The Best Movies Starring Elvis Or About Elvis

The King gets the Baz Luhrmann treatment in the upcoming biopic Elvis. If you can't wait, here are the best movies starring, or about, Elvis.
The King gets the Baz Luhrmann treatment in the upcoming biopic Elvis. If you can't wait, here are the best movies starring, or about, Elvis. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
Filmmaker Baz Luhrmann has brought his pop and circumstance to classic stories such as Romeo and Juliet and The Great Gatsby, and now he has his set his sights on one of the most enduring legends in  American culture: The King of Rock and Roll. Luhrmann’s latest film, Elvis, hits theaters at the end of June and tells an "untraditional" version of the star’s life story.

There are a lot of words that you can use to describe Luhrmann's style. “Subtle” and “restrained” are not among them. But hey, neither was Elvis.

Elvis debuted to an expectedly mixed reaction at the Cannes Film Festival. While Austin Butler’s performance as the titular icon has generally been well received, critics were less enthusiastic about Tom Hanks’ eccentric performance as Elvis’ longtime manager Tom Parker. Apparently, Luhrmann also incorporates the music of other artists (including the Backstreet Boys) into the soundtrack, so you have that to look forward to.

It will be interesting to see how Elvis performs with audiences; even if everyone knows who he is, Elvis is still a nearly three-hour long biopic that will be in competition with family fare such as Jurassic World: Dominion, Lightyear and Thor: Love and Thunder. We recently saw Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman become box office hits and major awards contenders, but we’ve also seen musician biopic disasters like the ill-fated David Bowie film Stardust and the painfully dull Hank Williams film I Saw The Light.

It’s a good thing that filmmakers are still interested in Elvis, because The King didn’t exactly leave Hollywood behind with very many classics. Sure, Elvis Presley was the star of many box office hits, but have you ever actually tried to watch It Happened At The World’s Fair? As much credit as Elvis deserves for his musicianship, he was no actor.

If you’re still curious, here’s a look at some of Elvis’ notable film roles. In order to even things out, we’re also adding a few movies and documentaries about his life that are actually worth watching.

Do you want to see Elvis take an expensive vacation? Just watch Blue Hawaii.

In the 1961 romantic comedy Blue Hawaii, Elvis stars as a former soldier who takes a long trip to Hawaii after his service. Once he reaches the island, every woman there tries to sleep with him. If you thought Adam Sandler’s vacation movies were bad, just watch Elvis seduce his way through this mostly unwatchable 102 minute “comedy.” The $4 million it earned at the box office probably just bought Presley another house.

Kurt Russell and John Carpenter Actually Honored The King

When you think about John Carpenter and Kurt Russell’s collaborations, you don’t think “sentimental biopic.” You think about the sci-fi action of Escape From New York, the nauseating tension of The Thing or the offbeat comedy of Big Trouble in Little China. Ironically, but the pair’s first project together was actually the 1979 made-for-television movie Elvis. Aired on ABC, the biographical film does a pretty great job covering The King’s life, acknowledging his controversies and highlighting his best songs. It’s definitely a more straight-laced and traditional depiction than whatever Luhrmann has in store.

The Trouble With Girls?” That’s one way to describe it.

If you know anything about Elvis’ life, you’ll know that his relationship with women was "complicated" to say the least and “controversial” if we’re being ambiguous. There are still a lot of things we don’t know, but Presley certainly didn’t try to clean his record during his film career. The Trouble With Girls was a 1969 cinematic adaptation of Day Keene and Dwight Vincent Babcocks’ 1960 novel Chautauqua. In the film, Presley comes to the defense of a woman who accuses her boss of sexual misconduct. Is The Trouble With Girls actually woke? Well, the subtitle is And How To Get Away With It, so it would not fit with today’s social climate.

Elvis Is Best At Acting When He’s Not Acting, and that’s That’s The Way It Is

Of all the films in which Elvis has appeared, the 1970 documentary That’s The Way It Is is definitely the best, and for obvious reasons. It’s not asking him to play a character. The film chronicles Elvis’ preparation and rehearsal for his iconic Las Vegas show, which is beautifully captured with incredible concert footage. It’s the rare time that a music documentary was able to capture history in the making.

Elvis Should Have Actually Been Imprisoned for Jailhouse Rock

“Jailhouse Rock,” the song, is one of Elvis’ best hits. Jailhouse Rock, the movie, is a depraved crime story that’s perfect for all the dude-bros who think Joker is a modern masterpiece. Presley plays a construction worker who goes to jail for 14 months for manslaughter. 14 months! Elvis is trying his best to be likable, but when your character “accidentally” kills the town drunk in the opening scene, it doesn’t give you a lot to work with.

HBO Offered  aMore Nuanced Perspective With The Searcher

HBO has done a historically great job at delivering rich, insightful documentaries about legendary musicians. Check out docs like Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, George Harrison: Living In The Material World, Bee Gees: How Do You Mend A Broken Heart or David Bowie: The Last Five Years if you want to learn anything about those iconic artists. HBO’s two-part Elvis documentary The Searcher combines jaw-dropping archive footage with insightful commentary on Elvis’ loneliness.

Wanna See Elvis Try To Do James Dean? Check Out Love Me Tender

It’s no surprise that Elvis was a big fan of James Dean. They were both iconic rebels who ended up dying young. Elvis cited Dean’s performance in Rebel Without A Cause as one of his inspirations. Unfortunately, his attempt to play a “James Dean type” in Love Me Tender was simply laughable. If you want to see a good movie featuring the titular song, skip Love Me Tender entirely, and just watch Nicolas Cage’s go-for-broke rendition in Wild At Heart.

Michael Shannon? As Elvis? Surprisingly, Yes

The most unusual historical photo op in history inspired the sorely underrated 2016 biographical film Elvis & Nixon. Elvis considered himself to be a patriot and decided to meet with President Richard Nixon to discuss the war effort. Michael Shannon may not have seemed like an obvious choice to play The King, but remember, this is Elvis in 1970: He’s past his prime and has become a caricature of himself. You do have to get over the fact that the film co-stars Kevin Spacey as Nixon. Hey, if you’re going to depict one of the monsters of history, why not get an actual bad guy to play him?
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.