Yesterday we brought you the good news that a new Beatles movie—Beatles Live!, which will be pieced together using fan footage from 1963-1966—is in the works.
To celebrate the Fab Four’s return to the silver screen, we’ve ranked their five previous efforts, from the trippy and forgettable to the revealing to the downright goofy. To be clear, we’re not including Beatles-inspired flicks like Across the Universe or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, biopics (Nowhere Boy) or TV miniseries (The Beatles Anthology) this time around—but of course those are all worth checking out as well. In the meantime, join us in revisiting the big-screen foibles of John, Paul, Ringo and George below.
Chock-full of animal masks, army recruitment scenes and an old-timey dance routine, Magical Mystery Tour is a mess of a film in which Ringo and his recently widowed Auntie Jessie embark on a mystery tour with the rest of the Beatles (who also happen to be magicians). Go in with zero expectations about the hard-to-follow plot, and there are a few musical performances (“I Am The Walrus” and “Blue Jay Way”) that are worth sitting through. Beyond that, this one’s really only for the truly patient Beatles obsessives.
In which cartoon versions of the Beatles (curiously, voiced by actors and not the actual Fab Four) do battle with the Blue Meanies and journey through Pepperland before the real, live-action Beatles turn up at the very end to sing “All Together Now.” It’s another one whose plot isn’t its major draw; look past its wackadoodle story and stick around for the songs, which include “All You Need Is Love,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Hey Bulldog” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Eleanor Rigby.”
Help! is the Beatles’ second collaboration with director Richard Lester (the first being their debut movie, A Hard Day’s Night), and Lester once again captures the band’s cheeky humor here as the Beatles must deal with an evil cult who attempts to get their sacrificial ring back from Ringo after it gets stuck on his finger. At times, it cleverly spoofs the James Bond films of the era, and while perhaps not as good as A Hard Day’s Night, Help! most likely holds the distinction of being the biggest movie to be dedicated to “Elias Howe, who, in 1846, invented the sewing machine.” So there’s that.
The goofiness is all but gone here as we’re granted a fly-on-the-wall peek at the Beatles’ final recording sessions for Abbey Road and Let It Be. Tensions run high, and we see Paul and George bickering over how a guitar part should be played (at one point an exasperated Harrison says “I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to play”), John barely listening as Paul expresses doubts about the band not touring and Yoko Ono lurking around the studio (to the other band members’ apparent displeasure). It’s also a revealing look at the group’s recording process, with scenes like McCartney shouting out the chords to “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” to the rest of the group and Harrison helping Starr pen “Octopus’ Garden.” The big finale to the film is the group’s iconic rooftop concert atop Apple Records.
From the opening clang of that undeniable first chord, A Hard Day’s Night cemented the Beatles’ status as global superstars. Beatlemania is on full display as the group gets chased through the streets by screaming fans and melts hearts on a train (fun fact: one of said hearts belonged to extra Pattie Boyd, who met George Harrison on the set of the film and would go on to become his first wife), all while being saddled with Paul’s hilarious delinquent of a grandfather. It’s the finest example of the band’s absurdist humor, a perfect send-up of the trappings of fame and the older generation’s inability to wrap their minds around the youth culture of the day.