Elvis Presley proved throughout his career that he was not only a brilliant rocker but a bonafide box office star, as well. Almost immediately after he had his first hit record, the King began starring in movies and found that he had a knack for it.
All told, Elvis starred in 31 feature films and he always provided a swinging soundtrack for almost all of his pictures. Some of Elvis’ biggest hits actually came from his movies and the music of many of his films have become pop culture touchstones.
“Wooden Heart” – G.I. Blues (1960)
Pulling from his real-life experience in the military, Elvis starred as a soldier in G.I. Blues. The film centers on an American soldier stationed in Germany who dreams of opening his own nightclub. The film featured many great tunes from the King but one song stood out in particular.
“Wooden Heart” was the biggest hit from the film and showed Elvis’ cuter side as a singer. The instrumentation of the song uses sounds from German clockwork and makes for a unique tune in the Elvis songbook.
“Return To Sender” – Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962)
Girls! Girls! Girls! was a typical film from the King. Elvis plays a sailor who has to find a way to purchase the boat he works on so it isn’t retired. Along the way, he falls for two different girls and has to make the difficult choice of picking one.
“Return to Sender” was the standout song of the film and proved to be a monster hit for Elvis. The song allows him to show off his playful side but also the patented sensitivity that Elvis is known for as a singer.
“Treat Me Nice” – Jailhouse Rock (1957)
Elvis’ third film Jailhouse Rock would be one of the defining moments in the King’s legendary career. Elvis plays a young man in prison for manslaughter who becomes a rock star while inside. The movie was perfect for the young rock musician who himself had only found stardom a year or so earlier.
Jailhouse Rock was jam-packed with great music and Elvis is excellent on every song from the soundtrack. “Treat Me Nice” was not the biggest hit from the film, but it showed off the skills of the young rocker perfectly. The song typified Elvis’ entire image by not only being a rock song but showing Elvis as a heartthrob, as well.
“Bossa Nova Baby” – Fun In Acapulco (1963)
By the time he starred in Fun In Acapulco, Elvis had appeared in 13 movies. Fun In Acapulco is typical Elvis movie fare and sees him wooing girls and making a living as a nightclub singer. Though the film is rather boilerplate, the music of the film is excellent and some of the finest of his soundtrack career.
“Bossa Nova Baby” is a swinging track that incorporates elements of rock and the popular bossa nova genre. Elvis’ image had softened somewhat by the 1960s but “Bossa Nova Baby” showed that he could still rock like he used to.
“Hard Headed Woman” – King Creole (1958)
In many of Elvis’ early films, he plays a young rocker in a close approximation of his own real life. King Creole sees Elvis as a rocker in New Orleans whose music has upset a mobster who aims to put an end to his career. The movie is unique for an Elvis film because there is actual danger for his character, as opposed to the usual lighter plots.
“Hard Headed Woman” quickly grew beyond the film it was featured in and was one of Elvis’ biggest early hits. The song has a hard edge that was common in Elvis’ early music and he sings the words with an appropriate amount of gravitas.
“Viva Las Vegas” – Viva Las Vegas (1964)
The setting was usually the biggest selling point of an Elvis movie, besides the King himself. Viva Las Vegas sees Elvis as a race car driver who needs to work as a waiter to fix his engine for the big race. Las Vegas was the perfect backdrop for the exciting movie and soon Elvis would become synonymous with the city of sin.
The title track “Viva Las Vegas” was written for the film but has grown to become the official soundtrack of Las Vegas. Elvis’ voice is perfect for the composition and he brings all of the star power and excitement that the song called for.
“Follow That Dream” – Follow That Dream (1962)
Though not as well remembered as other Elvis titles, Follow That Dream is one of the best films Elvis ever starred in. Elvis plays a member of a group of vagabonds who set up a homestead on a secluded Florida beach. A greedy man wants to develop the beach and tries to evict them from their homes.
Elvis’ personality shines through not only in the film but in the title song, as well. “Follow That Dream” perfectly sums up the story of the film and also Elvis’ entire career. Though the song wasn’t as big a hit as others would be for him, Elvis poured his heart and soul into it.
“Jailhouse Rock” – Jailhouse Rock (1957)
Jailhouse Rock was one of Elvis’ most successful movies and the imagery has become forever linked with the King. The film is strong because it doesn’t force Elvis to do too much in terms of acting and it also embraced everything about early Elvis that was great.
In a lot of ways, the soundtrack of the film could be considered another Elvis album, and the classic songs certainly stand out in his discography. “Jailhouse Rock” is not only the title track of the film but one of Elvis’ most famous songs. The perfect composition as well as Scotty Moore’s incredible guitar playing make the song an instant classic and one of the greatest movie songs of all time.
“Love Me Tender” – Love Me Tender (1956)
Elvis’ first film was released the same year as his first album and the young rocker proved he was up to the task. The film follows a group of Confederate soldiers who are ordered to rob a Union train, only to find out that the war ended shortly before their robbery. Elvis isn’t the star of the film and actually plays a supporting role.
Despite his supporting role, he provides several songs for the movie, including the famous title track. “Love Me Tender” was the song that catapulted Elvis into superstardom. Before the film, Elvis was a huge hit in the rock scene but was somewhat niche. “Love Me Tender” changed all that. Besides being a vehicle for his success, the song is a perfect illustration of what made Elvis great. It is a soft ballad that allows the King to show his beautiful voice and softer side.
“I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” – Blue Hawaii (1961)
Several years into his acting career, Blue Hawaii was a revelation for Elvis. The story focuses on an ex-G.I. who returns home to Hawaii and defies his parent’s wishes to work at their business. Blue Hawaii is everything that made Elvis movies great with its beautiful location, fun story, and wonderful music.
The soundtrack to Blue Hawaii was packed with Elvis classics and, like Las Vegas, Elvis would become inseparable from Hawaii. Though the album is top-notch, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” is definitely the standout track. The song was not only a hit for the film, but it has gone on to be Elvis’ biggest song and is an instantly recognizable classic from the ’60s.