Though it has become a staple Christmas movie for many families, the 1946 classic Miracle on 34th Street was actually released in May due to a decision by 20th Century Fox. Despite the holiday setting, studio head Darryl F. Zanuck insisted it debut in summer.
Why No Christmas Release for Miracle on 34th Street?
As per Wikipedia, Fox wanted to capitalize on the idea that more people go to theaters in warm weather months. They rushed to promote Miracle on 34th Street while keeping mum about its Yuletide themes and imagery. The misleading marketing materials foregrounded stars Maureen O’Hara and John Payne instead.
“We envied Natalie (Wood) and John Payne, who were watching the parade from a window,” O’Hara wrote of filming the cold Thanksgiving shoot.
But audiences would have to wait half a year to see that famous parade scene.
Director George Seaton shot the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade sequence live. His crew scrambled to capture needed shots with no second chances during the actual 1946 event. This added authentic but tricky realism.
The film weathered many title changes before landing on Miracle on 34th Street. Script tweaks were needed to meet Hollywood standards, going from My Heart Tells Me to options like The Big Heart before the now-classic name stuck.
Did the Fox Release Date Decision Pay Off?
While atypical, the summer debut proved a success, with Miracle on 34th Street raking in over $2 million domestically. It nabbed three Oscars and a Best Picture nod. The film has since become synonymous with the holidays.
Ultimately, 20th Century Fox prioritized potential profits over thematic timing. And according to some, their gamble worked. Nearly 80 years later, viewers continue to fall in love with Kris Kringle’s “miracle” in the heart of the Christmas shopping rush.
But for many fans, it’s hard to imagine not cuddling up with this story at Christmas time, no matter what the studio’s logic. The film shines brightest when enjoyed alongside twinkling lights on the tree and hot cocoa in hand.