With all the hype and success of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, starring Austin Butler as the King of Rock & Roll, a lot of people are re-discovering or discovering for the first time the superstar’s career. This, of course, includes his records but also the many movies he starred in as well.
These days, Elvis has the reputation of leading a lot of cheesy B-movies, and quite a bit of them are just that. But some people might be surprised at how many are actually pretty good and worth a look. Let’s take a look back at Elvis’ screen efforts from 1956 to 1972.
1. Richard Thorpe’s Jailhouse Rock (1957)
One of the few legitimately iconic films starring Elvis, this crime drama doubles as a musical vehicle for the star. The title song sequence is the classic moment from Jailhouse Rock and shows a big influence on both TV performances and music videos in the future. And if I’m being honest, Elvis’ bad boy with a heart of gold rivals even Marlon Brando in László Benedek’s The Wild One (1953) and James Dean in Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955).
2. Michael Curitz’s King Creole (1958)
What a lot of people might not realize is that some of Elvis’ early movies were actually directed by legendary filmmakers, such as King Creole, made by Casablanca (1942) director Michael Curtiz. Another musical/crime drama mix, this time Elvis is paired with a couple of his more famous leading ladies, Carolyn Jones and his previous Loving You (1957) co-star Dolores Hart. ‘Trouble’ from the soundtrack would later become a staple in the singer’s live concerts as well.
3. Don Siegel’s Flaming Star (1960)
When Elvis wasn’t singing on camera or playing rebellious characters in contemporary set movies, he was usually leading westerns. Flaming Star is considered his strongest and is singled out as Presley’s best acting performance, proving he had potential to be more than just eye candy on film. Unfortunately, because of the violent content and general dark subject matter, fans, at that time, weren’t prepared for their favorite rockstar to be in such an intense picture; and Elvis was encouraged to focus on lightweight material in the future.
4. Philip Dunne’s Wild in the Country (1961)
Yet another musical drama, Presley plays a troublemaking youth up against the law, this time with one of his strongest supporting casts. Tuesday Weld and Millie Perkins are the love interests, Gary Lockwood is the best friend and Hope Lange is Presley’s character’s counselor. Not much is added to this now familiar tale for the music-turned-movie star, but it’s nice to see him act opposite some heavyweights in Hollywood.
5. Norman Taurog’s It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963)
Norman Taurog’s and Presley’s fourth collaboration together puts the romance on the backburner and focuses on a more family-friendly plot of Elvis babysitting a little Hawaiian girl (Vicky Tiu) in Seattle. Gary Lockwood returns, and 11-year-old Kurt Russell makes his screen debut 16 years before portraying The King in John Carpenter’s biopic Elvis (1979).
6. George Sidney’s Viva Las Vegas (1964)
Probably the most popular of Elvis’ musical romcoms, Viva Las Vegas not only gave us a classic soundtrack but sizzling on-screen chemistry between Presley and Ann-Margret. Rumored to be in a real-life romance during production, it’s no surprise Ann is considered the fan favorite of his leading ladies; and Lucky & Rusty are paid homage to more than any of Elvis’ movie couples. The theme song and ‘C’mon Everybody’ are a couple of the stand-out musical numbers, and try to spot a then-unknown Teri Garr dancing in the background of ‘What’d I Say?’
7. Steve Binder’s Elvis: ’68 Comeback Special (1968)
I’m technically cheating here since the ’68 Comeback Special is an NBC TV special, not a theatrical movie, but if you really want to see Elvis Presley fully in his element, then this is the program to watch. Originally titled simply ‘Elvis,’ and after being all but replaced by the British Invasion and psychedelic rock in the mid-1960s, this musical special catapulted Presley back into the spotlight and reminded everyone he can still capture an audience. With a setlist of mainly hits, the special was also the debut of another classic song, ‘If I Can Dream.’
8. Denis Sanders’ That’s the Way It Is (1970)
One of the great concert documentaries from the classic rock era, That’s the Way It Is takes you through the eyes of the crew and audience for one of Elvis’ Vegas shows. Both the theatrical film and the special edition from 2001 offer worthwhile viewing experiences; with the former including interviews with fans and journalists, while the latter replaces the interviews with more behind-the-scenes footage. This doc also introduced Elvis’ popular cover of Barry Mann’s ‘I Just Can’t Help Believin’’.
If you recently saw the new Luhrmann biopic on the most successful music artist in history and are curious to see more of the real man on screen, here is a good list to start with. Keep rockin’ and rollin’!
Have you seen the new Elvis movie yet? Which one is your favorite? Talk about The King in the comments below!
Want More Movie News? You Should Read: