10 Best Elvis Movies: The King of the Big Screen

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Portrait of Elvis Presley printed at the time he was leaving to join the army in 1958. Image by Unknown Author and is part of the public domain.

Elvis Presley is best known for being the King of Rock ‘n Roll giving us classics such as “Hound Dog” and “All Shook Up,” but for eight years (1960-1968), he became known as the king of the big screen.

His film debut came once he returned from his military service. In that time, how many movies did Elvis make? A staggering 31 films, averaging four per year.

Throughout, Elvis showed his range of being a comedic actor, a romantic, and a dramatist, despite him not being able to portray the best roles.

So, get ready to take notes. Here’s our list of the top 10 best Elvis movies.

10. Kid Galahad 

Want to enjoy a film about a boxer with some good ole fashioned music thrown in? Well, of all the Elvis Presley movies there are to choose from, Kid Galahad is right up your alley.

A remake of the original 1937 movie, Elvis took on the role in 1962 under the direction of Phil Karlson.

Presley plays a young, recently discharged Army veteran, Walter (Galahad) Gulick, who is looking for a peaceful life as a mechanic when he gets home. 

To make some extra money, he volunteers as a sparring partner for boxing promoter Willy Grogan’s, played by Gig Young, top fighters. He soon shows his own strength, and before you know it, he’s off in the ring.

Does he emerge victorious? Well, watch it and see.

Presley received mixed reviews for his performance, with Bosley Crowther of The New York Times writing that he was “certainly no model for a statue of Hercules, and his skill at projecting an illusion of ferocity is of very low degree.” 

Still, the film itself was considered “moderately genial entertainment.”

No matter what the critics have said, we love this movie from our favorite King of Rock ‘n Roll.

9. The Trouble with Girls

In what would be one of his final acting roles, Elvis Presley stars as Walter Hale in this 1969 film, The Trouble with Girls (And How to Get into It).

Based on the novel Chautauqua by Day Keene and Dwight Vincent Babcock, the movie takes place in a small town in Iowa in the late 1920s as an adult education company, Chautauqua, arrives in town. Things soon take a turn as Hale, the company’s new manager, tries to stop the troupe’s “Story Lady,” Charlene, played by Marlyn Mason, from gathering other performers to form a union.

Different from so many of the best Elvis movies, this one was limited in the musical portions of it, which led to some not-so-favorable reviews from critics. 

Still, because of that, it allowed Presley to show off his acting chops a little more, and we completely respect him for that.

Related: The Life and Music of Elvis Presley

8. Elvis on Tour

Ah, Elvis is back where he belongs in this 1972 concert film, Elvis on Tour.

Following the famous singer’s fifteen-city spring tour, it was the mark of his return to live performances and touring after his eight-year hiatus to make a plethora of Elvis Presley movies. 

The deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) to do the documentary was made by Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker after the singer starred in the documentary Elvis: That’s the Way It Is, two years earlier.

Directed by Pierre Adidge and Robert Able of MGM, four of Presley’s concerts were films with various interviews spliced in between. 

With the assistance of Martin Scorsese, it was one of the first documentaries to feature the use of split screens.

Although reviews in the United States called the documentary “four rock documentaries too late,” “pretentious,” and “disappointing,” we are entirely on board with the international perception that praised the use of the split screen and documenting “Presley’s power and glory.”

However you may feel about the interviews in between, the split screen, or any other part of it, the performances are what stands supreme, and they deserve nothing less than five stars. 

The King’s performances alone make it easy to say it’s one of the best Elvis movies, and you won’t be able to change our minds.

Related: 20 Best Music Documentaries: You Now Have Plans for This Weekend 

7. Wild in the Country

For this 1961 musical drama, Elvis Presley portrays Glenn Tyler, a 25-year-old who acts more like a 10-year-old.

After he gets into a fight with his brother, who was drunk at the time and badly injures him, he’s forced to live in a small town with his uncle and go through psychological counseling with Irene Sperry, portrayed by Hope Lange. 

Will he be able to break from his label as a troublemaker when various misdemeanors that come up put a target on his back?

Wild in the Country is one of the singer’s more serious roles compared to other Elvis Presley movies, and we appreciate his range with every viewing.  

6. Love Me Tender

Just the fact that this movie was named after the classic hit song is enough to make this one of the best Elvis movies ever made.

In Love Me Tender, released by 20th Century Fox in November 1956, Presley takes on a based-on-a-true-story narrative as the youngest of the four Reno Brothers, Clint Reno. 

The Reno Brothers, also known as the Reno Gang, were a group of criminals that plagued the U.S. with train robberies after the Civil War.

The basis of the movie, however, happens years before as Clint Reno is tasked with taking care of his mother and the family farm while the three oldest brothers fight for the Confederate Army during the war. 

What will happen when he finds forbidden love after he believes his brother to be dead?

Of all the Elvis Presley movies, this one earned some of the biggest raves from the critics. 

The Los Angeles Times wrote: “Elvis can act. S’help me, the boy’s real good, even when he isn’t singing.” 

Ironically, it’s one movie Presley said he later regretted making, as the screams of the girls in the theater with every move made and every word spoken by the star was embarrassing and kept him from being looked at as a serious actor.

Well, it never seems everyone is 100 percent happy, but we don’t care. We will “love this movie tender and love it sweet” for many years to come.

Related: The 25 Best Love Songs for that Special Someone (or Ex-Special Someone)

5. Blue Hawaii

Elvis Presley shows off his romantic-comedy chops, with a hint of drama, for 1961’s Blue Hawaii.

Presley plays a part he knows well of just being released from the Army, but instead of returning to the stage, he portrays die-hard surfer Chadwick “Chad” Gates, who just wants to return to Hawaii to the waves, his friends and his girlfriend. 

Unfortunately, his mom has other wishes for him, which only means the drama is about to unfold.

It’s become a pattern to ignore the words of the critics, and just like the other Elvis movies on our list, we’re going to do the same here. 

This film saw one of the best performances of any of the Elvis Presley movies at the box office, opening at number two and finishing as the 10th top-grossing film of that year.

That’s enough to have us singing, “Blue Hawaii, the night is heavenly, and you are heaven to me.”   

4. Flaming Star

Elvis Presley goes western in the 1960 film Flaming Star by Don Siegel.

Playing Pacer Burton, the son of a Texan father and a Native American Kiowa mother, critics have overwhelmingly agreed that, of any of the Elvis movies, this was one of his best performances.

Starring alongside Barbara Eden and Steve Forrest, even legendary director Quentin Tarantino has called it “a truly great ‘50s Western, and maybe the most brutally violent American Western of its era.”

We couldn’t agree more. It has become one of the most legendary of all the Elvis movies artistically as Andy Warhol created multiple silkscreens from a publicity still of the film. 

Those silkscreens are currently on display at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg. At least 11 of them have been sold as of May 13, 2021, bringing in more than $380 million in revenue.  

We may have to go check those out. Road trip, anybody?

Related: 32 Interesting Facts about Elvis Presley

3. Jailhouse Rock

Jailhouse Rock was chockful of stars alongside Elvis, including Judy Tyler, Mickey Shaughnessy, Vaughn Taylor, and Jennifer Holden.

This 1957 film is a classic story of the convict turned superstar after bringing his talent on guitar to the world, which he learned while incarcerated. 

With one of the most iconic soundtracks of any of the Elvis movies accompanying it, including the title song, the film peaked at number three at the box office and grossed $4 million.

Although it is another movie that had a mixed reception among critics, the Library of Congress thought differently, reserving it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2004 for being “culturally, aesthetically or historically significant.”

If anything has stood the test of time regarding this film, it’s the title song, which became a certified platinum, number-one hit for Presley. 

It has been listed as part of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time at number 67 and earned Presley a posthumous Grammy Hall of Fame induction in 2016.

We will always love this song and the movie that brought it to us. Now, everybody, let’s rock!

Related: The 17 Best Elvis Songs of All Time: His Legacy Lives On

2. Viva Las Vegas

Ann-Margret starred alongside Elvis Presley in this 1964 classic film.

Directed by George Sidney, Viva Las Vegas is widely regarded by fans and critics as one of the best Elvis movies ever made, with particular notes made about the chemistry of the lead stars. We would have to agree.

With Presley as Lucky Jackson and Ann-Margret as young hotel swimming instructor Rusty Martin, we’re taken into the whirlwind of Las Vegas as Lucky wants to compete in the first annual Grand Prix Race. Meanwhile, he and Rusty are growing closer. It’s a riveting plot that keeps us on edge until the end.

Filmink said, “Ann-Margret had so much energy and pep that she had blown her previous three male co-stars off-screen, but Elvis could matcher. He was the best on-screen partner she ever had, and she was his. It’s the most purely entertaining Elvis movie ever, a complete delight, and it’s unbelievable they were never teamed again.”

The world agreed. When the film opened at the box office, it grossed nearly $9.5 million and earned another $5 million in theatre rentals in the United States. 

1. King Creole

When Elvis Presley came to the big screen as 19-year-old high school student Danny Fisher in the 1958 film King Creole who would’ve known that it would become one of the most critically-acclaimed films of his career?

If that weren’t enough, even Presley named it his favorite career role. Not only did it perform well at the box office, but the song “Hard Headed Woman” on the soundtrack even reached number one on the charts.

To accompany this, Billboard said, “Elvis Presley’s new film shapes up as a box-office winner. It’s got plenty of action and characterization, and the star gives his best acting performance to date. … As Danny, Presley exhibits improved histrionics and provides many moving and tense moments.”

Further, other critics, such as Down Beat, called it “his best picture thus far.”

Well, for us, it’s number one amongst all the best Elvis movies and will always remain a classic piece of mid-20th-century filmmaking.

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Written by Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a songwriter, musician, journalist, and podcaster based in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s released over a dozen albums since 2002, most recently Old Dog Almost Gone (2021), the first-ever multimedia album, and his latest collection of all original material, A Scientific Search (2020). During his 15+ years as a music journalist, Erik has written hundreds of articles for Music in Minnesota, Something Else Reviews, his own blog Rambling On, and more. In addition to continuing his music career, Erik currently runs The Cosmic American, a music journalism website, and is the editor of Music in Minnesota.


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