By the Numbers: It’s a Wonderful Life

Director Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life was a financial flop upon its 1946 release but today is one of the most revered Christmas films, with its tale of redemption for suicidal George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), who is given the chance to see his small town of Bedford Falls fall into disrepute without his influence.

The FBI was one of the movie’s biggest critics upon its release, calling it a “Communist infiltration of Hollywood” because it cast banker Potter (played by Lionel Barrymore) as “a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture,” which, the FBI said, “is a common trick used by Communists.”

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” Capra said of the film’s classic status. “The film has a life of its own now, and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud, but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”


The movie’s ranking by the American Film Institute for inspirational movies.


The number of acres used for the set of Bedford Falls, making it the longest set ever built for an American movie at the time. It included 75 stores and buildings, a 300-yard main street, a factory district and a large residential and slum area.


The number of writers, besides co-writer Capra, who worked on the screenplay. They included Dorothy Parker, Clifford Odets and Dalton Trumbo.


The number of bells heard during the course of the film. If Clarence the Angel is correct, 42 angels got their wings.


The temperature on the day the “wintery” bridge suicide scene was shot. Look closely, and you will see Jimmy Stewart sweating. It was also the  number of days it took to shoot the movie: April 15 to July 27, 1946.


The year the copyright to the movie lapsed, putting it in public domain. It became a staple to show during the holidays at TV stations everywhere. It would remain that way for 20 years.


The number of gallons of a mixture of foamite (the stuff in fire extinguishers), soap and water that was used to create snow. Director Frank Capra used this mixture for snow so he could have live sound. The prevailing method for creating snow at that time was to use corn flakes painted white, but they were too noisy and required dialogue to be dubbed in later. The invention of new movie snow earned the film its only Oscar – for technical achievement.

$3.7 million

The film’s budget, making it the most expensive independent production of its day. The box-office take was only $3.3 million, making it a flop. It marked the last time Capra co-wrote, financed, produced and directed one of his films.

4.7 million

The number of people who tuned in to the movie when NBC aired it on Christmas Eve 2017, making it the network’s most-watched movie of the year. It has aired exclusively on NBC since 1994. Look for it again on Christmas Eve.



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