Why The Beatles Biopic Needs Four Movies to Tell the Story Right

A definitive biopic of the Beatles can only be told in four movies. The first gods of rock created a multiverse.

The Beatles arrive in America 1964
Photo: Stan Meagher / Express / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

As a musical unit, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr enjoyed the most unique experience in popular entertainment. While Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra similarly spent the most exciting periods of their careers circumnavigating hordes of rabid fans, persistent, compulsory photo-ops, and suitcases of ticket sales cash, they still broke through as solo song interpreters. The Beatles, by contrast, became a global phenomenon as a group, and a very busy one, in and out of the studio, mostly writing their own music. In keeping with the musical unit’s consistent commitment to innovation, Apple Corps. and Sony Pictures announced a truly revolutionary take on their cinematic biographies. Director Sam Mendes will helm four separate films on the Beatles’ story, each told from the perspective of the individual players.

All four features will roll out theatrically in 2027. This may appear excessive, but it is the only way to cover the narrative properly. Here are some reasons why.

There Will Still Be Calls for Directors’ Cuts

The Beatles routinely risked commercial security by producing tonal saturation. The band’s output was prodigious. They recorded relentlessly, and gave away more than most rock bands. Singles were not included on albums; the group wrote so much music in so short a time, one of their long-players could only be contained on four sides. The Beatles’ real definitive bio, the Anthology series, was over six hours long, and had to be expanded into a very large book, along with three additional music CDs, each with two discs. Peter Jackson’s eight-hour Get Back is only a fraction of the 18-hour documentary he made of the Let It Be footage for his own personal use.

Each Beatles’ Upbringing Rates a Coming-of-Age Standalone

There are no details about the upcoming films. No clues have been dropped on what period it will be set. Four separate motion pictures certainly can carry each member of the band from infancy to death or elder statesmen.

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Each of the Beatles’ lives prior to joining the group contain compelling narratives. Lennon’s childhood was psychoanalyzed in the incredibly sensitive Nowhere Boy (2009). The founder and group leader lived a fractured childhood: forced to choose between his parents at age six, young John ran crying to his mother, Julia, was shipped off to continue living with her sister, Mimi, and ultimately lost his mother in a car accident when he was 17 and just reconnecting with her. Dramatic, poignant, and empathically universal, the plot hits every nerve. But John doesn’t have a monopoly on fascinating backstories.

Paul also lost his mother, Mary, when he was 14. The shared pain bonded the songwriting partners, and each included their mothers’ names in songs. McCartney’s dad, James, who played trumpet and piano as bandleader of Jim Mac’s Jazz Band, pressured his studious son to get a paying job as a teacher. At their first meeting, McCartney taught Lennon to abandon banjo tuning. He also brought in a younger player, possibly more adept than himself.

George Harrison practiced guitar until his fingers bled, and led a band of his own, the Rebels, before joining the Quarrymen, which would evolve into the Beatles. He came from a large and encouraging family who let the band rehearse in the house. 

Following a bout of peritonitis resulting in a coma and later contracting tuberculosis, Ringo spent much of his childhood in a sanitarium, missing an education, but banging out a scholarly knowledge of the percussion instruments in the wards. Starr was a star in his own right before joining the Beatles, building a following drumming for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Each performance had a segment called “Starr Time.”

Group Unity Only Goes So Far

In spite of the Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger’s assertions the band was a “four-headed monster… in beautiful black leather overcoats… who never went anywhere alone,” the Beatles were a quartet of individuals, each of whom have an incredible arc separate from the unifying history of the band.

Without question, the Beatles came first to each other during those years, such as when Ringo joined John in Spain to alleviate the boredom of filming Richard Lester’s anti-war satire, How I Won the War so soon after the manic excitement of touring and recording. Ringo enthusiastically welcomed new talent on the music scene. His friendship with Keith Moon, who bought Ringo’s son Zach Starkey his first drum set, is worthy of a movie in itself. Zach would go on to drum for the Who longer than Moon did, which is a testament to the longstanding friendships Ringo maintained with artistic friends.

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Lennon and Starr were both parents, and living in the suburbs of London during the Beatles’ most popular period. They were driven in together to catch the burgeoning scene. Paul didn’t have to commute to “Swinging London.” He had a flat in the center of it all. He was dating acting prodigy Jane Asher, and frequented whatever off-the-beaten-path shows that caught his fancy. Away from the rest of the band, Paul delved deepest in the underground scene. 

During his time with the Beatles, George set the standard for the rock star public profile. A daring fashion trendsetter, he married a model, jammed with the hottest musicians, deadpanned devastating one-liners, and served as the band’s most devout auditory scout. Harrison’s antenna was plugged directly to the radio, bringing American soul music and Indian raga sonics into the Beatles’ sound. Harrison’s spiritual journey could rate a feature.

Four Movies Means More Music

The film should encompass four separate theatrical releases for the soundtracks alone. The movie was endorsed by McCartney, Starr, and the families of Lennon and Harrison; Apple Corps. and Sony Music Publishing controls the rights to the majority of Beatles songs. If these are even half as pristine as the tracks Peter Jackson restored for Get Back, it justifies four features.

Beatle Fans Expect a Degree of Artistic Finesse

The Beatles were a band of firsts. They broke ground in the arts, including visual disciplines. Richard Lester employed hitherto unused cinematic devices in both movies he directed for the group. His cameras caught ladders and backstage bustle in the frame, breaking conventions of filmmaking. Even the Beatles pushed cinematic barriers for their Magical Mystery Tour, with Ringo playing with filters and other cutting-edge film technology in his role as director. Let’s hope Mendes includes that in what will be the most rhythmic entry of the film series.

Varied Perspectives Round Out the Quartet Experience

Each Beatle was assigned a persona when they first burst on the scene. John, the smart one; Paul, the cute one; George, the quiet one; and Ringo, the funny one. Since the breakup, other stereotypes were imposed on the band. One of the best justifications for four films is so many other Beatles biopics might relegate George and Ringo to side characters. But no Beatle is a background player, especially to each other.

Contrary to perception, each member of the band contributed equally to the Beatles. Fills, hooks, and signature beats are as important to a recorded performance as the songwriting. The band was a democracy, and every Beatle counts. They were close enough to share the greatest time in their lives, as well grievances, fights, and laughter, if only giggles in the cramped Red Light District backstage living quarters.

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Telling a story from four perspectives over four movies is an innovation the band could get behind. When it comes to pushing cinematic possibilities in unconventional ways, Mendes is certainly up to the task. He staged the entire running length of 1917 as a seemingly uninterrupted take caught on an apparently very mobile camera. That wasn’t the first time the technique was used, but the four-in-four is a number one. Something the Beatles know well.