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The Best Actors to Play Elvis Onscreen

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Kurt Russell had the hip swivel down cold. Val Kilmer nailed the sincere, soulful voice. And Michael Shannon … well, the credits identified him as Elvis Presley, in order that was the character he should have been playing in “Elvis & Nixon,” right?

For the reason that King’s death in 1977, at 42, greater than a dozen actors — and one space alien — have portrayed his walk, talk and famous charm in dozens of movies and TV shows. Now another has joined their ranks — Austin Butler, whose on-point hip gyrations are at the center of Baz Luhrmann’s recent “Elvis.”

So how does Butler’s sultry, baby-faced King stack up against Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s Golden Globe-winning crooner or Harvey Keitel’s over-the-hill rocker? We provide our rankings.

1979

The peerlessly coifed pouf, the raw, emotive voice, the frenzied hip thrusts, the gleaming, skintight rhinestone jumpsuit … blink, and you would easily imagine, due to this near-flawless portrayal in a 1979 TV movie, that Kurt Russell is Elvis. Sure, Russell doesn’t actually sing — that was all of the country artist Ronnie McDowell — but that speaking voice is spot-on.

Buy it on Amazon.

The 2-part show, which tackles Presley’s rise from highschool in Mississippi to international superstardom, is a showcase for Rhys Meyers’s heart-pounding leg pumps (with memorable supporting turns from Randy Quaid as Col. Tom Parker, Presley’s manager, and Rose McGowan because the actress Ann-Margret, with whom Presley was rumored to have had an affair). Like Russell, Rhys Meyers doesn’t do his own singing, but he lip-syncs flawlessly to a good higher option: the actual thing. (This was the primary biopic that the Presley estate allowed to make use of the master recordings.)

Rent it on DVD.com.

2005

Hilton pops up in 4 scenes of this Johnny Money biopic as a young Elvis, opposite a young Joaquin Phoenix as Money. It was one in every of Hilton’s first forays into acting — he considered himself more of a musician on the time — but he nails Presley’s slurred vocal style and the deeply felt conviction of his singing.

Stream it on Tubi; rent or buy it on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu or YouTube.

This romantic crime drama written by Quentin Tarantino centers not on the King, but on an Elvis fanatic (Christian Slater) and his recent wife on the run from mobsters. But Kilmer’s apparition of Elvis, complete with gold lamé suit, might just be essentially the most memorable part. (That’s saying something in a movie that also featured Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson and a young Brad Pitt.) Kilmer’s appearance tops out at around two minutes and he’s credited only as “Mentor.” However the suave voice whispering murderous thoughts into Slater’s ear is unmistakably intended to be the King’s, and Kilmer aces it.

Rent or buy it on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu or YouTube.

1998

OK, so strictly speaking, Harvey Keitel just isn’t Elvis but “Elvis,” a fictional older — and really much alive — version of Presley who faked his death in 1977 after becoming overwhelmed by the pressures of fame. Keitel nails the melted-chocolate quality of the rocker’s voice and delivers a full-throated portrayal of an over-the-hill King, complete with hip thrusts and shoulder shimmies. (The film was produced by Elvis’s ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, and scenes were actually filmed contained in the Graceland mansion in Memphis.)

Buy it on Amazon.

2003

On this R-rated comedy-horror flick, Bruce Campbell is an aged Elvis impersonator in a nursing home, Ossie Davis is a fellow resident who claims to be President John F. Kennedy, they fight an Egyptian mummy sucking out residents’ souls through their butts, and, just trust us, it really works. Campbell brings an endearingly crusty charisma to the part, and his self-deprecating hospital-bed monologues about growing old are surprisingly moving.

Stream it on Tubi or Amazon Prime; rent or buy it on Apple TV or Vudu.

1988

“Heartbreak Hotel” sounds, from the title, like an Elvis-adjacent chick flick, however it’s actually a comedy written and directed by Chris Columbus a few teenage boy who kidnaps Elvis as a gift for his mother when she’s recovering from a automobile crash. (Elvis happens to be his mom’s favorite singer.) Critics — and the general public — gave Keith’s portrayal a slightly tepid reception, with Rita Kempley of The Washington Post concluding in her scalpelesque pan that “Playing Elvis is like playing a Kennedy, nearly unattainable.” At the least someone liked it: Keith’s King, who was fatherly, clean-cut and drug-free, did get the blessing of the Presley estate and Elvis’s national fan club.

Buy it on Amazon.

1981

This made-for-TV movie focused on the tip of Elvis’s life and his relationship with the beauty-pageant contestant Linda Thompson, whom he was romantically involved with after the tip of his six-year marriage to Priscilla Presley. To guage by YouTube clips, Johnson rocked a jumpsuit as a zonked-out Elvis, yes, but his high-pitched speaking voice was higher fitted to a “Saturday Night Live” sketch than a seduction scene, and his bushy black wig was downright hokey — and that was before the heavy eyeliner and mascara.

2016

When you didn’t hear a security guard say, “It’s Elvis Presley!” you wouldn’t know Michael Shannon’s careworn, sullen Elvis was imagined to be the King. His craggy face is at odds with the King’s smooth features, and, combined with a voluminous black wig, his Elvis smacks of Michael Crawford in “Dance of the Vampires.” The film, a historical comedy, focused on a 1970 meeting between Presley and President Richard Nixon (played by Kevin Spacey, who also doesn’t resemble his real-lie counterpart). Shannon is an important character actor, but he can’t overcome this confoundingly bad casting, despite the gleaming gold belt buckle, tinted glasses, high-collared shirt and flashing rings.

Stream it on Amazon Prime; rent it on DVD.com.

2002

He ain’t nothin’ but a hound alien. On this animated comedy, Experiment 626 — a.k.a. Stitch — uses a black wig, white jumpsuit and ukulele to indulge Lilo as she tries to show him to be a model citizen. And truthfully, based on the variety of beachgoers who swooned once they got one in every of his flirtatious winks, we’d need to crown him the hip-swivel champion.

Stream it on Disney+; rent or buy it on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu or YouTube.

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