The Greatest Show On Earth (1952)
Star Attraction: Charlton Heston, of course, as the brusque, take-charge circus manager. As well as the 1,400-strong troupe he’s overseeing.
Greatest Show On Earth? Thankfully, given that boastful title, yes. Cecil B. Demille’s extravagant conclave of real-life performers and sumptuous production values landed his picture an Academy Award. Not bad for a bunch of weirdos.
Howling VI: The Freaks (1991)
Star Attraction: A werewolf, no less, who’s captured by circus runner R.B. Harker and caged as a must-see attraction.
Greatest Show On Earth? No kidding. This freak show really lives up to that moniker, featuring the icky likes of gender-bending oddities, alligator boys, a chicken-chewing joker, and – shock horror! – a vampire.
The Elephant Man (1980)
Star Attraction: The titular Elephant Man, in reality John Merrick, who suffers from terrible disfigurements and winds up in a West End Victorian freak show.
Greatest Show On Earth? “I am not an animal!” Not quite the greatest show on Earth, mostly because poor John Merrick doesn’t consider himself a sideshow attraction. Bless him.
The Great Wallendas (1978)
Star Attraction: The titular Wallenda family, a troupe of circus acrobats who draw crowds from miles around with their awe-inspiring stunts.
Greatest Show On Earth? Well, it was until tragedy struck. The Wallendas were best known for their staggering seven-person high wire pyramid act, but it all came to a disastrous climax during one stunt gone horribly wrong...
Batman Forever (1995)
Star Attraction: The Flying Graysons, another family of acrobats (is there a circus school in middle America that we don’t know about?) who perform death-defying stunts high up in the circus canopy.
Greatest Show On Earth? They were pretty nifty, no doubt, until the devilish Two Face came along and offed pretty much the entire family, leaving young Dick as the troupe’s sole survivor.
The Circus (1928)
Star Attraction: Little Tramp, a bumbling vagrant who’s recruited by the circus as a clown. Problem is, Tramp can only be funny by accident...
Greatest Show On Earth? It’s certainly got something going for it in the form of Tramp, who finds himself in all kinds of sticky situations as he attempts to wring laughs from his audience.
Water For Elephants (2011)
Star Attraction: No, not R-Pattz. Not even the deliciously sinister Christoph Waltz. The real attraction here is adorable elephant Rosie.
Greatest Show On Earth? It’s got spectacle by the trough-load, not least thanks to Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) and her impressive acts. Shame about the ring leader, though.
Circus World (1964)
Star Attraction: The circus itself, which is hosted aboard a ship tha travels from port to port entertaining the masses on its way around the globe.
Greatest Show On Earth? It was indeed. But, like many of the circuses on this list, it all goes horribly wrong when the ship sinks, taking the circus with it.
Star Attraction: Tino Orsini, who’s snatched up by retired trapeze artist Mike Ribble as a possible new star. Ribble’s the sixth man in the world to have successfully performed a triple somersault, but he thinks Orisni’s up to the task. Then there’s the lascivious Lol, who has talents all her own.
Greatest Show On Earth? It has the potential to be, if Orsini would stop thinking with his little brain and get on with training.
Star Attraction: Monica Rivers, the owner of a travelling English circus. She’s not a sideshow freak, but she definitely manages to draw in the crowds when she becomes the prime suspect in a string of suspicious murders centred around her acts.
Greatest Show On Earth? The greatest show on Earth to DIE in, that’s for sure.
Circus Of Horrors (1960)
Star Attraction: Lion tamers and knife-throwers all get in on the action here, but the real attraction is circus leader Schüler. An ex-plastic surgeon, he recruits acts and offers them the world – an offer he can retract any moment he likes.
Greatest Show On Earth? It’s great for the audience. It’s the performers who need to worry.
La Strada (1954)
Star Attraction: Zampanò, stronger than He-Man, Superman and Hulk combined. Zampanò shows off by breaking out of iron chains that are bound about his chest, as well as other amazing feats.
Greatest Show On Earth? You’ve got your usual assortment of clowns, pretty ladies and uh, more clowns, but it all leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth considering Zampanò’s mean nature.
At The Circus (1938)
Star Attraction: Another strong man in the form of Goliath The Strongman, but this circus also features charming gorilla Gibraltar.
Greatest Show On Earth? It could’ve been, if the malicious trio of Goliath, Little Professor Atom and John Carter weren’t so intent on seizing the show for themselves. That sort of spoils the fun, to be honest.
Star Attraction: A veritable menagerie of unusual (some might say ‘unfortunate’) human beings, including the bearded woman (who’s in love with the human skeleton), a couple of conjoined twins, and The Human Torso.
Greatest Show On Earth? The variety may be great, but the performers certainly aren’t happy with their lot, attacking evil bosses Cleopatra and Hercules. Cleo ends up turned into a human duck. Payback’s a bitch.
Night Tide (1961)
Star Attraction: Mora, a real-life mermaid who believes that she’s descended of the mythical sea sirens, and is scared that a creepy woman who’s haunting her is the leader of the sea folk.
Greatest Show On Earth? Just about, though sinister undercurrents in the show’s development lead to a tragedy – and a far more grisly attraction when a dead body becomes the main audience lure.
The Funhouse (1981)
Star Attraction: Strips shows, freaks of nature, a magic show. All good. But the one that takes the biscuit is the Funhouse, where a nutjob dressed as Frankenstein’s monster kills uncooperative young teens.
Greatest Show On Earth? It may not be the greatest, but it’ll definitely be your last if you’re locked inside the Funhouse with a deranged mass murderer.
Wings Of Desire (1987)
Star Attraction: Circus trapeze artist Marion, who is as gifted in the entertainment stakes as she is easy on the eyes, but suffers from debilitating pangs of loneliness.
Greatest Show On Earth? Marion puts on a great show, but the sadness in her eyes is hard to miss, meaning her performances are poignant and sad.
Carnival Of Souls (1962)
Star Attraction: The Man, a mysterious ghoul who only appears to young church organist Mary, but who seems to be connected with an old, disused amusement park in Salt Lake City.
Greatest Show On Earth? It’s not so much a show as a haunting, with Mary persistently visited by the eerie Man, and dragged into his world of the dead. Which could essentially class it as the greatest show NOT of this Earth.
Seven Faces Of Dr Lao (1964)
Star Attraction: Another impressive collection of oddities, this one consisting of mythical figures, including Medusa, Merlin and the Greek philosopher Apollonius of Tyana.
Greatest Show On Earth? It’s got some fascinating wonders, while the mysterious circus owner Dr Lao is an intriguing enigma. It’s not exactly the safest of places, though, what with Medusa turning people to stone and all...
Star Attraction: Charlie Rogers, who’s blessed with a voice like velvet and some seriously rad hip-shaking moves.
Greatest Show On Earth? Hardly. Charlie’s brought in by carnie-runner Maggie, who recognises his talent for performing and promotes him as her struggling carnival’s main attraction.
Carnival Story (1954)
Star Attraction: Girls in bikinis, chaps dressed up as Native Americans, muscly fellas in capes. This carnival has it all.
Greatest Show On Earth? Considering the wealth of performers it hires, this carnival must be blessed with the kind of budget a modern Hollywood blockbuster would go green at. Which clearly means it's great.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Star Attraction: “For every heart there exists a wish.” Mr Dark is the main draw for his carnival, travelling from town to town and offering to fulfil the dreams of the people he finds there. He may have an ulterior motive, though...
Greatest Show On Earth? What is it about carnivals and death? They’re sort of like the travelling version of a Futurama Suicide Booth. Dreams come at a price, see, and Mr Dark intends on making you cough up.
The Clowns (1970)
Star Attraction: The titular chucklers, of course, but also director Federico Fellini, who here presents a mockumentary that explores a childhood fascination with clowns.
Greatest Show On Earth? Just about, with Fellini encountering Charlie Chaplin’s daughter Alice as well as an impressive raft of buffoons.