It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s bittersweet comedy starring James Stewart, has been voted the greatest Christmas film of all time.
In the poll for entertainment store HMV, it was chosen by nearly one fifth of the 7,500 people who took part.
Animated musical The Snowman came a distant second, while Home Alone starring Macaulay Culkin, was third.
It’s a Wonderful Life features a career-defining performance by Stewart as George Bailey, a selfless family man who is driven to the brink of suicide by a greedy millionaire. Hearing the desperate prayers of family and friends, heaven sends down an angel named Clarence to help George, and in the process earn his own wings.
Despite being nominated for five Oscars, including best actor and best picture, it flopped on its initial cinema release and was criticised for over-sentimentality and its statements about post-World War Two society, and was even labelled as “subversive” by the FBI.
However, the film started to grow in popularity during the 1980s, due in part to more regular television broadcasts after an accidental lapse in its copyright in 1974.
In 2006 it was ranked as the most inspirational film of all time by the prestigious American Film Institute.
HMV’s Head of DVD, Charles Fotheringham, said: “It has all the attributes of being the definitive Christmas film, showing that the good in all of us can, ultimately, prevail, however dire the circumstances.”
The poll also includes some surprising choices. The Bruce Willis action film Die Hard was eighth, Love Actually, Richard Curtis’s romantic comedy, was voted 12th, and Bad Santa, starring Billy Bob Thornton as a profane, alcoholic, thieving Father Christmas, was 29th.
Five things you never knew about It’s a Wonderful Life
Despite being set at Christmas it was actually filmed during a heatwave. James Stewart can often be seen sweating.
Vincent Price was considered at one point to play the evil Mr Potter.
Dorothy Parker did uncredited work on the script.
It was the first film to use artificial snow. Before this, painted cornflakes had been used.
In 2004, the Radio Times voted it the second best film never to have won an Oscar. The Shawshank Redemption was first.
The Top 10 Christmas films
1) It’s A Wonderful Life, Frank Capra (1946)
2) The Snowman, Dianne Jackson (1982)
3) Home Alone, Chris Columbus (1990)
4) The Muppet Christmas Carol, Brian Henson (1992)
5) Miracle on 34th Street, Les Mayfield (1994)
6) Santa Claus: The Movie, Jeannot Szwarc (1985)
7) White Christmas, Michael Curtiz (1954)
8) Die Hard, John McTiernan (1988)
9) The Nightmare Before Christmas, Henry Selick (1993)
10) Miracle on 34th Street, George Seaton (1947) ends