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Yesterday and the 8 best uses of The Beatles songs in movies


Director Danny Boyle's new movie Yesterday, scripted by Richard Curtis, imagines what would happen if you were suddenly thrust into a world where you could claim The Beatles' iconic back catalogue as your own.

Whereas your average individual would only confidently recall the "Naaa, naa, naa, na na na naaaaa" bit from the end of 'Hey Jude', Yesterday's busker Jack Malik (Eastenders actor Himesh Patel) is different. Upon waking up from an accident, he discovers he's the only person in the world with an awareness of the Fab Four.

He knows his way around a guitar well enough to pass the songs off as his own and perform them to an awe-inspired and ever-growing audience. Meanwhile, no-one around him knows any different. And he meets Ed Sheeran too. Cue fame, fortune and maybe a bit more than he bargained for… 

The Beatles not only changed music as we know it, but they permeated popular culture in ways that were unparalleled. In addition to their own film career, the Fab Four's music has had a hand in creating some amazing movie moments and, with a spoiler warning, here are eight of our faves…

8. American Beauty (1999) – 'Because'

The Beatles' signature three-part vocal harmonies often conjured up an ethereal, dreamy effect, and this was never more appropriate than over the end credits of Sam Mendes' American Beauty.

Lennon's newly-discovered love for the world and all those within it (but mostly Yoko) mirrors the experience of the film's protagonist, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), whose appreciation for life came a little too late and at too great a cost.

After featuring on the Abbey Road album, 'Because' was faithfully re-recorded for the American Beauty soundtrack by Elliott Smith, who later took his own life, which only adds further poignancy to the song.

7. Withnail & I (1987) – 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'

This classic George Harrison composition immediately locates you in a certain time frame, and identifies you with a certain state of mind. Withnail & I's blasé late-1960s bohemia is on display when our bedraggled heroes, Withnail and I/Marwood (Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann) return home from Cumbria to find an enormous man soaking in their bathtub and a drug dealer sleeping in their bed.

The amusing yet melancholy sight, combined with the sounds of The Beatles, underscores the messiness of their lives and anticipates Marwood's desire to move on. The song's inclusion almost goes as far as to excuse the debauched behaviour of all concerned, with Eric Clapton's guitar brushing it all off with a "Hey, it was the 60s, man!"

6. Children of Men (2006) – 'Tomorrow Never Knows'

Alfonso Cuarón's dystopian sci-fi drama borrows from The Beatles' forward-thinking seventh album Revolver for an alternate credits scene. Its inclusion emphasises the notion that Children of Men, like the album, could too signal the direction in which we're headed, which is a truly terrifying prospect in itself.

The title 'Tomorrow Never Knows' is a Ringo-ism, but the lyrics are all Lennon, inspired by The Psychedelic Experience aka Dr Timothy Leary's trippy version of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This cover version by Junior Parker, strips back the experimental musicianship of the original but still discusses spiritual enlightenment and freedom.

5. A Bronx Tale (1993) – 'Come Together'

This song struts with the same sort of swagger that gangster Sonny (Chazz Palminteri) embodies in Robert De Niro's directorial debut. 'Come Together' oozes cool, confidence and charisma but with something dark lingering just below the surface, and the biker gang that refuse to leave Sonny's bar soon find out how dark he can get.

The song's celebratory nature means that the viewer perhaps enjoys the eruption of violence a little too much, so it quickly cuts into a more mournful 'Ten Commandments of Love' by The Moonglows. However, could you imagine a more fitting song sound tracking this scene? Fuggedaboutit.

4. Bowling for Columbine (1999) – 'Happiness is a Warm Gun'

The title of this song, which reportedly hails from the from cover of The American Rifleman magazine, reflects the attitudes towards gun control in the US and how little they've changed in 60 years. It could have been written specifically for Michael Moore's ground-breaking documentary.

Filled with "Bang, Bang! Shoot, Shoot!" doo-wops, and on-the-nose lyrics, like the montage it accompanies on screen it has its sense of humour, but with real horror never far behind. This Lennon composition has been lined with poignancy ever since the singer was shot and killed in the lobby of his apartment building.

3. Once Upon a Time in America (1984) – 'Yesterday'

Paul McCartney's nostalgic tale of regret fits almost too well in Sergio Leone's final film. Once Upon a Time in America finds Robert De Niro's former gangster Noodles returning to New York for the first time in 30 years. His memories soon see moments of joy being outweighed by moments of sheer horror, mostly perpetuated by Noodles himself.

'Yesterday' itself is stripped of its lyrics, leaving only the title itself and the word 'suddenly' to jar the viewer whilst the arranged strings swell the emotions. That the song manages to conjure sympathy for Noodles is masterful manipulation, which makes it even worse when you realise what's hidden in his past.

2. Pleasantville (1998) – 'Across the Universe'

Pleasantville is a fantasy-drama in which two 1990s teenagers (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) find themselves stranded in the sterile, black and white world of a 1950s TV show. Towards the end of the movie, this apparent utopia is inflected with feelings of resentment, lust and anger.

'Across the Universe' makes a perfect audio accompaniment as it balances between melancholy and marvelling at the world. This Fiona Apple cover may even be more sublime than the Beatles original: sensually slowed down and silkily sung. John Lennon recalls that this composition was written through him, not by him and it's that same sense of spirituality and autonomy that mirrors the themes of the movie.

1. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) – 'Twist and Shout'

Although made famous by the Isley Brothers, 'Twist and Shout' is undoubtedly a Beatles song in the minds of many. There's nothing particularly multi-layered about the inclusion of this song; much like Ferris Bueller himself, it's all about having a good time and doing what feels right.

The unforgettable Chicago parade scene from the John Hughes classic begins with Ferris (Matthew Broderick) belting out The Beatles on a travelling float. However, this quickly builds into a block party that rivals the Mardi Gras. Fittingly, it's still one of the most joyous scenes in cinema.

Yesterday plays to the public on 28th June. Once you've seen it, be sure to tweet us your thoughts at @Cineworld.

Robb Sheppard is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.