Box art for It's A Wonderful Life

It's A Wonderful Life

comedy, drama

George Bailey has so many problems he is thinking about ending it all and it's Christmas! As the angels discuss George, we see his life in flashback.

Rotten Tomatoes® scores

  • Critic Score
  • Audience Score

common sense

ON for kids age 9
0 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
0 out of 5
0 out of 5
Positive messages
3 out of 5
Positive role models
4 out of 5
0 out of 5
3 out of 5

This classic delivers warmth all year long.

what parents need to know

Parents need to know that this classic is both sweet and knowing. Teens will love it as an engaging story that takes on the human condition in all its complexity. It features a witty screenplay and a grand old score. See it in its original, glorious black and white. Younger kids may be drawn in by George as a youth.

what families can talk about

  • Families can talk about the film's more disturbing aspects. For instance, George contemplates suicide because he thinks he failed in his life.
  • Families may want to talk about how each family member enhances each person's life and discuss how to show that every day.

movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes®

Top Critic Reviews

Fresh: The April-air wholesomeness and humanism of this natural bring back vividly the reminder that, essentially, the screen best offers unselfconscious, forthright entertainment.

- Bert Briller, Variety, Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fresh: As the hero, Mr. Stewart does a warmly appealing job, indicating that he has grown in spiritual stature as well as in talent during the years he was in the war. And Donna Reed is remarkably poised and gracious as his adoring sweet-heart and wife.

- Bosley Crowther, New York Times, Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Fresh: The epiphany of movie sentiment and a transcendent experience.

- Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader, Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Audience Reviews

4 stars

It's a complete classic and incredibly harmless. I defy anyone to watch this and not feel completely vulnerable. This is one of the times that James Stewart's nice guy routine actually works and fits the storyline. I think you just feel bad more than anything that this extremely good person is having his life ruined and brought to the point of suicide and/or non-existence. For it's time and even now I find it to be powerful. Frank Capra did an amazing job at bringing such depth and visual style to a relatively simple plot.

- ythelastman89, Wednesday, March 24, 2010

5 stars

Small town boy George Bailey dreams of making it big and travelling the world but finds himself trapped by a sense of duty to family and community. In his darkest hour, his mind turns to suicide which leads to the appearance of his guardian angel Clarence who gives him the opportunity to see how the world would be if he had never been born. It's A Wonderful Life is the very definition of the word "classic". James Stewart gives an appropriately wonderful performance as George, someone so selfless and devoted to his fellow man that you can't help but love him. He's not some one-dimensional do-gooder however, and it is sometimes easy to forget about the dark edge to the story; after all George often feels as if he's being held in Bedford Falls against his will. It's still typical Capra, in that it's a modern fable that shows a genuine belief in the innate goodness of man, and it does so with such infectious, innocent charm that even the most hard-bitten cynic cannot help but be swept away by it. It is the kind of engaging fantasy that just cannot be made without sincerity, and every year Hollywood attempts to milk its sentiment to fill its coffers and always fails for that very reason. One of those films I never tire of seeing, and is rightly considered to be one of the best films ever made.

- garyX, Friday, December 23, 2011

5 stars

As undeniable classic in every imaginable way. It's A Wonderful Life is the feel good Christmas movie above all others, despite the fact it paints a fairly depressing picture. It tells us not to take life for granted, and that we shouldn't be so selfish as to assume our life is for our own benefit. It clearly highlights how Jimmy Stewart's life has influenced all those around him. As his life takes a nosedive and his dreams go unfulfilled he begins to lose all hope. Other than the necessary schmaltzy ending, the film is well grounded in reality and avoids insincere sentiments. Capra's wonderful handling of the material make this a surprisingly gripping film, one that may climax at Christmas, but can be watched anytime of year.

- kiriyamakazou, Friday, December 25, 2009