How Ron Howard’s Beatles Documentary Became a Breakout Hit

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“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” may be available on Hulu, but many die-hard fans of the Fab Four still prefer to see John, Ringo, George, and Paul on the big screen. After two weeks in theaters, the look at the legendary rock band on the road, has earned $1.5 million. That’s a hefty result for a documentary about a band that dissolved over four decades ago, and an outstanding gross for a film that can be streamed online.

“Audiences want to see it communally,” said Richard Abramowitz, who is overseeing the theatrical rollout through his company, Abramorama. “It’s like going to a concert for them. It’s an emotional, shared experience for an audience.”

Directed by Ron Howard, the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind “A Beautiful Mind,” “Eight Days a Week” follows the Beatles on the road from 1962 to 1966, a period when “Beatlemania” was at its zenith. Beyond giving moviegoers the opportunity to see the mop-topped crew at their musical height, the film is hitting the zeitgeist in another way. It shows how the foursome stipulated in their contracts that they would not play to segregated audiences, and forced venues in the deep South to integrate. In the film, the band members remember that they came of age playing with black musicians and sought to emulate African-American dominated genres such as R&B.

“We played Jacksonville (Florida) and we heard that the whites and the blacks were going to be segregated and we just went, ‘Whoa, no. No way,’” Paul McCartney remembers at one point in the film. Comments like that draw loud applause at the screenings, theater owners report, and appear to resonate at a time when police shootings of African-American men have stoked racial tensions.

As an incentive to see the film on the big screen, the theatrical version of “Eight Days a Week” includes 30-minutes of remastered footage from the band’s 1965 concert at Shea Stadium. That can’t be seen in the Hulu edition. Perhaps it’s the prospect of seeing the Beatles rocking out to “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “A Hard Day’s Night,” or maybe its the strong reviews from the likes of the Los Angeles Times and the New Yorker, but “Eight Days a Week” continues to add and hold theaters. After starting on 85 screens, “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” is now on more than 150. It will be on 174 screens this weekend. It’s unusual for a bifurcated release of this nature — one that is available both on-demand and in theaters, to continue to build momentum. However, Abramowitz thinks that “Eight Days a Week” is a film that could play in repertory for years to come, much as “Woodstock,” “Stop Making Sense,” and other musical documentaries have done.

“I don’t think there’s an end to it,” he said. “Even if it’s just going to play on weekends, I think it will always have a home in theaters. It’s going to play forever.”

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