They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that old adage still holds any merit, then the subject of today’s video might just be one of the most adulated figures in pop culture history.
There are literally tons of folks who have played Elvis Presley over the years, but there are very few that have actually portrayed the King of rock and roll well. If you were to count every last person that ever slapped on a black wig, rhinestone-covered jumpsuit, and a pair of dark sunglasses, then you’d probably keel over before you got through with your list. Just trying to keep track of all of the Vegas Elvis impersonators alone would be a fool’s errand.
Elvis Presley was and likely always will be an icon of American culture. If you’re to say that he just ‘okay’ to one of his die-hard devotees. Then you should either prepared to get into one heated argument or simply walk away and cut your losses.
No, seriously – Elvis fan’s take Graceland’s finest very seriously. The last thing you want to do is step on an Elvis-lovers blue suede shoes.
The actors that have portrayed this late legend may be a dime a dozen, but as we mentioned a moment ago, only a tiny fraction have ever managed to capture the true essence of the man in their performances. Join us as we take a look back at some of the very best – and worst – actors who have played Elvis Presley on screen.
Austin Butler – Elvis (2022)
Director Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic just premiered at Cannes back in May and is slated for a US release on June 24, 2022. So far, the highly-anticipated movie has received rave reviews from critics who are citing Butler’s performance as being the film’s strongest asset.
While we regrettably haven’t gotten a chance to screen the film yet, Butler’s portrayal of Tupelo’s golden boy is said to almost spot-on. Plus, he does a lot of his own singing throughout the film. And from what we’ve seen so far in trailers, he matches the signature richness and power of Presley to an astonishingly impressive degree.
Critics are also praising Butler for his convincing depiction of Presley’s latter pill-hazed darker years. And really that’s quite a feat to pull off. It’s one thing to embody the King in his prime, but it’s quite another to channel him effectively throughout his lower points as well.
Tyler Hilton – Walk The Line
Hilton’s role in this Johnny Cash biopic was a bit understated because, well, the film was all about Cash. As such, everyone else who showed up in the flick basically just thrown into the mix to add a bit of authenticity to the musical period piece.
That being said, there is this one pivotal scene featuring the hip-gyrating rockstar that argued over extensively, seeing as how it’s deemed somewhat problematic.
In it, The Man In Black starts knocking back handfuls of pills after seeing Elvis do it. After all, if The King does drugs, then they must be okay, right? The pills that the two youth-corrupting musicians took commonly used so that they could get from show to show without having to take any extra time. Because, you know, sleeps for the weak!
Obviously, however, this little cheat code eventually became a HUGE problem for both musicians.
The actor who played Elvis, Tyler Hilton, has been a professional singer-songwriter since 2000. If you’ve never heard his music before, he’s compared to people like Elton John and Howie Day.
As far as his acting career goes, in addition to playing Presley in Walk the Line, he’s also appeared on show’s like One Tree Hill Pitch and in films such as Charlie Bartlett and Christmas on the Bayou.
David Keith – Heartbreak Hotel
In this absurd fictional 1988 comedy, after a single mom with two kids gets hit by a car and is hospitalized. Her teenage son and his band drive out to Cleveland in a Pink Cadillac to kidnap Elvis as a birthday present for his injured mother.
After nabbing the star, Elvis is taken back to the boarding house that the mother owns. At first, Elvis and the boy don’t get along, but in time they become friends. By the end of the film, Elvis and the boy’s band play the song Heartbreak Hotel at the high school talent show.
Was this a good movie? Rotten Tomatoes suggests that it was a bit of stinker, but you’ll have to watch it and be the judge of that for yourself. Regardless, David Keith’s portrayal of Elvis was pretty golden.
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And don’t go anywhere just yet. Keep watching to see who we think gave the absolute BEST on-screen Elvis performance.
Michael Shannon – Elvis & Nixon
In this film, neither actor really looks like the figure they are playing, but that’s okay since it’s more of an extapulated satire based upon the famous picture taken of the real Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley decades ago.
Shannon does his best to get the look down pat – and to a degree he accomplishes that adequately – but what makes his performance so entertaining is his attempt at capturing all of Elvis’s little idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. Is it an accurate portrayal? Well, probably not, but it’s still fairly amusing.
Radio Times praised Shannon’s acting, calling him ‘an enjoyably left-field choice as a jaded, increasingly alienated Presley’.
Bruce Campbell – Bubba Ho-Tep
So, this one might be a bit of a stretch seeing as how Campbell played a very unorthodox, fictionalized version of Elvis, but he rocked the look so well that we had to go ahead and include it in the video.
Most Elvis look-a-likes simply don’t have the build, facial structure, and swagger to do the King justice, but that’s not really even the point, now is it? It’s all about paying homage to one of the greatest 20th-century music legends while having a bit of fun in the process.
Fortunately, though, Campbell not only got the look right in Bubba Ho-Tep, but he also looked like he had a blast doing it. The 2002 comedy-horror film features Elvis as an aging resident at a nursing home and his buddy John F. Kennedy who apparently in this universe survived the assassination attempt, patched up, dyed black and abandoned at the home as well.
The two are then forced to face off against a re-animated mummy that stolen from a museum. It’s a pretty ridiculous concept, but thoroughly entertaining for those that don’t mind a little bit of campy cheesiness.
Harvey Keitel – Finding Graceland
This film is all about an eccentric drifter who claims to be the real Elvis years after allegedly staging his death. After hitching a ride with a young man, the two find themselves on a cross-country road trip en route to Memphis.
While the movie not well received with critics, Keitel’s performance as an Elvis impostor memorable, to say the least.
Kurt Russell – Elvis (1979)
This TV film, directed by John Carpenter, features one of the absolute best Elvis performances of all time. Russell threw himself into the role and absolutely nailed it. He had the voice down almost perfectly and managed to imitate Presley’s mannerisms, movements, and swagger to a tee.
This wasn’t actually the only time that Kurt portrayed Presley either. He briefly took on the role when he appeared in the 2001 film 3000 Miles to Graceland alongside Kevin Costner, Courtney Cox, and David Marquette. Although, to be fair, in that movie, he’s just a guy in an Elvis costume who attempts to pull off a Casino heist in Vegas. Still, he looked damn good doing it.
Michael St. Gerard – Elvis (1990 TV Series)
This wasn’t the only time that Gerard played Elvis, as he briefly portrayed the King in the 1999 Jerry Lee Lewis film Great Balls of Fire.
The 13-episode series aired on ABC from February 6 to May 19, 1990, before canceled due to low ratings. The series later edited into a four-hour mini-series titled Elvis: The Early Years.
We also want to take a moment to give a shout out to Elvis-voice impersonator Ronnie McDowell for providing the singing voice for Gerard throughout the series.
Gerard, much like many of the other stars we’ve discussed in this video, had the look that defines the way how most people want to appear when impersonating Presley. He had that perfect baby face and classic charm that made him the ideal casting choice for the role.
Jack White – Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Walk Hard, as you might recall, was a fictional biopic comedy film about an early rock and roll star played by John C. Reiley. The film drew heavy inspiration from and lampooned films like Walk the Line and Ray.
Throughout Cox’s nitty-gritty musical journey, he comes across other notable musicians like Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, Hank Williams, and of course, Elvis Presley.
We’re not going to lie. While we know that this movie is supposed to satire, Jack White’s portrayal of Elvis perhaps one of the most spot-on depictions of the King in film history. In his brief scene, the former White Stripes rocker performs in-character on stage alongside Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper before Dewey gives his first concert performance.
So what do you think? Who, in your opinion, has given the best Elvis Presley performance on screen? How about the worst?
And are you as excited as we are about the upcoming Elvis biopic? Let us know in the comments.
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