It’s a Wonderful Life is a 1946 American Christmas drama film, that was based on the short story The Greatest Gift, written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1939, and privately published by the author in 1945. The film, produced and directed by Frank Capra is considered one of the most loved films in American cinema, and has become traditional viewing during the Christmas season.
Released on December 20, 1946, the film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams in order to help others, and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in his community would be had he never been born.
Despite initially being considered a box office flop due to high production costs and stiff competition at the time of its release, the film has come to be regarded as a classic and is a staple of Christmas television around the world. Theatrically, the film’s break-even point was actually $6.3 million, approximately twice the production cost, a figure it never came close to achieving in its initial release. An appraisal in 2006 reported: “Although it was not the complete box-office failure that today everyone believes … it was initially a major disappointment and confirmed, at least to the studios, that Capra was no longer capable of turning out the populist features that made his films the must-see, money-making events they once were.”
The film was nominated for five Oscars and has been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 Best American films ever made, placing number 11 on its initial 1998 greatest movie list, and would also place number one on its list of the most inspirational American films of all time.