The Greatest Showman is a 2017 American musical film directed by Michael Grace, starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, and Zendaya. The film is inspired by the story of P. T. Barnum’s creation of the Barnum & Bailey Circus (1871–2017) and the lives of its star attractions. The film received nominations for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actor – Musical or Comedy for Jackman. For the song “This Is Me”, the film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and was nominated for Best Original Song at the 90th Academy Awards.
In the late 19th century, P. T. Barnum and his troupe perform a show at the circus (“The Greatest Show”). In a flashback to Barnum’s childhood where he and his father Philo, a tailor, work for the Hallett family, he becomes infatuated with their daughter, Charity. Though Charity is being sent to finishing school, Barnum reassures her they will not be separated. The two keep in touch through letters until they meet again in adulthood (“A Million Dreams”), eventually marrying and raising two daughters, Caroline and Helen, in New York City (“A Million Dreams” reprise). They live a humble life; though Charity is happy, Barnum dreams of more.
Barnum loses his job as a clerk at a shipping company after the company goes bankrupt. Taking a risky bet, he takes out a large loan from a bank, deceiving the bank into accepting his former employer’s lost ships as collateral. He uses this loan to buy Barnum’s American Museum in downtown Manhattan, an attraction showcasing various wax models. Initially, sales are slow; on the suggestion of his children to showcase something “alive”, Barnum searches for “freaks” to serve as performers for his museum (“Come Alive”). This attracts a large audience despite protests and poor reviews, prompting Barnum to rename his venture “Barnum’s Circus.”
Searching for ways to further his reputation amongst the upper class, Barnum meets playwright Phillip Carlyle and convinces him to join his venture (“The Other Side”). Carlyle is mesmerized by Anne Wheeler, an African-American trapeze artist, but he hides his feelings. During a trip, Carlyle arranges for Barnum and his troupe to meet Queen Victoria. Afterwards, Barnum meets Jenny Lind, a famed Swedish singer, whom he convinces to perform in America, with him serving as her manager. Lind’s first American performance is a rousing success (“Never Enough”). While Barnum gains favor with the aristocratic patrons, he begins to distance himself from his original troupe, refusing to socialize with them. Dejected, they decide to stand against their local harassers (“This Is Me”).
Carlyle and Wheeler attend the theater together one night, only to run into Carlyle’s parents, who are blatantly racist toward Wheeler, causing her to leave. Carlyle chases her and tries to convince her that they can be together, but she rejects him despite her feelings towards him (“Rewrite the Stars”). As Barnum takes Lind on a US tour, Charity feels isolated from her husband as she stays home with their daughters (“Tightrope”). While on tour, Lind begins falling in love with Barnum, but when he refuses her advances, she calls off the tour and kisses him at the end of her last show, which is photographed by the press (“Never Enough” reprise). Barnum returns home to find his circus on fire, caused by a fight between the protesters and the troupe. Carlyle, who had tried to save Anne not knowing she had already escaped, is rescued by Barnum amid the chaos but suffers severe burns. Most of the sets and props are destroyed. Word of Lind’s cancellation and Barnum’s public intimacy also reaches New York, resulting in his mansion being foreclosed upon and Charity taking Caroline and Helen to her parents’ home.
Depressed, Barnum retreats to a local bar, where his troupe find him there and explain that despite their disappointments, they still consider themselves a family that needs him. An inspired Barnum resolves to start anew and not let ambition overtake his loved ones anymore. Meanwhile, the injured Carlyle wakes in a hospital with Anne by his side (“From Now On”).
Barnum leaves and finds his estranged wife, and they decide to mend their relationship. Faced with the financial difficulty of rebuilding the circus, the recovering Carlyle steps in, offering to use his earnings from his share of the circus’s profits to rebuild it under the condition of becoming partners, which Barnum happily accepts. As rebuilding the circus in its original location would be too expensive, Barnum rebuilds it as an open-air tent circus by the docks. The revamped circus is a huge success, and Barnum gives full control of the show to Carlyle so he can focus on his family (“The Greatest Show” reprise).