‘Yesterday’: What Are Other Films Inspired by The Beatles?

The movie Yesterday, due for release Friday, prominently features The Beatles’ music as part of the story. However, it is far from the first movie in which the Fab Four’s music and/or the mania for that music, drives the story. 

We couldn’t possibly cover every movie prominently featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr otherwise, you’d be reading for days. So before we look back, let’s set some parameters.

The Beatles
The Beatles | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Our recap does not include movies starring The Beatles (A Hard Day’s Night, etc), movies about The Beatles (Nowhere Boy), documentaries (Eight Days a Week), parodies (although you should see The Rutles because it’s hilarious), or any movie with a Beatles song or two sprinkled on the soundtrack (way too many to mention here).

What follows is a chronological list of movies where The Beatles’ music or fandom powers the narrative, for better and sometimes for worse.

The Girls on the Beach (1965)

Beach party movies were everywhere in the early to mid-’60s, but Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are nowhere to be found here. This movie is about a group of college coeds who pine for The Beatles to perform at a sorority fundraiser.

Spoiler alert — they don’t, but they get the next best thing: an appearance by the Beach Boys, who, funnily enough, never got a beach party movie of their very own.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)

This underseen gem follows a group of kids desperate to gain entry into The Beatles’ legendary appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. One of the girls actually makes it to the group’s hotel room and has to hide under the bed when they unexpectedly show up.

A delightful cast includes Nancy Allen, Wendie Jo Sperber, and Eddie Deezen. The movie bombed when it came out. However, the writer and director would go on to do greater things. This was the feature film debut of Robert Zemeckis, who with his partner, Bob Gale, would go on to make Back to the Future. The Criterion Collection just put out a special edition of the movie. 

Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)

Oh dear. One of The Beatles’ most legendary albums becomes one of the most infamous movies of the 1970s. It sounded good on paper: The Bee Gees, on top of the world after the phenomenon that was Saturday Night Fever, would sing in, and star in the movie. A musical extravaganza based on that other group that dominated the top reaches of the Billboard chart in their day. And we’ll put Peter Frampton in there too!

On film, the execution was mostly embarrassing. A couple of good moments, such as Earth Wind and Fire’s version of “Got to Get You Into My Life,” can’t make up for The Bee Gees’ poor screen presence or weak tea covers. No wonder there were no Beatles-inspired movies for years.

I Am Sam (2001)

Sean Penn stars as a mentally disabled man, whose favorite group is the Beatles trying to gain custody of his daughter. The movie inspired more shrugs than anything else, with some people criticizing  Penn’s performance as a blatant example of manipulative Oscar bait.

It worked – Penn was indeed nominated for an Oscar. If nothing else, the movie introduced seven-year-old Dakota Fanning to the world (sister Elle plays her character as a two-year-old), and the soundtrack had some nice Beatles covers, particularly Michael Penn (brother of Sean) and Aimee Mann’s “Two of Us”.

Across the Universe (2007)

This movie polarizes Beatles fans, with some loving director Julie Taymor’s trippy visualizations of the songs and some hating it, feeling that it strains for effect.

At the very least, it’s worth a look. The cast, including Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood, sings the songs with gusto. This is the movie that originated the slow arrangement of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which transforms the song from an exuberant celebration to a melancholy ballad.

Yesterday (2019)

The latest Beatles-inspired movie features one of the more imaginative “bonked-head” scenarios.  Amy Schumer bonked her head and believed she was supermodel beautiful in I Feel Pretty. Rebel Wilson bonked her head in Isn’t It Romantic, and her life became a romcom.

Himesh Patel bonks his head in this movie and finds out that no one remembers The Beatles except him. So he begins claiming their songs as his own, complicating his relationship with his manager, Lily James, who loves him.  It’s from the writer of Love Actually (Richard Curtis) and the director of Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle).