JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957)
This film shares a name with one of Presley’s most successful songs, and was one of his first leading roles on screen. In it, he plays Vince Everett, who is sent to jail after he’s convicted of manslaughter. During his sentence, he meets a country singer who hears Everett sing and thinks he’s got major star potential. Following his release, he meets a woman who works for a record label who thinks the same thing. Of course, the road to success has quite a few bumps, but the hit number “Jailhouse Rock” ends up making Presley’s character into a star.
BLUE HAWAII (1961)
The world has Blue Hawaii to thank for Presley’s mega-hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which he sang in this film. It’s about a recent Army veteran who is returning home to Hawaii to surf and sing. Presley loved shooting in Hawaii so much, he filmed two more movies there: Girls! Girls! Girls! and Paradise, Hawaiian Style.
LOVE ME TENDER (1956)
Like Jailhouse Rock, this film is best known for the hit song it produced. And while the tune is great, its origin is worth a watch too: Set in the South during the Civil War, Presley’s character Clint Reno, the youngest of four brothers, stays at home while his brothers go off to fight. After the family is mistakenly told that the eldest brother is killed, Clint marries his girlfriend — which causes familial tension after all three brothers arrive home at the war’s conclusion (along with a robbery of a Union train). The movie marked Presley’s feature film debut.
KING CREOLE (1958)
One of Presley’s most iconic films is King Creole, which had famed director Michael Curtiz at the helm. In it, he plays a New Orleans high school student, Danny Fisher, whose rise to stardom in the clubs on Bourbon Street is halted when he gets involved with a gang. The film was a success on all fronts, and later on in his life, Presley said that Fisher was his favorite character. However, it almost didn’t happen: He was only able to finish filming the movie after getting a 60-day deferment after he was drafted.
Available to stream? Yes, on Amazon Video
CHANGE OF HABIT (1969)
Presley co-stars with Mary Tyler Moore in what may well be Presley’s most socially conscious film. It’s his only movie in which he plays a character with a “normal” job: a doctor, named John Carpenter. In the film, his character works at a clinic in a low-income community, where he is aided by three female volunteers. Little does he know that the women are actually nuns, who leave their habits at home over fears that they might dissuade people from visiting the clinic. Carpenter ends up falling in love with Moore’s character, Sister Michelle. Change of Habit was Presley’s final film.
Available to stream? No, but you can order the DVD on Amazon
FLAMING STAR (1960)
With very few musical numbers, this Western was a change for Presley. He plays a mixed-race rancher, Pacer Burton, who is the son of a white father and a Native American mother, a member of the Kiowa tribe. Throughout the film, his character deals with the pulls of his two backgrounds and their respective cultures. Though it wasn’t his best-performing film at the box office, it was one of his most dramatic roles ever.
WILD IN THE COUNTRY (1961)
Based on J.R. Salamanca’s novel The Lost Country, this film sees Presley as Glenn Tyler, a man released on probation after he hurts his brother in a drunken fight. After a woman is appointed to give him psychological counseling, he’s accused of a number of false charges, including having an affair with her.
KID GALAHAD (1962)
A remake of a 1937 film (that starred Bette Davis), Presley plays a soldier returning home in Kid Galahad. After he arrives back at his Catskills resort hometown, he starts boxing in hopes of winning some much-need cash. Eventually, his fighting becomes much more than just a side hobby.
VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964)
Presley co-stars with another American icon — Ann-Margret — in Viva Las Vegas, which tells the story of a race car driver who is forced to work at a Las Vegas hotel to pay off his debts, and raise money for a new engine for his car ahead of the Grand Prix Race. The fun film is filled with musical numbers, including “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and of course, “Viva Las Vegas.”
THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS (1969)
One of Presley’s last movie roles was as a manager of a traveling Chautauqua (an adult education movement popular in early 20th century) company. Set in 1927, the film follows the company as it arrives in a small Iowa town and gets wrapped up in some events there — including a murder case.