Elvis at the Movies

Before he was the "King of Rock 'n' Roll," Elvis Presley was an usher at a small movie house in Memphis, Tennessee, his head filled with big dreams of being a star. He got his wish, becoming one of the most successful recording artists in history and a timeless icon of "cool." He remains the top-selling recording artist of all time, with more than one billion records sold worldwide, and he still managed to star in 33 feature films from 1956 to 1972. Some were instant classics, others for die-hard fans only. In honor of Elvis' prolific film career, take a look at the King's 10 highest-grossing films, adjusted for inflation.

 

10.          King Creole - 1958

Elvis Presley in King CreoleBox office: $2.64 million in 1958, or $34.9 million adjusted for inflation

Later in life Elvis claimed King Creole was his favorite of all the movies he made. Directed by Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame and featuring support from such cinema greats as Walter Matthau and Vic Morrow, King Creole also proved a hit with fans and critics alike. The story is fairly straightforward, with Presley starring as a young man blessed with musical talent, pressured by organized criminals out to exploit him. The story presented ample, natural opportunities for songs from the King, who lost 15 pounds and shaved his sideburns to secure the role. Also vital to production was the 60-day deferment Elvis was granted by the Draft Board, from January to March 1958, so filming could be completed before Elvis departed for his U.S. Army service in Germany. The soundtrack produced a No. 1 hit for Elvis, "Hard-Headed Woman."

 

9.             Flaming Star - 1960

Box office: $4.13 million in 1960, $47.6 million adjusted for inflation

Elvis turned in a strong performance as a mixed-race Kiowa dealing with conflicting loyalties in what is arguably his most-intense film. He was determined to be taken seriously as an actor and not just a singer, going so far as to demand that two of the film's four songs be cut, as he felt they detracted from the movie. The film was released a month after the wildly successful G.I. Blues and underperformed by comparison. Based on that perceived failure, and that of his next dramatic role in Wild in the Country, his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, convinced Elvis that fans just weren't interested in seeing him in dramas.

 

8.             Girl Happy - 1965

Box office: $6.98 million in 1965, $53.9 million adjusted for inflation

Elvis' 18th movie finds the King and his band stuck in Chicago during spring break until their mobster boss hires them to head to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to keep an eye on his daughter. The film featured the song "Puppet on a String," which reached No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified gold, but despite its beach-party setting did not feature one scene of Elvis with his shirt off. In fact, the King wears long sleeves for much of the movie, including while water skiing. Girl Happy is also notable for the presence of Shelley Fabares as Elvis' love interest. She appeared opposite the King in three movies, the most of any actress: Girl Happy, Spinout and Clambake.

 

7.             Follow That Dream - 1962

Box office: $5.94 million in 1962, $62.6 million adjusted for inflation

Unlike the majority of his films, Follow That Dream was filmed largely on location in Florida rather than California. During production the musical comedy had many titles before producers finally settled on Follow That Dream, which just happened to be the title of a standout hit from the film's soundtrack. The film also gave rise to a chance meeting between Elvis and a future star of Southern rock. While filming in Florida, Elvis met an 11-year-old named Tom Petty, a nephew of one of the crew members, and made such an impression on the boy that Petty returned home and traded his slingshot for a collection of Elvis records. Petty immediately developed a fascination with rock and was inspired to pursue his own musical dreams.

 

6.             Viva Las Vegas - 1964

Box office: $11.33 million in 1964, $96 million adjusted for inflation

While only his sixth-most-popular film by ticket sales, Viva Las Vegas is arguably the most beloved and best-known movie Elvis ever made. Alongside quintessential leading lady Ann-Margret, the King tore through a pack of amazing showstoppers, including the unforgettable title track, which he performed in one unedited take. The chemistry between Elvis and Ann-Margret proved undeniable onscreen and off, leading to tension between Elvis and then-girlfriend Priscilla Beaulieu. It didn't help that the media at the time were publishing endless strings of stories about the two screen idols, including an erroneous report that the pair had married during production. The "wedding" in question was actually a scene from the movie, filmed at the Little Church of the West, Las Vegas' oldest wedding chapel.

 

5.             G.I. Blues - 1960

Box office: $9.46 million in 1960, $108.6 million adjusted for inflation

Elvis enjoyed playing characters similar to himself, so portraying a charming, singing Southern boy stationed with the U.S. Army in Germany must have been a cinch for Presley. The movie came quickly on the heels of Elvis' return from military service in Germany, and its phenomenal success proved movie audiences were still hungry for more of the King. Fans in Mexico City were so "enthusiastic" that a riot broke out during one screening, leading to an official ban on all Elvis films by the Mexican government. G.I. Blues is also notable in that it featured actual tanks from the U.S. Army, filmed on maneuvers in Germany. Elvis, however, was filmed exclusively in California, and any shots of him on European sets were carried out with stand-ins and look-alikes.

 

4.             Blue Hawaii - 1961

Box office: $10.34 million in 1961-62, $111 million adjusted for inflation

Elvis would film three features in Hawaii, with Blue Hawaii the first and most financially successful. The King played the heir to a pineapple fortune who was less interested in the family business than he was in performing such classic tunes as "Blue Hawaii" and the timeless "Can't Help Falling in Love." In addition to filming and recording the soundtrack while in Hawaii, Elvis found time to play a benefit concert for the U.S.S. Arizona memorial fund and spent a considerable amount of time carrying out karate demonstrations for the cast and crew. Elvis also was notable for his wild parties during production, which producer Hal Wallis warned the female cast to avoid after a number of young women turned up for film shoots looking overly tired. Wallis also recommended a tanning lamp for Presley, who was a decidedly un-Hawaiian kind of pale prior to production.

 

3.             Loving You - 1957

Box office: $8.14 million in 1957, $115 million adjusted for inflation

Loving You marked the beginning of Elvis' career as a film idol. It marked his first starring role, included his first on-screen kiss, courtesy of Jana Lund, and inspired the King to dye his hair black. Elvis thought the jet-black hair would look better on camera for his first appearance in Technicolor, and he liked the look so much that he kept it for the rest of his life, except for his stint in the U.S. Army, which has stricter rules about hair color. The lead character was tailored specifically to Elvis' own life experiences, leading to an incredibly natural and easy performance from Presley and laying the groundwork for future films. His parents, Gladys and Vernon, also turned up in the film as extras, even sharing the frame with Elvis during one of his musical numbers. Following his mother's death, Elvis would never watch the film again because of the pain it caused him to see her on screen.

 

2.             Jailhouse Rock -  1957

Box office: $8.58 million in 1957, $121.3 million adjusted for inflation

Rarely has Elvis seemed more full of danger and raw physical allure than during the big dance sequence in Jailhouse Rock. The sequence showcased every parent's fears and everything the kids couldn't get enough of from the thrilling young performer. Alex Romero choreographed the famous dance, based on some of Elvis' own natural dance moves. The result was one of the most unforgettable dances in film history; it even elicited a round of applause from dancer Gene Kelly, who was on the set to visit his friend Romero. The film turned out to be the last for Elvis' leading lady, Judy Tyler. She died in a car accident shortly after principal shooting completed, causing a grief-stricken Presley to miss the film's premiere. In 2004, Jailhouse Rock was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

 

1.             Love Me Tender - 1956

Box office: $9.24 million in 1956, $133.2 million adjusted for inflation

Love Me Tender, the King's first film, was the first and last time he did not receive top billing. The gritty, sometimes violent Western is one of only two films that kill off Elvis' character on screen, and the death proved so traumatic for fans that the producers were moved to include an extra scene with Elvis and an additional verse for "Love Me Tender" to be played during the closing credits. Anticipating an increased demand for Love Me Tender, 20th Century Fox ordered 575 prints, a record at a time when most films received 200 to 300. The investment paid off, as the film opened at No. 2 and finished as the 23rd highest-grossing film of 1956 despite opening just five weeks before the end of the year. The title song went on to sell more than a million copies, the first time in the history of the recording industry. Advance sales of the huge hit prompted producers to change the film's title from The Reno Brothers to capitalize on the single's popularity.