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The Top Five Circus Movies

The Top Five Circus Movies

The Top Five Circus Movies

Run Away To The Circus With These Great Circus Movies

Have you always wanted to run away to the circus? Or maybe that is a more recent fascination? Either way, this page allows you to join the circus...from the comfort of your armchair.

On this page, learn more about five great circus movies: Disney's Dumbo (1941), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Jumbo (1962), The Big Circus (1959) and the newest circus movie, Water For Elephants (2011). You will also find information about Big Fish (2003), a fantasy movie that is not really a circus movie but that does include a travelling circus.

I have included a couple of fun polls. A whopping 93 percent of the people who have visited this page love the circus and 64 percent are true circus fans, saying that they love anything to do with the circus. Take a moment to participate and become part of these numbers.

Click here to see Amazon's complete collection of circus movies.

The Six Circus Films On This Page Include

  • Jumbo (1962) a classic film
  • Dumbo (1941) an animated circus movie and a Disney classic.
  • The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) an Academy Award winning film
  • The Big Circus (1959) a realistic movie
  • Water For Elephants (2011) a recent movie, from the book of the same name.
  • Big Fish (2003), a fantasy film not about the circus exactly but that includes a travelling circus.

Jumbo (1962)



Starring Doris Day, Stephen Boyd, Jimmy Durante, Martha Raye and Dean Jagger.

Jumbo is considered one of the last big MGM musicals and it was Doris Day’s last musical role in a movie. In this film, Pop Wonder (Jimmy Durante) owns The Ringling Brothers circus, which is famous for one main attraction, Jumbo the elephant. Doris Day appears as his daughter Kitty, a bareback rider. This movie included some real circus performers, which made the circus scenes even more real although it is said that Doris Day did her own stunt work. It is a lavish production that was nominated for a music related Academy Award.

Disney's Dumbo (1941)

Disney's Dumbo

Disney's Dumbo

Who doesn't know the circus movie, Dumbo? It is an animated movie, which some argue should be part of your collection even if you do not have children. The storytelling is simple, the characters well laid out. It puts a mean world against an abnormal hero. Jumbo Junior (that is Dumbo's real name) is tormented after he is born with big ears. His mother tries to defend him but winds up tied up. The children tease him mercilessly and the circus folk treat him poorly, too. Only one individual sticks up him and that is Timothy Q. Mouse, an unusual friend for an elephant. Dumbo won an ACADEMY AWARD FOR ORIGINAL MUSIC SCORE.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

Starring Charlton Heston and Betty Hutton.

The Greatest Show on Earth was produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and attempted to show what life inside the Ringling Brother’s Circus might have been like. Whether it was actually that way or not is subject to debate.

The Greatest Show on Earth stars a young Charlton Heston, as a circus manager; Cornel Wilde and Betty Hutton as trapeze artistes; Gloria Grahame with the elephants; and James Stewart as a clown.

Amazon calls it a “fried-baloney sandwich of a movie: it ain't sophisticated, and probably isn't good for you, but once you start you can't stop.” They also state that it did very well at the box office in 1952 and went on to win the Academy Award Oscar for Best Picture.

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The Big Circus (1959)

The Big Circus

The Big Circus

Starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Red Buttons, Rhonda Fleming and Steve Allen.

The Big Circus does an expert job of capturing the events in the big top. It included an all-star cast -- Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Victor Mature and Red Buttons and a story written by Irwin Allen, who also brought us The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. The story is that of a circus on the brink of bankruptcy. Unfortunate events unfold when an accountant sets out to determine whether or not a loan can be given to the circus to help it stay afloat.

Water For Elephants (2011)

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants

Order Your Copy of Water For Elephants

Water For Elephants (2011)

2011 circus movie, staring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson.

You will love because it is all about life with this new circus movie, which is set during the Depression years. Times were tough and they were rough and this movie really shows what it might have been like to live in those troubled times.

The story itself is fictional but the author of Water For Elephants invested quite a bit of energy learning about the circuses of the 1920s and 1930s. The movie is historically relevant and includes references from real circus lore. A great love story, a great movie reflecting the time period but definitely NOT a great family-friendly circus movie. Don't make the mistake of thinking that Water For Elephants is a family movie. It definitely is NOT.

Big Fish (2003)

Water For Elephants (2011)

Water For Elephants (2011)

Not a circus movie exactly, Big Fish does, however, include a travelling circus.

Big Fish is a Tim Burton film, which shares the stories of Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor) and Albert Finney (Tom Jones). Edward's son Will (Billy Crudup) is frustrated with his father's storytelling, because he thinks they have kept him from getting to know who his father really was. However, he tries to learn more about his father when he is dying by reliving the stories -- including a travelling circus -- told about his life.Big Fish also stars Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter, Danny DeVito, and Steve Buscemi, an impressive lineup.

A Few Circus Documentary Films

You can also check out these circus-themed documentaries:

  • Circus Miniseries (Read more about it at the link shown below)
  • Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus
  • Europe's Big Top Circus Stars Live from the Hippodrome
  • Champion Acrobats of China: Steel Silk
  • Circus Rosaire: Award Winning Documentary
  • Cirque du Soleil

More Circus FIlms

Do you love the circus?

More Movie Lists

© 2011 Treasures By Brenda

Can you recommend any other great circus movies?

Fay Favored from USA on August 04, 2014:

The Marx Brothers movie "At the Circus" is a good one. Going to the circus was always fun. Haven't been in a long time.

Rose Jones on June 23, 2014:

I visited this lens almost exactly one year ago. I pinned it to my movies I love and google plus this time.

Scindhia from Chennai on April 29, 2014:

I loved water for elephants!

Treasures By Brenda (author) from Canada on February 24, 2014:

@delia-delia: That's very interesting! I wonder if she worked in the circus after you were born?

Delia on December 09, 2013:

My mom was in the circus, she had a Trapeze act, rode horses and elephants....she also did the aerialist stunts for a German Movie "die Drei Codonas"

Rose Jones on July 11, 2013:

I so love the circus. Thanks for the lovely lens. Pinned to my circus board.

anonymous on October 13, 2012:

@tandemonimom lm: its a really great movie

kburns421 lm on July 04, 2012:

I will have to see some of these. The only one I've seen is "Water for Elephants." I've never seen it, but "The Gymnast" is supposedly about a gymnast who becomes an aerialist after an injury. Anyway, nice lens!

anonymous on July 10, 2011:

All great circus movies. Have not seen the Water For Elephants is on our queue though.

jlbedryk on July 01, 2011:

This is a fantastic lens!! Just what I was looking for.

TapIn2U on June 10, 2011:

I've always known Dumbo and I'm a fan. I must watch Water for Elephants too. Nice lens! Sundae ;-)

tandemonimom lm on June 05, 2011:

I haven't seen a good circus movie in a long while. Maybe I'll watch Water for Elephants!

Joan4 on June 04, 2011:

I well remember "The Greatest Show on Earth" as a child. I pretended to be a trapeze artist in our swings for months after that! I must see Water for Elephants soon!

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