10 Movies to Watch If You Like It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Everyone has that one film they like to keep going back to whenever they feel low or lost in life. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), directed by Frank Capra, despite being a holiday movie fit for the Christmas season, has been ringing in joy, warmth, and pleasure for almost 75 years since its release. It is popularly believed to be one of the 100 Best American Films ever made. After all, how can you not feel your heart skipping a beat when George Bailey (played by James Stewart) proposes to put a lasso around the moon for Mary (played by Donna Reed)? The film reinforces that integrity and good nature in a human being should never be looked down upon, but instead appreciated and valued. No matter the hardships that came his way, George Bailey was a good man with a wonderful family and life. It tells the audience that we need to be searching in the right places to find happiness.
In a Forbes interview last year, Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu Bailey, said that the film is a gift to humanity, and I couldn’t agree more. The film also works well as an original retelling of Charles Dicken’s popular novella, A Christmas Carol (1843). Experts have come to believe that the novella and this film go so hand and glove that either would cease to exist without the other. The supernatural element in the film’s narrative and its good-natured humor continue to make It’s a Wonderful Life a go-to holiday favorite among most Americans. The film spurred the production of adaptations, parodies, and remakes in the past 75 years, but only a few have been able to stand out from the crowd. Needless to say, if you are looking for a film to cheer you up and hug you on your bad days, this is the film you need to watch. To help you pick a movie like It’s a Wonderful Life, I have jotted down a listicle below that features films that broadly tick the categories of fantasy, romantic comedy, and holiday dramas, all focusing on the varying degrees of realizations that the protagonists undergo to appreciate their life better. Make way for a peal of heartfelt laughter with these movies and look around yourself – it really is a wonderful life, y’all. Happy Reading!
Special Mention: Naukri (1987) by Hrishikesh Mukherjee
I was quite astonished when I found out that Hrishikesh Mukherjee drew inspiration from the American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, and the Tamil hit, Mudhal Tethi for this poignant but over-ambitious drama. Mukherjee, in his usual style, weaves the story of Ranjit Gupta (played by Rajesh Khanna), who is a disabled war veteran and commits suicide under the duress of financial troubles. He meets the angel who calls himself Captain (played by Raj Kapoor) and unfurls the story of his life for him. The film is far from being Capraesque or mood-lifting. It manages to tell you that you only have one life so it is important to make it count but the message is quite watered down by a parade of quirky Indianised ghosts. In the end, there are simply too many loose ends to make them. The film, therefore, only manages to be a refreshing take on Capra’s Its a Wonderful Life. The same idea of an angel meeting a dead person to drive home this reflection upon life is seen in another Bollywood remake of Naukri, Vaah! Life Ho Toh Aisi! (2005). The latter is mostly forgotten but at least it was a comedy of sorts.
10. Laal Singh Chadda (2022)
The official adaptation of Forrest Gump (1994), Laal Singh Chadda is on this list because of how feel-good this recently released Bollywood film is. It traces the life of Laal (played by Amir Khan) from his childhood to the day he sends his son to school – a full circle. Laal traces the crests and the troughs of this journey with a naivety, honesty, and passion that almost echoes the life of George Bailey. In the process, we flit through some of the key historical moments that shaped the course of political and cultural history in India over the past forty years. Laal is head over heels in love with Rupa (played by Kareena Kapoor Khan), his only childhood friend, and the story of their romantic relationship forms the main subplot in the film. While some are still in two minds about whether or not it is a well-made adaptation, I’d pick this one over the original because it has its heart in the right places and holds the possibility to become an essential socio-cultural marker of post-pandemic, big-budget theatrical Bollywood cinema in the future.
While this is neither a Christmas movie nor one with fantastical elements in it, in recounting the life of the protagonist Laal Singh Chadda through select but meaningful episodes from his life, the movie is like It’s a Wonderful Life. Both films portray a kind of romance that nourishes the respective protagonist. In fact, it is a little astonishing that Mary Hatch Bailey and Rupa D’Souza are both prototypes of selfless women characters dependent on the man in their life despite being sketched over 75 years apart. George and Laal’s do-good attitude lands them in unique situations but they always manage to shine through because of their honest efforts – a moral tale as old as time – but they never fail to make you feel snuggled up in a warm hug by the end of their endeavors.
Also Read: 10 Best Aamir Khan Movie Performances
9. Godmothered (2020)
Directed by Sharon Maguire, this Disney film, Godmothered, is a modern-day fantastical twist to the wish-granting factory of ‘Happily Ever After’s that our Cinderella-loving generation believes fairy godmothers are meant for. It is charming, humorous, and packed with an engaging storyline that keeps giving till the very end. Eleanor (played by Jillian Bell) must do what she can as a Fairy Godmother to help Mackenzie (played by Isla Fischer) achieve her ‘Happily Ever After’ and make Motherland survive. Her biggest fight is against the traditional, regressive ideas about love and family hosted by Motherland, and this is Eleanor’s journey in unlearning them one layer after another. This is as much fun and magical as a new-age fairy tale should be.
You have ever wondered how it would be if Clarence, Bailey’s Guardian Angel, had a modern-day rendition and a story of his own? Your search ends with Godmothered. Like the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, this film is focused on Eleanor and her coming of age as a young Godmother during one eventful Christmas and helping the protagonists find their sense of peace in life, in whichever form that may be. The best thing about this film is that it doesn’t try to shed unnecessary light on the rom-com aspect of the plot, instead, there’s so much magic, madness, and heartwarming family moments that you’re bound to tear up a little by its end. The display of unfiltered goodness in both these movies makes them feel like a bowl of warm chicken soup for the tired soul.
8. Click (2006)
Directed by Frank Coraci, Click is like the Dickens novella adaptation that is promising but far from being a comedy. It is inherently sad and brutal in the way Michael Newman (played by Adam Sandler), an overworked architect who is always choosing work over family, gets to use a Universal Remote to tamper with his everyday realities. The magical device is the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future all in one – it is a technology that can reach the ‘beyond’ in a click; however, the question arises: Is it desirable? Sandler ornaments the film with his brand of humor, not everyone’s cup of tea, and little emotional anchor to hook the viewers, but I cannot think of a better early 2000s American drama that works as a parody of It’s a Wonderful Life than Click.
Newman’s family structure is much like George Bailey’s. The flawed protagonist incapable of stopping to appreciate what he has in life and how far he has come rings true for both Newman and Bailey except for one thing – Newman is simply unlikable and meant to be so. Instead of a selfless wife, Michael and Donna’s relationship starts to show cracks because of his inability to balance life and work. At least here’s a film that doesn’t harp on an ideal romance between two people. The supernatural element, like in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, is contained in one object – a remote instead of the Guardian angel – a fascinating twist to the tale, if you ask me because it is a symbol of how contemporary pop culture was going to be swooning over the possible powers of a technologically advanced future from then onward.
7. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Growing up, my first ideas about how decked up and snowy Christmas can look in an American metropolitan city was shaped by the film, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, directed by Chris Columbus. Undoubtedly then, this movie features as a nostalgic but endearing ode to a holiday classic we love to rewatch. Kevin (played by Macaulay Culkin) accidentally boards the wrong flight and lands in New York (instead of Miami) for his holidays. He decides to trip the city on his own but is soon targeted by the Wet Bandits, who are just out of jail. There is cartoon violence in the film, and you cannot deny that no matter how oddball it is, it makes you feel like a hot chocolate fudge by the end. It went on to become one of the highest earning films of 1992 and was followed by a sequel, Home Alone 3 in 1997.
This is the story of a kid, a child who doesn’t quite understand the complex social and emotional baggage that adulthood brings along. He can only separate the good from the bad using his skewed common sense. Like the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, this film is focused on the event of Christmas and preaches to the young audience the importance of being kind and, maybe, a little naughty in life. P.S. Please don’t try this at home.
6. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
The first of its kind Mickey Mouse production for the theatres after a hiatus of 30 years, this film is an animated adaptation of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol (1843). This is the story of the infamous selfish money-lender, Ebenezer Scrooge, who refuses to show mercy or kindness to people on Christmas Day. He returns home to encounter the ghosts of Jacob Marley, Jiminy Cricket, and Pete and Willie, the Giant. They guide him through the many incidents from his life, showing him the possible outcomes of his actions, and they help to bring about gratitude in the old Scrooge. This used to be one of my favorite films (only 26 minutes long!) to look forward to during Christmas in my childhood. Crying with Scrooge when he thinks Tiny Tim is dead and snorting at his unkindness towards Bob Cratchit, this one is an all-time favorite Dickens adaptation fit to entertain all age groups.
Both this movie and It’s a Wonderful Life share the central theme of the Dickens novella; while the latter features only one supernatural being, Clarence Oddbody, this one is true to the source text in featuring the three ghosts of Christmas – past, present, and future. It is also the timely intervention of these supernatural beings that help our protagonists understand and appreciate the value of their lives and the choices they make. Besides, who can deny that they are both Christmas classics of all times and great entry points into the holiday movie marathon mood?
5. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
Directed by Satoshi Kon, Tokyo Godfathers is a farcical comedy and one of the more unusual entries on this list since it is inspired by the 3 Godfathers (1946). On a Christmas Eve in Tokyo, three unlikely characters – Gin, Hana, and Miyuki – chance upon a newborn child while sifting through garbage. The film follows their (mis)adventures as they set out in search of the child’s parents following a few clues. They are driven to understand the meaning of family and home as more and more meaningful coincidences come their way. Unlike the previous Kon directorial features, this one is almost zany and light-hearted, especially as the three musketeers (?) acknowledge that they are not ‘action-movie heroes’ but ‘homeless bums’. However, the twisted sentimentalism in their stories makes it a challenging but adorable watch for the holiday season.
In the heart of Tokyo Godfathers, much like the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, lies the search for and establishment of a self-made identity and a family life. George Bailey is a self-made man who is committed to his family as much as he is to his professional role. Here too, the three misfit and eccentric protagonists are full of tall tales about their misery and mistakes but are longing to belong. Both films stress the importance of accepting and acknowledging the love received from people around the protagonists. Although not sprinkled with glaring supernatural elements, the film surely lies at the border of fiction and reality, tickling you pink in the end.
Also Read: 25 Feel-Good Movies and Where to Watch Them
4. Scrooged (1988)
Out of the many adaptations of the Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol, this one’s a personal favorite. Starring Billy Murray as Frank Cross and directed by Richard Donner, Scrooged is one of the best holiday movies to watch. It comes with a flavor of the 80s and stuns you with a visual production so elaborate that you are left bedazzled. Cross is, to put it lightly, not the best person to be around. Thanks to the visits from the Ghosts on Christmas Eve, his dead-pan deliveries and absurd insults are countered by a series of supernatural and unfortunate events that he is forced to go through only to realize just where the problem lies. Part nostalgia and part Murray’s exceptional performance, this is a feel-good film for everyone who likes their comedy with a side of tab and vodka (Cross’ choice of poison)!
Just like Frank Cross travels through the space-time continuum to understand his flaws, George Bailey must make a similar fantastical journey to understand the importance of his role on earth and in people’s lives. Skeptically reacting to their spiritual guardians, both films fuse the naturalistic order of the protagonists’ everyday lives with some supernaturalism and give them a second chance at life. An all-time favorite classic like the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, don’t miss out on the 80’s hairdo that every character in Scrooged flaunts, the singular element that won the film a nomination for the 61st Academy Awards for Best Makeup.
3. The Irony of Fate (1975)
Directed by Eldar Ryazanov, this made-for-TV Russian romantic comedy is widely popular as one of the holiday traditions in the former Soviet Union, almost as much as the movie It’s a Wonderful Life is popular in America. The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! is a 184-minutes long film that centers around a chance meeting between Zhenya and Nadya who seem to be living in a similar-looking apartment on the same street as each other; the only difference being that Zhenya is based out of Moscow while Nadya lives in Leningrad. While this supernatural twist in their fates creates a unique situation in their personal lives, they are drawn to each other in love. The dark humor about the reinforced homogeneity and changing Russian landscape is beautifully integrated into this warm hug of a film, making it a Russian pop culture classic. The Irony of Fate 2, a sequel to this movie, was also released in 2007 and was immediately welcomed by the audience as a massive hit.
Both these holiday classics stress the idea of simple human happiness and the miracle of fate. Graced with comic scenes and some commentary on the socio-political environment, I think both films go a long way in portraying a slice of life from their contemporary times. If you are looking for a foreign language film this holiday season to act as a double bill to It’s a Wonderful Life, don’t forget to check this one out.
2. Groundhog Day (1993)
An American-fantasy film directed by Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day is a perennial holiday favorite, much like the movie Its a Wonderful Life. The idea is simple – Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) is a TV weatherman who is living the same day of his life again and again until he begins to investigate it; after all, no one has all the time in the world, do they? It looks like a cruel joke of some kind to him, throwing him into a parade of emotions, but the secret to change lies within him. Murray pulls off the jerk-faced cynicism like it were his real nature, helping his viewers invest in his journey and do some soul-searching in the process. Silly but interestingly, this plot has been a recurring favorite among American filmmakers ever since. From Palm Springs (2020) to Russian Doll (2019 – ), how many can you name?
Groundhog Day uses the same old redemption plot that is central to It’s a Wonderful Life, but it somehow manages to steer itself clear of sentimentalism. George Bailey is nowhere like Phil Connors, who dislikes the human race, his job, and his life to the brim. Funnily, there is no supernatural intervention; Phil is his own savior. The romantic subplot doesn’t focus on the romantic ideal that a person should be striving for, instead, it strives to establish a fertile ground of romance by helping both Phil and Rita (played by Andie MacDowell) come to see each other for who they are, respect and love them for the same. This movie can define a feeling in itself, a quality so rare that it deserves to be appreciated over and over again.
1. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
If It’s A Wonderful Life is fit for a holiday dinnertime watch, then you can play this American comedy directed by George Seaton while eating a bowl of dessert afterward. Miracle on 34th Street follows the story of Kris Kringle (played by Edmund Gwen) and a courtroom trial to prove the existence of the mythic figure of Santa Claus. Courtroom drama meets good ole’ fashioned Christmas comedy to produce this oddball but heartwarming film with a strong message about the influence of commercialization and indoctrination upon the masses. The film does a fantastic job of weighing the doe-eyed innocence of the children on the same scale as the money-making mindset of the corporate big floats, especially in the final courtroom sequence which helps us understand how commercialism has a parasitic relationship with aspects of human joy and celebration. Besides, Gwenn is one of the best Santa Claus portrayals in Hollywood to this date.
In a spirit like It’s a Wonderful Life, this movie drives home the idea that there’s always some amount of goodness left in the world to be embraced. If like George Bailey or as Santa teaches Doris, you too can believe in it, you are bound to experience and appreciate it better. Life and people in our lives are meant to be cherished, after all, we don’t get second chances – both the films introduce an outsider into a seemingly realistic story to help bring out these motifs.