The influence of The Beatles reaches far further than their musical restraints. In fact, the legacy of the band is almost inexpressible, permeating through every inch of popular culture throughout the 1960s and late 20th century.
The concept of a world without the influence of The Beatles was explored in Danny Boyle’s 2019 celebration of the band Yesterday in which, after a life-changing accident, popular culture totally forgets the lives of Paul, John, George and Ringo.
Though along with the loss of the world’s most influential band comes the loss of Manchester Britpop band Oasis, along with, bizarrely the loss of Coca-Cola, cigarettes and the wizarding world of Harry Potter.
Danny Boyle’s film is only one of many joyous celebrations of the iconic band, joining Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Nowhere Boy, 1994s Backbeat and I am Sam starring Sean Penn, among many other international films. Each film shares a liberating sense of freedom, eliciting the same eccentric energy of the Liverpudlian band, though none can quite replicate the same energy. They’re loving eulogies to The Beatles’ lasting legacy, but little more than that.
For the finest Beatles films, there’s no reason why you can’t go straight to the source and dive into the five films that they produced from 1964-1970. With each one reflecting the psychedelic surrealism of the outlandish band, let’s take a look back at the very best Beatles films in order of quality.
Ranking The Beatles films in order of greatness
5. Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
A colourful and surreal celebration of The Beatles’ 1960s influence, each of the band members had a hand in the creation of this TV movie, with Paul McCartney the driving force behind the sprawling, part-improvised journey.
Coming off as more of a scrapbook cut and stick of the band’s most enigmatic ideas, Magical Mystery Tour is a psychedelic trip nonetheless based on a loose plot about a magical coach trip leading to nowhere.
It’s all a little too aimless though, with the band’s constant skits coming off as a little too self-indulgent, as Lennon shovels heaps of pasta onto Starr’s aunty’s lunch plate. It all feels very Monty Python, but without the structure and organisation.
4. Let It Be (1970)
Capturing the eclectic spirit of The Beatles in a short musical documentary is no easy feat, though, in the collection of over 50 hours of rehearsal footage, Michael Lindsay-Hogg does a good job in revealing the subtle intricacies of each band member.
Revealing the particular endearing charm the Beatles were famous for, the preparation and concert film reaches near-dreamlike allure when John Lennon and Yoko Ono waltz around the rehearsal room to the tune of George Harrison’s ‘I Me Mine’ in what might be the documentary’s most revealing moment.
Looking to provide a more positive spin on the material Peter Jackson is due to release The Beatles: Get Back, a re-edit of the documentary in 2021.
3. Help! (1965)
Armed with more of a rigid plot than their debut film A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles’ follow up film Help! is an eccentric exercise that follows Ringo Starr the target of a cult, with the remaining Beatles helping to protect him.
The globetrotting adventure comedy sees the quartet travel from the Austrian Alps to the waves of the Bahamas in this silly slapstick journey. Elevated by an incredible mix of The Beatles finest songs including, ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’, ‘Ticket To Ride’ and ‘I Need You’, Help! Is a vibrant, highly entertaining film capturing the band’s endearing nature in gorgeous technicolour.
2. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
The best live-action The Beatles ever appeared in, Richard Lester’s 1964 classic is not only one of the band’s finest films, but a genuinely important text in the British social realism movement.
Nominated for two Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay, A Hard Day’s Night was the bands first cinematic effort which may explain just why it works so well, as The Beatles were not yet so consumed by the weight of their own identity.
Perfectly documenting the ‘Beatlemania’ craze that ran from 1963-1966 Lester’s film was measured yet endlessly experimental, brushing the screenplay with a light dose of Beatles eccentricity rather than slathering it on.
1. Yellow Submarine (1968)
Whilst the rest of The Beatles’ films could be seen as an exercise in vanity, Yellow Submarine is a true musical masterpiece. Whilst the band worked to inspire and influence the music industry onstage, Yellow Submarine would impact the future shape of animation.
Perhaps the closest thing you can get to actually experiencing the energy, vibrancy and creativity of The Beatles in contemporary life, Yellow Submarine is a trippy orgasm of colour and psychedelia. Paving the way for the interludes of Terry Gilliam’s Flying Circus, the art of animator Chris Caunter, who also worked on Pink Floyd: The Wall, is truly incredible, coming to life in the ecstatic ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ sequence.
Combining ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘All You Need Is Love’, ‘A Day In The Life’ and many more, Yellow Submarine is an intoxicating journey, described by John Lennon as “a great movie, it’s my favourite Beatle movie”. Still regarded as a landmark of animation, the Pixar aficionado and Toy Story director John Lasseter wrote in an essay that accompanied the film’s 4K re-release, “As a fan of animation and as a filmmaker, I tip my hat to the artists of Yellow Submarine, whose revolutionary work helped pave the way for the fantastically diverse world of animation that we all enjoy today”.