The Wall Street JournalThe Wall Street Journal

The Christmas movie that became a classic because of a mistake

By Ben Cohen

22 Dec 2022 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

'It's a Wonderful Life,' the iconic black-and-white film many of us watch during the holidays, had all the ingredients of a hit—but only became one due to a copyright quirk. The WSJ tells the story.

The movie had every ingredient of a hit when it opened right before Christmas. By the new year, it was a flop. In fact, when the copyright on this film expired, nobody even bothered to renew it. It was so forgettable that it was quite literally forgotten.

This is also the reason that people are still watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

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