It all started on July 6, 1964 at the London Pavilion when the The Beatles’ big screen debut, A Hard Day’s Night, held its gala premiere. When the shrieks and screams finally ended that evening, The Fab Four had officially crossed the threshold from music giants to movie stars. The film went on to gross over $11 million worldwide by the end of the 1960s (roughly $85 million in 2018 dollars) and that figure doesn’t account for numerous re-releases throughout the years.
Despite the overwhelming success of that first Beatles film it’s a safe guess that no one in attendance that July evening could have predicted that John, Paul, George, and Ringo would still be making an impact on the movie business more than fifty years later.
Fast forward to this past weekend when a 4K restored version of The Beatles’ 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine hit select theaters to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary. The movie’s return to the big screen was an instant success as Beatles fans of all ages and demographics either took a jaunt down memory lane or experienced the psychedelic Fab Four and the evil Blue Meanies for the first time.
While many theater owners crossed their collective fingers that this nostalgia trip would be a success, they weren’t quite ready for sold out auditoriums and the communal atmosphere in the 200 screens that distributor Abramorama selected for opening weekend. Indeed, grosses for the film were higher in many of those 200 cinemas than for any of the films from the Hollywood studios that were playing in the complex. A point to remember is these grosses came from only one show.
Exhibitors reported impromptu audience sing-alongs, especially during the film’s closing track, All Together Now, which features the only on-screen appearance by the band. The distributor is planning an expansion of the film throughout August and is also mapping out plans for a full-fledged sing-along version later in the year. That announcement is certain to delight hardcore Beatlemaniacs, including the man who attended one of the screenings in the UK over the weekend dressed in a Blue Meanie outfit.
This is the third time that Abramorama has worked with The Beatles’ Apple Corp and Universal Music on film projects focusing on the group. In addition to a re-release of 2003’s Concert For George, the distributor enjoyed Stateside success with 2016’s Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years.
Abramorama President Richard Abramowitz explains the company’s partnership with The Beatles by saying:
When we’re charged with marketing and distributing one of their films, we are highly selective in choosing the venues in order to ensure the best possible experience. It seems somehow discordant to refer to The Beatles as a ‘brand’ because our connection to them is so elemental. In some sense, though, they really are one of the best brands in the world. Our job, I would almost call it a mission, is to be respectful of that at all times, in all ways.
While one-night-only events such as Yellow Submarine, along with Event Cinema programming from companies like Fathom Events, aren’t a huge percentage of theater owners’ box office revenue they do fill an important void by providing quality entertainment during off times (generally matinees and weeknights) where studio titles are playing to well below capacity. When, as mentioned earlier, revenue from screenings like Yellow Submarine are the highest of the day for cinema owners, that results in a significant contribution to their bottom lines.
Why do The Beatles remain relevant 50 years later? Far from settling into comfortable retirement somewhere in the Swiss Alps, the two living band members are still recording and touring. Ringo Starr is midway through his latest All Starr Band Tour and Paul McCartney’s tour in support of his first new album in five years kicks off September 16th in Quebec City. His recent appearance on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke was an internet sensation, garnering nearly 27 million views on YouTube .
The fact that the band has remained as vibrant and important as they were 50 years ago is not only a testament to the music but also to the desire of the remaining members to remain connected with their fans. That respect for The Beatles’ still loyal legion of followers translates to every medium the band is involved with. There will even be a graphic novel based on the movie this fall.