The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man 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 the contributions he has made to his community.
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 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.”
It’s a Wonderful Life was nominated for five Oscars without winning any, but the film has since been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made and placed number one on their list of the most inspirational American films of all time.