What’s So Great About ‘The Greatest Showman’?


Zac Efron, left, and Hugh Jackman in “The Greatest Showman.” Credit Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Fox

Why do people like “The Greatest Showman”?

When the movie starring Hugh Jackman was released in December, our critic Jason Zinoman said it was solidly meh. It’s “a montage sequence that occasionally turns into a movie musical,” he wrote. And the box office numbers seemed to back him up, opening to an underwhelming $13.2 million — not great for an $84 million production.

Music writers were just as unimpressed. The soundtrack, by the “La La Land” guys Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, is “populist to a fault, every song a Voltron-esque evocation of various current pop and rock stars,” Rob Harvilla wrote in The Ringer.

But something funny has happened in the weeks since the musical opened. Moviegoers really like this tale of P.T. Barnum’s early years and have turned both the movie and its music into bona fide hits. The box office total is $138 million and counting, and the album, which just went gold, is No. 1 on the Billboard chart. The Oscar-nominated “This Is Me,” belted by Keala Settle as the bearded lady, is still in the Hot 100, though dropping.

This Is Me (from The Greatest Showman Soundtrack) [Official Audio] Video by Atlantic Records

The divide between the critics and the people could not be sharper: On Rotten Tomatoes, the critics’ score is a 55 percent splat; the audience score is 90 percent fresh.

Fans clearly love songs like the stomper “The Greatest Show.”

The Greatest Show (from The Greatest Showman Soundtrack) [Official Audio] Video by Atlantic Records

Critics don’t want to hear “Come Alive” again.

Come Alive (from The Greatest Showman Soundtrack) [Official Audio] Video by Atlantic Records

I’m on the critics’ side. As the film editor, I was underwhelmed by the story and the music, though Ms. Settle and the other actors playing the circus eccentrics gave heartfelt performances, and the dancing was interesting at times.

There are several theories about the “The Greatest Showman’s” popularity, including the songs’ earworm quality, the “Hamilton”-like way the musical puts a modern spin on a familiar story and even the escapist experience watching the movie can be.

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