Netflix Controversial Fantasy Remake Flop Became A Cult Classic

By TeeJay Small | Updated

the wiz

Sometimes a classic film hits at the wrong time, and fails to strike a chord with audiences upon impact. Such was the case for the 1978 fantasy musical The Wiz, which was critically panned at the box office, only to become a cult classic later in its life. Today The Wiz, which is streaming on Netflix, is regarded as a nostalgic favorite, complete with some campy set-pieces, catchy tunes, and landmark performances from some of the biggest names in music history.

The Wiz

the wiz

The Wiz was written by Batman & Robin filmmaker Joel Schumacher and directed by Hollywood legend Sidney Lumet, based on the 1974 Broadway musical written by William F. Brown.

The musical adapts the original tale of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and reimagines the narrative within the predominantly black neighborhood of Harlem, New York, offering an urban twist on the classic fantasy.

Like the original Wizard of Oz narrative, The Wiz centers on a woman named Dorothy who encounters and befriends a trio of mystical creatures–a Cowardly Lion, a Tin Man, and a talking Scarecrow–as she attempts to navigate her way home.

The Cast

the wiz

The cast of The Wiz is absolutely stacked with unparalleled talent, including Diana Ross, Nipsey Russell, Mabel King, Thelma Carpenter, Richard Pryor, Lena Horne, and even the king of pop himself, Michael Jackson, in his feature film debut.

The film adaptation includes music for the stage written by Luther Vandross and Charlie Smalls, while adding in a host of new songs by Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford.

Legendary jazz musician and record executive Quincy Jones supervised the music for the film, and even makes a brief cameo appearance as the pianist during the famous Emerald City sequence.

Dorothy’s Journey

The Wiz opens by introducing a young elementary school teacher named Dorothy Gale, who lives with her aunt and uncle while lamenting her inability to come out of her shell and kickstart her independent adult life.

After a raucous Thanksgiving meal with her family, the ultra-shy young woman sees her dog Toto run outside into a snowstorm, and chases after him.

As she catches her dog, she becomes engulfed in a flurry of white powder, and finds herself transported to a strange fantasy version of Harlem, complete with a gang of Munchkins, a yellow brick road, and a few witches of varying moral and ethical character.

A Cult Classic

You likely already know what happens next, as Dorothy encounters a few fantasy creatures, including Michael Jackson‘s Scarecrow, while singing a variety of ear-worms along the way. While audiences at the time clearly weren’t ready for The Wiz, the film has received a massive revitalization in the decades since it premiered, garnering more fanfare as time carries on.

The film was even parodied in one particularly bonkers episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, proving that the cultural roots of The Wiz have continued to spread out into other corners of pop culture even half a century after premiering.

Stream It Now


While The Wiz may not have quite the same staying power as the 1939 Wizard of Oz, the film has managed to carve out its own identity while also rejuvenating the source material for a whole new generation of viewers.

If you’re interested in watching The Wiz today, the film is currently streaming on Netflix. Just be sure to bring a pair of fancy footwear you can click together if you need to take a break.