How the Beatles Changed the World

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
How the Beatles Changed the World Movie Poster Image
Docu about band's cultural influence; some smoking, drugs.
  • PG
  • 2017
  • 110 minutes

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Positive Messages

The Beatles were innovative creators who learned from their predecessors and who have influenced musicians and music appreciators ever since.

Positive Role Models & Representations

George, Paul, John, and Ringo learned from past music, practiced hard, performed in small clubs for many hours at a time and for many years, and became better musicians, performers, and writers. After their success, some of them continued to experiment and incorporate music, notions, and philosophies from other cultures into their work.  


The unrest and protest against the Vietnam War and other vestiges of "establishment," "imperialistic" governmental actions are shown as 1960s students and war protesters march, get arrested, and get beaten. The drug overdose deaths of rock musicians are mentioned.   


The Beatles sold millions of records and introduced young people to Eastern philosophies, which may have eventually led to the popularity of books and music from other countries as well as the proliferation of yoga studios. Millions have been made on Beatles music and licensing.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The Beatles smoke cigarettes. They were interested in the mind-expanding properties promised by the drug LSD. Psychedelic music reflected the habits of some who took recreational hallucinogenic drugs to alter their perceptions and, perhaps, enhance creativity.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that How the Beatles Changed the World is a documentary promoting the premise that the influence of the internationally successful 1960s rock band is still being felt in music, art, and culture today. It looks at the backgrounds of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, at the band's early days, and the historical conditions and post-war economy that paved the way for the creation and success of the Beatles. Footage of violent street protests is shown. Cigarette smoking is seen and drug use is discussed. The drug overdose deaths of rock musicians are also mentioned.   

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What's the story?

HOW THE BEATLES CHANGED THE WORLD traces the history of the working-class youths who would become the 1960s rock band the Beatles. Directed by Tom O'Dell, the documentary features some rare footage and photographs of the young musicians performing and speaking to the press. Early on, they began selling a million or more records per week. Their distinctive haircuts changed hairstyles for young men, eventually prodding even previously closely shorn adult men to let their hair grow. Although Britain was a victor of World War II, it had been bombed and devastated, and years of economic austerity followed as the country rebuilt. The movie describes a Britain that was stuffy, emotionally repressed, and sexually prudish. Young people coming of age then, as the Beatles did, were eager to live differently, to be less cautious, to cast aside the rules that got them through the crisis but had begun to feel oppressive. And so the Beatles were among the first successful rock bands to write their own material, to use the recording studio as a creative lab, to herald the idea of albums as song collections representing one artistic theme and vision, to reference Eastern religion, and to embrace and interpret psychedelic drugs and the thoughts and images they promoted. The filmmaker believes that every musician today owes them for such innovations.

Is it any good?

This is an engaging, ambitious, and fairly comprehensive documentary about the influential band. It could also be argued that although the Beatles' contributions were vast, they, too, were part of a continuum of artists, politicians, and events that undermined a grown-up-oriented world in favor of the input of the young. The title of How the Beatles Changed the World may seem overstated and indefensible to those young enough to take for granted the use of rock and rap beats in every television commercial, but there was a time that such music would have been considered off-putting, even offensive, in a marketing setting to the stodgy grown-ups whose pockets were generally targeted by advertisers.

To make it more meaningful to younger viewers of today, the film might have been more specific about what life was like pre-Beatles, when commercials featured jingles more likely to originate with Lawrence Welk than Jay-Z. Sneakers were only for sports. Jeans were only worn by cowboys, bikers, or young children on playgrounds. There was no "youth market." The movie makes the point that young people were finding their voices and starting to declare that they wanted products and music that reflected their rejection of the way things had been. The movie might have provided more comment and analysis about the Beatles' role in a growing acceptance of drug use that has since morphed into an epidemic and social scourge. Perhaps their candor about experimentation with psychedelics gave a generation permission to experiment. Was that a good thing or bad? The movie doesn't judge. And while it mentions the Beat poets, LSD guru Timothy Leary, and the protest movement against the Vietnam War,  the filmmaker seems to believe that the Beatles had more to do with what came after than other equally plausible historical influences. Perhaps the point is that the Beatles were probably far more influential than young people give them credit for today, but the fact that the comedians of Monty Python were coming up at the same time suggests that lots of young people with talent and smarts were also starting to wield their influence, and the Beatles, however singular, happened to be part of that social, international surge for change that, as the movie argues, is still with us.  


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why it could be important to understand that current music trends were built on music of years before. Does understanding where things -- art, music, design -- come from enhance our appreciation of them? Why or why not?

  • In what ways does How the Beatles Changed the World argue that what the Beatles did was different from musicians before them?

  • The band's music was heavily influenced by African American rhythm and blues, folk, and, in McCartney's case, British dance hall music. Do you think their interest in the music of other nationalities and eras helped spur the common mixing today of different kinds of ethnic music? Does such sharing help bring different peoples together in areas other than music?

  • What do you think about the way the movie presented drug use? Did it cast the use of LSD and hallucinogens in a positive light? Did the mention of musicians' drug overdoses make it clear that drug use could also have serious negative consequences?

Movie details

  • In theaters: October 23, 2017
  • On DVD or streaming: November 1, 2017
  • Director: Tom O'Dell
  • Studio: Vision Films
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Character strengths: Perseverance
  • Run time: 110 minutes
  • MPAA rating: PG
  • Last updated: November 11, 2020

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