Paul McCartney: How He Reacted to a Flop Beatles Musical

In 2007, the world saw Beatles songs, a number of celebrities, and a lot of 1960s culture references come together in one ambitious musical: Across the Universe. The public rejected it. This raises an interesting question: How did Paul McCartney react to this musical?

Paul McCartney with a magazine
Paul McCartney | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

A pretty strange film with the music of The Beatles

Firstly, some background. Ever since the Fab Four broke up, a number of filmmakers have made movies centered on their music. Sometimes, these films were modestly successful, like 2019’s Yesterday. Others have fared far worse, like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a musical fantasy starring the Bee Gees. Across the Universe is among the most famous films centered around The Beatles’ music — and one of the most ambitious.

Across the Universe doesn’t just try to capture The Beatles, it tries to capture the 1960s in their entirety. It includes references to Jimi Hendrix, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, Janis Joplin, Timothy McVeigh, and the sexual revolution. In addition, much of the film is intentionally surreal and off-kilter, from a group of nurses singing “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” to an Uncle Sam poster singing “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Apparently, this unusual mix of elements was too much for the public. 

A trailer for Across the Universe

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Why ‘Across the Universe’ felt The Beatles’ music hurt the film at the box office

According to Gizmodo, Across the Universe grossed $29.6 million against a $70.8 million budget. One might think a musical with songs by the most popular band ever would perform well. However, director Julie Taymor thinks the film’s relationship to The Beatles sank it.

“I was allowed to hire six unknown actors to play the leads and we did not advertise anywhere that Bono or Salma Hayek or Joe Cocker were the cameos, because they were just cameos,” Taymor told Playbill. “The other thing you have to remember is if people weren’t Beatles fans, that’s a hard sell. If people are huge Beatles fans, that’s a hard sell. We made these songs literal. If you don’t like that, you won’t like it.”

The Beatles near an airport
The Beatles | Keystone/Getty Images

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What Paul McCartney said to the director of ‘Across the Universe’

So did Paul like it? According to Oprah’s website, Taymor was anxious that Paul was coming to see the movie. “It was the most terrifying moment,” she recalled. “I just felt that ultimately, that was it. I got to do the movie and sit with him and have him see it. And he sat next to me and when [The Beatles’ song] ‘All My Loving’ started, he sang under his breath. That was it!”

That was a good sign. So what did Paul think of Across the Universe as a whole? “At the end I did the classic thing. I said, ‘Was there anything you didn’t like?’ He said, ‘What’s not to like?’ And it was just those words.” Paul enjoyed the film as much as the public rejected it.