagery including the “citified” Oz.  The movie unfortunately does too good of a job and the film is sometimes terrifying (I remember being freaked out as a kid during the subway scene).

The Wiz is a different and strange movie with an interesting history.  With the “death” of black cast films, it is interesting to note that this shouldn’t have been a death nell.  The film now is looked upon with nostalgia and much kinder by critics.  I could see The Wiz being remade someday since it does still get produced as a stage play.  It isn’t necessary, but many remakes aren’t necessary today…I think we could do without it.  NBC did do a stage performance of as The Wiz Live! in 2015.

Related Links:

The Wiz Live! (2015)

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Return to Oz (1985)

Legends of Oz:  Dorothy’s Return (2013)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

One Comment on "The Wiz (1978)"

  1. SPL March 14, 2017 at 5:36 am - Reply

    A great review that reflects my take for the most part (not that it has to). We have to differ re: Lena Horne, as I think she’s one of the most beautiful women in the world. Otherwise, it’s nice to find an objective review to this flawed, but fascinating movie.

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