Strange Coincidences That Gave Us Great Movie


Even if you’ve never seen It’s a Wonderful Life all the way through, you can still probably reconstruct the entire plot from all the times you’ve caught five seconds of it on TV. For decades it was shown a dozen times or so every Christmas, along with all of the other standards …. But new Christmas movies come out every year … then why did this one become a timeless standard for half a century, when all the rest were forgotten? It’s because it’s great, right? And not for some completely stupid reason ?

Nope, the only reason they played it so often was that, for a while, it was free. Before that, no one cared about it. We’ve heard about beloved movies that weren’t appreciated in their time, but this is different, because It’s a Wonderful Life wasn’t rediscovered by the audience — it was saved from obscurity by TV stations too cheap to pay for their programming.

When the film was released in 1946, it got mixed reviews and barely made back its budget. In contrast, the previous collaboration by director Frank Capra and actor Jimmy Stewart had made six times its budget. After this, Capra and Stewart never made a movie again. And precisely because no one really gave much of a crap about the film, in 1974 someone forgot to renew the copyright (a “once every 28 years” task) and it accidentally fell into the public domain.

TV stations looking to fill airtime with inexpensive programming, and took this little seen film by two well known names and started playing it all the time, especially during the holidays because, well, that’s just when the story takes place. …

Apparently, people figured that if they played the movie so often it had to be a classic, so over the next couple of decades that’s exactly what it became. Eventually, the paperwork was sorted out, and currently NBC has exclusive rights to air it, but the damage has been done: Millions of people now worship a film they never would have heard of if some office clerk had done his job. Copyright law works differently now, but still, who knows what future classics we’ll see unsuspectedly later…


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