Elvis Presley's Hollywood Career Spans Over 30 Films

Elvis Presley had the unique gift of combing various genres of music, all while maintaining his signature voice. From ballads to high-octane rock & roll numbers (he was the King of the latter, after all), Presley garnered himself fans with wide-ranging tastes in music as a result.

This isn't to say that everyone was willing to fall at the feet of the new King, however. Per Rolling Stone, his iconic performance of "Hound Dog" on "The Milton Berle Show" in June of 1956 raised horrified eyebrows as well as intrigued ones. The New York Herald Tribune, in response, deemed the young man "unspeakably untalented and vulgar." In January of the following year, for his last time on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (per the show's official website), Presley was only filmed above the waist, so his scandalous legs couldn't be seen in action.

Sullivan himself, however, was full of praise for his special guest, declaring, "wherever you go, Elvis, we want to say we've never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we've had with you. So now let's have a tremendous hand for a very nice person!"

The very nice Presley has gone down in history as a singer who was often controversial, sometimes at a huge low in his career, but never forgettable. He was not, however, just a singer, and he didn't only dabble in movies. He made more than 30 Hollywood films, in fact.

Elvis Presley: A superstar in more ways than one

Of course, not every song Elvis recorded was as significant as "Hound Dog," as emotional as "Can't Help Falling In Love," or as timeless as "Suspicious Minds." He released an enormous range of music during his tragically short life. As Billboard reported in March 2016, that month marked 60 years since the release of Presley's very first RCA album: "Elvis Presley." To celebrate that monumental moment in musical history, "Elvis Presley – The Album Collection" was produced. The as-comprehensive-as-possible mega collection of his RCA releases spans a formidable 60 CDs of material. As prolific a musician as Elvis could be, a star of his stature couldn't be contained by music alone. He would become quite the movie star too.

As Glen Jeansonne et al writes in "Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel: His Life And Our Times" (via Google Books), "Elvis was of the last generation to experience the magic of Hollywood's golden age, a time when options for mass entertainment were few ... movies brought people out of their homes and into public spaces ... the cinema was a special arena." Presley, in his inimitable way, would go on to become quite the major player in this arena.

If it's good enough for Frank Sinatra

According to Biography, Presley recognized what a boost (a further boost, that is) making movies could provide for his career. He was eager, he reportedly stated in a Life magazine interview, to expand beyond being a musician. As he put it to the magazine, according to Biography, "I want to become a good actor ... you can't build a whole career on just singing. Look at Frank Sinatra. Until he added acting to singing, he found himself slipping downhill."

Ol Blue Eyes, Britannica reports, indeed found acting to be his saving grace. In the early 1950s, according to the outlet, career stagnation had coincided with a hemorrhaging of his vocal cords, and it was largely his prominent role in 1953's "From Here to Eternity" that flung him back into the spotlight.

Needless to say, around this time, the legend that would become Elvis Presley was brewing. Hungry and enthusiastic as he was, it makes perfect sense that he'd have noticed this about Sinatra's career trajectory, and would seize the very same opportunity himself when it came along.

An inauspicious Hollywood debut

Presley's beginning in the movie business, it seems, wasn't quite as auspicious as it could have been. "Elvis Presley: A Southern Life," from Joel Williamson and Donald Lewis Shaw (via Google Books) states that Presley first dipped his toes into the movie business with a screen test at Paramount Studios in April of 1956.

He performed "Blue Suede Shoes" by lip-synching and then acted out a part in a scene from a prospective film, "The Rainmaker," the authors stated. It seems that he didn't impress, with the studio reportedly concluding that Presley would be better suited to singing in films than actually acting.

Presley's first big movie, it seems, did little to dissuade anyone of this notion, with Williamson and Shaw deriding the star's "amateurish performance" in "Love Me Tender," a story set in the Civil War South." All in all, Elvis' Hollywood debut doesn't seem to have been a dazzling display of natural talent and acting prowess. It didn't have to be, though. What was important was that the King had arrived on the big screen, and he had a lot of movie-making to do.

Success in Hollywood beckons

As Graceland reports, April 1956 marked a huge period for Presley's burgeoning movie career. The Paramount Pictures contract he signed got him on the hook for one movie and offered an option for up to six more. According to the Elvis History Blog, each movie Presley made under this contract would be successively more lucrative for him. He'd get a salary of $15,000 for his movie debut, and a whopping $100,000 for the last one if all six options were picked up. Not only that, the outlet went on, but Presley's agent, the canny "Colonel" Tom Parker, had ensured that his star wouldn't be tied to Paramount. Every year, he'd be allowed to make one film with another studio.

The sheer cachet of Elvis Presley is difficult to comprehend. One thing was certain, though: legitimate, respected, dramatic actor or not, his presence in any movie was a strong pull. Per Graceland, his debut "Love Me Tender" had its name changed from "The Reno Brothers" simply to ride the coattails of Presley's song of the same name. The King's slow, soulful tune "Love Me Tender" set a precedent for soundtracks being an important feature in his musical arsenal. Not to mention, of course, his busy movie career.

27 films in 8 years

"Elvis would make a lot of movies in the 1960s," Joel Williamson and Donald Lewis Shaw write in "Elvis Presley: A Southern Life (via Google Books)" — he made 27 films over the course of eight years. At such a dizzying pace, it was clear that Hollywood was not taking the time to finely craft monumental works of storytelling brilliance. Per Britannica, this was the period immediately following Presley's military service, and the idea was to get him back on the map by plastering him everywhere.

Britannica states that the likes of 1960's "G. I. Blues" and 1961's "Blue Hawaii" were musicals with inoffensive, palatable, and inconsequential stories. They were easy to put together and, by design, offered ample opportunities for their star to do what he did best: sing. What they did not seem to do, unfortunately, was give him much opportunity (if any at all) to grow as an actor.

Per Rolling Stone, Elvis made a total of 33 movies. All were successful, but only one was of the type that Presley seemed to crave: a western for which he could be taken seriously. Don Siegel made this movie, "Flaming Star," and reportedly said of Elvis, "He felt he could have done better things. And his advisers — namely the Colonel — were very much against his doing this kind of role. They tried to get him to sing throughout the picture."