Carnivals in Film

Updated: Jan 10, 2021

We’ve all scene it (haha, okay no) -- We’ve all seen it in film: the classic carnival and fair scenes that are some of the most iconic, yet underused elements in cinema!

There’s something so breathtaking about the carnivals and fairs used in film and TV! The aesthetic attached to a carnival itself, gives us a serene feeling of warmth and joy that romance films usually take advantage of. Although there is a slight difference between carnivals and fairs, with carnivals usually being traveling, and much smaller than fairs, and with fairs usually being sponsored by entire states, but nonetheless, they play the same role in most films.

In film, carnivals provide us with a sense of excitement. When there’s a carnival in a film, you just know this is going to be the most exciting scene of the project, or that it’s going to be an exciting scene in general.

Some of the most popular companies have used this element in film, such as HBO and A24.  Here are some of my personal favorite carnival and fair scenes in on screen:

A24’s film, Hot Summer Nights, starring the lovely, Timothee Chalamet, has one of the most iconic carnival scenes I've ever seen. In the film, geeky Daniel Middleton, played by Chalamet, gets mixed up with the wrong crowd and becomes partner to local dealer Hunter Strawberry, played by Alex Roe. If becoming associated with one of the most dangerous crimes in Cape Cod wasn’t bad enough, Daniel accidentally falls madly in love with Hunters sister, McKayla Strawberry, played by Maika Monroe

With the fear of getting killed by his partner in crime, Daniel tries his hardest to keep things with Kayla either platonic or discreet (which he fails at miserably) and in this carnival scene, he approaches McKayla and kisses her in front of her douchebag boyfriend.

So not only was that a Hot Summer Night but it was also a Hot Summer Mess!

In Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut The Edge of Seventeen, lead character Nadine, played by Hailee Steinfeld, is the most awkward teenager ever. Among her long list of awkward incidents, Nadine gets invited to a fair by her highschool crush, Erwin, played by Hayden Szeto, and while on the Ferris wheel with him, Nadine awkwardly rejects his flirtatious advances.

HBO’s hot and trendy show Euphoria also has the biggest abundance of, and most recognized carnival scenes yet! The show stars award winning actress Zendaya as Rue, so rightfully, the most popular carnival scene of the show features her and her love interest. Each of the popular characters in the show has some type of iconic scene that takes place at the carnival. -But my favorite is the carnival scene with Cassie Howard, played by Sydney Sweeney.

While the anatomy of Cassie's carnival scene in Euphoria isn’t my favorite, the visuals of it are my favorite by far. In the scene, Cassie gets into a fight with one of her love interests, McKay, played by Algee Smith. In an attempt to distract herself, Cassie does molly. Soon after, she begins flirting with Daniel, played Keean Johnson, and they take a ride on the carousel together.

Let's just say, Cassie has a bit too much fun on the carousel's horse.

Based on the series of novels written by Jenny Han, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a romantic comedy film released in 2018. Starring Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, the film follows Peter and Lara Jean as they progress through their everyday lives. Lara Jean writes letters to every boy she has a crush on, and she has a lot of letters!

She addresses them, but collects them only as keepsakes, never planning to actually send them out, but when they get sent to their respective addresses by her sneaky younger sister, Kitty, played by Anna Cathcart, Lara must deal with the consequences head on. Peter, played by Centineo, is unaware that Lara Jean has a crush on him, until he receives a letter and they’re relationship surprisingly spikes in a desirable direction rather quickly. They go on many dates including the typical cute date to the carnival, so yay for Lara and cotton candy!

Also, released in 1998, the film Big had the most compelling and essential carnival scene of them all. In the first act of the film, main character, 13 year old Josh Baskin, played by Tom Hanks, is told he’s too short to get on a carnival ride that all of his friends are getting on. Following his rejection from the carnival ride, Josh tries to impress his older crush, Cynthia Benson, played by Kimberlee M. Davis. Attempting to impress her, he inserts a coin into an unusual antique fortune teller machine named "Zoltar" and wishes to be Big! The Zoltar machine releases a card saying “your wish has been granted.” To Josh’s surprise, it’s revealed that the machine has been unplugged. To his even bigger surprise, Josh wakes up the next morning a full grown adult man.

These examples are few and far in between, but they all serve a quality purpose, and give us a feeling of fulfillment. They turn a sometimes otherwise dull scene into an exciting thrill. Carnivals in film have a special place in cinematic language.

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