Though its lackluster opening weekend led many to dismiss it as dead on arrival, The Greatest Showman has gone on to become one of the biggest surprise success stories in film history. Hugh Jackman’s gloriously over-the-top circus musical is now one of the highest grossing live-action movie musicals of all time and its soundtrack has been a consistent chart-topper. The film will make a victory lap at this Sunday’s Oscars with what’s sure to be a rousing performance of its nominated song “This Is Me.” So what better way to celebrate The Greatest Showman than by pitting its songs against one another?
Written by Dear Evan Hansen songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, every song on the Greatest Showman soundtrack is a bop in one way or another. In fact, I briefly considered making this list an 11-way tie. But tough choices have to be made, so without further adieu, here’s my ranking of every song of The Greatest Showman soundtrack:
11. “Never Enough (Reprise)”
We really need to have a talk about which reprises should be included on a musical’s soundtrack. Unless it’s got the narrative resonance of the “My Strongest Suit (Reprise)” from Aida, you probably don’t need it. That’s especially true of this reprise of a song I have some pretty significant issues with anyway (see the next entry for more on that).
10. “Never Enough”
This wannabe Leona Lewis ballad is hands down the worst thing about The Greatest Showman, and that’s saying something for a movie that tries to recontextualize P.T. Barnum as a hero of the oppressed. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera set the bar for what fake opera music in a musical should sound like, and The Greatest Showman’s version of opera singer Jenny Lind is no Christine Daaé. Plus I find it really odd that the film cast Rebecca Ferguson in this relatively small, singing-heavy role but then had someone else do her singing (The Voice finalist Loren Allred). The bigger problem, however, is that I just don’t believe Jenny’s gesticulation-heavy performance of this lackluster ballad would make Barnum fall in love with her, which is theoretically the whole reason this song exists in the first place.
9. “A Million Dreams (Reprise)”
Another reprise that works fine in the film, but which definitely didn’t need to be included on the soundtrack. Still, it’s not “Never Enough” and that’s good enough for me.
I found this song pretty forgettable the first time I saw The Greatest Showman, but I’ve come to appreciate it during the many, many hours I’ve spent listening to the film’s soundtrack. In fact, I think it works better as a standalone track than it does within the film, where it gets a bit lost in the shuffle. “Tightrope” blends its music box melody with an indie pop sound, both of which are complemented quite well by Michelle Williams’ voice. Plus I’m always a fan of giving woefully underwritten wife characters a moment to shine. In the end, however, “Tightrope” just doesn’t feel like an essential part of The Greatest Showman experience.
7. “Come Alive”
“Come Alive” is neither the best nor the worst song in The Greatest Showman, but it does win the distinction of being the most baffling. Most of The Greatest Showman’s songs use a modern pop sound to bridge the gap between the movie’s 19th century setting and our contemporary world. But for some inexplicable reason “Come Alive” is just a straight-up ’80s dance track. It sounds like something Baby and Johnny would’ve rehearsed to in Dirty Dancing or that Footloose’s Ren McCormack would’ve cut loose to at prom. In other words: Gloria Estefan called and she wants her song back. I also have some quibbles about the fact that “Come Alive” opens with a metaphor about zombies, which definitely weren’t a cultural touchstone in the 19th century. On the other hand, I’ve yet to listen this song without feeling compelled to get up and dance, which definitely counts for something in my book.
6. “The Greatest Show”
Let’s circle back to the idea of reprises for a second. Despite the fact that performances of “The Greatest Show” bookend the film, the song only appears once on the soundtrack as its opening track, which blends the two movie versions together. Though I appreciate that this hybrid version gets The Greatest Showman soundtrack off to an exhilarating start, a final reprise could’ve helped end the soundtrack on a high note too. That being said, “The Greatest Show” definitely does its job establishing The Greatest Showman’s contemporary pop sound. While I don’t love the song’s aggressive, stomp-heavy opening, its chorus is catchy as hell. Plus I tear up every time I hear Zac Efron and Zendaya take over the lead vocal from Hugh Jackman. The show must go on, indeed!
5. “Rewrite the Stars”
Admittedly, this impassioned Efron/Zendaya duet doesn’t fully soar without the film’s breathtaking aerial choreography to accompany it. It’s a solid enough pop song filled with the kind of drama and longing that musicals thrive on. But it’s made truly unforgettable by its thrilling, inventive visuals, which see the two would-be lovers swooping around each other on ropes and hoops. “Rewrite the Stars” takes advantage of The Greatest Showman’s circus setting in a way few of its other production numbers do. It also makes me wish the movie had cut the whole Jenny Lind plot and just given Efron and Zendaya more screentime instead.
4. “A Million Dreams”
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes this song so appealing. I don’t really love any of its vocal performances and the lyrics are pretty unimaginative. But “A Million Dreams” features a mixture of yearning, resilience, and joy that makes it an engaging, infectious listen. Plus it builds in a really satisfying way, literally taking Barnum from childhood to adulthood. It’s not a song I would necessarily love if I just heard it on the radio, but it fits perfectly within The Greatest Showman’s overly sincere world. That being said, I do have to dock the song some major points for having Barnum’s wife literally sing the line, “However big, however small / Let me be part of it all.” Come on Charity, let’s aim a little higher than that!
3. “This Is Me”
As an anthem and statement of purpose, The Greatest Showman couldn’t ask for a better song than “This Is Me.” The defiant number comes in response to a rare moment in which the film actually depicts Barnum in a less-than-ideal light. It’s a perfect all-purpose “fuck the haters” anthem, and Broadway star Keala Settle absolutely knocks it out of the park. Just try to get through this workshop footage without crying:
2. “From Now On”
Not since Les Mis has Hugh Jackman’s strained belt gotten such a stellar showcase. “From Now On” both looks and sounds like a lost song from the musical version of Once, which I mean as a compliment. The only downside is that the soundtrack version’s long, quiet intro and melancholy ending keep it from fully working as a standalone track. That also means the Greatest Showman soundtrack kind of peters out with this as its final song, which, again, is why we needed a reprise of “The Greatest Show” to round things out. At its best, however, “From Now On” is folksy but passionate song that reflects the way Barnum has come to appreciate the simpler things in life (like riding an elephant to his daughter’s ballet recital). It also strikes a nice balance between letting Jackman shine while still celebrating the ensemble around him. There’s some great workshop footage of this one too:
1. “The Other Side”
The entire reason movie musicals exist is to give us scenes of two men who just can’t quit each other doing synchronized choreography in top hats, and The Greatest Showman doesn’t disappoint. While his soaring love song with Zendaya offers star-crossed romance, Zac Efron’s friction-filled duet with Hugh Jackman provides pure sexual chemistry. It’s also the only song in the movie that actually feels like it belongs in a musical. While the other tracks rely on nebulous pop song imagery, “The Other Side” uses its lyrics to build character, establish a relationship, and move the plot along. Jackman and Efron are both at the top of their showman game, the bar-set choreography is absolutely fantastic, and the moment the duo finally start singing in harmony is the sexiest thing on the entire soundtrack.
Agree or disagree with my choices? Just want to talk about how The Greatest Showman is the best movie of all time? Come chat with me on Twitter!