Frank Capra’s 1946 “It’s a Wonderful Life” was, because of its high production cost, an expensive flop in its original release. Three-quarters of a century later, despite easy availability on home platforms and showings on NBC both last Saturday and next, the film was the sixth highest-grossing film in theaters December 21. (It also will air for 24 hours over Christmas on E!.)
Presented as a Fathom Event in partnership with Turner Classic Movies and Paramount (the latter has theatrical rights), it grossed $578,703 in 960 theaters. That put it No. 6 among all films for the day. And with $734,571 grossed on Sunday and an additional $60,015 on Monday and Tuesday in fewer theaters, its full week gross — playing only five days, and only two with 960 theaters — will, at around $1.4 million, be enough to rank either No. 6 or No. 7 for the full week.
With shows only on Sunday and not yet reported, initial weekend estimates missed that this was the No. 8 film for the three days, only $9,000 behind “The Fabelmans” (Universal) in about the same number of theaters but with one, not three, days of play.
That’s needed supplemental money for theaters, another sign of Fathom’s ability to create extra income from resourceful programming, but more than anything a tribute to Capra’s beloved film.
Its status as a classic comes from its timeless resonance with audiences, with the story of a man (James Stewart) who loses faith around Christmas and is saved from suicidal thoughts by a guardian angel. Its enshrinement as a quintessential Christmas film was a fluke; the TV syndication company that held the rights accidentally failed to renew its copyright, allowing stations and other venues to show it at minimal cost for years. In the 1990s, ownership was restored, with all showings since licensed on all venues.
Per Fathom, the film was provided to theaters with its original and appropriate 1.33×1 aspect ratio, standard at the time but much narrower than current ratios.
On Wednesday, “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Disney) grossed $14.3 million, down 22 percent from Tuesday. “Puss in Boots: The Last Exit” (Universal) opened to $3.2 million in second place. “Violent Night” (Universal) was No. 3. “The Whale” (A24) expanded to 603 theaters and took the fifth spot with $682,596. A blast of wintry weather had some impact on overall grosses, with a bigger hit expected in much of the country over the next two days.