Best Elvis Movies: 12 of His Most Rockin 'n' Rollin' Roles

By: Ron Kelly
Source: Womans World / a360media
January 30, 2024

By Ron Kelly Womans World / a360media.

Elvis Presley knew how to entertain and he certainly applied that in the best Elvis movies. 'You have to put on a show for people in order to draw a crowd', he once shared. 'If I just stood out there and sang and didn't move a muscle, then people would say, ‘My goodness, I can stay home and listen to his records'. You have to give them a show'.

And that he did, which is why the King was - and still is - a legendary musical icon who's recognized as the greatest-selling solo artist of all time, having sold over an estimated billion records worldwide. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has certified 150 of his albums and singles as gold, platinum or multi-platinum.

Shortly before he wrapped up his U.S. Army service (which paused his fledgling film career) in 1960, Presley was setting his sights on re-conquering Hollywood as well as the airwaves, expressing his dream of becoming a dramatic actor.

'That's my big ambition', he noted, while still in his uniform in Germany, stressing he wanted to blaze his own path instead of following in the musical footsteps of other singers-turned-thespians. 'I wouldn't want to fashion myself after any one individual, because I would like to develop my own technique', he insisted. 'Don't get me wrong. I mean, I admire Mr. [Frank] Sinatra. I think he's a great actor and all that, but I wouldn't want to pattern myself after any individual'.

While Presley went on to star in 31 feature movies and he became one of the biggest box-office draws at the time, he was honest later on in his career about his acting dreams never being fully realized.

'Hollywood's image of me was wrong and I knew it, and I couldn't say anything about it', Presley lamented, citing the rapid-fire pace of his movies' productions and too-often repeated, formulaic themes. 'I would have liked to have had something that was more challenging instead of Hollywood's image of what they thought I was', he added, but that didn't mean he didn't care deeply about the work.

'I cared so much until I became physically ill. I would become violently ill', Presley said of his years trying to prove himself on the big screen.

His co-stars certainly gave him high marks. 'He was an instinctive actor', Walter Matthau, who appeared with Presley in King Creole, once noted, adding that he found the then-young rock 'n' roll star to be incredibly bright, intelligent and sophisticated.

And Elvis' fans, of course, still had 'A Big Hunk of Love' for seeing their idol larger than life in theaters. 'I liked watching Elvis sing and act in his movies. He showed the world you don't have to be like everyone else', country queen Reba McEntire has said of the King's silver screen legacy.

We're with you, Reebs! So 'It's Now or Never' in terms of sharing the best Elvis movies with you.

The best Elvis movies, ranked

12. Blue Hawaii (1961)

Angela Lansbury co-stars in this, one of the best Elvis movies, as his mother, despite being barely 10 years older than the singer. 'I was obviously awed' by being in his presence, she told TCM's Robert Osborne, 'but he was an awfully nice young man [who was] at the top of his form. He couldn't have been nicer to me', she noted, adding that he was impressed by her portrayal of her Southern belle character. 'He loved it. He thought it was terribly funny'.

The movie - in which Elvis plays a young man discharged from the army who's sent home to Hawaii, where he just wants to surf and hang out - went on to be the 10th top-grossing film of 1961. Soundtrack standouts include the title number (a remake of Bing Crosby's 1937 version) and 'Can't Help Falling in Love'.

Hal Wallis and Elvis Presley during filing of- Blue Hawaii
Hal Wallis and Elvis Presley during filing of- Blue Hawaii.

11. Wild in the Country (1961)

For this drama, Presley went for more of a straight dramatic role and kept the singing somewhat to a minimum. While the film - in which he plays a young man on probation for seriously injuring his brother during a drunken brawl - didn't quite pack the punch he was hoping for, TCM cites it as 'required viewing for any Elvis Presley fan if only to see him tackle Clifford Odets' overheated dialogue (it was the last film the playwright worked on; he died in 1963)'.

Millie Perkins and Tuesday Weld co-star, and there's even a bit role played by Joan Crawford's daughter, Mommie Dearest author Christina Crawford.

10. Roustabout (1964)

Elvis hit it big with this film's soundtrack, one of his most successful despite the fact that it didn't produce any hit singles. He plays Charlie Rogers, a singer who's hired by a woman (Barbara Stanwyck) to perform for a struggling carnival. Famed director and Elvis fan Quentin Tarantino calls it a 'superior vehicle' for the King.

'In that era of ‘Elvis Presley movies' (Elvis movies weren't real movies, they were ‘Elvis Presley movies')— it was a pretty entertaining little picture chock-full of cool elements, [including] Elvis entering the movie on a motorcycle - dressed head to toe in black leather', wrote Tarantino, who once played an Elvis impersonator on The Golden Girls, in his book Cinema Speculation.

9. Love Me Tender (1956)

One of the best Elvis movies is his very first, which is set in the final days of the Civil War. The singer (who was billed as 'Mr. Rock 'n' Roll himself') plays the youngest Reno brother, who marries one of his older sibling's girlfriend while he's away fighting as a Confederate soldier, after the brother had erroneously been reported as dead.

'Elvis can act. help me the boy's real good, even when he isn't singing', noted a reviewer for the Los Angeles Times. The film's title track is its best-known, and it topped the charts for five weeks.

8. Follow That Dream (1962)

Presley plays Toby Kwimper, part of a wandering clan that sets up camp on a Florida beach and is fighting to be left alone despite the protestations of a local bureaucrat and social worker in this musical comedy, which was based on Richard P. Powell's 1959 novel, Pioneer, Go Home!

Thanks to the film's popularity - and its title track, which hit No. 15 on the Billboard charts - fans still flock to Citrus County, Florida, where the film was shot, to visit its various locations. 'Following where Elvis was is quite an emotional experience', noted one Irish tourist who took a bus tour there run by the travel services division of the Strictly Elvis UK fan organization.

Follow That Dream - Movie Poster
Follow That Dream - Movie Poster.

7. Girl Happy (1965)

As a (you guessed it!) rock singer hired to chaperone a pretty young woman (played by The Donna Reed Show's Shelley Fabares) during spring break in Florida, Presley stars as Rusty Wells in one of the best Elvis movies.

Variety called Girl Happy 'another musical winner' that features plenty of fun songs and dance numbers. The soundtrack's 'Puppet on a String' went to No. 14 on the Billboard charts, and 'The Clam' even dug right in with its 'bongo sound' and hit No. 21.

6. Loving You (1957)

The star's second film (and his first in color) came before his Army stint, and it's 'sort of, not really, maybe just a little bit autobiographical', teases the official Graceland site. 'Writer/director Hal Kanter visited with Elvis and his family in December 1956 to get a feel for the young superstar and what his life was like' to complement the movie, the site says, noting how Elvis, like his character Deke Rivers, was a deliveryman before his music career took off.

Look closely in the film's final performance scene and you can even catch a glimpse of Elvis' parents, Vernon and Gladys, in the audience, and keep your ears out for the hit '(Let Me Be) Your Teddy Bear' on the soundtrack!

5. G.I. Blues (1960)

Art imitates life in this, one of the best Elvis movies, which was the first one released after his own military service. Here, he plays Tulsa McLean, a soldier stationed in West Germany who finds more adventure and love than combat duty.

'He has talent and he's a nice man', noted Presley's on-screen love interest, Juliet Prowse, who added that Elvis was 'the sweetest thing in the world'. The film's soundtrack (which contained the songs 'Wooden Heart' and 'Blue Suede Shoes') scored two Grammy nominations, one for Best Vocal Performance Album, Male, and another for Best Sound Track Album or Recording of Original Cast from a Motion Picture or Television.

4. Jailhouse Rock (1957)

'Here is an Elvis Presley you've never seen before', the studio promised of this pre-Army film of the King's, in which he plays Vince, a young man sent to the slammer for accidentally killing someone in a bar fight while he's trying to defend a girl's honor.

While serving his time, a cellmate teaches Vince how to sing and play the guitar. The film 'is arguably his best; it's Elvis at his snarliest', TCM notes, adding, 'The incredible production number of the classic title tune probably went a long way toward getting this film inducted into the National Film Registry as an ‘historically, culturally and aesthetically significant' film'.

William Hart and Elvis shake, but sexy Jennifer Holden is the one who looks like she really means business in 'Jailhouse Rock'.
Above, William Hart and Elvis shake, Jennifer Holden in between both.

3. Viva Las Vegas (1964)

How do you like them odds? Elvis (as race-car driver Lucky Jackson) and Ann-Margret (as Rusty, a sexy swimming teacher) 'burn up the screen' in this red-hot flick, as its promo notes. 'The sizzling combination of [its two stars] is enough to carry Viva Las Vegas over the top', Variety noted - and the winning title song didn't hurt, either.

'We had a great time', Ann-Margret said of the experience, during which she and Elvis magically synched up during their earliest dance rehearsals. 'When we started working together, the music started and we found ourselves moving the same way', she shared. 'It was unbelievable!'

2. Flaming Star (1960)

'[Elvis] was just the most sensitive, kind, and gentlemanly man. He had a great work ethic and really cared', co-star Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie) has said of working with the singer on this Western, in which he plays Pacer, a half white, half Native American caught up in simmering racial tension on the Texas frontier.

The heavy themes in the film, plus a lack of glitzy, musical numbers for Presley to perform, are thought to have held this title back at the box office, but it's widely considered to be one of the best Elvis movies and one of the King's most commanding performances.

1. King Creole (1958)

'Cut my legs off and call me Shorty! Elvis Presley can act', raved The New York Times of Presley's performance as 'hard-loving, hard-hitting Danny Fisher, who sang his way up from the gutters of lusty, brawling New Orleans', as the trailer puts it.

'Mr. Matthau, I sure would appreciate it if you could help me out with this acting thing', co-star Walter Matthau, a criminal nemesis of Danny's, recalled of being asked by the rock star, who starred in this story about a young club singer trying to stay clean as he struggles to support his deadbeat dad. 'Hard Headed Woman' from the film's soundtrack hit No. 4 on the Billboard charts.

Elvis Presley and Carolyn Jones as they relax for photographs and Carolyn holds a cup of tea.
Elvis Presley and Carolyn Jones as they relax for photographs and Carolyn holds a cup of tea.

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