Are Four Beatles Movies Better Than One? Why Studios Are Taking Bold Bets on Release Plans

Seven decades after four lads from Liverpool formed a band, the Beatles remain a cultural juggernaut. But will the Fab Four be able to rock the box office? Sony Pictures is counting on Beatlemania to bring audiences to theaters not once, but four times – for director Sam Mendes’ quartet of biopics that will tell the group’s story from each member’s perspective.

It’s the first time that Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the families of John Lennon and George Harrison have granted permission for scripted films based on their lives. But here’s what makes this project unique and uniquely risky: All four films are planned for theatrical release in 2027.

More from Variety

If that sounds like a lot of moptop in a short period, there’s a logic behind the unconventional rollout. Hollywood has surmised that audiences only want to go to the movies for films that feel less like generic screenings and more like cultural happenings. (“Barbenheimer,” an unexpected sensation, is pretty good evidence to that effect.) So, studios are leaning into spectacle to fill seats.

“The industry is going through such a period of turbulence. Studios are asking: how do we cut through the clutter and get people to focus on us?” says Stephen Galloway, dean of Chapman University’s film school. “One way is to make a special event.”

But how ambitious is too ambitious when getting the masses to buy a movie ticket?

Hollywood will soon find out the demand. Warner Bros. is taking its own gamble by distributing Kevin Costner’s two-part Western “Horizon: An American Saga,” with “Chapter 1” unfolding in theaters on June 28 and “Chapter 2” on schedule just two months later, on Aug. 16.

There’s also Universal’s two-part adaptation of “Wicked,” although its ambitions are cushioned by the year separating “Part 1” (Nov. 27) and “Part 2” (Nov. 26, 2025). Still, its rivals at Paramount learned the hard way with “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” that splitting a blockbuster into two films doesn’t always double the returns. (Hence the studio quietly renaming the 2025 follow-up.)

Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman fears the struggling exhibition industry could face an existential crisis if studios aren’t willing to take an expensive roll of the dice.

“The audacity of the idea appealed to us,” Rothman says of the four-part Beatles saga. “Does audacity carry risks? Of course. But if the movie business doesn’t start giving audiences new experiences, [it’ll] struggle to rebound. No guts, no glory.”

Those who closely cover the business agree that innovation is good for the health of cinemas — as long as the movies are, you know, good.

“The first rule is the content must deliver,” says Jason Squire, a professor at USC School of Cinematic Arts. “Everything else is subordinate.”

Of course, these experiments could backfire. What happens to “Horizon: Chapter 2” if audiences don’t turn out in force for “Chapter 1”? Will moviegoers be daunted by eight hours of John, Paul, George and Ringo on the big screen? Does Gen Z care about the Beatles?

It’s fair to question the appetite for this glut of content. After all, moviegoers seem to be growing tired of Marvel and DC Comic’s penchant for releasing multiple intersecting installments a year in their ever-expanding superhero universes. Not to mention the strain on wallets. Four tickets to the Beatles movies could add up to $80 for people in New York or Los Angeles… not including the cost of popcorn and icees. It could be a better bargain to wait until it’s all available on Netflix.

“If you create a sense of community, you can encourage a consumer to resist the ‘I’ll wait until it’s on streaming’ feeling,” says former studio chief Stacey Snider.

These release plans are experiments with few comparisons, though analysts point to one example from nearly 20 years ago. Director Clint Eastwood unveiled companion films in 2006 – the Japanese-language “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “Flags of Our Fathers,” which recounted the same World War II battle from the American perspective. They were released two months apart, with the former earning $68 million on its $19 million budget and the latter generating $65.9 million on a $90 million budget.

“What’s the verdict? It didn’t quite work,” says Squire. “If they had lower costs, they’d be fine.”

For studios, the strategy comes with economic incentives. Shooting movies simultaneously is cheaper (and more efficient) because companies can hire a single film crew and won’t need to restart production for each new installment. In the case of “Horizon,” it’s Costner who is fronting most of the cost… at the personal expense of risking his 10-acre Santa Barbara home to fund the movie series, which he hopes will expand to four parts. Warner Bros. is only on the hook to pay for marketing and distribution.

It’s also more cost-effective to promote such closely scheduled films to the masses. Ideally, they will stay in the cultural conversation, so marketing executives don’t need to reintroduce these projects after long gaps.

“These big investments are speculative and expensive,” says Snider. “But the theatrical business needs to do something to reenergize its model, so the willingness to take a bigger risk is greater.” 

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.