Noovie Soundtracks: Best Uses of Beatles Songs in Movies

As we acknowledge the 40th anniversary of John Lennon's death, we take a look at the Beatles influence on cinema.

By Matt Lissauer

The Beatles in "A Hard Day's Night."

© United Artists / Courtesy Everett Collection

This week marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most tragic events in music history: the assassination of John Lennon outside his New York apartment. This event was later dramatized in 2008's "Chapter 27," with Jared Leto, who disappeared completely into the role of crazed-fan and perpetrator, Mark David Chapman. As we acknowledge this sad event, we also acknowledge just how impactful not just Lennon was on music, but the Beatles as a whole were, in influencing nearly every music genre from pop, rock, and metal, to even rap and R&B (not to mention their impact in studio production). Just as their influence on music is beyond question, so too is their influence in cinema. Here we highlight ten movie scenes that became completely transcendent by a song (or songs) from John Lennon and the rest of the Fab Four.

  • "All You Need Is Love" from "Love Actually"

    © Universal Pictures

    Covered by Lynden David Hall and played at the wedding of Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Juliet (Kiera Knightly), along with horns, flutes and a full choir, John Lennon’s call for peace and love works perfectly not just as a wedding procession piece, but also as an overarching theme for the movie itself. After all, love is all you need.

Love Actually

Holiday / 2003 / R

Nine intertwined stories examine the complexities of the one emotion that connects us all: love. Among the characters explored are David (Hugh Grant), the handsome newly elected British prime minister who falls for a young junior staffer (Martine McCutcheon), Sarah (Laura Linney), a graphic designer whose devotion to her mentally ill brother complicates her love life, and Harry (Alan Rickman), a married man tempted by his attractive new secretary.

  • "Because" from "American Beauty"

    © DreamWorks

    Eliott Smith's minimalist cover of "Because" follows Kevin Spacey's final monologue as the movie fades to black and the credits roll, leaving the audience with nothing more than just the song, the words, and the movie itself. Because of John Lennon's lyrics about life and love, and because of Smith’s haunting vocals, the tune fits perfectly as the close to one of the more intense movies of the '90s.

American Beauty

Comedy Drama / 1999 / R

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is a gainfully employed suburban husband and father. Fed up with his boring, stagnant existence, he quits his job and decides to reinvent himself as a pot-smoking, responsibility-shirking teenager. What follows is at once cynical, hysterical, and, eventually, tragically uplifting.

  • The Soundtrack from "I Am Sam"

    © New Line Cinema/courtesy Everett Collection

    The film follows the story of Sam (Sean Penn), a mentally disabled father who fights to retain custody of his bright daughter, Lucy (Dakota Fanning). Writer/director Jessie Nelson made Sam a die-hard Beatles fan after observing just how much the Fab Four was loved amongst those who resided at L.A. GOAL, a center for people with developmental disabilities. Nelson included a multitude of Beatles references in her screenplay, and shot the film with certain songs in mind. However, when the cost of acquiring the rights to the actual songs were too high, producers commissioned popular musicians of the day to cover the tunes. While the film's reception was mixed, its soundtrack went on to win a Grammy.

I Am Sam

Drama / 2001 / PG-13

"I Am Sam" is the compelling story of Sam Dawson (Sean Penn), a mentally-challenged father raising his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) with the help of a unique group of friends. As Lucy turns seven and begins to intellectually surpass her father, their close bond is threatened when their unconventional living arrangement comes to the attention of a social worker who wants Lucy placed in foster care.

  • "I Want to Hold Your Hand" from "Across the Universe"

    © Sony Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

    Jukebox musical "Across the Universe" takes the Beatles' songbook and uses it to tell the story of six individuals navigating life and love through the turbulent '60s. Slowing down the tempo and dropping the key, Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s rousing tune about a boy eager in love turns into a melancholic ode to yearning and unrequited passion. Its made all the more impactful as soulfully sung by Prudence (T.V. Carpio), a girl unsure of her own sexuality, and desperately in love with another girl. The film has many songs to choose from, but none were more transformative from its original piece than this one.

Across the Universe

Musical / 2007 / PG-13

The songs of the Beatles provide the sonic framework for this musical tale of romance, war and peace. When young British worker Jude (Jim Sturgess) sets sail for the United States in search of his father, he ends up meeting carefree college student Max (Joe Anderson) and his lovely sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), along with a cast of eccentric characters. As Jude and Lucy fall for each other, their relationship is threatened by the social upheaval that accompanies the Vietnam War.

  • "Hey Jude" from "The Royal Tenenbaums"

    © Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

    A horn-heavy, orchestrated version of Paul McCartney's "Hey Jude," from the Mutato Muzika Orchestra, plays in the background as narrator Alec Balwin introduces us to each of the Tenenbaum kids, giving us some backstory into the family dynamics. When plans fell through to get the rights to the original song, composer Mark Mothersbaugh employed his own band to cover the song. Director Wes Anderson also wanted to have his film end with "I'm Looking Through You," but sadly that fell through as well. Nevertheless, the cover and scene still works as pure Wes Anderson in full effect.

The Royal Tenenbaums

Comedy Drama / 2001 / R

Royal Tenenbaum and his wife Etheline had three children and then they separated. All three children are extraordinary --- all geniuses. Virtually all memory of the brilliance of the young Tenenbaums was subsequently erased by two decades of betrayal, failure, and disaster. Most of this was generally considered to be their father's fault. "The Royal Tenenbaums" is the story of the family's sudden, unexpected reunion one recent winter.

  • "Come Together" from "A Bronx Tale"

    © Savoy Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

    A motorcycle gang and the mob try to come together for some beer in a mob-owned bar, but the bikers' bad manners end up being too much for the gangsters. Robert De Niro's directorial debut -- which was written by, and starring, Chazz Palminteri -- follows a young boy (Lillo Brancato) as he becomes a protege to a local gangster (Palminteri), much to the chagrin of his father (De Niro, playing against type). De Niro certainly picked up a thing or two from his own director-mentor, Martin Scorsese, especially in this scene where, at a certain point, the song cuts off just as a biker lands on a jukebox during the fight, suggesting that the song was actually playing in the bar.

A Bronx Tale

Drama / 1993 / R

As he grows into a teenager on the streets of the Bronx in the socially turbulent 1960s, Calogero (Lillo Brancato) gets taken under the wing of neighborhood mobster Sonny (Chazz Palminteri). Sonny initiates the boy into the ways of gangland life, in direct conflict with his straight-arrow bus driver father (Robert De Niro). But when Calogero falls for his African-American classmate, Jane (Taral Hicks), the repercussions threaten the entire neighborhood.

  • "Baby, You're a Rich Man" from "The Social Network"

    © Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

    John Lennon's ode to the emerging hippie movement, combined with Paul McCartney's chorus that reportedly was about band manager Brian Epstein, suggests that we're all rich -- we're all beautiful people -- whether spiritually, materialistically, or both. David Fincher turns the song’s meaning on its head, aptly applying it to the final scene in "The Social Network." After founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) wins his case, he logs onto the social network he created and sends a friend request to the girl that walked out on him at the beginning of the movie. It's a perfect bookend, even if it didn't really happen. But as Zuckerburg morosely reloads the page -- hoping his request would be granted in real-time -- we are informed about what happened to the other key figures from the movie that were supposedly stiffed during Facebook's founding - certainly, the true price paid for glory in Silicon Valley.

The Social Network

Drama / 2010 / PG-13

In 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer genius Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) begins work on a new concept that eventually turns into the global social network known as Facebook. Six years later, he is one of the youngest billionaires ever, but Zuckerberg finds that his unprecedented success leads to both personal and legal complications when he ends up on the receiving end of two lawsuits, one involving his former friend (Andrew Garfield). Based on the book "The Accidental Billionaires."

  • "Twist and Shout" from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"

    © Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

    For all that Ferris Bueller goes through to get out of school, you’d think he’d want to keep a low profile and not draw attention to himself and his friend and girlfriend as they play hookie; especially if Principal Rooney is on the hunt. But, in this era before cell phones and Instagram, perhaps we can suspend our disbelief just enough to think he’d get away clean after getting the whole city of Chicago to join him in a rousing lip sync of the Beatles' famous Isley Brothers cover.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Comedy / 1986 / PG-13

Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) has an uncanny skill at cutting classes and getting away with it. Intending to make one last duck-out before graduation, Ferris calls in sick, "borrows" a Ferrari, and embarks on a one-day journey through the streets of Chicago. On Ferris' trail is high school principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), determined to catch him in the act.

  • "Happiness is a Warm Gun" from "Bowling for Columbine"

    © United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

    Filmmaker Michael Moore certainly knows how to make an entertaining documentary. Part of that comes from his clever use of pop songs that marry themselves almost too perfectly to his scenes and montages. "Capitalism: A Love Story," for example, uses Iggy Pop's 1993 satirical cover/parody of "Louie, Louie" by the Kingsmen, in its opening scene to such great effect, you'd almost think Iggy Pop travelled in time to write the song specifically for the doc. Much the same, we find John Lennon's satirical take on gun culture (or was his lyrics a metaphor for something else?), being used to such astonishingly perfect effect, in a montage that mixes the sport of owning a gun with the darker consequences of gun ownership laws. It all fits so well, especially considering that Lennon conceived the song and its title from an issue of "American Rifleman."

Bowling for Columbine

Documentary / 2002 / R

Political documentary filmmaker Michael Moore explores the circumstances that lead to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and, more broadly, the proliferation of guns and the high homicide rate in America. In his trademark provocative fashion, Moore accosts Kmart corporate employees and pleads with them to stop selling bullets, investigates why Canada doesn't have the same excessive rate of gun violence and questions actor Charlton Heston on his support of the National Rifle Association.

  • "A Hard Day's Night" from "A Hard Day's Night"

    Courtesy Everett Collection

    Ok, we’re cheating here, but can there be any other Number One? With a single chord -- a chord whose notes are lost in music history -- so begins a movie and a soundtrack that transformed the pop culture landscape. “A Hard Day’s Night,” which was how Ringo Starr once described their hours-long recording process, kicks off the movie with a scene that puts us smack-dab in the middle of Beatlemania, as the Fab Four run, duck, and hide from swarming fans. The fast tempo song, along with the mad-cap scene, makes for a sequence that's sure to pump your adrenaline and get you in the right frame of mind for this equally mad-cap adventure.

A Hard Day's Night

Comedy / 1964 / G

The Beatles in their feature film debut, one of the greatest rock-and-roll comedy adventures ever. The film has a fully restored negative and digitally restored soundtrack. The film takes on the just-left-of-reality style of mock-documentary, following "a day in the life" of John, Paul, George, and Ringo as fame takes them by storm.

About the Author

Matt Lissauer

Matt Lissauer is a writer & data manager for Noovie. When he is not busy writing listicles, Matt is enjoying life in New Jersey with his lovely wife and three kids.

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