In Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting director Danny Boyle’s latest film, Yesterday, viewers are asked what the world would be like if The Beatles didn’t exist through the eyes of somebody who remembered that they did. This marriage between the Fab Four and film is not a new one, but when people think about this marriage, they are more likely think about films such as A Hard Day’s Night, Help, or Yellow Submarine.
However, their footprint on the industry has lived on for nearly 50 years since the band called it quits in 1970. From jukebox musicals, to fictional retellings of the bands’ members, to dramas guided by a character’s love for the band, The Beatles have been the basis of several films spanning nearly every genre, but these are some of the most memorable.
10 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Memorable doesn’t always mean good, and that certainly is the case with this 1978 Michael Schultz film, which boasts an all-star cast of musicians, comedians, and renowned actors from The Bee Gees to Steve Martin. It told the tale of Billy Shears and the titular band, using Beatles songs to tell the story.
It is a legendarily poor film, but it has charm, including some genuinely enjoyable covers of The Beatles’ greatest hits. Steve Martin’s strange cover of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer was an especially memorable performance, and fans of his musical comedy will not be disappointed with the offbeat performance.
9 Two Of Us
Two of Us takes place in the hours following a 1976 episode of Saturday Night Live when Lorne Michaels said that he would offer The Beatles $3,000 to reunite the band on his show. According to both Lennon and McCartney, the two were actually together when the episode aired and did briefly (albeit jokingly) talk about taking Michaels up on the offer.
The film is mostly a fictionalized recollection of their glory days and aims to look inside the minds of the two most famous Beatles. One notable aspect of the film is its director, Mark Stanfield, who also directed the documentary Let It Be, a film which infamously chronicles the beginning of the end for the band.
8 All This And World War II
The hardest film to find on this list, All This and World War II is actually a documentary that aims to juxtapose the horrors of the catastrophic war to the peaceful tunes of The Beatles. It was a controversial subject for a country that was still reeling from the aftermath of The Vietnam War.
Although the film has never been released officially since its fateful run in theaters, bootleg copies have been readily available since then, and they show a bizarre mashup of the '60s culture with the atrocities of war in an attempt at cinematic irony. It has since been re-edited into another film called The Beatles and World War II.
7 Nowhere Boy
Nowhere Boy is one of the few films which aims to tell the story of life before The Beatles, and it does so through the eyes of a young John Lennon, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Based on a novel written by Lennon’s half-sister, the film paints the portrait of a young Lennon who struggles with problems at homes, gets suspended from school, and eventually joins his first band and meets a pair of other young musicians in Paul McCartney and George Harrison.
In all of The Beatles-inspired movies, it is one of only a handful of movies that have tried to portray the story of the band itself, and Taylor-Johnson plays a believable Lennon with an uncanny resemblance.
6 Across The Universe
In the craze of jukebox musicals over the past 15 years, Across the Universe came and went with far less fanfare than one might have thought in a world with two Mamma Mia films. Directed by legendary Broadway director Julie Taymor, the film tries to tell the story of the era of the Beatles through their music, as the band presumably does not exist in this world.
The film, while uneven, has some inspired takes on Beatles songs, wonderful performances from Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood, and enough easter eggs to fill any Beatles aficionado's basket. It also features guest performances from Bono, who plays a southern cult leader, and veteran Beatles cover artist Joe Cocker.
Of course, we have to talk about the film that inspired this list. Danny Boyle often moves between bleak dramas like 28 Days Later and more complex character-driven pieces such as Academy Award winner Slumdog Millionaire. Yesterday is lighter fare than many of his other films and explores a world without The Beatles.
The film is heavy on the music of The Beatles and stars Himesh Patel and Lily James. The film does, as many critics have pointed out, seem to struggle with exactly how to control its premise, and the film can seem at times to take a clichéd look at the rise and fall of a musical artist. Still, between the performances and the music, the film is a delightful romantic comedy filled with many interesting concepts.
4 I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Set among the hysteria of the band’s first trip to America, it focuses on a group of teenagers who are hellbent on seeing the band in person and decide to go to the hotel where the band is staying. The result is a funny, poignant, and delightful comedy that still helps the younger generation understand what it was like at the start of Beatlemania.
Knowing that the director of Forrest Gump got his roots in a film based on the backdrop of Beatlemania should come as no surprise to movie fans, and I Wanna Hold Your Hand was a phenomenal introduction of Zemeckis to the viewing public.
3 All You Need Is Cash
All You Need Is Cash is a hilarious mockumentary film from the mind of Monty Python alums Neil Innes and Eric Idle. The film is equal parts parody and tribute, and tells its story of Dirk McQuickly, Ron Nasty, Barry Wom, and Stig O’Hara—also known as The Rutles. It is told in a series of short sections meant to echo the rise and fall of The Beatles, albeit with the signature wit and humor of its creators.
The film also features an astounding cast of talent, including SNL veterans Bill Murray, John Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd; Mick Jagger and Paul Simon as themselves; and George Harrison himself. The film was not an immediate success on NBC, but its premiere on the BBC and ensuing popularity made it something of a cult classic to Beatles and comedy fans alike.
2 I Am Sam
Although not directly related to The Beatles in terms of its main plot, I Am Sam is a movie with The Beatles built into its DNA. It tells the story of an intellectually disabled father named Sam Dawson who is fighting for the custody of his daughter, Lucy, who is named after the titular character of The Beatles’ hit song “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.”
Due to Sam’s fandom and encyclopedic knowledge of The Beatles, the film is littered with references to the band, its music, and its history. Sam often invokes stories about the band when he doesn’t know exactly what to say, and the movie’s entire soundtrack is filled with Beatles music.
1 That Thing You Do
Although devoid of Beatles music, and the band is only mentioned by name a handful of times, there is, perhaps, no film that captures the magic of Beatlemania through the eyes of the band like Tom Hanks’ directorial debut, That Thing You Do. It tells the story of The Oneders as they rise atop the charts with their hit song that shares the film's title.
Throughout the film, we see The Oneders go from small-town American young people to international superstars overnight, and many aspects of this rise directly correlate to The Beatles’ early days. There’s the performance on a show remarkably similar to The Ed Sullivan Show, the poppy tone of all the music, and the mish-mash of personalities that eventually leads to the fictional band’s far-quicker breakup.