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It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Approved  |   |  Drama, Family, Fantasy  |  7 January 1947 (USA)
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Ratings: 8.6/10 from 247,301 users  
Reviews: 673 user | 196 critic

An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.



(screenplay), (screenplay), 4 more credits »
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Top 250 Movies #25 | Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 7 wins. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Todd Karns ...
Samuel S. Hinds ...
Mary Treen ...
Virginia Patton ...


George Bailey has spent his entire life giving of himself to the people of Bedford Falls. He has always longed to travel but never had the opportunity in order to prevent rich skinflint Mr. Potter from taking over the entire town. All that prevents him from doing so is George's modest building and loan company, which was founded by his generous father. But on Christmas Eve, George's Uncle Billy loses the business's $8,000 while intending to deposit it in the bank. Potter finds the misplaced money and hides it from Billy. When the bank examiner discovers the shortage later that night, George realizes that he will be held responsible and sent to jail and the company will collapse, finally allowing Potter to take over the town. Thinking of his wife, their young children, and others he loves will be better off with him dead, he contemplates suicide. But the prayers of his loved ones result in a gentle angel named Clarence coming to earth to help George, with the promise of earning his ... Written by alfiehitchie

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Celebrating 65 years. See more »


Drama | Family | Fantasy


Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

7 January 1947 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Greatest Gift  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$3,180,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

£49,845 (UK) (19 December 2008)


£682,222 (UK) (24 December 2010)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (DVD edition)

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)



Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Mrs Hatch's first initials are JW but it's not known what they stand for. See more »


When Potter is telling the board Bedford Falls doesn't need the Bailey Building & Loan, Uncle Billy is looking at George; in the following shot he's looking at Potter. See more »


[first lines]
Mr. Emil Gower: I owe everything to George Bailey. Help him, dear Father.
Giuseppe Martini: Joseph, Jesus and Mary. Help my friend, Mr. Bailey.
Ma Bailey: Help my son, George, tonight.
Bert: He never thinks about himself, God, that's why he's in trouble.
Ernie Bishop: George is a good guy. Give him a break, God.
Mary: I love him, dear Lord. Watch over him tonight.
Janie Bailey: Please, God, something's the matter with Daddy.
Zuzu Bailey: Please bring Daddy back.
See more »

Crazy Credits

A ringing facsimile of the Liberty Bell (without the crack) forms the backdrop for the studio logo, which is Liberty Films, and the opening credits are in a scrapbook with Christmas decorations. The bell reappears before the end credits, and the end credits have a Christmas card picture as a backdrop. See more »


Referenced in Mystery Science Theater 3000: Santa Claus (1993) See more »


Wedding March
(1843) (uncredited)
from "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Written by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Atop my Top Ten
9 December 1998 | by (Philadelphia, PA, USA) – See all my reviews

I am a film lover from 'way back, having even served a stint as a newspaper movie critic. Entries in my personal list of Greatest Films of All Time include "Fantasia," "To Kill A Mockingbird," "Casablanca," "Singin' in the Rain," "North by Northwest," and "The Sound of Music. But sitting atop all of them, as undisputed champ, is "It's a Wonderful Life."

I have seen it hundreds of times (dating back to, oh, when I was a teenager I suppose, and our local PBS station ran it as part of a pledge drive). I drive my wife and family to distraction when we watch it together because I quote all the dialogue along with the actors.

I cry every time--and this is after viewing upon viewing--when Harry Bailey toasts his big brother George as "...the richest man in town." The emotions in that scene are so true and pure that I can't help but be affected by them.

The performances are unparalleled. Stewart is brilliant as a small-town dreamer who loses and finds his way. His superlative acting abilities cause us to identify strongly with him (how many of us have lamented--even to ourselves--that no one seems to notice the sacrifices we've made?), which is, I think, why the movie bears up under so many repeat viewings. Reed is just lovely here, the epitome of sunny girlfriend, caring lover, devoted wife, dedicated mother.

Capra's talent as a screenwriter are all over this script. He knows just how hard to tug the heartstrings without becoming overblown or phony. And his technical wizardry is evident too. I've never seen--before or since--more natural-looking onscreen snow.

Watching IAWL has become a tonic, a pick-me-up when I really need one--whether it's the Christmas season or not. Its message--that each one of us is important and has *something* to contribute to the greater good--is one about which the world could use some reminding from time to time.

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Recent Posts
Potter made it home scot-free. In 1946, how is that possible? dollvalley
a cynical alternate ending might be like.... thoth-ibis-1
Who would Potter leave his money to? magickemerald
Original card written by Philip Van Doren Stern kellyjcrosby
Would Potter return the $8,000? Barney-Robel
Donna reed The-Robert-Jordan
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