While Elvis Presley is fondly remembered for being the King of Rock n Roll, he simultaneously managed to have an incredibly successful career in Hollywood. When he wasn't on tour or spending time with his family at home in Memphis, the King was on movie sets, somehow managing to film a whopping 31 films in his 42 years.
While some of his films weren't necessarily well-received (ahem, Clambake), many are still considered classics to this day. Here are the best 15 Elvis Presley movies from the King's celebrated career onscreen.
1. Jailhouse Rock
When construction worker Vince Everett accidentally kills a man, he gets sentenced to serve hard time for manslaughter. But his cellmate, an old country singer, discovers that he has singing chops and decides to show him the ropes. This hit musical film from director Richard Thorpe is one of Presley's most loved films and for a good reason. Judy Tyler co-stars as the music producer who helps boost Vince's career after he's released from prison as well as his love interest with Mickey Shaughnessy playing his cellmate Hunk Houghton.
2. Viva Las Vegas
Director George Sidney blessed us all with this incredibly fun musical that gave us some seriously steamy chemistry between the King and Ann-Margret. Presley plays race car driver Lucky Jackson, who heads to Sin City to compete in the Grand Prix Race. He ends up taking a job as a waiter in order to get back the money he lost to pay for a new engine and finds himself romancing the lovely swimming instructor Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret). This feature film is the definition of a guilty pleasure, full of enjoyable songs and dance numbers.
3. Blue Hawaii
Aloha! Blue Hawaii was not only a major box office success but was widely considered one of the best musicals released in 1961. Presley stars as Chad Gates, home in Hawaii after serving in the U.S. Army. While all he wants to do is surf with his buddies and hang out with his girlfriend (played by Joan Blackman), his mother (Angela Lansbury) wants him to take over the family business. It's definitely what you think of when you think of a classic "Elvis movie." It's fun, upbeat, and let's not forget it included one of his signature songs, "Can't Help Falling in Love."
4. Kid Galahad
Another fan favorite performance stars Presley as the young up-and-coming boxer, Walter Gulick. It's surprisingly a remake of a 1937 film starring Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, and Wayne Morris, but the King definitely makes it his own with Gig Young and Charles Bronson co-starring. Former world champ, Mushy Callahan, actually helped train Presley for his role in the film and made a small appearance onscreen as a referee.
5. Wild in the Country
Hope Lange, Tuesday Weld, and Millie Perkins co-star in this musical about a young man from a troubled family who sets out in pursuit of a literary career. Presley's character Glenn Tyler proved that the King was able to take on complicated characters with a believable internal struggle. Not only is he dealing with family trauma, but he's torn between three different love interests, sharing a particularly touching love scene with Hope Lange who plays his psychologist, Irene Sperry.
6. Love Me Tender
This western musical, named after Presley's song of the same name, marked the King's onscreen debut. Alongside co-stars Richard Egan and Debra Paget, Presley shines in the role of Clint Reno set during the American Civil War. Clint stays home while his older brothers go fight in the war and ends up marrying his brother Vance's girlfriend, Cathy, after Vance is presumed dead. Drama and jealousy ensue after Vance returns safely home. The film proved that Elvis had actual acting chops and set him up for a successful career in Hollywood.
Presley stars in this musical as Charlie Rogers, a struggling musician who takes a job with a traveling carnival. Barbara Stanwyck plays his employer, Maggie Morgan, who recognizes his singing skills and turns Charlie into a main attraction for their failing show. Joan Freeman plays his love interest, Cathy. It's a simple plot -- boy gets job, boy becomes famous, boy goes out on his own only to come back and save the day. But it works and it's fun. Plus...Barbara Stanwyck is just good in everything.
8. King Creole
Based on the novel A Stone for Danny Fisher by Harold Robbins, this movie musical directed by Michael Curtiz takes place in New Orleans. Presley plays Danny Fisher, a young man who ends up getting overnight success performing in a Bourbon Street nightclub. Walter Matthau plays a gangster/manager who is drawn to Danny and Carolyn Jones plays his mistress Ronnie. Widely considered one of Presley's best performances, it apparently was also one of the King's favorite roles he ever played. It was also his last film made before he was drafted into the army and moved overseas to Germany.
9. Flaming Star
In a role that was apparently intended for Marlon Brando, Presley stars as Pacer Burton, who is torn between his Texas and Kiowa roots. Director Don Siegel kept the music minimal (literally only two songs including the theme) so that Presley was able to give a very impressive dramatic performance. Steve Forrest co-stars as his brother in a role that was almost given to Frank Sinatra.
10. G.I. Blues
Director Norman Taurog filmed G.I. Blues in Germany before Presley had been released from the U.S. Army. So it makes sense that Presley played an Army crewman, Tulsa McLean, who in addition to working as a tank crewman was working on his singing career. Tulsa and his army buddies form a band together and perform at bars around Germany. While the plot itself wasn't necessarily widely applauded, the soundtrack received multiple nominations, including a Grammy nod.
11. Follow That Dream
This musical, based on the novel Pioneer, Go Home! by Richard P. Powell, stars Presley as Toby, part of a vagabond family led by Pop Kwimper (Arthur O'Connell). Pop and Toby and their adopted orphans end up living on the side of the road in Florida when their car gives out so they decide to make camp on the beach. They must battle the highway commissioner H. Arthur King (Alan Hewitt) who is set on evicting the Kwimper family for good.
Charro! is notable for being the only one of Presley's 30+ films in which he doesn't perform a musical number onscreen (and the only time we see him sporting a beard). He stars in this western as Jess Wade, a former outlaw, who needs to save the day, protecting his town from his old gang led by Vince Hackett (Victor French). Fun fact, the role of Jess Wade was originally offered to Clint Eastwood.
13. The Trouble With Girls
Based on the novel Chautauqua by Day Keene and Dwight Vincent Babcock, The Trouble With Girls was one of Elvis's final acting roles. It reunited him with his Stay Away, Joe director Peter Tewksbury (one of his least-liked films) who redeemed himself in this fun period piece. Presley plays Walter Hale, the manager of a traveling Chautauqua company. There's some comedy, drama, and a little murder mystery. Not to mention a strong supporting cast including John Carradine, Sheree North, and Marlyn Mason.
14. It Happened at the World's Fair
Let's not forget this musical, set at the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle, gave us a glimpse of a young Kurt Russell interacting with the King onscreen. Russell has said that sometimes it was crazy on set with young ladies flocking around the King at all times, but that's just the way it is when you have Elvis starring in a movie. Presley plays Mike Edwards, a crop-duster pilot who ends up at the World's Fair and falls for a pretty nurse played by Joan O'Brien.
15. Loving You
This musical drama from director Hal Kanter was Presley's first starring role in a film. The script, though based on a short story, was also inspired by the King's appearance on the Louisiana Hayride. Presley stars as Deke Rivers, a delivery man who is a talented singer and gets discovered by a music publicist and an aging country star. Dolores Hart, Lizabeth Scott, and Wendell Corey co-star.
Editors Note: This article was originally published on August 13, 2021.
Enjoy all things country?
Don't miss a story! Sign up for daily stories delivered to your inbox.