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.

Matt Lissauer

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"
    Chiwetel Ejiofor and Keira Knightley in "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 Poster

Love Actually

Holiday / 2003 / R

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  • "Because" from "American Beauty"
    Kevin Spacey in "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 Poster

American Beauty

Comedy Drama / 1999 / R

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  • The Soundtrack from "I Am Sam"
    Sean Penn and Dakota Fanning in "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 Poster

I Am Sam

Drama / 2001 / PG-13

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  • "I Want to Hold Your Hand" from "Across the Universe"
    T.V. Carpio in "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 Poster

Across the Universe

Musical / 2007 / PG-13

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  • "Hey Jude" from "The Royal Tenenbaums"
    Aram Aslanian-Persico in "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 Poster

The Royal Tenenbaums

Comedy Drama / 2001 / R

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  • "Come Together" from "A Bronx Tale"
    Clem Caserta and Chazz Palminteri in "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 Poster

A Bronx Tale

Drama / 1993 / R

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  • "Baby, You're a Rich Man" from "The Social Network"
    Jesse Eisenberg in "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 Poster

The Social Network

Drama / 2010 / PG-13

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  • "Twist and Shout" from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"
    Mia Sara, Alan Ruck and Matthew Broderick in "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 Poster

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Comedy / 1986 / PG-13

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  • "Happiness is a Warm Gun" from "Bowling for Columbine"
    Michael Moore in "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 Poster

Bowling for Columbine

Documentary / 2002 / R

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  • "A Hard Day's Night" from "A Hard Day's Night"
    Paul McCartney and Wilfrid Brambell in "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 Poster

A Hard Day's Night

Comedy / 1964 / G

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About the Author

Matt Lissauer

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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