The Entrepreneurship of P.T. Barnum as Featured in the Movie, The Greatest Showman
Perhaps it’s the upbeat music, or the rags-to-riches story, or the fact that so many are fascinated by the circus—or maybe it’s all of the above, but whatever the reasons, one of the best, most inspiring movies about entrepreneurship of all time is The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron.
The 2017 movie is a musical retelling of how P.T. Barnum (as in the famous Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, which finally ended in 2018 after a very long run) got into the circus business. It’s not entirely accurate, and the real Barnum was not an entirely savory character, but right now we’re talking about the movie, and it’s a great show. It’s a story about building a business and it’s got great musical numbers and a great cast.
It doesn’t hurt that my daughters love this movie. If you come to my house, you may hear The Greatest Showman soundtrack blasting from one of their rooms (or you might hear the music from Hamilton, which is a topic for another article), so it’s on my mind a lot.
In The Greatest Showman, you get to see the main character go through a lot of the same challenges real entrepreneurs take on today. In the beginning, nobody (except his wife and kids) believes in him. He has to hold on to his convictions. Lots of people actually hate him and have a real problem with what he’s trying to do, but he keeps going. He makes many mistakes but tries to get better each time, culminating with the finale, “From Now On“.
At one point, he gets knocked back down to nothing and builds himself back up. He negotiates an important business partnership, something many of us have experience with. And just watch Barnum sell! Notice that while some of the exhibits aren’t what Barnum says they are (hey, I didn’t say he’s perfect), he’s promising customers entertainment and that’s exactly what they get. He’s not selling people something they won’t really like.
If you’re in business, you can’t help but be inspired—at least if you’re into on-screen musicals.
And since it’s easy to feel like entrepreneurship is a bit of a circus sometimes, it’s fun to see the story of an entrepreneur whose business actually was a circus!
Update August 2021.
I came across this video on YouTube which is in a way the entrepreneurial story of how The Greatest Showman got the green light to hit the big screen. It’s the video of Keala Settle and other talented singers and performers providing us with an inspiring rendition of “This Is Me”. The first 59 seconds provide the context. And right after that, the musical number begins. Enjoy!
Image of Hugh Jackman at The Greatest Showman Premier in Japan was taken by Dick Thomas Johnson under the Creative Commons 2.0 License.