At the Movies with the Beatles

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

The following is a list of movies featuring the Beatles as well as films inspired by them.

by Jennie Wood

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By all counts, the Beatles had a successful film career. The band appeared in five motion pictures and all of them were hits. Four of them were praised by critics and fans. Only their made for television film, Magical Mystery Tour, which was largely unscripted, received bad reviews. Long after the band officially broke up in 1970, movies based on or inspired by them continue to be made. Here's a list of the movies the Beatles made as well as a partial list of some of the best films based on or inspired by them.

A Hard Day's Night
A Hard Day's Night was the Beatles' first film. Critics compared the comic farce style of the film to the Marx Brothers. It was a mockumentary with the plot revolving around the Beatles making their way to a television show appearance in London. Released when Beatlemania was at its peak, the film was a huge hit and well received by critics. Later on it inspired a popular stage musical.
Help!, the Beatles' second film was directed by Richard Lester. Lester had previously directed A Hard Day's Night as well as the television series, The Goon Show. Help! was the first Beatles film shot in color. Its tone remained close to the Marx Brothers with the Beatles running around various exotic locations such as the Bahamas, Stonehenge, the Alps, and Salzburg.
Magical Mystery Tour
Paul McCartney came up with the idea for Magical Mystery Tour in the U.S. during in the spring of 1967. While in the U.S. he followed press coverage of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters' drug-inspired bus journey. Magical Mystery Tour aired on the BBC and confused viewers and critics. However, the film was important for being an early inspiration for music videos.
Yellow Submarine
The Yellow Submarine was an animated film celebrating and based on the music of The Beatles. Initially, it was reported that the Beatles would provide the voices of their own characters, but that did not happen. The Beatles did write and perform the songs for the film. They also appeared in the final scene, but overall, they had very little input in the film. Well received by the public and critics, the film helped elevate animation to a serious art form.
Let It Be
Let It Be was supposed to be a documentary following the Beatles through the process of writing and recording an album as well as the band's return to playing live. However, the film ended up documenting the early stages of their break up. After the film was made and album was recorded, the band decided to record and release Abbey Road instead. Filmed in January 1969, Let It Be was finally released in the spring of 1970 because too much money had been spent on the project to not put it out there. The film was released after the band's break up, adding a layer to the significance and emotional tone of the documentary.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
I Wanna Hold Your Hand was the first film directed by Academy Award-winning director Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis would go on to make the Back to the Future series, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump, for which he won the Oscar for Best Director. I Wanna Hold Your Hand was a fictionalized account of the day the Beatles' first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Zemeckis also co-wrote the film, choosing to focus on and capture "Beatlemania" at its height. The film received good reviews, but came up short at the box office, not even recouping its small budget of $2.8 million.
The Hours and Times
Written and directed by Christopher Münch, The Hours and Times was a fictionalized look at what might have happened between the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein and John Lennon during a vacation they took together in 1963. The vacation, which actually happened, was a weekend trip to Barcelona so Lennon could get away and relax. David Angus played Epstein in the film. Ian Hart played John Lennon. Three years later, Hart would again play Lennon in the film Backbeat. Münch originally conceived the movie as a small independent project, nothing that would receive any major distribution, but the film caught on, winning the Special Jury award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1992. It was also nominated for Sundance's Grand Jury Prize, the biggest prize at the festival.
Backbeat was set during the Beatles' early days, when they were developing their sound by playing clubs in Hamburg, Germany. The film focused on the dynamic between John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe, an original member of the Beatles. Later on, the movie was made into a stage play. Stephen Dorff played Sutcliffe. And just like in the film The Hours and Times, Ian Hart played John Lennon. Musicians who played on the soundtrack included Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, Henry Rollins, Dave Grohl, and R.E.M.'s Mike Mills.
Two of Us
Two of Us was the third original film made for VH1, the cable TV network. It focused on a reunion of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, fictionalizing the day that Saturday Night Live's (SNL) Lorne Michaels comically offered the Beatles $3,000 to reunite for a performance on SNL. Aidan Quinn played Paul McCartney and Jared Harris played John Lennon.
Nowhere Boy
Nowhere Boy was a British film set during John Lennon's early years. The movie focused on Lennon's adolescence, as well as his relationship with his mother and aunt. It covered the beginnings of his first band, The Quarrymen, and how that band became the Beatles. The film was based on a biography written by Julia Baird, Lennon's half-sister.

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