The attractions. The snacks. The costumes. The sounds. The excitement. Yes, there is nothing quite like visiting a circus or a carnival, and these types of places have been entertaining guests for years and years. Whether they are world-renowned or whether they pop up, randomly and secretly, they provide entertainment for one and all.
In between our visits to these thrilling spots, we can keep the magic alive by watching circus- and carnival-themed movies! That is right… There are several out there, including the 10 must-watch ones that are listed out down below for everyone to browse through and enjoy.
10 The Greatest Showman
Let’s get this list started off with a real bang, shall we?
A very well-known film about the circus is The Greatest Showman, which was released in 2017. It featured an all-star cast that was made up of people like Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams and Zendaya, and it was inspired by P. T. Barnum’s life. This work was also nominated for several awards and won accolades such as a Golden Globe for Best Original Song (That award was because of the song This Is Me, though, as fans know, there were so many great tunes in this work).
9 The Greatest Show On Earth
In 1952, The Greatest Show on Earth came out, starring Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde as trapeze artists, Charlton Heston as a circus manager and James Stewart as a clown who never takes off his makeup. Since the setting of the story was the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the actual troupe was featured, with 1,400 people and hundreds of animals. This helped create over-the-top scenes, as well as a behind-the-scenes look into the world of circuses, which resulted in honors such as two Academy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards.
8 Arabian Nights
Arabian Nights, which was inspired by The Book of One Thousand and One Nights and which was released in 1942, is up next. It featured actors like Sabu, Maria Montez, Jon Hall and Leif Erickson as characters who were part of a wandering circus, such as Sherazade, Sinbad the Sailor and Aladdin.
This was one of the more exotic stories that came from Universal Pictures during the time of World War II, and it was nominated for four Academy Awards. So while the iconic Disney flicks, Aladdin, may not be about life under the big top, this story certainly featured that fun.
7 Big Top Pee-Wee
After Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in 1985, Big Top Pee-wee came in 1988. It, of course, starred Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman, and it had music by Danny Elfman.
The plot centered around a traveling circus, complete with a ringmaster named Mace Montana and a trapeze artist named Gina Piccolapupula. While this may not be the most popular film that has ever been released, it is one that focuses on that magic that happens under the big top!
6 Oz the Great and Powerful
In 2013, the world received Oz the Great and Powerful, a spiritual prequel to one of the most celebrated films of all time, The Wizard of Oz. Directed by Sam Raimi, this movie starred big names like James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Zach Braff.
Franco portrayed Oscar Diggs, a circus magician who ended up in the Land of Oz, a very whimsical place full of tiny dolls and flying monkeys and witches. Another fun fact is that Danny Elfman did music for this film, too! And overall, it was named the Best Live Action Family Film and received the MTV Movie Award for Best Villain (specifically given to Mila Kunis, who played the Wicked Witch of the West).
Some circus and carnival movies are scary, like Freaks from 1932; this is all about a trapeze artist who marries the leader of carnival sideshow his inheritance. The sideshow performers were played by people such as Harry and Daisy Earles, dwarf siblings, and Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twin sisters.
Even though this flick was described as grotesque and even banned in some places, it was selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry, as it is considered a classic.
4 The Funhouse
On a similar note, there was The Funhouse, which came out in 1981, thanks to Tobe Hooper, who had previously directed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The plot of this movie focuses on four teens getting stuck in a carnival ride with a killer… That does sound fun!
It should be noted that this was released with the title Carnival of Terror, as well, and a novel version came out, which was written by Dean Koontz, too.
3 Water For Elephants
In 2011, a film that was based on the novel of the same name was released: Water for Elephants. This love and circus-themed story featured Reese Witherspoon as Marlena Rosenbluth and Robert Pattinson as Jacob Jankowski, and it told the story of a man who joined a traveling circus and fell in love with the ringmaster’s wife.
The animals, the romance, the setting of the 1930s… There is so much to enjoy here, and it was able to be enjoyed through written words and on the big screen!
2 The Elephant Man
The Elephant Man came in 1980, to tell the story of Joseph Merrick, a real man who was deformed and who, in the film, was found at a Victorian freak show in London. This work was filmed in black and white, and it starred John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins. It also earned Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations and won BAFTA Awards for Best Film, Best Actor and Best Production Design.
Of course, this also Dumbo, the fourth Disney animated feature film that was ever made, back in the year 1941. Its notable story centered around an elephant with big ears who is nicknamed Dumbo… and who learns and then help in teaching such as sweet lesson.
In 2019, a live-action version of this story came out, too, which was directed by Tim Burton and which starred people such as Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito and Eva Green. This means that there are two adaptations of this magical movie to watch and to love.
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