Highest grossing, adjusted to inflation, surpasses many of today’s blockbusters
After mowing lawns for $4 per yard during his freshman year of high school, Elvis Presley received a Social Security card (409-52-2002) and began work as an usher at Loew’s State Theater in Memphis, Tennessee. This was in September 1950. The next year, working a summer job working a spindle drill press at Precision Tool’s plant, he took his driver’s license test using his uncle Travis Smith’s 1940 Buick.
By April 1952 Elvis returned to Loew’s State Theater as an usher. Just five weeks into the job, he was fired because of a fight with another usher who was jealous of the attention Elvis garnering from a female employee. So much for his career in movies. Not a chance!
Within a few years Elvis became one of the most successful movie stars and recording artists in history. To this day, remains the top-selling recording artist of all time, with more than one billion records sold worldwide. From 1956 to 1972 he starred in 33 movies.
If adjusted for inflation, Elvis’s first movie Love Me Tender would realize $133.3 million in theater sales. His 1957 hit, Jailhouse Rock would equate to $121.4 million. Loving You would be $115 million. Compare those to today’s (July 10, 2018) movies such as Kingsman the Golden Circle ($100M), Ant Man and Wasp ($72M so far), The Shape of Water ($64M), Tomb Raider ($57M), or Den of Thieves ($45M).
Here’s a list of Elvis Presley’s top 10 highest-grossing films, adjusted for inflation.
10. King Creole – 1958
Box office: $2.64 million in 1958, or $34.9 million adjusted for inflation
Elvis once said King Creole was his favorite of all the movies he made. Directed by Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame and featuring support from such cinema greats as Walter Matthau and Vic Morrow, King Creole also proved a hit with fans and critics alike. Elvis starred as a young man with great musical talent, pressured by organized criminals out to exploit him. The story gave Elvis plenty of opportunities to demonstrate these natural talents. To secure the role, Elvis lost 15 pounds and shaved his sideburns. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker worked with the Draft Board to obtain a 60-day deferment Elvis before he departed for his U.S. Army service. Filming was completed during January to March 1958. The soundtrack produced a No. 1 hit for Elvis, “Hard-Headed Woman.”
9. Flaming Star – 1960
Box office: $4.13 million in 1960, $47.6 million adjusted for inflation
Elvis turned in a strong performance as a mixed-race Kiowa in the middle of conflicting loyalties in what some critics say is his most-intense film. Determined to be taken seriously as an actor, Elvis demanded that two of the film’s four songs be cut. The movie was released a month after the greatly successful G.I. Blues.
8. Girl Happy – 1965
Box office: $6.98 million in 1965, $53.9 million adjusted for inflation
Elvis’ 18th movie finds places him as the singer of a band stranded in Chicago during spring break until their mobster boss hires them to head to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The intent was to keep a watchful eye on the mobster’s daughter. The film featured the song “Puppet on a String,” which reached No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified gold. Girl Happy also starred Shelley Fabares as Elvis’ love interest, who also appeared with him in Spinout and Clambake.
7. Follow That Dream – 1962
Box office: $5.94 million in 1962, $62.6 million adjusted for inflation
Follow That Dream was filmed largely on location in Florida. During production the musical comedy had many titles before producers finally settled on Follow That Dream, which just happened to be the title of a standout hit from the film’s soundtrack. The film also gave rise to a chance meeting between Elvis and a future star of Southern rock. While filming in Florida, Elvis met an 11-year-old named Tom Petty, a nephew of one of the crew members, and made such an impression on the boy that Petty returned home and traded his slingshot for a collection of Elvis records. Petty immediately developed a fascination with rock and was inspired to pursue his own musical dreams.
6. Viva Las Vegas – 1964
Box office: $11.33 million in 1964, $96 million adjusted for inflation
Viva Las Vegas is arguably the most beloved and best-known movie Elvis ever made. Alongside sexy leading lady Ann-Margret, the King rocked through a series of amazing hits, including the unforgettable title track, which he performed in one unedited take. The chemistry between Elvis and Ann-Margret proved undeniable onscreen and off, leading to tension between Elvis and then-girlfriend Priscilla Beaulieu. It didn’t help that the media at the time were publishing endless strings of stories about the two screen idols, including an erroneous report that the pair had married during production. The “wedding” in question was actually a scene from the movie, filmed at the Little Church of the West, Las Vegas’ oldest wedding chapel.
5. G.I. Blues – 1960
Box office: $9.46 million in 1960, $108.6 million adjusted for inflation
Elvis was perfect in the role of a charming, singing Southern boy stationed with the U.S. Army in Germany. After all, he was basically playing himself. The movie came quickly on the heels of Elvis’ return from military service in Germany, and its phenomenal success proved movie audiences were still hungry for more of the King. Fans in Mexico City were so “enthusiastic” that a riot broke out during one screening, leading to an official ban on all Elvis films by the Mexican government. G.I. Blues is also notable in that it featured actual tanks from the U.S. Army, filmed on maneuvers in Germany. Elvis, however, was filmed exclusively in California, and any shots of him on European sets were carried out with stand-ins and look-alikes.
4. Blue Hawaii – 1961
Box office: $10.34 million in 1961-62, $111 million adjusted for inflation
Elvis would film three features in Hawaii, with Blue Hawaii the first and most financially successful. The King played the heir to a pineapple fortune who was less interested in the family business than he was in performing such classic tunes as “Blue Hawaii” and the timeless “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
3. Loving You – 1957
Box office: $8.14 million in 1957, $115 million adjusted for inflation
Loving You marked the beginning of Elvis’ career as a film idol. He graduated from a supporting role in Love Me Tender, to his first starring role. Females fans went into a frenzy seeing his first on-screen kiss with Jana Lund. Elvis thought his jet-black hair looked better on Technicolor and kept it black the rest of his life for public appearances.
The lead character was tailored specifically to Elvis’ own life experiences, leading to an incredibly natural and easy performance from Presley and laying the groundwork for future films. His parents, Gladys and Vernon, also turned up in the film as extras, even sharing the frame with Elvis during one of his musical numbers. Following his mother’s death, Elvis would never watch the film again because of the pain it caused him to see her on screen.
2. Jailhouse Rock – 1957
Box office: $8.58 million in 1957, $121.3 million adjusted for inflation
Elvis’s “raw physical allure” during the big dance sequence in Jailhouse Rock is now iconic in movie history. “The sequence showcased every parent’s fears and everything the kids couldn’t get enough of from the thrilling young performer,” wrote one observer. “Alex Romero choreographed the famous dance, based on some of Elvis’ own natural dance moves.”
Leading lady, Judy Tyler died in a car accident shortly after principal shooting completed, causing a grief-stricken Presley to miss the film’s premiere. In 2004, Jailhouse Rock was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.
1. Love Me Tender – 1956
Box office: $9.24 million in 1956, $133.2 million adjusted for inflation
Love Me Tender was the first and last time Elvis did not receive top billing. His first movie was a Western and his character was killed off at the end of the film. The death scene proved so traumatic for fans that the producers were moved to include an extra scene with Elvis and an additional verse for “Love Me Tender” to be played during the closing credits.
Anticipating an increased demand for Love Me Tender, 20th Century Fox ordered 575 prints, a record at a time when most films received 200 to 300. The investment paid off, as the film opened at No. 2 and finished as the 23rd highest-grossing film of 1956 despite opening just five weeks before the end of the year. The title song went on to sell more than a million copies, the first time in the history of the recording industry. Advance sales of the huge hit prompted producers to change the film’s title from The Reno Brothers to capitalize on the single’s popularity.