It's a good thing that the Frank Capra classic, It's A Wonderful Life, was a failure when it was first released in 1946.
The film Steven Spielberg calls a five hanky movie had bad box office and never won an Academy Award. That failure led to the movie falling into the public domain, allowing TV stations in the 70's to pick it up for nothing and plug it into their holiday program schedule multiple times, getting under the skin of viewers.
"It became a classic, it became the thing to do at Christmas time, " said Shari Zeck, Associate Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Illinois State University and GLT's Culture Maven. "So that's part of it, it got hardwired into us in a way by those frequent Christmas time showings. and then the fact that the story itself is terrific, the actors are terrific, it's a well put together little movie."
"I think all of us wonder what their life would be like had they taken a different path, and I think everybody also wonders what the world would be like without them. So this is a nice little reassurance that the other path might have had different opportunities, but there also would have been a dark side to that path, and that we really are necessary to each others lives."
Although It's a Wonderful Life is a heartwarming film, Zeck noted that it has a bittersweet, even noirish core. "Our main figure has a moral crisis throughout. The pull between wanting to pursue his own desires and his responsibilities at home. That kind of moral crisis is common to noir . The cinematography, too. The sequence of what would have happened if George hadn't been born is very much shot in a noirish style. I think that a part of what makes the film more than just a happy little tale of small town America."