Bob Marley success and now The Beatles Cinematic Universe: move over comic books, new box office catnip is here

Tom Davidson
4 min readFeb 21, 2024

Strap yourselves in, The Beatles Cinematic Universe is on the way.

It was announced on Tuesday that Sam Mendes is to direct four separate movies on the Fab Four, each one focusing on a different Beatle; Paul, John, George and Ringo (and then the Yoko spin-off?).

The Beatles’ story is to be turned into four movies

The four movies will intersect to “tell the astonishing story of the greatest band in history,” leading up to their 1970 breakup, according to a press release.

Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the families of the late John Lennon and George Harrison, have granted full life story and music rights for the scripted films.

Talk of a Beatles movie has always chuntered away in Hollywood but the band’s incredible impact on the public consciousness was frequently cited as a possible hurdle (hence why Danny Boyle’s Beatles-soundtracked Yesterday did away with the band entirely, after forking out some $10m for the music rights).

But now Oscar-winner Mendes is taking on the challenge with all four films to be released in one calendar year: 2027. Talk about chutzpah.

Realistically, it was inevitable and points to an ever-growing trend of movies studios investing in musician biopics, with several already in the pipeline. They are the new comic book movies: fairly reliable box office hitters and the budgets are a lot easier for studio execs to swallow.

Just this weekend One Love, the new Bob Marley film, thoroughly bested Madame Web at the US box office, reportedly grossing $52 million, compared to Madame Web’s paltry $26 million.

“Four Beatles movies Sam, FOUR? You’re insane”

Despite the film’s middling-to-poor reviews, One Love is forecast to be a comfortable box office hit. In a post-Covid world, all the studios are keen on a sure thing (or the closest thing to one).

And thus Antoine Fuqua is turning Michael Jackson’s life story into a feature film, Ridley Scott is expected to direct a movie about the rise of the Bee Gees, Timothee Chalemet is set to star as Bob Dylan in James Mangold’s A Complete Unknown and in a few short months we’ll have the Amy Winehouse biopic Back to Black.

(The Madonna biopic that the Queen of Pop was expected to direct herself has been shelved)

It’s obvious why.

Get things right (lean on the back catalogue, follow the formula, cast a few buzzy actors) and you can enjoy box office as well as awards success (lest we forget the rancid Bohemian Rhapsody back in 2018 not only grossed almost $1 billion but also scooped four Oscars, somehow).

You can also count on some lovely free publicity as the inevitable row breaks out over the artistic licence made my the writer/director.

It pays dividends.

Rocketman in 2019 was a success ($200 million on a $40 million budget) and Elvis in 2022 was a comparative box office juggernaut ($300m on an $85 million budget).

Mercifully we’ve all collectively memory-holed the David Bowie biopic Stardust — which crucially didn’t even have the rights to Bowie’s songs — partly because no one saw it (blame the Covid-era release) and partly because it was dreadful.

And both I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston) and Respect (Aretha Franklin) failed to take off.

But these misfires are relatively cheap and don’t result in the egg-on-the-face industry embarrassment of a spectacular box office bomb like Madame Web, Aquaman 2 or The Flash.

And unlike those not-so-super heroes, biopics do not rely on a mammoth opening weekend to do the business, again another way to cannily avoid those dreaded ‘box office flop’ stories mere days into a release. Elvis — a film that looks biopic-pastiche Walk Hard straight in the eyes and does not blink — started fairly small at $32 million, after all it was up against Top Gun: Maverick, but showed incredible legs to get to its final gross.

There is a lot of time between now and 2027, Beatles fans will likely be poring over casting speculation and production news but the fact four Fab Four movies are on the way is surely just a sign of the times.

Speaking of which, yes, a Prince biopic is also in development…

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Tom Davidson

31-year-old journalist living in south westLondon trying my hand at some film writing as and when