It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - Rotten Tomatoes

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)



Critic Consensus: The holiday classic to define all holiday classics, It's a Wonderful Life is one of a handful of films worth an annual viewing.

It's a Wonderful Life Trailers & Photos

Movie Info

This is director Frank Capra's classic bittersweet comedy/drama about George Bailey (James Stewart), the eternally-in-debt guiding force of a bank in the typical American small town of Bedford Falls. As the film opens, it's Christmas Eve, 1946, and George, who has long considered himself a failure, faces financial ruin and arrest and is seriously contemplating suicide. High above Bedford Falls, two celestial voices discuss Bailey's dilemma and decide to send down eternally bumbling angel Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers), who after 200 years has yet to earn his wings, to help George out. But first, Clarence is given a crash course on George's life, and the multitude of selfless acts he has performed: rescuing his younger brother from drowning, losing the hearing in his left ear in the process; enduring a beating rather than allow a grieving druggist (H.B. Warner) to deliver poison by mistake to an ailing child; foregoing college and a long-planned trip to Europe to keep the Bailey Building and Loan from letting its Depression-era customers down; and, most important, preventing town despot Potter (Lionel Barrymore) from taking over Bedford Mills and reducing its inhabitants to penury. Along the way, George has married his childhood sweetheart Mary (Donna Reed), who has stuck by him through thick and thin. But even the love of Mary and his children are insufficient when George, faced with an $8000 shortage in his books, becomes a likely candidate for prison thanks to the vengeful Potter. Bitterly, George declares that he wishes that he had never been born, and Clarence, hoping to teach George a lesson, shows him how different life would have been had he in fact never been born. After a nightmarish odyssey through a George Bailey-less Bedford Falls (now a glorified slum called Potterville), wherein none of his friends or family recognize him, George is made to realize how many lives he has touched, and helped, through his existence; and, just as Clarence had planned, George awakens to the fact that, despite all its deprivations, he has truly had a wonderful life. Capra's first production through his newly-formed Liberty Films, It's a Wonderful Life lost money in its original run, when it was percieved as a fairly downbeat view of small-town life. Only after it lapsed into the public domain in 1973 and became a Christmastime TV perennial did it don the mantle of a holiday classic. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovimore
Rating: PG (for thematic elements, smoking and some violence)
Genre: Drama, Kids & Family, Classics, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Jo Swerling, Frank Capra, Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett
In Theaters:
On DVD: Sep 19, 1995
Liberty Films


James Stewart
as George Bailey
Donna Reed
as Mary Hatch
Lionel Barrymore
as Henry Potter
Thomas Mitchell
as Oncle Billy
Henry Travers
as Clarence Oddbody
Beulah Bondi
as Mrs. Bailey
Gloria Grahame
as Violet Bick
H.B. Warner
as Mr. Gower
Frank Albertson
as Sam Wainwright
Samuel S. Hinds
as Pa Bailey
Todd Karns
as Harry Bailey
Mary Treen
as Cousin Millie
Sarah Edwards
as Mrs. Patch
Virginia Patton
as Ruth Dakin
Charles Williams
as Cousin Eustace
William Edmunds
as Mr. Martini
Argentina Brunetti
as Mrs. Martini
Ronnie Ralph
as Little Sam
Jean Gale
as Little Mary
Jeanine Anne Roose
as Little Violet
Danny Mummert
as Little Marty Hatch
George Nokes
as Little Harry Bailey
Frank S. Hagney
as Potter's Bodyguard
Ray Walker
as Joe at Luggage Shop
Charles Lane
as Real Estate Salesman
Carol Coombs
as Janie Bailey
Karolyn Grimes
as Zuzu Bailey
Jim Hawkins
as Tommy Bailey
Larry Simms
as Pete Bailey
Harold Landon
as Marty Hatch
Harry Holman
as High School Principa...
Harry V. Cheshire
as Dr. Campbell
Charles Halton
as Bank Examiner
Eddie Featherston
as Bank Teller
Stanley Andrews
as Mr. Welch
Marian Carr
as Mrs. Wainwright
Garry Owen
as Bill poster
Ellen Corby
as Miss Davis
Almira Sessions
as Potter's secretary
Bert Moorhouse
as Man with Sheriff
Carol Coomes
as Janie Bailey
Bob Anderson
as George as a Child
Tom Fadden
as Tollhouse keeper
Al Bridge
as Sheriff
Eddie Fetherstone
as Bank Teller
Bob Scott
as Mickey
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for It's a Wonderful Life

Critic Reviews for It's a Wonderful Life

All Critics (68) | Top Critics (11)

It's a Wonderful Life is a wonderful title for a motion picture about which practically everyone who sees it will agree that it's wonderful entertainment.

Full Review… | December 7, 2014
Hollywood Reporter
Top Critic

The most well-loved of all Christmas movies.

Full Review… | December 4, 2013
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

It's a Wonderful Life is about hunger. It's about greed. It's about the many ways a good man is stymied. Finally, it's about George Bailey, whose decency prevents him even from killing himself.

Full Review… | December 4, 2012
Top Critic

Capra is an old-time movie craftsman, the master of every trick in the bag, and in many ways he is more at home with the medium than any other Hollywood director. But all of his details give the impression of contrived effect.

Full Review… | August 31, 2012
The New Republic
Top Critic

It's a Wonderful Life is a pretty wonderful movie.

Full Review… | December 5, 2008
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

The epiphany of movie sentiment and a transcendent experience.

Full Review… | June 26, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for It's a Wonderful Life

Maybe considered a timeless classic, however I wish time had moved a little faster during the movie. For me a forgettable movie that drags in places. Huge fan of Stewart, not a huge fan of this movie!

Film Crazy

Super Reviewer


Joyous, timeless classic! I can't say I've seen many movies from the 1940's, let alone any Christmas ones, but this was a very pleasant viewing experience, in several senses of the word. James Stewart is fantastic and brings a lot of vigor to his performance, but above all it's got a story that can be applied still today. It isn't confined to the values of the era, as it's broadly and universally human in its message. Basic themes like love, loss, greed and empathy, provides it with a wide spectrum of emotions that we can all relate to in some way (which is pretty amazing, considering it's over half a century old). A riveting, jolly and beautifully narrated holiday tale, that will add some extra lustre to your Christmas.

Mike S

Super Reviewer


Capra finds the most perfect balance between bittersweet and optimistic in this timeless holiday tale, to remind us that life is always worth it, even in the worst of circumstances. A wonderful story that resonates for a very long time after it is over.

Carlos Magalh„es

Super Reviewer

It's a Wonderful Life Quotes

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– Submitted by Aaron S (2 years ago)

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