In 1956, Presley launched his career as a film actor, beginning with the musical western, Love Me Tender. It was panned by the critics but did well at the box office. The original title—The Reno Brothers—was changed because of the advanced sales of the song "Love Me Tender". The majority of Presley's films were musical comedies made to "sell records and produce high revenues." He also appeared in more dramatic films, like Jailhouse Rock and King Creole. To maintain box office success, he even "shifted into beefcake formula comedy mode for a few years." He also made one non-musical western, Charro!.
In the Army, Presley said on many occasions that "more than anything, he wanted to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor." His manager, with an eye on long-term earnings, negotiated a multi-picture seven-year contract with Hal Wallis.
The singer withdrew from performing, except for The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis (1960) and three charity concerts (two in Memphis and one in Pearl Harbor, 1961). Although Presley was praised by directors, like Michael Curtiz, as polite and hardworking (and as having an exceptional memory), "he was definitely not the most talented actor around." The Presley vehicles and the AIP beach movies (mainly made for an early sixties teenage audience) were generally criticized as a "pantheon of bad taste." The scripts of his movies "were all the same, the songs progressively worse." Sight and Sound wrote that in his movies "Elvis Presley, aggressively bisexual in appeal, knowingly erotic, [was] acting like a crucified houri and singing with a kind of machine-made surrealism." Others noted that the songs seemed to be "written on order by men who never really understood Elvis or rock and roll." For Blue Hawaii, "fourteen songs were cut in just three days." Julie Parrish, who appeared in Paradise, Hawaiian Style, says that Presley hated such songs and that he "couldn't stop laughing while he was recording" one of them. Critics would later claim that "No major star suffered through more bad movies than Elvis Presley."
Presley movies were nevertheless popular, and he "became a film genre of his own." Elvis on celluloid was the only chance to see him in the absence of live appearances, especially outside of the U.S. (the only time he toured outside of the U.S. was in Canada in 1957). His Blue Hawaii even "boosted the new state's tourism. Some of his most enduring and popular songs came from those [kind of] movies," like "Can't Help Falling in Love," "Return to Sender" and "Viva Las Vegas." His 1960s films and soundtracks grossed some $280 million.
In 1964, Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole had starred in Hal Wallis' Becket. Wallis admitted to the press that the financing of such quality productions was only possible by making a series of profitable B-movies starring Presley. He branded Wallis "a double-dealing sonofabitch" (and he thought little better of Tom Parker), realizing there had never been any intention to let him develop into a serious actor.
Presley was one of the highest paid actors during the 1960s, but times were changing. " Elvis Presley film was becoming passé. Young people were tuning in, dropping out and doing acid. Musical acts like Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, The Doors, Janis Joplin and many others were dominating the airwaves. Elvis Presley was not considered cool as he once was." Priscilla Presley recalls: "He blamed his fading popularity on his humdrum movies" and "... loathed their stock plots and short shooting schedules." She also notes: "He could have demanded better, more substantial scripts, but he didn't."
Presley's final movie role was in Change of Habit (1969). His last two films were concert documentaries in the early 1970s, though Presley was keen to consider dramatic movie roles.
As well as the formulaic movie songs of the 1960s, Presley did make noteworthy studio recordings, including "Suspicion," "(You're the) Devil in Disguise" and "It Hurts Me." In 1966 he recorded a cover of Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow is a Long Time" (which RCA Victor relegated to a bonus track on the soundtrack album for Spinout). He also produced two gospel albums: His Hand in Mine (1960) and How Great Thou Art (1966). In 1967, he recorded some well-received singles in collaboration with songwriter/guitar player Jerry Reed, including Reed's "Guitar Man." However, "during the Beatles era (1963-70), only six Elvis singles reached number ten or better. 'Suspicious Minds' was the lone number one."