11 Actors Who Have Played Elvis Presley

List Rules

Vote up the performances that are worthy of the King.

Elvis impersonators may be a dime a dozen - some make an entire career out of it - but portraying The King on screen is a different beast altogether. If for no other reason than a good film performance should be expected to avoid mere impersonation. Whether any of the actors who have tried their hand at playing Elvis Presley succeeded in that goal is an open question.

Curiously, despite biopics - musical biopics in particular being one of Hollywood’s most persistently reliable avenues for attempts at both prestige and box office, it wasn’t until 2022 that Elvis got the big-budget production fit for a king. The film, simply titled Elvis and brought to the screen by famously bombastic Aussie director Baz Luhrmann, starred up-and-comer Austin Butler in the title role.

Prior to Luhrmann and Butler’s rock star biopic treatment, Elvis as a character and historical figure had mostly been relegated to TV movies or brief appearances in feature films. Kurt Russell nabbed an Emmy nomination for his portrayal in 1979’s made-for-TV Elvis, directed by none other than John Carpenter. Two years later, Don Johnson took on the role in NBC’s Elvis and the Beauty Queen, and in 2005, Jonathan Ryhs-Meyers followed in those lofty footsteps in a CBS miniseries, for which he won a Golden Globe.

On the big screen, Elvis has often been treated as a comical pop-culture figure, from Jack White’s cameo in Walk Hard, to Bruce Campbell’s absurdist take in Bubba Ho-Tep, to Val Kilmer’s spectral, off-screen version in True Romance. But whether he’s the title role or a bit player, it’s always still The King, and each of these actors delivered their own unique stamp. Does one of these performances stand above all the rest? Is there a definitive on-screen Elvis?

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  • 1
    779 VOTES
    Kurt Russell
    Photo: Elvis / ABC

    The collaboration between Kurt Russell and John Carpenter has a permanent place in film history, Many would instinctively mark Escape from New York as the launchpad of a partnership that continued with The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape from L.A. But two years before their 1981 dystopian classic, Russell was Carpenter’s King in the made-for-TV biopic Elvis. Russell earned an Emmy nomination for his performance and the movie was up for best made-for-TV movie at the Golden Globes.

    Of course, it wasn’t exactly the first time the careers of Presley and Russell crossed paths. Russell made his feature film debut at age 11 in the Elvis joint It Happened at the World’s Fair, where the 11-year-old thespian had the honor of kicking Elvis in the shin. Decades later, he played an Elvis impersonator in 3000 Miles to Graceland. Oh, and he also provided the voice of the King in the 1994 best picture winner Forrest Gump.

  • 2
    707 VOTES
    Austin Butler
    Photo: Elvis / Warner Bros.

    For his gaudy 2022 biopic Elvis, Baz Luhrmann put it all in the lap of relative newcomer Austin Butler, who beat out the likes of Harry Styles and Miles Teller for the role. He had previously appeared in small parts in Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, in which he played Manson Family member Tex Watson.

    The portrayal earned the highest praise from none other than Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, who says Butler’s performance should be an Oscar shoo-in:

    “Let me tell you that it is nothing short of spectacular. Absolutely exquisite. Austin Butler channeled and embodied my father’s heart and soul beautifully. In my humble opinion, his performance is unprecedented and finally done accurately and respectfully.”

  • 3
    571 VOTES
    Bruce Campbell
    Photo: Bubba Ho-Tep / Vitagraph Films

    Everyone knows Elvis died on the toilet in 1977 at the age of 42. What Bubba Ho-Tep presupposes is… maybe he didn’t?

    That’s the setup for one of Bruce Campbell’s most delightful performances, courtesy of Don Coscarelli's cult favorite. This Elvis, having swapped identities with an Elvis impersonator in the ‘70s, is living out his old age in a retirement home in Texas. Decades of relative peace and quiet away from the noise of celebrity and stardom have finally caught up to him in the form of an Egyptian mummy systematically wiping out the inhabitants of the rest home. Thankfully, he and his pal - the also-still-alive John F. Kennedy, or so he says, played by Ossie Davis - are on the case. And one of them (famously) knows karate.

  • 4
    340 VOTES
    Val Kilmer
    Photo: True Romance / Warner Bros.

    Elvis Presley: Singer. Pop star. Movie star. Cultural icon. Also: Imaginary friend and subconscious wingman? According to True Romance, yes. Or, at least, its bright-eyed, idealistic, Elvis-obsessed leading man, Clarence Worley (Christian Slater). And if you’re gonna have a mentor - in fact, he's officially billed as “Mentor” - why not make it the ghost of your personal hero?

    Val Kilmer’s spectral Elvis may not ever fully show his face in True Romance, but he makes his presence felt. When the voice in your head is the voice of the King himself, you do what he says. And Kilmer nails the Memphis twang - with the added benefit of getting to use it to deliver Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue.