For those that find in them a certain joy every time the orchestra of film kicks, when those studio logos lighten the dark of the screen and the familiar trumpet notes sound, you know what I mean when I say that the greatest films ever made are a must see for everyone. Those top 100 or 200, or 500 films that everyone should see before they die. Film is subjective though, and there are many lists. Fortunately for us, the American Film Institute compiled a list of the top 100 films of the 20th Century. From top to bottom, the list compiles the greatest American films released in the first 100 years of cinema.
As the most inspirational film ever made according to the AFI and an annual staple on television sets across the nation, It’s a Wonderful Life is the number 11 film of all time on AFI’s top 100 films list. The film, released in the aftermath of World War II in December of 1946 tells the story of George Bailey as recounted to his Guardian Angel.
Prayers rise from all over earth on Christmas Eve for George and so it is that Clarence Oddbody is tasked to help George in order to earn his wings. Before he can go though, he must be briefed on the details of George’s life. The film ensues with the recount of George’s life, from his childhood rescue of his brother and loss of hearing in his left ear to the meeting of his wife and the events in the present that lead him to such despair. All throughout his life, he pleas for help and finds the negatives in each situation before the positives, mainly his family. He believes his life to be meaningless in the scheme of things and so Clarence shows him what the world would be like without him in it.
He comes to terms with the enormity of existence and the fact that every man affects the world around him profoundly. He runs to the bridge in that famous scene and mutters his prayer and renews his faith, returning him to his family and the life he finally realizes how lucky he is to have.
The film was originally a Christmas card written by Philip Van Doren Stern titled “The Greatest Gift” which was eventually sold to RKO for $10,000. RKO had trouble getting a decent script put together and their primary choice for the lead, Carey Grant was unavailable for the part, so they eventually sold the rights and the three script treatments that had been produced to Frank Capra who enlisted James Stewart and a modest rewrite which included all three scripts, producing what is now It’s A Wonderful Life.
The reviews were mixed, but generally positive and the film ended up on the upper portions of the year’s box office sales, also garnering five academy award nominations. The film’s copyright eventually lapsed and television networks began to play it repeatedly. In the 1980s, stations would play it repeatedly for an entire day during the holidays, making it a Holiday classic, something everyone would see at least once a year. The Copyright was eventually returned to Republic Press in response to the 1990 Stewart Vs. Abend court ruling regarding lapsed copyrights. The license to show the film is now held exclusively by NBC which they utilize to air it twice a year, once usually on Christmas Eve.