I Wanna Hold Your Hand (film)

I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a 1978 American comedy film directed and co-written by Robert Zemeckis, which takes its name from the 1963 song "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles. It was produced and co-written by Bob Gale.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Zemeckis
Produced byTamara Asseyev
Alex Rose
Written byRobert Zemeckis
Bob Gale
StarringNancy Allen
Bobby Di Cicco
Marc McClure
Susan Kendall Newman
Theresa Saldana
Wendie Jo Sperber
Music byThe Beatles
CinematographyDonald M. Morgan
Edited byFrank Morriss
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • April 21, 1978 (1978-04-21)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.8 million
Box office$1.9 million

The film is about "Beatlemania" and is a fictionalized account of the day of the Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (February 9, 1964). It was released in 1978 by Universal Pictures.

The film is the feature film directorial debut of Robert Zemeckis and also the first film that Steven Spielberg executive produced. Even though modestly budgeted, in order to convince Universal to bankroll it, Spielberg had to promise studio executives that, if Zemeckis was seen to be doing a markedly poor job, he would step in and direct the film himself.[1]

Despite positive previews and critical response, the film was not a financial success and was considered a flop, unable to recoup its rather modest $2.8 million budget. Zemeckis later said, "One of the great memories in my life is going to the preview. I didn't know what to expect [but] the audience just went wild. They were laughing and cheering. It was just great. Then we learned a really sad lesson....just because a movie worked with a preview audience didn't mean anyone wanted to go see it."[2]

Over a year later, in December 1979, four of the film's starsBobby DiCicco, Wendie Jo Sperber, Nancy Allen and Eddie Deezenappeared in the Spielberg-directed comedy film 1941, which was also written by Gale and Zemeckis. Susan Kendall Newman, who played Janis Goldman, is the daughter of Paul Newman and Jackie Witte.


February, 1964: Ed Sullivan prepares the ushers for the Beatles' debut performance on his television show, which broadcasts from CBS Studio 50 in New York.

In Maplewood, New Jersey, Rosie and Pam visit the local record shop. Janis, a folk music devotee whose dad owns the shop, detests the Beatles. Grace wants to rent a limousine so they can pull up to the Beatles' hotel and get exclusive photos of the band. The girls recruit Larry DuBois, a shy teen whose father has access to limos as he is the local undertaker. They leave for New York City and are joined en route by the brash and streetwise Tony who, like Janis, also hates the Beatles, preferring American pop music instead (particularly The Four Seasons). At daybreak on the morning of February 9, the six teenagers arrive in New York. When they pull up at the hotel, which is already surrounded by screaming teenagers, Grace, Rosie and Pam sneak inside, and Tony and Janis remain in the limo while Larry pulls around to the side of the hotel.

Once inside the hotel, Grace and Rosie sneak into a service elevator, while Pam, who initially is not interested in seeing the Beatles as she is about to be married, hides in a basement storage closet during which time she sees the group leaving the hotel for the theater to rehearse for the show. Grace gets off on the 11th floor, but Rosie goes up to the Beatles' rooms on the 12th floor; she is briefly caught but escapes and runs into Richard Klaus, a fellow Beatles fan who is hiding out in another room, but soon they are both caught and tossed from the hotel, after which the two quarrel and go their separate ways for a time.

To avoid being caught, Pam hides in a food cart which is taken to the Beatles’ room. When she finds their clothes and instruments she revels in a moment of quiet euphoria. When the Beatles return to the room, Pam hides under John’s bed.

Grace is caught and thrown out of the hotel, so she goes to the theater, where a guard tells her that for fifty dollars he will let her in backstage while the show is on. Larry asks Grace to the Valentine’s Day dance at school, but Grace, her mind fixated on getting the pictures, ignores him and attempts a quick but dangerous scheme to get the money: she decides to take the place of a prostitute who has a john waiting at the hotel. Once in the john’s room, Grace gets nervous and hides, but takes photos of the john with the hooker and then blackmails him into giving her the fifty dollars. He attacks her, but Larry, who has been getting progressively tipsy in the hotel bar, appears just in time to knock out the john and rescue Grace.

In front of the hotel, Janis befriends Peter, a boy with a Beatles hairstyle who is determined to get in to see the show. He tells Janis that his dad has three tickets to get in, but refuses to give them to Peter unless he gets his hair cut. Realizing that the Beatles themselves are providing the type of social cause that she believes in, Janis recruits Tony to steal Peter's dad’s wallet when they meet him at the barber shop. Tony carries out the plan and gets the tickets, one each for Peter, Janis and Tony. While Janis wants simply to help Peter see the show and be himself, Tony secretly decides he's going to find a way to stop the TV broadcast.

Throughout the film, Rosie attempts to win tickets to the show from a radio disc jockey giving them out as prizes if listeners can correctly answer trivia questions about the Beatles. After several failed attempts Rosie hears the DJ ask another question ("Which Beatle is both the oldest and youngest Beatle?"); she makes it to a phone and calls in with the right answer (Ringo), and finally wins two tickets. Pam gets caught, but she is treated kindly by the Beatles' staff and even interviewed by the press. Eddie, her fiancé, arrives to pick her up, but now realizing that she's not ready to get married, she leaves him behind and runs to the theater, using the ticket that the Beatles' road manager Neil Aspinall gave her to see the show.

Richard and Rosie get to the show, running into Pam in front of the theater. Right before the Beatles go onstage, Tony grabs a fire axe from a doorway and goes to the roof of the theater and climbs the TV transmitter to sabotage the broadcast. Janis follows and tries to stop him, but Tony is dead set in his plan until lightning from a gathering storm strikes and knocks Tony from the transmitter. Larry parks the limo in the alley behind the theater and Grace makes her way to the back door, but when a policeman catches him and prepares to arrest him for improper parking and driving without a license. Grace runs back and uses the $50 to bribe the cop into letting Larry go. Now without the money to get backstage, Grace is temporarily disconsolate, but soon accepts Larry's offer to go to the dance.

After their appearance, the Beatles quickly leave the theater, but take a wrong turn and end up in Larry’s limo. As a mob of fans descends on the car, Larry drives off with the Beatles still in the back seat, and Grace gets to snap her photos.



I Wanna Hold Your Hand holds a rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 27 reviews with an average rating of 6.75/10. The consensus states: "Its slapstick humor and familiar plot don't break any new ground, but I Wanna Hold Your Hand succeeds at recapturing the excitement of a pivotal cultural moment."[3]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "The gimmick behind 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' is the fact that you never actually see the Beatles; the genius of the film is that you never miss them ... the sneakiness with which the neophyte director Robert Zemeckis skirts the issue is positively dazzling. The Beatles are both there and not there, and the paradox hardly even matters. This movie is about the fans and their hysteria, and so it's the shouts that count."[4] Variety wrote that "the film's early development is too slow and the humor initially too broad. But it develops into a lively entertainment with many memorable lines and scenes. The film's biggest problem, the fact that The Beatles can't be shown, is turned into its greatest asset through Zemeckis' creativity."[5] Gene Siskel gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "nonstop good fun" and "the perfect summer film."[6] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times described it as "exceedingly broad and boisterous," with "a clever premise, sturdy enough to aspire to 'American Graffiti's' perceptive nostalgia, but the film zeroes in relentlessly at the widest, least discriminating audience possible. The byproduct of aiming so low so steadfastly is a dose of sheer crassness that frequently overpowers the film's buoyant energy and sense of fun."[7] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called the film "Inconsistent but zestful," adding that "Zemeckis begins building up a head of steam and never entirely loses it, although the episodic script is an up-and-down, hit-and-miss proposition."[8] Scott Meek of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that "certain scenes are successful and amusing ... but the film rushes so desperately from one joke to the next that it never has more to offer than occasional moments of somewhat lumbering charm."[9]


The soundtrack features 17 original Beatles recordings:

  1. "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
  2. "Please Please Me"
  3. "I Saw Her Standing There"
  4. "Thank You Girl"
  5. "Boys"
  6. "Twist and Shout"
  7. "Misery"
  8. "Till There Was You"
  9. "Love Me Do"
  10. "Do You Want to Know a Secret?"
  11. "P.S. I Love You"
  12. "Please Mister Postman"
  13. "From Me to You"
  14. "Money (That's What I Want)"
  15. "There's a Place"
  16. "I Wanna Be Your Man"
  17. "She Loves You"

The song "She Loves You" was featured twice toward the end of the film. The first time was during the group's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. For this sequence, stand-in Beatle lookalikes, dressed in identical attire and holding musical instruments in a similar manner, were seen mimicking the group's performance of the song from that show while being shown on the stage floor, albeit from a distance so as not to see their identities. The actual footage of the Beatles was revealed from the camera operator's point of view. These two elements were combined with reactions from the studio audience to recreate a historic moment in time. The second use of "She Loves You" came during the end credits.

Other songs by the Beatles, ones published years after their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, are referenced as in-jokes throughout the film. They are:

  1. "Helter Skelter", mentioned by an aristocratic woman who sojourns at the Beatles' hotel ("Things are all helter skelter!");
  2. "Get Back", mentioned by a cop trying to calm a riot against his arrest of a very young Beatles' fan ("Get back girls, get back!");
  3. "One After 909", "909" being the number of the hotel room of a man who is searching for a hooker in New York;
  4. "Polythene Pam", in the name of "Pam Mitchell", the girl that manages to sneak inside the Beatles' room and then has fetishistic behaviours towards objects and musical instruments belonging to the group. "Polythene Pam" was inspired by an evening that John spent with poet Royston Ellis and his girlfriend, Stephanie. The three wore polythene (a common British contraction of the word and the IUPAC version of the word polyethylene) bags and slept in the same bed out of curiosity about kinky sex.
  5. "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", mentioned by a member of the Beatles' staff named Neil (probably a reference to the Beatles' road manager and personal assistant Neil Aspinall) while speaking to a cop after Pam has been discovered lying under John Lennon's bed ("Is that the bird that was under Lennon's bed?", a reference to a widespread interpretation that sees in "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" a confession of adultery). 'Bird' is slang for a young woman.
  6. "Girl", once again during the scene in which Pam is discovered: the cop does not get the aforementioned "bird" allusion, and Neil promptly states: "Girl"; to make this reference even clearer, the cop answers: "Girl, girl" (mimicking the chorus of the song). Noticeably, as the dialogue goes on, Neil speaks about an arrangement he made with Brian (a reference to the real Beatles' manager Brian Epstein) concerning how to handle the situation with the press.

Home media

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by Fabulous Films Limited in 2016 in the UK and by the Criterion Collection on March 26, 2019 in the USA.[10]


  1. Shone, Tom. Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Summer. New York: Free Press, 2004. p. 125. ISBN 0-7432-3568-1
  2. Emery, Robert J. The Directors: Take Two. New York: Allworth, 2002. p. 68. ISBN 1-58115-219-1
  3. Maslin, Janet (April 21, 1978). "Screen: Recapturing Day of the Beatles". The New York Times. C11.
  4. "Film Reviews: I Wanna Hold Your Hand". Variety. April 19, 1978. 26.
  5. Siskel, Gene (May 2, 1978). "'Hold YourHand' is fun reprise of good old days". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 4.
  6. Thomas, Kevin (April 22, 1978). "They Want to Hold the Beatles' Hands'. Los Angeles Times. Part II, p. 8.
  7. Arnold, Gary (April 22, 1978). "Beatlemania Revisited". The Washington Post. C1.
  8. Meek, Scott (August 1978). "I Wanna Hold Your Hand". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 45 (535): 160.
  9. I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Criterion.com.
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