back to article Wizard of Oz OFFICIALLY 'most significant movie' EVER, says PNAS

Researchers have used an interesting yardstick to determine that The Wizard of Oz is the most "significant" US movie ever, pipping Star Wars and Psycho into second and third spots in the significance league table. Forget the critics' opinion, audience figures or box office take: what really sets a film apart is the number of …

  1. as2003

    How do they know it's the film or the book that's being referenced? Pretty sure when people refer to a "Catch-22", they are thinking of the book and not the 1970 film adaptation.

    1. Andrew Moore

      In a lot of cases they are not even referring to either book or film- they are just referring to the law/rule:

      "There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle."

      1. 's water music

        In a lot of cases they are not even referring to either book or film- they are just referring to the law/rule:

        They may not realise that they are referencing the book. I think it would be harder to reference the film without being concious of the source.

        1. hplasm

          What if...

          They reference a book, and then 30 years later, the book is made into a film- and then a film is made that refers to the film that refers to the original book...

          1. Tom 13

            Re: What if...

            You missed the bit where Alan Dean Foster adapted the film to a new book* which was them made into a new film.

            *Yes, he was hired to do this at least once or I wouldn't recall it.

        2. Tom 13

          re: reference the film without being concious of the source.

          That depends on exactly what you mean by "being concious of the source".

          In college I hung out with a bunch of Geeks who were huge fanboys of Monty Python. I'm not. I may have once seen bits of Life of Brian but Python isn't really my cup of tea. But because I hung out with that crew, I could for a while quote the Black Night scene and a few others which I've now forgotten word for word with what passes for a British accent on this side of the pond.

          Was I really concious of the source?

    2. g e

      These aren't the metrics you're looking for...

      An interesting idea for measurement but surely utterly dependant on the assumption that the referenced work has been previously watched by the person consuming it?

      If they're never seen Star Wars (I know, I know, but bear with... ;o) then the title of this post would simply be taken as the English it's written in with no mental images of Obi Wan, and so forth.

      So interesting as an idea but ultimately flawed.

      1. Joey M0usepad Silver badge

        Re: These aren't the metrics you're looking for...

        "previously watched by the person consuming it?"

        well , no , its not a survey of how many people got the reference , its a survey of how many references there are in later films

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: These aren't the metrics you're looking for...

        >If they're never seen Star Wars (I know, I know, but bear with... ;o)

        You know what? I've never seen Star Wars nor any of the umpteen other films in the trilogy.

        I did see about the first ten seconds of 2001 ASO but wish I hadn't, dull beyond belief.

      3. Tom 13

        Re: previously watched by the person consuming it?

        Almost but not quite. They aren't referencing the person consuming it, they're referencing a writer/producer who referenced it in a film they made. There's a distinction worth noting there. As noted in my post above, it doesn't guarantee a connection, but I can certainly see the argument that you have a higher probability that someone actually making a film is likely to have seen a film to which they make reference. You can also make the assertion that even if not directly aware of the reference, it may have made it's way into general cultural acceptance. Sort of like "stealing from the rich to give to the poor" is an accepted cultural reference to Robin Hood, which is generally accepted by the public. Another similar reference would be saying someone got their 30 pieces of silver.

        I'm not sure I buy that there is a direct correlation, but I'd certainly agree the probability of correlation goes up.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      How do they know it's the film or the book that's being referenced?

      They're talking about references to films, in other films. Since film is a visual medium, such references generally have a visual component; since that's not present in the book,1 it identifies the film as the primary referent.

      Even when there isn't a visual component - for example when someone quotes a line that appears in both the book and the film adaptation - there are often other clues, such as prosodic features of delivery (intonation, pacing, etc). As a synchronous, recorded2 medium, film has both information channels and restrictions that prose doesn't, and those can often be used to demonstrate that the referent is probably another film.

      There are entire scholarly disciplines (influence studies, some aspects of textual studies, etc) which have been dealing with this sort of problem for a couple of centuries (in the domain of books; for film obviously it's been somewhat less, but still a good long time).

      And in some cases it's simply because the new film refers to some detail that's original to the older film, and not to the book. If I mention "ruby slippers", I'm talking about the film of The Wizard of Oz, and not the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, where the WWotE and then Dorothy are shod in silver shoes. ("There's no place like home" is also the film's invention, &c.)

      1Assuming we're not talking about illustrated books, and generally in this context we aren't.

      2Assuming we're not talking about animation, and ditto.

  2. Pete 2 Silver badge


    > what really sets a film apart is the number of times it's later referenced in other moving pictures.

    So basically, all they are doing is counting the number of "likes" a movie gets from other film-makers.

    And as for "a good measure of scientific citations", haven't the journals been counting and indexing citations since, well, forever? Though it may be that Google's indexing algorithm (giving more weight to references from well-referenced papers) is a better plan - rather than just tallying up the totals.

  3. JohnnyGStrings


    Well it does have it's own (modern) pinball table...

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: Pinball

      Holy crap! A pinball with full LCD back glass? That would certainly be distracting, but very very cool. Must learn more about Jersey Jack and their pinballs. Thanks for the tip!

  4. I_am_Chris

    proper link!?

    Why is it so hard for media outlets to link to the actual scientific article rather than just the home page? Are they intentionally wasting people's time? I expect better from you El reg.

    Here's the proper link to the 'science bit':

    1. P. Lee

      Re: proper link!?

      >Why is it so hard for media outlets to link to the actual scientific article rather than just the home page?

      Because media organisations hate "deep-linking." They want to show all the adverts as people bumble around their website.

    2. Zog_but_not_the_first

      Re: proper link!?


      He wrote p-nas.

  5. codejunky Silver badge


    I dont know why there is so much hostility for Battlefield Earth. It aint great but it is watchable. I have certainly been forced to sit through much worse

    1. AdamT

      Re: meh

      Well, when the New York Times film critic says, in early 2000: "It may be a bit early to make such judgments, but 'Battlefield Earth' may well turn out to be the worst movie of this century." then that's a fairly bad sign ...

      1. Dabooka

        Re: meh

        "Well, when the New York Times film critic says, in early 2000: "It may be a bit early to make such judgments, but 'Battlefield Earth' may well turn out to be the worst movie of this century." then that's a fairly bad sign ..."

        Yeah, but that was before Cloverfield.....

        1. g e

          Re: meh


          Or, as I watched last night... Under The Skin with Scarlett Johansson. Utter tosh.

          I say "watched".. more like scanned through on 10x after 20 mins to see if anything ever happened other than SJ getting her kit off. Got to the end though, all the same, which is more than a few films achieve in our house.

          1. Tim Almond

            Re: meh

            It's a film that's full of cryptic information about what's going on, and for that reason, I think it's a bit of a failure. I've seen one interpretation that makes a lot of sense and if the director had made things a bit clearer would have made it an excellent film.

      2. fandom

        Re: meh

        Was he expecting a worse film in the few months left of the century?

        Yeah, Ok, I'm leaving.

    2. Andrew Moore

      Re: meh

      no, it's not watchable.

      1. DropBear

        Re: meh

        "no, it's not watchable."

        It totally is too - compared to "Gigli"...

    3. TitterYeNot

      Re: meh

      The film is much like the book - not a great example of the genre to put it mildly, but there have been worse, just about. I think it's the transmogrification of the story into a pyramid scheme religion that earns the film so much bile...

      1. Tom 13

        Re: transmogrification of the story

        The story was always intended to be transmogrified into a religion. It was a bar bet between Hubbard and Heinlein. Hubbard wrote Battlefield Earth, Heinlein wrote Stranger in a Strange Land. People still argue over what the definition of "winning the bet" is because one wrote a book that turned into Scientology and the other wrote a readable book.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: transmogrification of the story

          the other wrote a readable book

          I don't think I'd call Stranger in a Strange Land any more "readable" than Battlefield Earth. BE is space-opera tripe masquerading as science fiction (and, yes, part of Hubbard's Get Rich Quick scheme, but I don't think that's particularly relevant). The characterization is laughably inept, the plot structure is a series of "oh gosh something happened!" comic-book panels, the imagery and prose are uninspired... but it aims so low that there's something of a rollicking, two-fisted glee to be found in the thing if you can suspend your nausea.

          SiaSL, on the other hand, is Heinlein's usual highfalutin' nonsense, full of sophomoric attempts at philosophy and Mary Jane characters having All The Sex (and, in this case, All The Money) and/or grumpily telling lesser mortals to sod off. (And, hey, I appreciate a fellow curmudgeon, but it's a fragile hook to hang a novel from.) The plot structure is his standard "half a plot in a novel-and-a-half", petering out in a series of vignettes halfway through the book. It's the opposite of BE: aims so much higher and falls short, giving us something interesting, but not half so interesting as the author believes.

          Neither one aspires to be Midnight's Children, I suppose (at least I hope Heinlein didn't think he was writing the Great American Novel). And neither is the worst thing that author ever published, much less the worst SF has to offer. Conversely, many novels that have some claim to greatness may be very nearly unreadable nonetheless (I'm looking at you, Gravity's Rainbow). But SiaSL has a place in the pantheon that is not, I think, entirely justified.

          Also, BE was written 30 years after Hubbard invented Scientology, so to say it "turned into Scientology" is dubious at best. "Advertised Hubbard, and by extension Scientology" would be fair.

  6. TRT Silver badge

    Over-reliance on H-index...

    and over metrication of research is a real ball and chain for both the up and coming scientist and the more established figures. I hope this article isn't going to sing the praises of such metrics. The highest rated paper in the biosciences, for example, is the original methods paper for Western blotting. The engineering equivalent would be some reference work on Whitworth threaded bolts. Having said that, of course, Whitworth threaded bolts would be essential to secure a mechanical heart into a 1950s tin robot.

  7. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


    Using the same methodology and counting the number of references to it in literature and in everyday life we will, I'm sure, find that bovine excrement is the most significant substance in human civilisation.

    1. fandom

      Re: Bullshit

      For centuries agriculture depended on it.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bullshit

        And they sold out this past Christmas.

        1. phil dude

          Re: Bullshit

          It's called the bible and there's one in every hotel room. Only there isn't. It is someone's interpretation of some text written by largely unknown writers over a couple of thousand years. Still, might make a good script.

          Anyway, no award for the Wizard of Oz can be taken seriously if it is not done with the audio of Pink Floyd....


          1. Tom 38 Silver badge

            Re: Bullshit

            I wouldn't take "The Bible", but perhaps just one edition of it - the King James Bible ("the most influential version of the most influential book in the world, in what is now its most influential language").

            More commonly used idioms were penned by the translators of KJ, notably Tyndale, than any other English author, including Shakespeare, eg "feet of clay", "reap the whirlwind", "filthy lucre", "take root", "the powers that be", "the blind leading the blind", "no rest for the wicked" and apparently 250 more.

  8. TheProf

    Call a Doctor

    Are you sure the picture isn't from Doctor Who?

    The colour scheme looks suitably garish.

    A TARDIS console.

    Bloke with long white hair.

    Frock coat.

    Annoying female assistant.

    Crap robot.

    Even crapper 'man in a rubber suit' monsters.


    1. bob, mon!

      Re: Call a Doctor

      Are you sure Doctor Who doesn't count as a reference to Oz?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To develop a good measure of scientific citations

    This method won't work with scientific papers for the simple reason that virtually all authors of these works have some sort of "I'll reference you if you reference me" agreement.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: To develop a good measure of scientific citations

      If that's true, and everyone does it, then that effect will be filtered out because all papers will have a floor of a certain average number of cross-references. Then you'll be left with a bunch of papers with huge numbers of references. Which will tell that that either that paper is great, or utterly crap (depending on whether they count citations even when they're disagreeing with a paper) - or at least tell the you that the authors were significant (as they managed to get so many more people to cite them).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: To develop a good measure of scientific citations

        >tell the you that the authors were significant

        Exactly(*), it doesn't tell you the paper was significant so you end up with a popularity contest amongst those who care about such recognition.

        (*)Well partially exactly, it tells you who is popular at the time. Many an obscure entity has done far more for science than the person who recieved credit for it.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wizard of Oz??

    Surely only significant to a 'Friend of Dorothy' ?

  11. Christoph

    Wizard of Oz most significant?


    1. xeroks

      Re: Wizard of Oz most significant?


      You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    2. DropBear

      Re: Wizard of Oz most significant?


      Oh really...? Tell me you have never used and/or encountered the expression "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain"...

  12. Nigel Whitfield.

    Age has not withered it ...

    ... but the Wizard of Oz did come out in 1939, so was around 75 years old at the time of the story.

    I would venture that sheer age (as with Casablanca and Gone With The Wind) is a pretty significant factor. Those films have had at least three times as long to embed themselves in the collective consciousness as those at the start of the 25 year period suggested in the paper.

    I wonder if quantity of releases in any given time frame makes a difference, or other factors - for example, It's a Wonderful Life wasn't immediately a massive success, but a subsequent copyright lapse made it a TV staple, and probably resulted in more people knowing of it, and so citing it.

    The Wizard of Oz, which is way ahead in the number of citations has, as far as I know, been pretty successful for most of its time. It's been a pretty constant presence on TV for a lot of my life, it seems.

    Were the majority of films in technicolour at the time of its release? Were there as many films being made in 1939 as there are now?

    Certainly, you might hypothesise that with no TV around at the time of its release, films could perhaps make a bigger impact on their viewers than they do now, when visual entertainment is available at the click of a button.

    Also, I see King Kong is in the list at number six. I wonder if the citations for that include Twinkle.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: Age has not withered it ...


      Color was not a significant factor in the movie world before The Wizard of Oz was released. I know The Jazz Singer get nods for first color film, but I think a lot of people mark Oz as the change point for the industry. Part of that comes from the transition from B&W to color in the film itself. Part of that came from people keeping the color part a secret when it was first released.

      While time will have some affect on references, the 25 year period is definitely needed to remove noise from signal. Several posters above have referenced Princess Bride with their quotes. Will it stand the test of time the way that Oz has? Maybe, but I don't think they're on the same level of cultural impact.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: Age has not withered it ...

        The 1987 RSC London production managed the same B&W->colour trick too, through clever use of lighting and costume, which was pretty striking. Imelda Staunton was pretty good as Dorothy, too.

  13. Don S.

    Based on the Criteria, I'm surprised Night of the Living Dead (1968 version) isn't number one. Given the current fascination with the whole zombie apocalypse thing.

    1. Swarthy Silver badge

      Nah, the whole Zombie thing is really a reference to "Les Schtroumpfs noirs". That has had a profound impact, but as they were looking at moves, it was left off.

  14. disgruntled yank

    By a remarkable coincidence

    "The Wizard of Oz" turns up first by own preferred movie metric, appearances of flying monkeys.

    1. SpangoFOREVER

      Re: By a remarkable coincidence

      "Smithers, continue the research"

      I am too lazy to read the paper but wonder if it includes TV as well as film.

      1. Roj Blake Silver badge

        Re: By a remarkable coincidence

        If TV is included, then Life on Mars (the UK One at least) is loaded with references to Oz.

  15. chivo243 Silver badge

    Many Movies

    Many movies or films Lampoon the Wizard of Oz.... Was that taken into account? Or just the fact that they referenced some aspect of the film?

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Many Movies

      Indeed. Like this alternate ending

  16. Amorous Cowherder

    If references were the metric where's a Bond film? Every spoof spy movie references Bond, especially Connery's tenure in the role.

  17. Jonathan Richards 1

    TFA reported: Amaral's ultimate aim is to develop a method for determining "the most significant scientific papers". He explained: "More than 1 million scientific papers are published each year worldwide. It can be difficult to distinguish a good scientific paper from an average one, much like the movies. My next goal is to develop a good measure of scientific citations to get inside what is going on in the scientific literature."

    So he's only about 51 (fifty-one, count 'em) years late with that idea, then. Eugene Garfield launched Science Citation Index in 1964, and by the time I was using it professionally in 1975 it was already massive, and massively useful. Sure, seminal papers like Southern blot, get referenced a lot, but it's perfectly possible to track the genuine interchange of useful ideas using it as a tool. (Well, it was then. I haven't used it for nearly thirty years, now).

    Further reading:

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      And once again, we have a Reg reader deciding to extrapolate from an off-the-cuff remark in order to decide that someone's research project is useless because of some patently obvious objection that no one else might possibly have considered.

      You kids must have been a riot in school.

      No one gets a PhD (from an accredited institution, anyway) without learning about serial indexes. No one works in this area without understanding influence studies, citation networks, reputation networks, etc.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    With a synopsis like this, how can it fail?

    From an old TV guide “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”

  19. CaptainBanjax

    Hold on

    Its a bit unfair to compare older movies to newer ones.

    Wizard of Oz is bound to be referenced more than human centipede because its older.

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