10 Movies Inspired by the Beatles
The Beatles get (and deserve) credit for influencing just about every mainstream rock band of the last 50 years, but their impact isn’t just musical — the Fab Four have inspired artists of all creative disciplines, with their songs serving as springboards for books, paintings, films, and more. With this list, we’re taking a look at some of the many movies that wouldn’t exist without John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive look at movies inspired by the Beatles, and we cheerfully admit up front that none of these films enjoy the same sort of classic status afforded the music that helped make them possible. Still, they’re all interesting examples of the ways in which the band affected — and continue to affect — pop culture. Take a look and let us know what your favorites are (as well as the names of others you think should have made the cut).
‘Birth of the Beatles’ (1979)
The only Beatles biopic produced during John Lennon’s lifetime, ‘Birth of the Beatles’ focuses on the band’s early years, including the termination of drummer Pete Best and the death of bassist Stu Sutcliffe. Best, who served as a creative consultant, was accused of slanting the story of his dismissal, and the soundtrack consists of Beatles re-recordings performed by the tribute band Rain, but all in all, it offers an interesting dramatization of the events leading up to one of the true watershed moments in 20th century pop culture.
Definitely more of a curiosity than a successful film, ‘Beatlemania’ tries to bring the popular stage musical to the big screen with decidedly mixed results. Although the Broadway show was enough of a hit to inspire a traveling roadshow (and subsequent revivals), what works in a live setting often doesn’t translate to film, and ‘Beatlemania’ is a prime example. Sneered Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, “My idea of hell is being forced at gunpoint to resee this 1981 atrocity.”
George Harrison reportedly walked out of his screening after five minutes, and Paul McCartney didn’t much care for it either. But whether or not it holds up as a true-to-life dramatization of the Beatles’ time in Hamburg, ‘Backbeat’ earned positive reviews from critics during its theatrical release — and even McCartney couldn’t withhold praise for Stephen Dorff, who he said gave an “astonishing performance” as Stu Sutcliffe.
‘The Hours and Times’ (1991)
Inspired by a real-life vacation John Lennon took with Beatles manager Brian Epstein in 1963, writer-director Christopher Munch put together the screenplay for ‘The Hours and Times,’ a 60-minute drama imagining what might have transpired during their visit to Barcelona. Questions of its historical accuracy are obviously moot, and as a viewing experience, it provoked decidedly mixed reactions from critics, but it’s an interesting footnote in Beatles cinema.
‘Two of Us’ (2000)
When ‘Saturday Night Live’ producer Lorne Michaels popped up during a 1976 episode of the show and offered the Beatles the ridiculous sum of $3,000 to reunite on the air, he had no way of knowing that Lennon and McCartney were actually watching ‘SNL’ together at Lennon’s apartment — or that they nearly showed up to try and collect. Of course, they ultimately opted to stay in, but that bit of Beatles history inspired ‘Two of Us,’ a 2000 VH1 film that imagines how the former collaborators spent that day and what they may have discussed. It’s a premise with no shortage of pitfalls, but partly due to the talent assembled behind the scenes — including ‘Let It Be’ director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and screenwriter Mark Stanfield — it holds up well. According to Aidan Quinn, who played Paul, even McCartney liked it.
‘Nowhere Boy’ (2009)
Released to coincide with what would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday, ‘Nowhere Boy’ offers viewers a poignant look at his early years, with an emphasis on the family conflicts that helped define his relationships — and music — later in life. Although it includes the formation of the Quarrymen, the story focuses on Lennon’s painful past with his mother Julia and his close bond with his aunt Mimi, resulting in a sweet and surprisingly thoughtful picture that reminds us that before he was a rock star, Lennon was just another mixed-up kid with a dream.
‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ (1978)
The Beatles’ first appearance on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ proved a watershed moment for global pop culture, as evidenced by the recent run of celebrations commemorating its 50th anniversary — and by director Robert Zemeckis’ ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand,’ a madcap comedy that uses the ‘Sullivan’ appearance as a framing device for a story about the shenanigans gotten up to by a handful of fans (and adversaries) in the hours leading up to the show.
‘The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash’ (1978)
No one can mock you as mercilessly as a friend, and ‘The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash’ serves as hilarious proof. Assembled by unabashed Beatles fans Eric Idle, Neil Innes, and Gary Weiss, ‘Cash’ skewered the Beatles mythology with a perfect blend of ruthlessness and love — and pulled it off so brilliantly that George Harrison himself appeared in a cameo. And although the soundtrack songs were composed with tongue firmly in cheek, the music endures: Rutles fans will be treated to a series of live dates this spring.
‘All This and World War II’ (1976)
Could you think of a better way of telling the story of World War II than taking archival footage and scoring it to Beatles tunes performed by other artists? Well, yes, you probably could — but director Susan Winslow couldn’t, and that’s why we have ‘All This and World War II,’ inarguably the strangest entry on this list and one of the oddest movies released during all of the 1970s (which is really saying something). Deeming it “The most brilliantly reckless film I’ve ever seen,” Film Threat’s Phil Hall called it “A triumph of audacity and bad taste.”
‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ (1978)
By the end of the ’80s, this kind of poorly acted tomfoolery was familiar to any kid who’d ever watched half an installment of ‘Friday Night Videos’ (or was lucky enough to have parents whose cable subscription included MTV). But in the ’70s, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ was something truly special — and by “special,” we mean “shockingly awful,” especially considering it cost the price of a movie ticket and used some of the era’s biggest acts (including Aerosmith, the Bee Gees, and Earth, Wind & Fire) to besmirch one of the Beatles’ proudest musical achievements. We couldn’t really leave it off this list, but let us make this clear: it’s here as a warning, not an invitation.