It’s a Wonderful Life is a classic film that is lovingly replayed by households across America during the holiday season. The 1946 film directed by Frank Capra wasn’t a success when it was released in theatres. In fact, it didn’t even come close to breaking even with the cost of production, which was a whopping $6.3 million. Capra’s credibility as a director was even questioned once audiences failed to appear. Today, however, It’s a Wonderful Life is considered a classic, and one of the greatest films of all time.
In 1990, the film was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. The American Film Institute named it one of the 100 Best American Films Ever Made. The film has even been nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Among these highs and lows hides an interesting fact of how this film’s reputation was turned around. Movies that were filmed before 1968 fall under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1909, awarding a 28-year copyright term to each film. After the term expires, it’s up to the studio to refile for another 28 years of copyright protection. Capra, RKO Radio Pictures and Liberty Films failed to do this, and so It’s a Wonderful Life was given the green light for reruns to air on television beginning in 1978. Since then, the film has become synonymous with Christmas and we’re all thankful for the mistake.