The 9 Greatest Circus Movies On Earth

Tuesday, April 19 by

Water for Elephants tells the story of a blond lawyer, a vampire, and a Nazi who all get jobs at the circus. And based on the name alone, I’m sure it will go down as one of the greatest circus films of all time. Rest assured, I’m not just saying that because the studio is paying us.

Wait, the studio really isn’t paying? In that case, there is no way in hell I’ll ever sit through this film. First of all, circuses make me sad. Second, the name alone is enough to keep me away. Third, if I was forced to watch a circus film, I’d choose from one of the following nine options, instead, since they contain less in the way of twinkish vampires.

At the Circus – (1939)

This is one of the dumbest films ever made. But like Troll 2 or The Room, it’s so bad, you can’t help but watch. The premise is simple: Aliens resembling clowns arrive on earth and begin harvesting people to place in their cotton-candy cocoons. If that doesn’t terrify you, maybe you should stick with Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

Freaks – (1932)

Notable for its time, Freaks cast real circus performers rather than actors in makeup, a fact that gives the film an extremely creepy vibe. But if there’s one thing to be learned from this movie, it’s that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. If there’s another lesson to be learned, it’s stay away from freaks, because of you get on their bad side, they will gang up and stab you to death.

Big Top Pee-wee – (1988)

It’s hard to believe that when this circus-themed film came out in 1998, the kissing-scene was criticized for being too risque for children. Luckily, three years later Paul Reubens (Pee-wee) was arrested in a porno theater, which kind of took the heat off.

Something Wicked This Way Comes – (1983)

Based on a story by Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes tells the tale of Mr. Dark, an evil circus owner who grants people their childhood wishes, but not without horrible, unforeseen consequences. It’s a lot like The Monkey’s Paw, except with less Monkeys, and more Jason Robards. That’s a good trade, in my opinion.

The Greatest Show On Earth – (1952)

Legendary director Cecil B. DeMille’s classic, The Greatest Show On Earth, comes across as a documentary despite being a fictional tale. This is because his actors actually trained to perform the acts of their characters, and actual circus performers were used throughout the film. Despite the realism, there is no scene where a red-hot poker is shoved up an elephant’s ass in order to make it dance.

The Elephant Man – (1980)

Apparently, circuses and carnival side shows were a lot less family friendly in 19th Century Europe. The Elephant Man tells the story of Joseph Merrick, whose facial deformities earned him the “elephant man” nickname. Merrick ended up touring in a sideshow before being rescue by a kindly surgeon. Directed by David Lynch, it’s clearly one of his more straightforward, linear films. As such, he felt no need to compensate with random lesbianism, which is my only real criticism.

The Circus – (1928)

Like The Marx Brothers, the setting of a Charlie Chaplin film is somewhat irrelevant. His beloved Tramp character finds humor wherever he goes. In this film, he’s at the circus. Hilarity ensues. That is all.

Dumbo – (1941)

One of Disney’s most popular cartoons, Dumbo, tells the story of a baby circus elephant who is cruelly mocked for his large ears. However, through hard work and perseverance, Dumbo manages to turn his perceived flaw into an asset, teaching himself to fly using his ears as wings. Of course, this film might seem quaint, given that the bullied children of today can simply enact a school shooting to get back at their tormentors. Even so, the film contains some of the most celebrated depictions of circus life in the history of cinema.

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COMMENTS

  1. April 19, 2011 1:50 pm

    Paul Alan Sakac

    I think that one movie whick should have been listed as one of the greatest circus movies of all time is “Her Alibi”. It was released in 1989, starred Tom Selleck and I liked the scene where Tom’s character, dressed as a clown, “pretended” to fight with another clown (who was actually a murderer), and Tom Selleck narrated that the fight was like a game of cat and mouse. I thought it was a pretty good movie.