The Greatest Christmas Film of All Time

Theatrical movie poster depicts George Bailey holding his wife Mary.

RKO Radio Pictures Inc.)

Theatrical movie poster depicts George Bailey holding his wife Mary.

George Bailey has fallen into a dreadful state of despair, so a Guardian angel is sent down to help him. It’s a Wonderful Life is a late 1940s Christmas film directed by Frank Capara, and stars James Stewart, Henry Travers, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore.
The movie begins by flashing back through Bailey’s life, from when he was a child to his early adult years. As it moves forward, you see that George Bailey is a man with big plans. In fact he seems to have everything he wants to do planned out. He wants to travel, and get out of his town. However, due to his good nature and desire to help others, he ends up getting stuck working in his town for his whole life. The movie runs through his life until it gets back to where it began. From there, Bailey’s guardian angel, Clarence, goes down to earth to help him. Interested viewers can give it a watch for free on streaming services such as Tubi, Amazon Prime Video, and NBC, or pay three to four dollars to rent it elsewhere. 

The first standout from the film is the acting, in particular, the actor who plays George Bailey. James Stewart is a legend in film history, and this film is a perfect example of his greatness. He is present in films such as Rear Window, and Vertigo, which are great films, but his greatest performance of all time is in this one. He sells George Bailey as a believable and likable character who the viewer is able to connect and emphasize with. At some points the acting can be corny, but the corniness doesn’t ruin the movie. In fact it gives the movie it’s own little aesthetic that I tend to associate with films from the earlier decades. Other notable performances include Henry Travers as Clarence the guardian angel, and Donna Reed as George’s wife Mary. Reed played the role of love interest perfectly, and Travers was a delight to have on screen. The most underrated performance in the film was Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter. He absolutely sold his performance as the despicable businessman, and served as a great foil to George Bailey. 

Another huge factor in what makes this movie so great are the compelling themes. Now I’ll be blunt, this isn’t a deep, philosophical movie. It’s not a movie you can analyze or theorize about like Shutter Island. It is a simple movie with a simple message. Which is where the film’s beauty lies. In its simplicity. The way I see it, the film is about how life’s plans don’t always work out, but if you are a good person and are kind to others, it’ll make it all worth it. The movie communicates this in a simple but effective way. When George is thinking of ending it all, Clarence shows George the sorry state the town would’ve been in if not for all the good he’s done. The good that one does in life is more important than following exact plans, because life almost never goes as planned. 

The movie is also just the perfect Christmas movie. The holidays are rapidly approaching so why not check out a revered and iconic seasonal film? Despite parts of the film not taking place in the wintertime, the movie’s main conflict happens on Christmas eve where George Bailey gets upset and leaves his family on Christmas eve. Not only that, but the feel good theme and overall corny but enjoyable vibe of the film makes it a prime example of what Christmas movies could and should be and more. 

To put it in shortly, It’s a Wonderful Life is easily the best Christmas movie of all time. I’d rate it a solid 9/10. It’s a film that has incredible acting, has simple, yet amazing themes, and is a perfect watch for the holiday season. If you are to take away anything from the film let it be this, sometimes in life you have to put your dreams aside, but it’s worth it if it means helping others, because in the end the connections you make are what truly make life wonderful.