Though it may seem a strange notion, It’s a Wonderful Life wasn’t always a Christmas classic. Today, it’s considered a tried and tested staple of the festive period, but there was once a time when it was nowhere near so beloved. In fact, it was once considered a complete and utter failure.
After failing to make much of an impression upon its release, It’s a Wonderful Life was all but written off as a disaster. Its box office numbers just barely surpassed its initial budget, meaning that the film was largely considered a flop. At the time of It’s a Wonderful Life‘s release, it received mixed-to-negative reviews, with many critics taking issue with what was considered its overly “optimistic and facile” story.
What’s more, though It’s a Wonderful Life is today an undeniably important part of the festive season, it’s actually a Christmas movie that isn’t about Christmas at all. The reasons for the film becoming the ultimate Christmas movie (as well as being considered one of the greatest movies of all time) are actually linked to its disastrous release. To put it simply, if It’s a Wonderful Life hadn’t been considered a failure, it never would have become a success.
It’s A Wonderful Life’s Success Was A Result Of Its Failures
The critical and box office failure of It’s a Wonderful Life saw it pass into relative obscurity for several decades. After nearly 30 years of being all but forgotten, the copyright for the film lapsed, and – because it had been such a financial disappointment – no one wanted to own the rights. This resulted in It’s a Wonderful Life falling into the public domain.
Of course, with no-one to pay royalties to, TV stations seized upon the opportunity to air the Frank Capra Christmas movie every December. Throughout the ’80s, It’s a Wonderful Life became a staple of the seasonal small screen all over the world, prompting a huge surge in popularity. With it so commonly being aired around the holidays, it soon became traditional Christmas viewing, and It’s a Wonderful Life‘s powerfully positive message finally found itself an appreciative audience.
Even over 70 years on from its release, the festive dysfunction of the Bailey family and the optimistic meddling of Clarence the Angel still strikes a chord with audiences young and old, and It’s a Wonderful Life is a certified classic. However, had the film not failed so spectacularly upon its initial release, this may never have been the case. The copyright only lapsed because the film was considered a dud, and it only became such a beloved movie because it could be aired so cheaply. So, while It’s a Wonderful Life may not have earned its share at the box office, its hopeful holiday warmth has rightfully endured to make it a Christmas classic.