It's a Wonderful Life is a 1946 Christmas film, directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, and Lionel Barrymore. The film focuses on George Bailey (Stewart), a good man driven to frustration and on the verge of suicide, until his guardian angel Clarence shows him what the world would be like had he never been born. The movie received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor and Best Picture, but lost in each category. However, It's a Wonderful Life has since come to be regarded as a cinematic classic, particularly through annual television airings.
Due to a non-renewed copyright, the movie was often aired multiple times on multiple stations between Thanksgiving and Christmas, both in black and white and in a popular colorized version. In 1993, Republic Pictures filed a claim that, though the original copyright had lapsed, the derivative copyrights for the script and story were in effect. Republic's claim was recognized, and thus the public domain color versions were withdrawn, and television licensing subsequently limited to NBC, which airs the film twice annually. Still, the film has become a popular cultural reference, and as with A Christmas Carol, countless television series have spoofed or referenced the film's basic plot.
Two of the film's supporting characters, close friends of George, are Bert the cop (Ward Bond) and Ernie the cab driver (Frank Faylen). A long-standing rumor claimed that the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie were named after the movie characters, though in actuality the similarity is coincidental.
- In Elmo Saves Christmas, footage from It's a Wonderful Life is used in multiple scenes, as viewed on television screens. Once Elmo wishes that every day become Christmas, the movie is seen endlessly on every channel. In a reference to the rumors about their names, Bert and Ernie walk past a set near the Fix It Shop, and glimpse the scene in which George Bailey says, "Bert! Ernie! What's the matter with you two guys? You were here on my wedding night." The special closes with the final scene of the movie, playing on a TV in Hooper's Store, as Zuzu recalls that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings, and George Bailey says "Attaboy, Clarence!"
- The plot of the TV movie It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie is loosely based on It's a Wonderful Life. Daniel plays a similar role to Clarence, as Kermit's guardian angel, who shows him what the world would be like had he never been born. In both films, the crisis which brings the protagonist to utter despair is financial, caused by the loss of a sum of money. Rachel Bitterman is a variation of Barrymore's Mr. Potter, and her Club Dot and Bitterman Plaza, which appear in the world in which Kermit was never born, are analagous to Nick's bar and Bedford Falls' transformation into the decadent, vice-ridden Pottersville in It's a Wonderful Life.
- A clip of James Stewart from the movie was used in the fifth season Muppet Babies episode "Muppets Not Included," as George Bailey says "This is a very interesting situation." In the same sequence, Frank Welker does a vocal impersonation of Stewart as George, saying "Help me, Clarence!"