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Mr. Potter is arrested at the end of the film.
Notably absent, but an ending that would have ensured that good always wins and evil never prevails: Potter intended to go to the huge celebration where residents are helping George get out of his financial straits, claiming he is a liar and fraud. Residents are stonily silent and stare at Potter in disgust as he goes on a tirade about how George Bailey has ruined his vision for a "better" Bedford Falls and that he's guilty of stealing the money and deserves to go to prison, and demands that the police arrest him right now ... and I mean right now!!! The federal investigators then reveal they are not only dropping all pending charges against George and that the investigation against him is closed ... but then reveal that they have some questions of their own for Potter as they have seen some things of interest. Potter starts to object but is outnumbered 2-to-1. In a epilogue, it is revealed that Potter has been engaging in illegal activity for his entire career, and in addition to being morally responsible for the death of George's father (driving him to suffering a fatal stroke), is guilty of robbery, fraud, blackmail, embezzlement and many other charges – and is also involved in sexual misconduct – and is forced to stand trial. Shortly after he is found guilty and sentenced to hundreds of years in prison (essentially a life sentence), he suffers a fatal heart attack in prison, shortly before his first appeal is heard. Potter's funeral is a lonely one, while the Baileys go on to be the greatest philanthropists Bedford Falls has seen, preserving an affordable life for everyone, establishing scholarships for students in need, growing the community responsibly and keeping crime rate low, and being beloved residents. When George passes away in 1997, he is remembered as a kind man who made a real difference, and his children and descendants pass it on.

George Bailey dies before the end of the film.
See this post for details.

Mr. Potter is a muggle relative of Harry Potter. All the money that Harry has came from Bedford Falls!
  • So that's where the $8,000 went.
  • He's also related to Colonel Sherman Potter.
  • And Ethel May Potter, who married Fred Mertz.
  • Ocious P. Potter, anyone?
  • And Polly Potter and her mom. (Likely Mrs. Potter married Henry F.'s brother, who then died and left her the "Potter Millions". Mrs. P may be an Expy of Mary Lily Keenan Flagler, once the richest woman in America.)

Clarence takes George to an alternate universe where he was never born.
Clarence is an angel. He hasn't gotten his wings yet (which goes with added abilities), but perhaps he can take people into alternate universes if the situation calls for it. It's not that he changes history so that George wasn't born. There's an alternate universe in which George was never born, and Clarence took George to that universe to see what would have happened had he never been born.
  • Note that Clarence might not know that's what he's doing ("he has the IQ of a rabbit"). It's just that's what ended up happening.
    • Clarence consults with someone in heaven — "Wait a minute, that's an idea. What do you think? Yeah, that'll do it. All right!", before saying "You've got your wish. You've never been born." He just put in a request, probably to God himself, considering the huge wind that comes up and Clarence's "You don't have to make all that fuss about it!" That said, Clarence is actually pretty sharp on the job.

Like the entry above, Bailey's disappearance and appearance in the Alternate Universe became known as a Fringe event on one side or the other.
One of the legends that the Fringe Division came across that made sense to them in the long run.

When Potter heard about George being bailed out by his friends and family, he gets so angry that he has a heart attack and dies in agony.
  • It's a nice thought.
    • He...kinda did. An alternate (cut) scene shows him dying of a heart attack, but it was taken out. It could still happen.
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    • What's the opposite of personal discontinuity? That seems to be what at least two tropers are doing, deciding that an event that did not occur on screen is canon because we like it so much.
    • This troper always liked to think that not only did it happen, but once the original money was found in Potter's possession after his death and George cleared, the Baileys were allowed to keep it and use at least part of it to take a vacation to all the places George always wanted to go.

The "lost ending" for this film aired on Saturday Night Live and replayed on all the SNL Christmas specials is/was a genuine lost ending.
Not quite as nice a thought, but it does fix the "Potter is a Karma Houdini" problem. The classic ending is suspected of violating the Hays Code; the extra footage may have been filmed just in case.

The "angels" are actually god-like beings that humans cannot perceive.
For whatever reason, George falls into their plans, and if he dies, he will not be able to fulfill them.

When Mary broke the glass after the dance, she wished for George to have a miserable life.
He received news that his father died immediately afterwards — things went downhill from there.
  • It's more likely given her character and her comment at their wedding dinner "This is what I wished for" that she wished for him to stay in Bedford Falls and marry her, only it manifested in a Jerkass Genie way.

Most of what happens in the world where George isn't born is fabricated by the angels.
Rather than played out to their most likely hypothetical potential, several occurrences in the alternate universe are exaggerated or completely falsified to persuade George of his significance.

The fact that Harry's gravestone in the alternate reality reads 1911-1919 is not a mistake.
At least not a mistake on the on the filmmaker's part. Pottersville is so crappy that when Harry died and his parents ordered the gravestone, those responsible for chiseling in the dates put in the wrong year for either Harry's birth or Harry's death. His parents were upset but the stone was so expensive and Pottersville so crappy they couldn't afford to replace it.
  • Getting the birth date wrong seems more likely than them not realizing what year it was.
  • Since it's an alternate universe, maybe he really was born in a different year.
  • Except the headstone may not be a mistake. Not mentioned explicitly, but it appears that there is a four year difference between George and Harry. Most high schools are four years, At Harry's graduation, George mentions high school was four years ago for him, thus George, 12 years old in 1919, would have made Harry eight (Possibly seven) years old in 1919. Thus the math does work out.

Mr. Potter is really Satan
Think about it, Pottersville is basically the 1940s equivalent to hell. He tempts people with what seems to be easy deals for them but with an ulterior motive. Bailey even implied that if they sold out to Potter they may as well be selling their souls.

Prosperity is right around the corner for the Baileys
World War II is coming to an end. The United States is coming out of its economic depression. The prosperous 1950's are about to begin, and people are going to start buying land and houses. George is already an established figure in the local real estate industry, and his business has a good reputation as a lender. He's in the perfect position to take advantage of a market boom. Soon he'll own Bedford Falls, but only if he wants to; I think George is more modest than that.

Three years ago, Violet Bick and Ernie the Cab Driver had an affair
George was both able to talk Mrs. Bishop out of divorcing Ernie and Ernie into ending things with Violet. Violet, despondent and now a pariah for being a (potential) home wrecker, finally decides it's better to leave Bedford Falls, hence her asking George for money on Christmas Eve so she can start over in New York. This is also why in the Pottersville timeline, Ernie's wife "ran away three years ago and took the kid"; George wasn't there to intervene and save the marriage.

Mr. Gower's son is now a member of the Cullen clan.
The telegram indicates that he was living away from Bedford Falls at the time of his death, and he died from the same illness that Edward Cullen was dying of. He also looked to be around Edward's age, if Mr. Gower's photograph was recent. Who's to say he couldn't have been in Chicago, in the same hospital? (At least it's what I tell myself to make H.B. Warner's performance less heartwrenching.)

Mr. Potter's middle inital is F
I wonder what that stands for...

Mary's plainer appearance in Pottersville is a personal trick.
Mary still is the attractive woman George knew. Sure, the stress of living in Pottersville took a little of it out of her, but not much. Most of her frumpiness is put-on, in order to avoid any unwanted attention from men around the town.

Potter made the same wish that George did.
Related to a theory listed above, Potter got angry that George was so happy and successful. He wished that George was never born. Suddenly, a fallen angel appears and agrees to tell Potter how to make the wish come true, if he'll let his soul get taken to Hell upon his death. Potter agrees, and the angel tells Potter about Uncle Billy and the money, and how to really tighten the screws on George and utterly destroy him, resulting in George's wish and how Clarence will unknowingly grant it and give Potter what he wants. It works, and the angel tells Potter about it. But it turns out the forces of Heaven give George a chance to take back the wish, which he does. When Potter sees his wish has been foiled, he dies of that heart attack. And, since the deal just involved advising Potter, not necessarily guaranteeing success, the fallen angel shows up at Potter's death and takes him to his richly deserved damnation.
  • Who's to say this might explain "It Happened One Christmas", the gender-flipped version; George Bailey may not have been born, but that didn't prevent the Universe from allowing "Mary Bailey" (Marlo Thomas) to step into his shoes. Heaven is not above a loophole or two, and I don't doubt that Potter's angel is happy with it too, as long as he gets Potter's soul. Seeing that he still can't completely keep the Baileys down is going to all but finish the banker off.

The Glurge continues after the end of the movie.
After seeing the townspeople rally around George and gather the money to help him, Potter's heart grows three sizes and he calls the B&L to say he found the money where Billy left it (without mentioning that he planned to keep it to himself, of course). Any residual legal issues are quickly cleared up, and George and Mary try to return the money to the townspeople, who insist that they keep it, and the two of them finally go on their honeymoon to Europe.

Violet was pregnant and was planning to use the money George gave her to have an abortion.
During the scene when Violet asks George for money, she's emotionally distraught but won't tell George what was wrong, and kept insisting she needed to leave town. It's very likely that she had just found out she was pregnant and felt that she needed to get an abortion as soon as possible. However, since abortions were illegal back then and George may not have given her the money if she told him the truth, she deliberately kept her reasons vague. Of course, during the finale, she shows up with the rest of the town and gives George back the money he gave her, indicating that she either meant to keep the baby or at least take the time to think about her options.

Of course, given the Hays Code at the time and the general nature of the film, there was no way they were going to come out and say that this was what Violet needed George's money for.

The World without George Bailey would have been even WORSE than Clarence showed him

It's just that the world without George Bailey would have been totally unrelatable for George, and though truly awful — wouldn't have made him appreciate his life. Rather than dialing it up, the angels dialed it back so George could still relate.

That same Christmas Night, Mr. Potter gets visited by Three Spirits.

Bedford Falls is another version of Seahaven.

Events in George Bailey's life seem to be systematically conspiring to keep him from leaving the town. The producers had realized they'd been a bit too hard on George in order to crush his attempts to leave town and he was close to snapping, so they planned the whole alternate universe setup with the help of theater-style quick set design changes and makeup/costume changes for the actors. Once George was assured of how much he was valued in the town, they ensured he would be content continuing to live there.

Mary was attacked/raped in the alternate timeline

With the people of Pottersville being a rougher, darker bunch, and the town filled with violence and houses of ill repute, it's entirely possible that Mary was attacked somehow, leading to her jumpy behaviour when George runs into her. In one version of the script, Clarence says that "something happened" and Mary screams "don't touch me! I can't stand to be touched!" Never finding love wouldn't make her fearful of being attacked, but having a previous record of being attacked would certantly send any girl running at the slightest hint of danger.

Clarence was Driven to Suicide in the past.

We already know that Clarence was a human who died and became an angel. He says that it’s illegal to commit suicide despite the fact that America had no such law in 1946 or in the 1800s when Clarence was alive. He could be referring to the laws of heaven, which in this film seem to believe that Suicide Is Shameful but are generally sympathetic towards suicidal people. God probably sent Clarence to purgatory for his sin, and said that he would be allowed to go to heaven/get his wings by Talking Down the Suicidal and showing that he has learned to value life.

  • Clarence was born in 1653, so he lived in Colonial America. Suicide was illegal under British law in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Mr. Potter is a Shadow Archetype of George Bailey.

Earlier script drafts had George wanting to essentially become Mr. Potter, i.e. a successful, but lonely and unloved businessman. Presumably, Mr. Potter was once very much like George in terms of optimism in his early career, but he decided that he wanted to be wealthy and successful, and so, he became a successful businessman, but at the expense of his soul and principles, as well as alienating his former friends, allies and business partners.

Mary went to school for art/design

She drew George lassoing the moon, fixed up their house, and helped with the homes in Bailey Park.

George's brother's name is a shout-out to Butch O'Hare
Butch famously shot down multiple enemy planes in WW2, Harry could be an homage to O'Hare.