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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 251,985 users  
Reviews: 673 user | 197 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 Rated Movies #25 | Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 6 wins & 1 nomination. 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


They're making memories tonight! 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?


Although a Christmas film, it was shot in the middle of summer. See more »


When Mary puts on "Buffalo Gals" on the phonograph, she starts a ten-inch, yellow-labeled record, but in the next shot, a dark-labeled record is playing. Also, when Mary breaks the record after the conversation with George, she breaks a twelve-inch, yellow-labeled record instead of the original ten-inch record. 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 The King of Queens: Food Fight (2002) See more »


Vieni, vieni
(1884) (uncredited)
Music by Vincent Scotto
Lyrics by Henri Varna and Georges Koger
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

"To My Big Brother George, The Richest Man In Town"
25 December 2005 | by (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

I've always thought that the reason It's A Wonderful Life has had such enduring popularity is that more than in any other film it shows what can be the value of a single individual and the contribution to the greater good they can make.

George Bailey as portrayed by James Stewart is the kind of every man hero we can all identify with. He's got the every day problems to be sure, raising and providing for a family, but he's got bigger problems than that. Fate has made him the rallying point of opposition in his small town of Bedford Falls to the "richest and meanest man in town", embodied in Lionel Barrymore.

It's a real David vs. Goliath battle. Barrymore seems to have unlimited resources at his disposal. Samuel S. Hinds as Peter Bailey put it so well to him in asking what are you doing all this for? Barrymore does have more money than he could ever possibly use. A little charity wouldn't hurt him.

Remember the basic plot outline. A whole lot of people in Bedford Falls one post World War II Christmas Eve see that their friend George is toting a heavy load of mysterious origins. Their prayers reach the heavens where an angel is dispatched to aid.

But before Henry Travers the angel arrives, he's given the story of George Bailey's life. And we see the kind of struggles he's had, the sacrifices he's made for the good of a whole lot of others. We've also seen a greedy and grasping Potter, grabbing everything that George Bailey cannot save.

Something happens that day before Christmas through no fault of his own, Bailey is in big trouble. It's driven him to the brink of despair. That's why the angel is sent down. He shows him the alternate universe that would have been had he never existed. It's something each and every one of us should try to do, step outside ourselves see just what our contributions can be.

But I think what Frank Capra is trying to say in this greatest of his films is that having done that and we realize we haven't contributed to the greater good of humankind, we resolve to do so. It's a simple, but profound lesson.

What if Potter got the same opportunity? In a sense Charles Dickens did just that in A Christmas Carol. Would Lionel Barrymore change? It's an interesting point of speculation.

In addition to those cast members already mentioned a whole group of players who worked with Capra before grace this film. Add to that some others and you have a perfectly cast feature picture.

Donna Reed has an interesting part as well. Your choice of mate is real important in life. Had she not been as loving and supportive to George Bailey, he might very well have taken a different route in life. Mary Hatch Bailey became a signature part for her, more identified than her role in From Here to Eternity which got her an Oscar. It certainly was the basis for her TV series.

When Todd Karns who plays Harry Bailey toasts his brother he's saying that the riches of the world are not necessarily things that can be quantified. Your life is not measured in material things, but in how you use the material things given you.

And that universal lesson will be taught into eternity as long as It's A Wonderful Life is shown every year. Wouldst we all learn it.

88 of 106 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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