‘It’s a Wonderful Life’: This Classic Movie Beat It for the Best Picture Oscar

It’s a Wonderful Life is a classic Christmas movie, however, it didn’t exactly sweep the Academy Awards. While the movie was nominated for several major awards, including Best Picture, it ultimately lost almost all of them to one acclaimed movie. Here’s a look at how the legacies of the two films compare.

James Stewart and on a bed in It's a Wonderful Life
James Stewart and Karolyn Grimes| Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

How ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ performed at the Oscars

Christmas movies rarely receive attention from the Oscars, however, It’s a Wonderful Life defied this trend. The movie was nominated for the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director for Frank Cara, Best Actor for James Stewart, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Recording. That’s a pretty impressive list of nominations.

However, It’s a Wonderful Life didn’t win any of these awards. It lost all of them to the epic film The Best Years of Our Lives, save for Best Sound Recording, which it lost to The Jolson Story. Why was The Best Years of Our Lives victorious at the Oscars? According to Joe Reid of Vulture, the film was very topical. That topicality couldn’t have hurt its chances at the Oscars. The Best Years of Our Lives is about World War II soldiers readjusting to life at home. Considering it was released in 1946, only about a year after World War II ended, The Best Years of Our Lives dealt with an issue which many Americans found relatable.

A trailer for It’s a Wonderful Life

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Which film made more money?

In addition, the critical reception of It’s a Wonderful Life probably didn’t help. Although the film is widely beloved today, contemporary critics found it too sentimental. The film’s box office was disappointing as well. According to Box Office Mojo, It’s a Wonderful Life earned over $6 million. Even during the 1940s, this haul was not impressive.

Compare this to the earnings of The Best Years of Our Lives. Box Office Mojo reports that film earned over $23 million. Clearly, The Best Years of Our Lives simply resonated with more people in 1946 than It’s a Wonderful Life did. 

A trailer for The Best Years of Our Lives

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How critics and audiences reacted to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in subsequent years

Even today, critics seem to respond more to The Best Years of Our Lives than It’s a Wonderful Life. The latter film has an impressive 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Considering the world has changed so much since 1946, it’s impressive the film still works for modern audiences. However, The Best Years of Our Lives holds a slightly higher 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes

So has time vindicated The Best Years of Our Lives over It’s a Wonderful Life? Perhaps critically. However, It’s a Wonderful Life holds a much more prominent part of pop culture compared to The Best Years of Our Lives. It’s a Wonderful Life inspired everything from remakes to the name of the band Zuzu’s Petals to a parody episode of The Fairly OddParents. The Best Years of Our Lives won the Oscars but It’s a Wonderful Life won many hearts.