Elvis (1979 film)

Elvis is a 1979 American made-for-television biographical film directed by John Carpenter, and starring Kurt Russell as Elvis Presley, originally aired on ABC. It marks the last role on television for Russell, and the first collaboration between him and Carpenter.

Elvis The Movie 1979 poster.jpg
Film poster
Written byAnthony Lawrence
Directed byJohn Carpenter
StarringKurt Russell
Shelley Winters
Season Hubley
Bing Russell
Theme music composerJoe Renzetti
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Executive producer(s)Dick Clark
Producer(s)Anthony Lawrence
James Ritz (associate producer)
Tony Bishop (supervising producer)
CinematographyDonald M. Morgan
Editor(s)Christopher Holmes
Ron Moler
Running time168 min.
Production company(s)Dick Clark Productions
DistributorWorldvision Enterprises
Budget$2.1 million[1] or $4 million[2]
Original networkABC
Picture formatColor
Audio formatMono
Original release
  • February 11, 1979 (1979-02-11)

After its success on television in the United States, a shorter re-edited version of Elvis was released theatrically throughout Europe and Australia. It was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Made for Television, and for three Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for Russell.[1]


The story follows the life and career of rock and roll icon Elvis Presley. It ends in 1970, and does not depict the last few years of Presley's career leading to his death in 1977. However, there is a continuity error, as the last song Presley performs at his 1970 concert is "An American Trilogy," a song Presley himself did not release, or include in any concerts, until 1972.

There is more than one version of this film; an alternate edit starts with Presley's hair being cut when he was called up by the US Army, and then death of his mother, with no scenes of his life prior.



Carpenter wanted to make the film because "I wanted to work with actors. I wanted to do a dramatic film. I wanted to do something different. And Elvis was the first thing that came along that I had any feeling for, personally-because I did have a feeling for Elvis, I liked him very much, cared about him. So it seemed like a pretty good package when it arrived. After it was over I was disappointed in some of my work, and I was disappointed that I didn't have more participation in the editing."[2]

Carpenter says the film involved 150 locations and was shot over 30 days. "Some of the days we were moving to three and four different locations," he said. "When you have a big union crew with a lot of trucks and bullshit, you have to run very fast. You have to shoot something in the morning, shoot something in mid-afternoon, and shoot something right before you quit at night. That's what happened. We were just running."

Carpenter was not able to edit or score the film and found it an unhappy experience.[2]

Russell worked with and met Elvis in the film It Happened at the World's Fair (1963). In the film, Elvis wants to meet the fairground's nurse and he pays a young boy, played by the twelve-year-old Russell, to kick him in the shins. Later in the film, he sees Elvis and the nurse together on a date and asks if he can kick him again for money. Russell also dubbed the voice of a young Elvis in Forrest Gump (1994), and played an Elvis impersonator in the film 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001).

Country singer Ronnie McDowell provided the vocals for a number of songs Russell performed in the film. McDowell recorded 36 songs for the soundtrack, of which 25 were used.[1]

According to several reports, Priscilla Presley was paid $50,000 to check the script for accuracy before shooting commenced.[1]


DVD cover art

Elvis originally aired on ABC opposite two blockbuster films; Gone with the Wind (1939) on CBS, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) on NBC.[1] Despite this, Elvis beat both in the Nielsen ratings, receiving a 27.3 rating compared to 24.3 and 22.5 respectively. Elvis was ranked the sixth most watched program of the week.[1]

After its success on television, a shortened version of the film was released theatrically throughout Europe. The film debuted on DVD in early 2010 and on Blu-ray in 2016 via Shout! Factory. The Blu-ray disc edition is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, in contrast to the original 1.33:1 televised presentation, or the 1.66:1 European theatrical release.

The film was met with mixed to positive reviews, with many critics praising the make-up, costume design, cinematography, and Russell's performance, yet some criticized the film's screenplay.

A shorter, re-edited version of Elvis, was released theatrically throughout Europe and Australia. It grossed $50,000 in its opening weekend in Australia in August and grossed $350,000 in 3 weeks.[3] It grossed $25,000 in its first 10 days in Helsinki, Finland.[3]


Association Ceremony Date Category Recipient Results Ref
Golden Globe Awards January 26, 1980 Best Motion Picture Made for Television N/A Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards September 9, 1979 Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special Kurt Russell Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Makeup Marvin G. Westmore Nominated
Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or a Special Donald M. Morgan Nominated


Elvis is notable in Carpenter's career for two reasons. It was made after Halloween (1978) had wrapped, so it offered him an avenue to try his hand at a film away from the horror genre. It was also the first time Carpenter had worked with Kurt Russell, who became a frequent collaborator of Carpenter's. Russell subsequently starred in Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and Escape from L.A. (1996).

Russell married co-star Season Hubley on March 17, 1979, and they divorced in 1983.[1] Bing Russell, who played Vernon Presley, is Kurt Russell's real father.[1] For several years Bing played Deputy Clem Poster in the TV series Bonanza.[1]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Worth, Fred (1992). Elvis: His Life from A to Z. Outlet. pp. 308–309. ISBN 978-0-517-06634-8.
  2. ^ a b c Trick and Treat McCarthy, Todd. Film Comment; New York Vol. 16, Iss. 1, (Jan/Feb 1980): 17-24.
  3. ^ a b "'Elvis' Opens O'seas". Variety. September 12, 1979. p. 7.

External linksEdit