The Amazing Roster of Stars Who Have Played Elvis Presley On-Screen
These 10 portrayals will have you all shook up just in time for Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis’
Known for his maximalist films, like Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, Australian director Baz Luhrmann, 59, tackles his first biopic with Elvis, which hits theaters June 24. Alongside Tom Hanks (65) as manager Colonel Tom Parker, relative newcomer Austin Butler takes on the title role as the hip-thrusting rock pioneer, which puts him in pretty wild company. Other actors who have played Elvis Presley (or some version of him) have included the likes of Harvey Keitel (83), Don Johnson (72), Kurt Russell (71) and even White Stripes front man Jack White. Let us know which hip-swiveler is your favorite from the list, below.
The Elvis: Kurt Russell
The premise: Russell earned an Emmy nomination for this made-for-TV biopic by Halloween director John Carpenter, 74, which features Shelley Winters and Kurt’s real father, Bing, as Presley’s parents, Gladys and Vernon. Set on the night of Presley’s big Las Vegas comeback show, the film sees Elvis flashing back to big and small moments from his life, including his early days in Tupelo, Mississippi, and his relationship with Priscilla. Country singer Ronnie McDowell (72), best known for his 1977 tribute song “The King Is Gone,” recorded the vocals for the film’s soundtrack.
What do they have in common? As a child actor, Russell made his big-screen debut in the Elvis musical It Happened at the World’s Fair. In the film, a pilot named Mike Edwards (Presley) pays a boy (an uncredited Russell) a quarter to kick him hard in the shin so he can be treated by a beautiful nurse.
Watch it: Elvis, on DVD from Amazon Prime
Elvis and the Beauty Queen (1981)
The Elvis: Don Johnson
The premise: This made-for-TV movie traces the yearslong love affair between Presley (Johnson) and beauty pageant winner Linda Thompson (Stephanie Zimbalist, 65). Johnson didn’t exactly get high marks for his portrayal, and Bob Greene later wrote in the Chicago Tribune: “[What] made it so hilarious was that Johnson did not even attempt to sound like Presley. There are hundreds of Elvis imitators all over the world, but Johnson just walked through the role using his own voice — which is also the voice of Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice.”
What do they have in common? Johnson and Presley both had questionable dating histories. Johnson was 22 when he met a 14-year-old Melanie Griffith (64) on set, and Elvis was 24 when he met Priscilla at 14.
Watch it: Elvis and the Beauty Queen, on YouTube
Heartbreak Hotel (1988)
The Elvis: David Keith
The premise: In this comedy from Home Alone and Harry Potter director Chris Columbus (63), a teenager decides to kidnap Elvis Presley to cheer up his mother, a superfan who’s been hospitalized after a car accident. Keith (68) — a Golden Globe nominee for his role in An Officer and a Gentleman — stars as the King, opposite Tuesday Weld (78) as the injured mom. In a fun twist, Weld had appeared in the 1961 Elvis musical Wild in the Country, and the pair briefly dated at the time.
What do they have in common? One of Keith’s two children is named Presley!
Watch it: Heartbreak Hotel, on DVD from Amazon Prime
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True Romance (1993)
The Elvis: Val Kilmer
The premise: This Quentin Tarantino–penned romantic crime caper follows Clarence (Christian Slater, 52) and call girl Alabama (Patricia Arquette, 54), who go on the run from the Mafia after an apparition of Elvis Presley (played by Kilmer, 62) tells Clarence to kill his new wife’s pimp. Kilmer reportedly spent eight hours a day in the makeup chair for his two brief scenes, and when Scottish magazine The List asked director Tony Scott how he convinced the actor to go through all that trouble, he replied, “Val loves playing dead rock ’n’ rollers.” Kilmer’s character was named “Mentor” to avoid annoying the Presley estate, which refused to allow the filmmakers to use any of his music.
What do they have in common? Kilmer has a musical streak as well, and he did all his own singing when he starred as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s The Doors.
Watch it: True Romance, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV
Finding Graceland (1998)
The Elvis: Harvey Keitel
The premise: An eccentric drifter (Keitel) hitches a ride with a young widower (Jonathan Schaech, 52) and claims to be Elvis and to have staged his own death years before. They soon find themselves on a road trip to — where else? — Memphis, and they pick up a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Bridget Fonda, 58) for good measure. Along the way, the unexpected passenger proves a surprising font of wisdom. When Priscilla Presley (77) was asked to give her blessing to the script, she liked the film so much that she signed on as executive producer and opened up Graceland for filming.
What do they have in common? They look nothing alike, and Keitel sports a thick New York accent offscreen, but they did both serve in the U.S. military. Keitel enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1956, the same year Presley became eligible for the draft and two years before he reported for duty.
Watch it: Finding Graceland, on DVD from Amazon Prime
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
The Elvis: Bruce Campbell
The premise: Don’t say we didn’t warn you — this is a weird one! In this cult comedy horror flick, Evil Dead star Campbell, 63, plays retirement home resident Sebastian Haff, who claims to be the real Elvis; after getting sick of fame, he says, he traded places with an impersonator in the 1970s and lived out his days in obscurity. His best friend is fellow resident John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis), who says he was patched up and turned into a Black man after the assassination “attempt.” When a reanimated Egyptian mummy begins terrorizing the area, Elvis and Jack team up to take on the monster, with the help of a motorized wheelchair and a makeshift flamethrower.
What do they have in common? Like many Elvis impersonators before him, Campbell is an ordained minister who has performed a number of marriages — including for a couple of zombies.
Watch it: Bubba Ho-Tep, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV
The Elvis: Jonathan Rhys Meyers
The premise: Two years before starring as Henry VIII in The Tudors, the Irish heartthrob played another King in this two-part CBS miniseries, which traces the rock star’s rise from high school through superstardom to his 1968 comeback special. Though critics weren’t blown away by its paint-by-numbers biopic approach, the miniseries went on to earn six Emmy nominations, including for best actor (Rhys Meyers), best supporting actor (Randy Quaid, 71, as Colonel Tom Parker) and best supporting actress (Camryn Manheim, 61, as Gladys).
What do they have in common? Meyers resembles a young Presley more than anyone else on this list. As Gillian Flynn wrote in Entertainment Weekly at the time, “With that cupid’s bow mouth, he looks so much like Presley it’s occasionally disorienting.”
Watch it: Elvis, on Amazon Prime
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
The Elvis: Jack White
The premise: The White Stripes singer makes a cameo as Presley in this Judd Apatow–produced musical biopic parody, which draws heavily on Walk the Line and Ray. After he hits it big with the single “Walk Hard,” fictional rock legend Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly, 57) performs his first show, alongside Buddy Holly (Malcolm in the Middle star Frankie Muniz), the Big Bopper (John Ennis) and Presley, who offers this absurd piece of advice: “There’s two things you need to know: I’m the King, and number two is look out man!” He pretends to karate chop Cox’s neck and continues, “It’s called ‘ka-ra-tay,’ man, and only two kinds of people know it — the Chinese and the King, and one of them is me.”
What do they have in common? White is such a fan that he anonymously purchased Presley’s first-ever recordings from 1953 at auction for $300,000 and reissued them on Record Store Day 2015, earning a Grammy nomination for best recording package.
Watch it: Walk Hard, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Peacock
Elvis & Nixon (2016)
The Elvis: Michael Shannon
The premise: You may have seen the famous photograph of President Nixon and Elvis Presley shaking hands in the Oval Office, which ranks as the most requested image in the National Archives. It also provided the inspiration for this stranger-than-fiction tale that imagines what happened behind closed doors on that fateful December 1970 day, when Presley (Shannon) showed up unannounced at the White House to ask Nixon (Kevin Spacey, 62) to make him a DEA agent so he could help in the fight against drugs and the counterculture.
What do they have in common? Shannon is a rocker himself; he’s been the guitarist, vocalist and lyricist of the indie folk-rock band Corporal since 2002.
Watch it: Elvis & Nixon, on Amazon Prime
Sun Records (2017)
The Elvis: Drake Milligan
The premise: Presley’s early days in Memphis have been the subject of two television series, 1990’s Elvis and this CMT drama based on the musical Million Dollar Quartet. Set at the titular recording studio, the series follows the burgeoning careers of Johnny Cash (Kevin Fonteyne), Carl Perkins (Dustin Ingram), Jerry Lee Lewis (Christian Lees) and Elvis Presley (Milligan). Milligan was cast as Elvis during his senior year of high school, and he later went on to compete on American Idol and release his own country EP in 2021.
What do they have in common? Milligan has said that he first fell in love with country music after seeing an Elvis impersonator performing at a local 1950s-themed restaurant.
Watch it: Sun Records, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.