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1938 in film

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The year 1938 in film involved some significant events.


  • January — MGM announces that Judy Garland will be cast in the role of "Dorothy" in the upcoming Wizard of Oz motion picture. Ray Bolger is cast as the "Tinman" and Buddy Ebsen as the "Scarecrow". At Bolger's insistence, the roles are switched between the two actors. On July 25, MGM announces Bert Lahr has been cast as the "Cowardly Lion".
  • April 5 — Noel Langley completes the first script for The Wizard of Oz.
  • May 7 — Lyricist Edgar Yipsel Harburg and composer, Harold Arlen, begin work on the musical score for The Wizard of Oz.
  • October 13 — Filming starts on The Wizard of Oz.
  • October 21 — Buddy Ebsen suffers from a near fatal allergic reaction to the aluminum dust used in his "Tinman" make-up on the set of The Wizard of Oz. Ebsen is replaced by Jack Haley.
  • December 23 — Margaret Hamilton is severely burned during a mishap on the set of The Wizard of Oz. Hamilton, who was cast in the role of the "Wicked Witch", leaves the film for six weeks.
  • Orson Welles makes Too Much Johnson, starring Joseph Cotten. It is never completed and first released only in 2013.

Top grossing films (U.S.)[1]

At the time, box office numbers were reported as a percentage of business for each theater in comparison to 'normal' business. For example, Alexander's Ragtime Band performed at 227% and The Adventures of Robin Hood at 170%. This is why exact dollar grosses for films are unreliable at best.

Rank Title Studio Actors
1. Alexander's Ragtime Band 20th Century Fox Tyrone Power, Alice Faye and Don Ameche
2. Test Pilot MGM Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Lionel Barrymore
3. Boys Town MGM Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney
4. The Adventures of Robin Hood Warner Bros. Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland
5. You Can't Take It with You Columbia Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore and James Stewart
6. Sweethearts MGM Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy
7. Marie Antoinette MGM Norma Shearer
8. Happy Landing 20th Century Fox Sonja Henie, Don Ameche, Cesar Romero and Ethel Merman
9. Angels with Dirty Faces Warner Bros. James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart
10. Out West with the Hardys MGM Mickey Rooney
11. Too Hot to Handle MGM Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Walter Pidgeon
12. That Certain Age Universal Deanna Durbin, Melvyn Douglas
13. Mad About Music Universal Deanna Durbin, Herbert Marshall
14. The Girl of the Golden West MGM Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy
15. Bluebeard's Eighth Wife Paramount Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper
16. The Buccaneer Paramount Fredric March, Walter Brennan
17. The Dawn Patrol Warner Bros. Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, David Niven
18. Stablemates MGM Wallace Beery, Mickey Rooney
19. Suez 20th Century Fox Tyrone Power, Loretta Young
20. Kentucky 20th Century Fox Loretta Young, Richard Greene, Walter Brennan

Academy Awards

Notable films released in 1938

U.S.A. unless stated












Comedy film series

Animated short film series





  1. ^ Box Office Digest, March 1939, p.18