Greatest Showman, The

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Not suitable under 8; parental guidance 8 -10 due to themes and disturbing scenes

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Greatest Showman, The
  • a review of Greatest Showman, The completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 29 December 2017.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 8 Not suitable due to themes and scenes that are likely to disturb children in this age group
Children aged 8 to 10 Parental guidance recommended due to themes and scenes that may disturb children in this age group
Children aged 10 and over OK or this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Greatest Showman, The
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes
Length: 105 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Set in 19th C New York, The Greatest Showman tells the story of Phineas Taylor Barnum (Hugh Jackman), an American showman and businessman and founder of Barnum’s circus. Barnum was born into poverty but dreamed of great things from a young age. He served in the house of a rich family where he befriended his future wife Charity (Michelle Williams) much against her parents’ wishes.

Charity and Barnum have two daughters; Caroline (Austyn Johnson) and Helen (Cameron Seely) and live a mediocre life until Barnum is sacked from his job when the company he works for goes bankrupt. Barnum manages to persuade a bank to lend him money to takeover a museum, which he wants to fill with curiosities. Unfortunately, the museum doesn’t do well until Barnum decides to fill it with real life curiosities. He recruits all sorts of misfits such as a midget he calls General Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), a well-endowed bearded lady called Lettie (Keala Settle), conjoined twins, a man covered in hair called Dog-Boy and a black brother and sister trapeze act – Anne (Zandaya) and W.D. Wheeler (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

The show causes much controversy among the locals who see it as indecent and offensive for such people to be on the stage. Other people however love the show and it is quite successful. Barnum wants to be accepted by ‘high society’ however, and so employs a well-respected producer, Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron) to assist him. Carlyle gets an introduction for Barnum to meet Queen Victoria, which greatly lifts his status. In London Barnum meets a famous opera singer, Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) whom he persuades to come to America to perform around the country. Barnum goes into much debt in order to do this, and when Jenny gives up the tour, Barnum ends up losing his house. At the same time, thugs burn the circus theatre down and Barnum ends up bankrupt. Not one to give up however, he has the idea of performing his show in a big top which he can take around the country.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Prejudice; acceptance of differences; inclusiveness

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Charity’s father hits Barnum, as a young boy, across the face for making Charity laugh and spill her drink.
  • General Tom Thumb rides a horse and shoots pistols in the air.
  • On several occasions, local thugs protest and shout insults at the circus performers. Fights break out between the two groups.
  • Thugs set the theatre on fire during one of their riots.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • Some of the curious characters have appearances which could scare young children

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Barnum watches his father get sick and die. Barnum is left on his own and forced to steal food to survive. A woman with a very disfigured face gives him an apple.
  • Caroline is laughed at by her peers and told she smells of peanuts.
  • Philip enters the burning theatre because he thinks Anne is inside. Barnum goes inside and rescues Philip who is unconscious. Both are black with burns, smoke and soot. Many people are screaming and crying.
  • Philip is seen in the hospital with his arms in bandages.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Philip falls in love with Anne but is shamed by his parents for being seen with her in public because she is black.

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Nothing of concern

Product placement

Nothing of concern

Sexual references

Barnum is obviously attracted to Jenny Lind and she to him. When he refuses her, she ends the tour but not before kissing him on stage.

Nudity and sexual activity

Barnum and Charity kiss, as do Philip and Anne

Use of substances

There is drinking throughout the movie at various venues – restaurants, at home in pubs etc.

Coarse language

There is some mild coarse language in this movie, including:

  • God; damn
  • Some name calling such as: ‘flopdoodle’; ‘freaks’; ‘spooks’

In a nutshell

The Greatest Showman is musical theatre at its best, with great singing and dancing sequences and many positive messages. It has to be taken in the context of its time, however. Although there is a different perspective on circuses today, at the time it was quite revolutionary to allow people with differences to perform.  Barnum’s circus wasn’t intended as a ‘freak’ show, which is how some people saw it. Some parental guidance is likely to be necessary to explain this to younger children. There are also some intense moments and some of the content could scare younger viewers, so the film is recommended for older children and adults.

The main messages from this movie are that

  • a ‘man’s status is limited only to his imagination’
  • we should celebrate humanity and present ‘people of all shapes, sizes and colour’ as equals
  • to quote Barnum ‘the noblest art is that of making people happy’.

Parents may wish to discuss

  • Why it was taboo for Philip to go out with Anne
  • The position of people with differences in society. Certainly people with differences are no longer in as “freaks” in circus acts.  In the stratified society of the 19th century however, these ‘curious’ people were often swept aside, ignored and rejected. Barnum’s intention was to include them and present them as equals. Something they felt good about.
  • Why today most people see it as unethical for animals to perform in circuses