Following its June 24 theatrical release, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis has made a dominant showing at the box office. With an $85 million budget, the biopic has made over $200 million worldwide. Its box office success places Luhrmann’s film in the company of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which chronicles the life of Queen’s Freddie Mercury. Bohemian Rhapsody is currently the highest-grossing musical biopic, having made over $900 million at the box office. Luhrmann’s film currently ranks second behind it.
Despite Bohemian Rhapsody’s dominant box office performance, Elvis has received a much better reception from critics and viewers. As expected, a film exploring the life of the “King of Rock and Roll” is filled with glamour that Elvis’ costume department absolutely nails. What has received the most praise from critics and viewers, however, is Austin Butler’s leading role as Elvis Presley. The passion and warmth that Butler brings to Elvis radiates through the film, and has many dubbing him an early favorite to at least earn an Academy Award nomination.
Butler isn’t the only person to have a strong performance in a musical biopic, but his execution of Elvis is out of this world. From his mannerisms to his voice, there is very little to chastise in his performance. Prior to the film’s official release, Elvis’ teaser trailers gave brief glimpses into Butler’s performance, including Elvis’ distinctive accent. Butler mimics Elvis’ tone both in his speech and his vocals exceptionally well. In the early stages of Elvis, which depict the musician’s discovery and early performances, it is Butler’s actual vocals that are used for musical numbers. As Elvis drifts into the King’s later years, it is Elvis’ vocals that are used in the musical tracks. Butler’s own performance works well with the sound mixing, making it difficult to notice any drastic differences between the two voices singing some of the same songs throughout the film.
Prior to its release, there were several names in the running to portray the King of Rock and Roll in Luhrmann’s film. Before Butler was cast, Miles Teller, Harry Styles, and Ansel Elgort were among the names cited as frontrunners for the role. By the time a decision was reached, Elgort had been cast in West Side Story and Teller in Top Gun: Maverick. Butler had previously been up for Teller’s Top Gun role, Rooster. Butler and Teller ultimately lost roles to one another, and given the success both of them have had in light of their respective casting, the right decisions were made.
In each phase of Elvis’ life, Butler has a number of memorable scenes. One of his most jarring is about a third of the way into Elvis. After the death of his mother Gladys (Helen Thomson), Elvis is seen in her closet clutching her clothes with a tear-stained expression. The scene is shared between Elvis, the memory of his mother, and Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), who infiltrates the tender moment to goad Elvis into sitting for pictures outside Graceland. The moment begins to further illustrate the exploitive relationship between Colonel and Elvis that serves as the backbone of Elvis. Despite sharing the screen with a well-known name and face in Hanks, Butler is the one that commands everyone’s attention, including the real-life Presley family.
Butler is undeniably phenomenal as Elvis, but he isn’t the only member of the film’s cast with a strong performance. Olivia DeJonge is brilliant as Priscilla, and the final scene she and Butler share is an emotional culmination of Elvis’ third act. Hanks is fittingly cruel and deceptive as Colonel, particularly in his interactions with characters aside from Elvis. Richard Roxburgh is compelling as Elvis’ father Vernon, while Thomson is incredibly moving as Gladys. Other members of Elvis’ supporting cast include Kelvin Harrison Jr., Alton Mason, Dacre Montgomery, Luke Bracey, and several others, who all contribute to the film to paint a captivating and heartbreaking picture of Elvis’ life.
Over the years, musical biopics like Elvis have become incredibly popular to produce, and have seen immense success. In 2019, Bohemian Rhapsody won four of the five Academy Awards it was nominated for, including Best Actor for Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury. At the 2020 Academy Awards, Rocketman, the Taron Egerton led biopic about the life of Elton John, won the Oscar for Best Original Song. In 2021, Andra Day eared a Best Actress nomination for her role as Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. That same year, Jennifer Hudson earned praise for her performance as Aretha Franklin in Respect. At the 2022 Academy Awards, Andrew Garfield received an Oscar nomination for his role as Jonathan Larson in tick, tick…BOOM!
Bohemian Rhapsody also found success at the Academy Awards with sound mixing and editing, and Elvis is already a likely candidate to earn a nomination in the categories. The costume design in Elvis also deserves recognition this award season. The elaborate attention to perfecting the details of some of Elvis’ iconic looks and performances are supported by Luhrmann’s style that features several flashes between Butler’s performance and actual footage of Elvis. The smooth blending of Butler’s execution with the King himself is a true testament of the cast and crew’s effort to deliver a fair and, at times, brutally honest glimpse into Elvis’ career. Given the unanimously positive reception Butler has experienced from critics and moviegoers, it would be a surprise to many if he doesn’t receive any recognition this award season.
Elvis is now playing in theaters.